San Diego’s New Children’s Museum

Interactive art exhibits at this new San Diego attraction let children paint, play and imagine.

The New Children’s Museum in San Diego, Calif., opened in early May, and young locals and tourists alike have made a beeline to this light-filled, three-story glass and concrete space. Soaring ceilings, open steel beams and floating staircases define the industrial architecture—but the cacophonous echoes here make me wonder about the wisdom of creating a building for young children made entirely of hard surfaces.

Space to Burn Energy

There’s no shortage of square footage. Expansive and flexible exhibition space allows the museum to offer a rotating display of commissioned artwork with children in mind. Current exhibits feature pieces that encourage young kids to become personally involved: they can play with their own shadows in Diana Thater’s Delphine, a large-scale projection of colored lights and film; dance beneath a miniature disco ball in Nick Rodrigues’ Porta-Party (a portable John with a dance floor and eclectic music inside); and jump and bounce in a roomful of pillows and mattresses in Allan Kaprow and Brian Dick’s No Rules Except … Yard. These exhibits are so successful that parents should come prepared to help their kids exercise patience because the lines can be long.

Young Artists

Other interactive experiences give children the opportunity to create their own art. Hands-on stations include enormous tables piled high with smooth wood and leather scraps that can be fashioned into toys; a ceramics studio with a resident artist to oversee the creations; and an outdoor patio that allows kids to get messy with a large-scale project. (When my family visited, a handful of small children were painting a Volkswagen Bug.) Throughout the museum are oversized murals on which to paint, enormous blackboards on which to doodle and colorful spaces where children can literally climb the walls.

All-Ages Appeal (Nearly)

Toddlers and children up to 6 or 7 years old will find endless opportunities for fun—there’s almost nothing off limits for them in this energetic venue. However, older children will be disappointed. In fact, I dragged my 12-year-old daughter to the museum, and it was clear from the start that she was embarrassed to be seen with so many tiny children. Although there is a Teen Studio upstairs, where 13- to 17-year-olds can silkscreen a T-shirt, decorate their own sneakers or design a vinyl figurine, there is very little for tweens.

The museum is located in one of downtown San Diego’s hottest spots, just across from the harbor, and that means parking is a major headache—even on a Sunday morning. The museum has a limited number of paid spots in a nearby parking garage, but they’re generally gone by mid-morning. If you don’t mind a little hike, consider parking instead at the nearby Convention Center, which has abundant parking if there is no convention in town.

New Children’s Museum, 200 West Island Ave. Admission for adults and children, $10. Tel. 619-233-8792. Check Web site for hours;

Destinations: San Diego

Themes: Art and Museums, Family Travel

Activities: Museums

User Comments

NCM's hours of operation change depending on the season/time of year! Be sure to check the website before heading down to the Museum. For current hours, click here:

Another great reason to visit San Diego San Diego is the ideal family vacation destination. This museum adds to the wealth of awesome things to do in and around the city.