Air & Space Museum

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Living by the words “Preserve…Inspire…Educate…Celebrate,” the San Diego Air & Space Museum located in Balboa Park is a unique gem among this bustling city. Home to dozens of air and space craft as well as several artifacts and other archives that relate to the importance of flight and aviation in our history, a visit to SDASM, known as “The Smithsonian of the West,” is a must.


Originally located in the Food & Beverage Building at Balboa Park, what was then called the San Diego Aerospace Museum opened its doors on February 15, 1963. It subsequently moved to the much larger Electrical building two years later. However, tragedy struck SDASM in 1978 when, on February 22, an arson-related fire burned the building and several irreplaceable aircraft to the ground in a few short hours. Among the exhibits lost in that fire was the original Beecraft Wee Bee, the world’s lightest airplane, as well as a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis which was designed and built by the real aircraft’s original creators.

Despite the setback of the fire, SDASM reopened at Balboa Park’s historic Ford Building on June 28, 1980. Thankfully, many of the items that could have been lost in the 1978 fire were spared because of this pre-planned move; many otherwise irreplaceable aircraft had already been moved into storage awaiting the new and bigger building in order to be properly displayed. In addition, a replica of the Wee Bee as well as another replica of the Spirit of St. Louis were added to the new building’s collection thanks, in part, to immense community support and donations from private collections.

Since then, SDASM has been made home to several of the most well-known air and space craft in America. This includes famous additions such as:

  • Lockheed A-12 Oxcart
  • Convair YF2Y Sea Dart
  • Northrup Grumman Global Hawk
  • North American P-51D Mustang
  • P-26 Peashooter
  • Bell AH- 1E Cobra

In addition, the Ford Building, which was originally designed for the California Pacific Exposition in 1935-36, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Main Attraction

At any time, there are a variety of different aircraft and other exhibitions available for viewing at the SDASM. In addition, there are five main galleries dedicated to different periods in aviation history. These galleries include the World War I Gallery, the Golden Age of Flight Gallery, the World War II Gallery, the Modern Jet & Space Age Gallery, and the Edwin D. McKellar Pavilion of Flight. Each gallery is dedicated to a specific era in aeronautical history except for the McKellar Pavilion which instead houses the larger aircraft in the SDASM collection. This includes a Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina, Mercury spacecraft (mock-up), Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17, Ford 5-AT-B Trimotor, and Bell AH-1E Cobra.

Outside of aviation and space relics, SDASM offers guided tours, including tours of the restoration area, where museum relics are repaired and restored to their original condition. The major advantage of SDASM tours is the personal interaction between museum staff and visitors afforded through them. While the majority of top U.S. museums have switched to guided audio tours, SDASM offers visitors docent-guided tours where visitors can ask questions and interact with their volunteer tour guide.

In addition to these regular exhibitions and tours, SDASM also hosts several special exhibits throughout the year which includes family-friendly programs such as 3D/4D movies and the Kids Aviation Hangar. The museum also regularly hosts school groups, summer camps, educational tours, family nights, and provides a special section for teachers on its website that helps to bring the educational aspect of SDASM to children around the country and the world.

Why It’s a Must-See

Anyone who has a passion for aviation history will love the exhibits at SDASM. This is one of the largest aerospace museums in the country which pays homage to the significant contributions of San Diego and the West Coast in general to the field of aviation science and space flight. A visit to SDASM is so much more than looking at planes, but also an exercise in the short, but fascinating history of modern aviation and a pledge to continue to help advance that field and the science that surrounds it for generations to come.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

Save up to 20% online at Smart Destinations. If you add more than one attraction to the cart, you will get an automatic savings of up to 20%. It’s called Make Your Own Pass.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from Air & Space Museum either online or in person.

Purchase a Tourist pass. The Air and Space Museum is available on the Go San Diego Card.