Celebrate Halloween with San Diego Museums
It’s officially “Spooky Season” in San Diego and local museums are ready to help you celebrate both Halloween and Día de los Muertos! PLUS, there is still time to take advantage of Kids Free San Diego (through October 31) with free admission for kids 12 and under to 30 local cultural institutions!
From mysterious ghost ships to haunted historic sites to spooky arts and crafts, there are countless ways to get in the spooky spirit this month. Here are some of our favorites. Get ready for a wickedly good time!
Maritime Museum of San Diego
San Diego Waterfront
Love a good mystery? Don’t miss the new Mary Celeste Ghost Ship Experience at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, launched just in time for Halloween! Join Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) to help solve the mystery of the famous ghost ship, Mary Celeste, found abandoned at sea in 1872. Guests 12 and under can help solve the case and enter to win a special tall ship sailing adventure valued at $400! Three days only (October 29-31).
California Center for the Arts, Escondido
Two current exhibitions at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido Museum are must-sees for Día de los Muertos!
Legendary printmaker José Guadalupe Posada is one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists and his satirical skeletons (calaveras) are instantly recognizable. His artwork lampooned politicians, recorded images from the Mexican Revolution, and inspired artists to use their art for social causes. Posada’s iconic imagery also adorned concert tickets for the Grateful Dead.
Also on view is Muerte y Monstruos (Death and Monsters), featuring selected artworks by Mexico City’s Linares family. These traditional artworks straddle the line between “folk” and “fine” art, with famous sculptures depicting alebrijes and calaveras often associated with Día de los Muertos and symbolic of Mexico’s rich artistic heritage.
Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House
Downtown San Diego
Add some haunted history and paranormal intrigue to your Halloween festivities with the Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House. On October 19, join the Museum historian for a Virtual Victorian Paranormal Tour of Downtown San Diego’s oldest house, and learn about diving rods, tarot cards, pendulums and other tools used during the Victorian Era. You can also treat yourself to the “Ghosts of the Gaslamp Quarter” Walking Tours on Friday evenings or enjoy online episodes of “Victorian Shivers,” featuring macabre Victorian customs sure to send shivers down your spine!
The San Diego Museum of Art
On October 31, join The San Diego Museum of Art for “Spooky ArtStops.” Actors from the San Diego Shakespeare Society will share Halloween-inspired performances, combining art from the Museum’s sculpture garden and spooky poetry and selections from William Shakespeare’s works such as “Macbeth,” “Othello,” and “The Tempest.”
San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Things are getting spooky at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. The San Diego 3-Railers have covered the Toy Train Gallery in ghosts and goblins galore, all protected by the undead butler, Lurch (who is just dying to meet you!). Plus the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is hosting Click or Treat – a spooky celebration combining both in-person and online experiences! Starting on October 23, guests can lurk on our website (www.sdmrm.org) for coloring pages & crafts, haunt our halls to see elaborate decorations and friendly phantoms (including our undead butler, Lurch!), and get special treats (no tricks!) with donations to their GoFundMe. Throughout the week, they’ll be sharing spooky stories from trains & tracks on our social media. During Click or Treat, the museum will be open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
San Diego Botanic Garden
Don’t miss the Fall Festival/Festival de Otoño at the San Diego Botanic Garden from October 23 – November 1, with seasonal plants and decorations, live music, themed craft stations, classes and more. The Garden has commissioned artist Katie Ruiz to create a special Día de los Muertos ofrenda and visitors are invited to contribute their own items to commemorate loved ones. Enjoy musical performances from kids’ band Hullabaloo and Mariachi Real de San Diego on October 23, and Cajun/Zydeco/Texas Swing band Billy Lee & The Swamp Critters on October 31.
Museum of Photographic Arts
Experience the Ghosts of MOPA! The Museum is believed to be haunted by six spirited spirits! Can you find them all? Now through October 31, guests are invited to seek them out in the museum’s galleries and post a selfie with a MOPA ghost to your Instagram for a chance to win a MOPA goodie bag. Use hashtag #GhostsofMOPA to enter. Locations change each weekend. You can also enjoy a special Fall-themed photo booth to capture your visit to the Museum.
Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Tickets are already sold out for this year’s wildly popular Haunted Aquarium at Birch Aquarium, but mark your calendars for 2022! During this annual family-friendly event, guests can enjoy the aquarium after hours and meet slimy sea creatures, learn about mysterious animals from the sea, and get up close with spooky science. Admission includes access to all aquarium exhibits as well as treat bags, a “kelp” maze, costume showcase, music and more. In the meantime, Kids Free is a great time to visit the Aquarium for an up-close look at sharks, eels and other “creepy” creatures of the deep.
Mingei International Museum
In honor of Day of the Dead, you can create your own sugar skull piñata at the Mingei International Museum on October 17. Join binational artist Diana Benavidez to experiment with cardboard, crepe streamers, tissue and construction paper to craft and decorate your whimsical creation. Alongside the history and folklore of piñatas, Diana will share her own hybrid methods of using this craft for expression and storytelling.
San Diego Natural History Museum
Explore the creepy, crawly, slithery and slimy side of Halloween at the San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat). On Saturday, Oct. 23 and 30 (10 AM to 2 PM), the Museum will present Nature Studio: Cutie Crawlies, turning a classroom into a trash-to-treasure maker studio. October activities are themed after the Museum’s Living Lab exhibition, featuring our region’s not-so-cuddly residents (including insects, reptiles and more).
On October 27, there will also be a special edition of the speaking series, Nat Talk: Behind the Scenes—Amphibians & Reptiles, with a virtual basement tour of the Museum’s reptile and amphibian collection. (Fun Fact: The Nat has the largest rattlesnake collection in the world. Does that make it perfect for Halloween or just really cool? You decide!)
San Diego Automotive Museum
Join the San Diego Automotive Museum for its inaugural Trunk or Treat Halloween event on Saturday October 30th (3 PM to 5 PM). Kids (and those who are kids at heart) will discover ghoulish treats as they “Trunk (Trick) or Treat” from the trunks of collectable and rare vehicles on the exhibit floor. The Museum will also host a spooky “Cars & Coffee” event on Halloween morning (7:30 to 9:30 AM).
Bonita Museum & Cultural Center
Bonita / South Bay
From October 28 to November 2, you can celebrate Día de los Muertos at the Bonita Museum & Cultural Center. The Museum will be featuring public ofrendas designed by South Bay artists Maricruz Alvarado, Rosa and Vallo Riberto, and Anna Siqueiros, as well as original artwork and handmade clothing.
The New Children’s Museum
Join The New Children’s Museum for “Creative Saturdays” at the One Paseo shopping mall in Del Mar on October 30 (10 AM to 1 PM). The Museum will be offering a paper bag pumpkin art-making activity and take-home kits with a mini pumpkin to decorate!
Fleet Science Center
While not specific to Halloween, some may find the new exhibition Mechanics Alive! at the Fleet Science Center just the right amount of “creepy.” Explore small, surreal worlds through fantastical mechanical sculptures known as automata that come to life at the push of a button or pull of a lever. The Museum will also have STEMonstrations going on all day on October 30.
Kids Free San Diego
Looking for even more ways to enjoy Kids Free in October?
Check out our handy Kids Free 2021 Family Guide, a curated list of what’s new and must-see at dozens of San Diego museums, gardens, aquariums, historic sites and more.
To participate, simply download a Kids Free coupon for each participating museum on the Visit San Diego website (SanDiego.org).