6 Must-See Art Walks in San Diego

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The beauty of art in public spaces, especially for parents, is that there are no rules on how and when you can enjoy it. Unlike visiting an art museum, where kids need to use indoor voices and can’t run or touch anything, outdoor art displays are more kid-friendly and less stressful for parents. You’ll find works of art all over San Diego as part of the public art campaigns, but this collection is curated especially for families because you can see several pieces in just one place. Extra bonus, most of these spots have a coffee shop or treat spot nearby. So walk (or run!) to these free, outdoor, eclectic spaces and relax when your kids scream in delight.

May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden

Tucked away behind the Panama 66 restaurant at Balboa Park is where you’ll find this secret art garden with several twentieth-century sculptures. It’s free for anyone to walk in and walk around so don’t be shy. It has an amazing view of the California Tower and is pretty cool to hear the bells ring every hour from here. Heck, grab a table on the patio at Panama 66 and walk around the sculpture garden with your drinks while waiting for your food (good kids menu too). Otherwise, no food or outside drinks are allowed in the garden.

May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden
1450 El Prado, Balboa Park
619-232-7932
Online: sdmart.org

Liberty Station Arts District

Go on an art scavenger hunt at Liberty Station and you’ll unlock discounts after you’ve logged them all. Scan the QR code to start at any of the 12 rotating art installations, answer a question and the next clue will pop up for you to track down. The clues will take you past the Public Market; which you should plan on stopping in for a treat.

Liberty Station Arts District
Start at the “Greetings” Mural
2848 Dewey Rd., Point Loma
619-756-7992
Online: libertystation.com

Spanish Village

Walking through this colorful village is sure to put anyone in a good mood. Visit over 40 studio galleries, peek in the windows if they’re not open. On any given day, you may be lucky enough to find some of the artists hard at work. Even if studios are closed, there are sculptures and art installed around for you and your little artists to see. Weekends and holidays are the best times to come by and support the artists by taking home a piece of their hand-made work.

Good to know: Grab some coffee and muffins from Daniel’s Coffee Cart, located in Spanish Village, near the bathrooms.

Spanish Village
1770 Village Pl., Balboa Park
619-233-9050
Online: spanishvillageartcenter.com

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle

You’ll be mystified by artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s playful pattern of mazes, mosaic walls, sculptures, totems and fantastical characters with the Queen in the center of it all. This magical circle is a little tricky to find; it’s surrounded by tall trees in the back of Kit Carson Park and you’ll walk along a dirt trail through some orange groves until you find it.

Hours: Tues. & Thurs. from 9 am-12 pm and on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays from 9 am-2 pm (it’s closed on or after rainy days).

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
3333 Bear Valley Pkwy, Escondido
760-839-4691
Online: escondido.org

Dave’s Rock Garden

This is one where your art can actually become part of this exhibit. Paint a rock and find a spot to leave it at Dave’s Rock Garden for all to enjoy! There are over 7,000 painted rocks here by people from all over the world. What started as an empty lot filled with weeds is transformed into a beautiful community space. It just took one local neighbor with a vision to clean it up to get the ball started. 

Make it a day trip: Moonlight Beach is 2 blocks west with a playground and wide-open beaches. Coffee, ice cream, and pizza spots are two blocks east.

Dave’s Rock Garden
200 B St., Encinitas

UCSD Stuart Art Collection Art Walk

Learn about art as you walk around the UCSD Campus on the free self-guided Stuart Art Collection Tour. You’ll discover more than 20 sculptures spread all across the campus. Many of these artists have won prestigious honors and awards for their artistry. Don’t forget to look up, down and even use your ears in the wind garden. The most notable piece is the "Fallen Star" house on top of a building that looks like it's falling off, number 18 on the map and this "Bear" is number 16.

Good to know: You may not get to all of them with kids in tow, so try starting at the Geisel Library to see the Dr. Seuss sculpture and venture to as many as you want from there.

UCSD Stuart Art Collection Art Walk
9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla
858-534-2117
Online:  stuartcollection.ucsd.edu

—Bonnie Taylor

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