San Diego

Many, but Not All, San Diego Museums Move Toward Reopening

Some of Balboa Park's museums reopen this weekend, including the San Diego Museum of Art

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As more of San Diego County reopens, some museums in Balboa Park will do the same this holiday weekend after being closed for months due to the pandemic.

It took more than a week after San Diego's declining COVID-19 case counts allowed it to be removed from California's monitoring list, but state and local officials finally announced on Aug. 28 that the county's iconic museums would be able to, once again, admit guests inside who are wearing masks and socially distancing -- with some restrictions. The USS Midway Museum, of course -- with its outdoor flight and hangar decks -- has been opened since July 1.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego was second in the water, reopening on Aug. 29. And then there was the San Diego Air & Space Museum, which lost no time announcing it would be welcoming back guests ASAP -- limited, of course, to 25% of maximum occupancy or 100 attendees, whichever is smaller.

The San Diego Museum of Art is one of the ones reopening this weekend – with many safety protocols in place.

The museum has added temperature scanners, and everyone will have to be screened before heading inside. Visitors will also see one-way, social distancing markers on the ground and Plexiglas barriers around the front desks.

The museum’s water fountains have been turned off; signs are posted letting visitors know that this decision is another COVID-era safety precaution. The benches around the museum are to be used only by members of the same family.

The San Diego Museum of Art has been offering some virtual programming during the pandemic shutdown but executive director Roxana Velasquez said standing in front of a painting or sculpture, in person, is a different experience. Perhaps it’s the escape some might need right now.

“You have to start thinking about techniques – about subject matters, about landscapes, about perspective,” Velasquez said. “And, for a moment, stop thinking about the pandemic, vaccines or contagion.”

Meanwhile, the San Diego History Center at Balboa Park also planned to reopen Friday. That museum will also reopen with new safety rules and, for now, its research archives will remain closed.

This reopening story of museums, however, may be as much about what's not reopening. In some cases, it may have something to do with those very same restrictions. Some of the bigger museums, for example, have a capacity of thousands of guests, and 100 ticket buyers would not pay to keep them fully staffed.

Still others won't be reopening any time soon because they made the decision to renovate during the enforced closure -- that's the case with the Timken Museum of Art, for example, which will keep the doors shut till 2021.

The operators of some institutions, of course, could also be suffering from whiplash from July, when museums like the San Diego Natural History Museum opened their doors only to have to stand down a short time later when cases spiked again. The Nat, too, has since been bitten by the renovation bug.

Here's a full roundup of cultural museums around the county and their reopening plans:

  • Air & Space Museum: Reopened Aug. 31
  • Automotive Museum: Reopening Sept. 17; Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Birch Aquarium: Reopening Sept. 15
  • California Surf Museum: Reopened Sept. 2; Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Comic-Con Museum: Opening date is still to be announced
  • Fleet Science Center: Closed until further notice
  • Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum: Closed until further notice
  • Japanese Friendship Garden: Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with some restrictions on indoor access
  • Maritime Museum of San Diego: Reopened Aug. 29
  • Mingei International Museum: Under renovation; reopening in late 2020
  • Museum of Art: Reopening Sept. 5
  • Museum of Contemporary Art: Downtown location closed until further notice due to pandemic; La Jolla location closed due to renovations
  • Museum of Making Music: Closed for renovations; will reopen Feb. 2
  • Museum of Photographic Arts: Closed until at least the holiday season.
  • Museum of Us: Planning to reopen in the near future. Determining a reopening opening date this week
  • Natural History Museum: Closed through early 2021
  • San Diego History Center: Reopening Sept. 4
  • San Diego Model Railroad Museum: Reopening Sept. 4 at 11 a.m.
  • San Diego Zoo and Safari Park: Open, with limited access to indoor exhibits
  • Sea Life at Legoland: Reopening on Sept. 4
  • Sea World: Partially reopened Aug. 28
  • Timken Museum of Art: Closed for renovations; reopening in the spring of 2021
  • USS Midway Museum: Reopened July 1
  • Veterans Museum at Balboa Park: Plans are underway to reopen in September once renovation work is complete

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