San Diego for Free: Museum of Photographic Arts

A weekly column dedicated to sharing the best sights and activities in San Diego at the best price – free!  We have a great city and you don’t need to break the bank to experience it.

 Museum of Photographic Arts

  1. Website
  2. Neighborhood & Address: Balboa Park, 1649 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
  3. Best For: Photo lovers, thinkers, history buffs, lovers
  4. Hours: 10:00 – 17:00, Tuesday through Sunday
  5. Free Hours: 2nd Tuesday every month, for San Diego County residents (with ID)

Balboa Park is known as the crown jewel of San Diego.  Continuing this analogy, the many museums located in the park would have to be the rubies, sapphires, and emeralds that make the crown shine in splendor.  Most of these museums are free to visit for San Diego County residents each Tuesday, on a rotating basis.  The full schedule for the Residents Free Tuesdays program can be found here.

The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) is free on the second Tuesday of each month.  My first visit to MOPA was for a mayoral debate about environmental issues that was held on Earth Day (April 22) earlier this year.  The auditorium in the building was lovely, but I had been looking forward to a return visit to view the exhibits.

MOPA was founded in 1983 when the City of San Diego donated a 7,000 square foot space in the Casa de Balboa building to give a physical footprint to an organization that had been around since 1972.  The mission of the museum is “to inspire, educate and engage the broadest possible audience through the presentation, collection and preservation of photography, film and video”.

A featured exhibit during my visit was Three Story House, presenting a variety of photographs of people and their dwelling places from assorted locations and times.  It was interesting to see how housing has changed over the years and the commentary that our living spaces presents about our lifestyles and desires.  There were also a series of quotes about homes on the walls which were charming and ranged from ancient Roman sages to modern day businessmen.  This exhibit runs through September 30. 

A second exhibit was Jazz Loft The Project:W. Eugene Smith in NYC, 1957-1965, which runs through Oct 7. Due to my balancing act of carrying a half-sleeping baby, camera, and bag, I wasn’t able to tour this exhibit during my visit.

The exhibits at MOPA change regularly so even if you’ve already been there will be something new for you to discover on a return trip.  I hope you enjoy this Balboa Park jewel and find inspiration for your own adventures in photography.


John P. Anderson

John was an accountant in a former life and now devotes his time to child-rearing, reading, writing, and working to ensure that San Diego is truly America's Finest City. Interested in environmental issues, John enjoys connecting with others that want to improve the health of our world and community. You can find John at or on Twitter (@j_p_a_). Comments, suggestions, wisdom, and complaints are enthusiastically welcomed.


  1. avatarOB Mercy says

    My girlfriend got married here last year. Well, the ceremony was in the garden grotto next door and the reception was in the photo museum. I spent an hr or so looking at the photos, it was lovely. All the tables were set up in the front room, and it didn’t cost them a whole lot.