San Diego For Free: Get Lost in the Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla

museum mapsA 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 maps logoLocation: 7825 Fay Ave Suite LL-A, La Jolla, CA 92037 (Located in lower courtyard of building)

Free Hours: Wednesdays & Thursdays, 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. Also by appointment for groups – call 855-653-6277

Best For: Travelers, geography whizzes, explorers, navigators, the lost


As the first month of a new year comes to a close you may still be thinking about (or drafting) resolutions for 2013. If those resolutions include a goal to travel somewhere the Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla may be a good resource for you to further ponder a destination. The museum has a wide variety of maps dating from the 15th through the 20th century and is sure to inspire even the biggest homebody to sail for distant seas.

Museum maps 01I received a copy of Maphead by Ken Jennings (of Jeopardy fame) for Christmas in early December and had just finished the book when I saw an article about the Map & Atlas Museum in the San Diego Reader. I decided I had to go and visited later that month.

Upon arriving at the building I was certain I had made a mistake. I was in front of a nondescript office building in downtown La Jolla, occupied by a gym, sandwich shop, and other unknown tenants. This was not the large mysterious mansion housing secrets of ancient trade routes I had envisioned. Even when I entered the lower courtyard level as directed I thought I was in the wrong place. Only when I peered behind an elevator bank, literally the last place I looked, did I find the glass doors announcing the presence of a museum.

The interior, however, was just as I had imagined: soft, soothing instrumental music playing, beautiful maps everywhere, an extremely friendly and informative guide welcoming me. The presentation and service at this museum was hands down the best I have experienced anywhere in San Diego. I haven’t been to every museum but have been to many and give the Map & Atlas Museum my highest recommendation.

Museum maps 02Perhaps some of this is a personal bias towards geography. A few years ago my sister and I undertook a challenge to memorize every country and capital on the planet and to complete a blank map in a timed competition for bragging rights. The challenge was held at the appropriately named Map Room bar in Chicago, the results remain disputed to this day. The beer selection at said bar however, is highly recommended by both participants.

Regardless of your affection for geography or maps you will find something to suit your tastes here. There are cartoon style maps of San Diego drawn to solicit visitors and customers from the early 20th century. A whole series of maps depict the long-held rumor of the ‘Island of California’ – of course disproven by later explorers but perhaps a portent of a future state of geography in the Western United States. A separate room holds ancient maps of China and Africa.

The museum is funded and founded by Michael Stone, a current resident of La Jolla. There are frequent educational tours for local schools and education is one of the primary goals of the museum. My thanks to Mr. Stone for sharing his collection with the public and I hope you will enjoy perusing the treasures within as much as I did.


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. avatarAnnie says

    Never heard about this place, but it sounds wonderful! You’ve given us a great weekend activity idea – thanks!

    • avatarJohn Anderson says

      Hope you enjoy it – just remember the limited dates and hours. (I don’t believe it’s open this weekend since it’s the 4th Saturday, just fyi in case that wasn’t clear above.) Hope you have a great weekend regardless of your activities (or lack thereof given the cozy napping weather)!