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The Best of San Diego 2024: Arts & Culture

The local arts and cultural phenomenons that swept us off our feet this year
Fans enjoy the Party in the Park at Gallagher Square before the game at Petco Park in San Diego, California.
Photo Credit: Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres

Best Birthday Glow-up

20th Anniversary of Petco Park + Gallagher Square Renovation

It’s a loaded request when you sing “take me out to the ballgame” in San Diego—gone are the days of a paltry selection of peanuts and Cracker Jacks. Now in its 20th year in East Village, Petco Park packs an amenities punch with fab eats from restaurants all over town, not to mention stellar views of the game (and the city). Its stadium sidecar, the freshly renovated Gallagher Square, highlights the history of baseball and offers a place for kids to run amuck and explore activities before games.

Best Reason to Give Spotify a Rest

Rez Radio 91.3

Pala Rez Radio’s signal reaches only five miles—but it amplifies the reservation’s voice worldwide. Tune in while driving through San Luis Rey River valley, or stream on the free Rez Radio app. It’s the only place you’ll hear the Cupeño native language on the airwaves. Listen to local music, Native songs, rez-dub reggae with tribal member Elijah Duro, Saturday night party tracks, old-timey radio shows, daily live North County news, and the award-winning Pala Life Past and Present broadcast.

Best Platform for Your Experimental Poetry

The Perfect Healthy

The local independent paper The Perfect Healthy marries retro zine sensibilities with Gen-Z idiosyncrasy, packing no-holds-barred art, articles, and poetry and many, many different fonts dizzyingly into a few black-and-white pages, all sourced from the publication’s community of “total freaks [and] mutants” (per its founder). Volunteers distribute 10,000 free copies to bookstores, coffee shops, art supply stores, record stores, skate shops, and other outlets across the county every month. Long live print.

San Diego Magazine's 2024 Best of San Diego Arts & Culture featuring the San Diego Opera
Photo Credit: Karli Cadel

Best Sexagenarian Singers

San Diego Opera

With its 2024–2025 season, the San Diego Opera rings in its 60th year of bringing our region all the arias your Puccini-loving heart can handle. The institution is leaning hard into the operatic icons this anniversary season, starting in November with La bohème (the OG Rent), followed by Salome (based on the play of the same name by Oscar Wilde) and La traviata (Verdi’s classic love story). If you’ve let your Italian and German slip, no biggie—follow along with subtitles in English and Spanish.

Best Way to Awaken Your Inner Mary Oliver

San Diego Writers, Ink

Do you think in sonnets? Do characters whisper plot twists inside your dreams? Whether you’re picking up your pen again after a few years or need feedback on your freshly finished memoir, San Diego Writers, Ink has it all: Local authors offer more than 30 affordable classes, workshops, and writing groups each month at coffee shops, at libraries, over Zoom, and at the nonprofit’s hub in Liberty Station. This year, the org celebrates two decades of building SD’s writing community and helping transform blank pages into fire.

Best Bounceback

Lowrider Ban Lift

Do you hear that? It’s the rumble of garage doors sending tremors throughout the city. After nearly four decades of slumber, lowriders are finally waking and rolling out into the sun-spotted streets. A lift on a longtime lowrider ban, in effect throughout California since January, has allowed hundreds of locals to return to the art of driving “low and slow,” an important symbol of cultural expression for the Chicano community. Pop Champagne (and your car hood) in celebration.

San Diego Magazine's 2024 Best of San Diego Arts & Culture featuring The Rainbow art space in North Park
Courtesy of The Rainbow

Best Mess Hall

The Rainbow

In 2022, a landlord let Nicole Zappala put her art studio in a North Park storefront that was slated for teardown. It was the first in a string of “dead” spaces she has used to paint and host adults-only art experiences that encourage creativity, community, and freedom. Rainbow participants throw paint, adorn themselves in neon colors, and decorate flower pots with faux insects and mini food. “Play is such a part of the ability to be present and connect and find joy,” Zappala says. “Our modern focus on productivity doesn’t lend well to that.”

Best Tony Award Incubator

La Jolla Playhouse

If you’re even a little thespian-curious, you know this theater is the place to find out who will become the next Anton Chekhov, John Barrymore, Chita Rivera, or Stephen Sondheim. Not just an incubator for the best in live theater in San Diego, LJP acts as a funnel for productions that are Broadway-bound. This year, shows that originated at LPJ picked up more than 15 Tony nominations. Their 2023 adaptation of The Outsiders, for instance, went on to win the award for Best New Musical at the 2024 ceremonies.

Best Slice of Local Rock and Roll History

Belly Up’s 50th Anniversary

It’s been half a century of rocking and rolling, thrashing and moshing, vibing and jiving at this Solana Beach culture hub. In 1974, Dave Hodges (with the help of music promoter Steve Brigotti) established the Belly Up in a repurposed WWII Navy building. Launched with a handful of mics and no stage, the North County watering hole blossomed into a local music venue empire spanning three locations, including The Sound, which opened in Del Mar last year.

San Diego Magazine's 2024 Best of San Diego Arts & Culture featuring a San Diego Zoo monkey
Courtesy of The San Diego Zoo

Best Wildin’ Out on Social


The ultimate pet-stagram? The San Diego Zoo’s meme-filled updates on their massive brood of wild creatures. Brightening feeds with posts that are hilarious, relatable, and occasionally naughty (all the dik-dik jokes, accompanied by adorable baby antelope pics), the zoo also packs their captions with animal facts. The account has made celebs of some of the zoo’s cutest critters, including aardvark Nandi and a bunch of baby capybaras.

Best Use of Cacophony

Museum of Making Music

More interactive spaces, learning galleries, and historical presentations to explore at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad? That’s music to our ears. Following a major renovation, new additions include The Backstage Lounge (where adults can give high-end instruments a whirl) and The Center Stage (where kids of all ages can get hands-on music-making experience). Explore revamped galleries alongside special exhibits with new products from brands like Yamaha, Vox, and Boss.

Best Cross-Border Collab

World Design Capital

San Diego and Tijuana made history this year as the first-ever dual-city World Design Capital, a distinction designed to draw attention (and action) to the region’s cultural infrastructure (or lack thereof). Artists and designers of all disciplines are convening in these sister cities to share their work and ideas through a slate of sponsored events that aim to bring ideas and solutions to the forefront of artistic, environmental, civic, and social spaces within our communities.

San Diego Magazine's 2024 Best of San Diego Arts & Culture featuring the Loud Fridge Theatre Group
Photo Credit: Ken Jacques

Best Shakespeare Shake-Ups

Loud Fridge Theatre Group

Antony, shmantony. Cleopatra’s the focus in Loud Fridge Theatre Group’s avant-garde adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic, running next month in partnership with Moxie Theatre. Founded in 2019 with a commitment to centering historically silenced and marginalized voices, Loud Fridge mounts bold, experimental plays written, directed, and performed by local creatives. Their 2024 season is chock-full of can’t-miss shows, including a BIPOC burlesque series running through October.

Best Art Talks

Two Rooms

Founded by San Diego artist Lizzie Zelter, La Jolla gallery Two Rooms is one of the county’s newest and boldest spaces for contemporary art. It opened with an all-local, nine-artist exhibition in February 2023, and has since mounted six relentlessly curious, sometimes-interactive shows, with another arriving this month. Zelter excels at placing works in conversation with one another— the gallery’s group shows are an exercise in drawing connections across disparate styles and mediums.

The San Diego Winyl Club featuring live DJs, picnics, wine, and charcuterie every Wednesday at Balboa Park
Photo Credit: Cole Novak

Best Vibes

Winyl Club

Picnic blankets cover the grass like a quilt haphazardly half-stitched together. Music is in the air, mixed with the smell of food, some smoke. In the middle of this multicolored cloth expanse, someone is steaming dumplings on a gas burner, serving strangers and friends. Down the hill, a group juggles a soccer ball, while others play frisbee and a handful of people take turns slacklining. Doordashers arrive with pizzas. Kids weave in and out of a labyrinth of beach chairs and coolers. Balloons. A cat on a leash. This is where it’s at on a Wednesday.

Read the Full Story Here

Best Playbill Archive

Balboa Theatre 100th Birthday

Far from its inaugural vaudeville days of straw boat hats, soft-shoe acts, and the dreaded hook, Balboa Theatre stands proud as one of the architectural and cultural gems of downtown San Diego. Along with the Civic Theatre, it’s the home of Broadway San Diego, bringing in icons of voice and stage. Beyond Broadway, the venue hosts acts ranging from indie rock stalwarts to comedy legends. The theater is turning 100 years young this year, a true testament that the show goes on.

See our complete list of the Best of San Diego here


By SDM Staff

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