The Best San Diego Art Galleries, According to Local Gallerists

San Diego has a thriving art scene captured by its varied and eclectic galleries
San Diego has a thriving art scene captured by its varied and eclectic galleries | © Howard Lipin / U-T San Diego / ZUMA Wire / Alamy Live News
Photo of Alex Wexelman
Staff Writer26 March 2020

San Diego’s art museums are beloved, but its galleries, free and open to the public, are easily accessible. These are San Diego’s best art galleries according to gallerists themselves.

For years now, San Diego‘s Barrio Logan neighborhood has been providing refuge for a burgeoning artistic community. Its warehouse spaces have been converted into gallery spaces, such as La Bodega, and its history as a Mexican-American community means it has a tradition of murals dating back to the 1960s. For example, protestors who occupied the land today known as Chicano Park painted colorful murals depicting the trials and tribulations of San Diego’s Mexican population on the pillars of a bridge that threatened the park’s status as a public space. Today, Chicano Park is home to the largest collection of Chicano murals in the world, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2016.

Barrio Logan is one of the 14 official California Cultural Districts and abounds with galleries where local art is available to the public. Other neighborhoods such as the Gaslamp Quarter, La Jolla and Downtown San Diego have thriving art scenes captured by the eclectic galleries that display these works. Culture Trip reached out to three gallery owners in San Diego – Sonya Sparks, owner of Sparks Gallery, and Paul Basile and Chris Martino of basileIE – to recommend the best galleries in San Diego.

Sonya Sparks

Sonya Sparks’ eponymous gallery, located in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter, showcases contemporary art by Southern California artists and serves as an event space. Sparks primarily chose galleries that, like her own, are female-owned and -operated. Her picks below:

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“Distinction Gallery is a well-established gallery in Escondido. The primary genres of work shown are Contemporary Realism, Surrealism and Urban Art with a focus on the figure,” Sparks says. “The gallery has recently renovated the space to include a bar and continues to support emerging artists and teens with its nonprofit called ArtHatch.”

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“Art Produce is an artist-run storefront in the diverse and historic community of North Park,” Sparks explains. “While the gallery is open by appointment only, the gallery installations are viewable to the public from the sidewalk due to the large storefront windows. Exhibitions are often installation-based or sculptural.”

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“Madison Gallery showcases contemporary artwork from both emerging, mid-career and established artists, and is located in Solana Beach,” Sparks explains. “The gallery also offers in-home collection curatorial services, personal collection development and curating, on-site consultation, virtual previews and international sourcing.”

Paul Basile and Chris Martino

The art space basileIE is a collaboration between Paul Basile, owner of Basile Studio, and artist and curator Chris Martino, owner of CM Curatorial. Located in Barrio Logan, basileIE showcases and supports progressive contemporary art. Their picks, with some light editing for clarity, below:

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“[This space is an] experimental center for the arts with strong community ties that always has interesting and provocative exhibitions that make you think,” Basile and Martino say. “It’s comprised of multiple galleries and exhibition spaces, housed inside an old industrial building in Logan Heights.”

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“This hidden gem operates with sketchy hours (by luck and appointment only),” Basile and Martino, who own the space, point out. “However, if you make it into the former warehouse in Barrio Logan, it features solid exhibitions focusing on the powerful axis of experience and aesthetics that runs from Tijuana to Los Angeles through San Diego. Bonus: Don’t miss ‘Barrio Tiki,’ San Diego’s most unique tiki-themed space, hidden in the back, located in a room filled with paintings that leads to an adjacent patio designed by artist C. Martino.”

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“This big, new space, a move necessitated after a rent hike, retains the same passionate commitment to featuring the best and brightest in Chicano art and beyond,” Basile and Martino explain. “La Bodega, located in what used to be a steel warehouse on National Avenue – less than a mile from the original location it held for six years – is the beating heart of Barrio Logan’s vibrant local arts community.”

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“Thumbprint, the well-established gallery in La Jolla, provides an eclectic and engaging atmosphere to view art by local, national and international artists,” Basile and Martino explain. “The space features pop-ups in addition to the monthly exhibitions that showcase emerging, mid-career and established artists with a particular focus on contemporary pop culture, nostalgia, Urban Art and Pop Surrealism.”
These recommendations were updated on March 26, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.