September brings some of the warmest days to our fair county. You’ve likely heard public officials advise residents without home AC to find a designated Cool Zone when temperatures spike. So after you’ve browsed every book in your nearest public library, consider heading to Balboa Park to cool off inside its diverse cluster of culture zones.

In order to protect works of art, photos, memorabilia, and other fragile artifacts, park museums crank up the AC on summer’s hottest days. That’s a win-win for San Diego’s most important collections and for you. Though most museums do charge an admission fee, there are many ways to stay cool for a reduced cost if not free in Balboa Park.

1. Cool Drinks + Unique Shopping

This may come as a shock, but Starbucks isn’t the only café in town for hot summer day escapes. Many park museums, along with The Prado Restaurant, offer indoor restaurant and café seating in addition to breezy outdoor settings. You can generally access museum cafés without paying the regular admission fee. And when you’ve done enough sitting, feel free to browse one-of-a-kind gifts in their stores.

2. Pay What You Wish—How Cool Is That?

Many park museums have shifted to a budget-friendly approach to admissions that allows you to anonymously drop a few bucks (if you wish) into the donation box at the entrance. The Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego History Center, and the new Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego, encourage you to give forward and pay what you can.

3. The Commons Level Is Way Cool

After its extended closure for renovations, the Mingei International Museum has just reopened its spacious new galleries and state-of-the-art amenities. True to its philosophy that “art belongs to everyone,” visitors can access for free the entire first floor, The Commons, which features displays of permanent collection objects, Shop Mingei, a cool new bistro and walk-up coffee bar, and an outdoor courtyard for gathering and lounging

4. Save Cold Hard Cash with an Explorer Pass

Once you’re here, you may feel the urge to explore the many cultural treasures located in your own backyard. Whether the forecast is for one day or one week of elevated temperatures, the Explorer Pass gives you access to the cooler recesses of multiple museums’ galleries, with discounts of up to 58%. Or stake out your cool zones for next summer with an Annual Pass.

5. Cool Nights Under the Stars

The delayed start of the San Diego International Summer Organ Festival means more opportunities in late summer/early fall to enjoy the wide assortment of top organists from around the world. All concerts are free, and music-loving four-legged friends and picnic baskets are always welcome.