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The Ultimate Guide To The San Diego Natural History Museum

If you are looking for a fun, educational, and family-friendly activity during your trip to San Diego, the San Diego Natural History Museum is the place to be. This extraordinary museum of natural history offers you a unique chance to explore the beauty of biodiversity and nature itself. Through numerous interesting exhibitions, educations, events and research, the San Diego Natural History Museum inspire people to respect nature and learn more about the environment they are living in. It is based on the natural history of Southern California and the Baja California Peninsula.

About the San Diego Natural History Museum

Situated in the beautiful Balboa Park, the San Diego Natural History Museum is a real treat for the whole family. Locally known as the NAT, this cool museum is also the oldest scientific institution in Southern California.

It’s interesting how the idea of creating this natural history museum came from a group of friends who were passionate about nature. They invested their time, effort, and enthusiasm so the museum was officially opened in 1874. Since then, the San Diego Natural History Museum attracts more than 400.000 people per year and has become one of the most popular museums in San Diego. 

San Diego Natural History Museum
Image by San Diego Union-Tribune

Today, this amazing piece of culture is not only the city’s institution but also a favorite place to visit among children and adults. From dinosaurs and fossils to the world of bugs and rattlesnakes, this San Diego museum has something for everyone. Therefore, if you have always wanted to know more about the natural history and biodiversity of the region, you are at the right place.

Come and understand the Southern California region and all the natural beauty that it offers. Enjoy a research collection of more than 9 million specimens. Visit an enormous theater and watch some of the most interesting 2D and 3D movies. Let yourself be impressed by the unique, interactive exhibitions spanning five floors! Just imagine what you can see here!

The San Diego Natural History Museum also has must-visit rotating exhibits that bring nature to life, as well as some really good permanent and special exhibitions. 

San Diego Natural History Museum: Permanent Exhibits

Dinos San Diego
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This unique museum is not only the museum of natural history but also a dinosaur museum, a research center and a place promoting biodiversity. Like any other great museum, this one also has some permanent exhibits worth the visit.

Take your time and try to visit as many exhibits as you can.

Hidden Gems

A perfect exhibit for all fans of glittery things! Discover Earth’s true colors through more than 100 of the brightest and most spectacular minerals and gems. This sparkly collection is on display on every floor of the Museum, so it is the first thing you’ll notice after leaving the elevators.

Image by Brett Hondow from Pixabay

Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage

This cool exhibit gives you a unique glimpse behind the scenes. Leading you to the storage areas underground and behind gallery walls, you will experience a true ‘backstage’ of the Museum. It’s also a great opportunity to discover numerous fossils, shells, insects, minerals, plants, and animals that never see the light of day. A true ‘backstage’ of the Museum!

The Backyard

This fun exhibit is completely dedicated to the youngest visitors. Bring your little ones and encourage them to learn more about the natural world. Let them play under the shade of trees, go search for hidden treasures or read their favorite book. You can also actively participate in their adventurous venture or relax at the Flying Squirrel Café bar nearby. The Backyard is a fun oasis for little learners aged five or under.

Fossil Mysteries

Take a walk through prehistoric Southern California and discover the rich fossil history of the region. Travel through a 75-million-year timeline and get up close and personal with dinosaurs, mastodons, and ancient sea cows. This is a highly interactive exhibition so you will have at your disposal various multi-sensory murals, dioramas, fossils, and models. You can also participate in finding answers for one of the ponder mysteries, examine microfossils, find survivors of the past or build an animal.

Fossils Museum
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Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science

Another great exhibit for all history buffs and science lovers. Displaying numerous rare artworks, books, historical documents and photographs, this permanent exhibit shows the past, the present and the future of citizen science. Interactive multimedia experiences and unique touchable objects are only a bonus. Come and see for yourself you don’t need to be a scientist to participate in science.

Coast to Cactus in Southern California

Have you always wanted to see undiscovered California? Now it’s your chance. This amazing exhibit will take you on a journey across the rich animal and plant life of Southern California to the diverse terrain biodiversity of the region. Innovative media, live animals, specimens from the Museum’s scientific collections, and hands-on exhibits are also used to illustrate the beauty of this world.

Additionally, the exhibit is presented in both English and Spanish.


This unique exhibition offers you a chance to look at some of the most fascinating, interesting and rare animal skulls. Additionally, all skulls belong to mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians from different periods and places around the world. Therefore, you’ll be able to see the most spectacular ones (a big-horned sheep or a rhinoceros) and the most miniature ones (California’s little Western Black-headed Snake).

Skulls Museum
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Escape The Nat

Another fabulous interactive exhibition provided by the San Diego Natural History Museum is Escape the Nat. This unique escape room also offers you a chance to join forces with your friends and save the world from a deadly virus. Find clues, solve puzzles and use science to save the world!

Reservations are required and the cost is 30 USD per person. This fun experience is recommended for anyone aged 13 and up and can accommodate 2-6 people. However, all groups must include at least one 18+ adult.

Moreton Bay Fig Tree

Don’t miss out on the chance to see one of the biggest trees in the state. Planted in 1914, this remarkable tree is an icon of San Diego.

San Diego Natural History Museum: Special Exhibits

If you have enough time, why not spend the whole day in this amazing natural history museum? In addition to permanent exhibits, the San Diego Natural History Museum offers special, guest exhibitions.

Insects Face to Face (opening November 9, 2019)

Another amazing exhibition that is worth the visit even if you’re not a fan of bugs. Through stunning macro photography, you’ll get a whole new perspective on bees, caterpillars, beetles, and many other exotic insects. Also, prepare for a burst of fluorescent colors, menacing looks, and even cute looks! This large-scale photography exhibition may change the way you think about bugs.

Bugs San Diego Natural History Museum
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Living Lab (opening November 23, 2019)

This coming soon exhibit is not for everybody! Living Lab brings you close encounters with small animals that most often cause fear in humans. From flesh-eating and fuzzy insects to arachnids and hairy spiders, the Living Lab has them all. Also, come and learn about their nature, nocturnal lifestyle habits, and seasonality.

The Cerutti Mastodon Discovery (until December 31, 2019)

Come and see 130.000-year-old mastodon bones, tusks, and molars. Also, discover evidence of modification by early humans and learn about dramatically revising the timeline of the first humans that reached the Americas.

San Diego Natural History Museum: Visitor Information

Flying Squirrel San Diego Natural History Museum
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To make the most of your visit to the San Diego Natural History Museum, here are some important pieces of information.

  • Opening hours: daily 10 am – 5 pm (closed Christmas and Thanksgiving)
  • General Admission:

Adults: $19.95

Seniors (62+) & Students/Military: $16.95

Youth (13- 17): $11.95

Children (2 and under): Free

Members: Free If you join the membership

* The museum offers a discount for groups of 10 and more

  • Amenities: The Flying Squirrel Cafe, which is ideal for coffee, tea, snacks or lunch. To find inspiring gift ideas or to buy botanical art products, visit the Alex and Elisabeth Wise Museum Store. Don’t forget to visit the giant-screen theater (the largest in California!) for a fascinating 3D experience.
  • Free Days: Every first Tuesday of each month, the entrance is free for residents of the San Diego City (don’t forget to bring your ID!) and active military personnel
  • Kids go free: During the month of October, admission is free for children aged 12 and under
  • Events: Check their website for a complete schedule of interesting exhibits and upcoming events


The Biodiversity Research Center in the San Diego Natural History Museum offers a great opportunity to see real scientists at work. Here, you can also learn about new discoveries, conservation highlights, and the region’s diverse wildlife. However, that’s not all. For all those who want to know more, the museum regularly hosts environmental education and programs.

This natural history museum strongly believes nature is the best exhibition of all; exactly what can be seen from the entire vision of the museum, the atmosphere, and the exhibition setup. Also, if you’ve already been to the San Diego Natural History Museum and want to share your impressions, feel free to comment below. We’re looking forward to hearing about your experiences!

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