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Natural History Museum, San Diego

Great Whale Skeleton Great Whale Skeleton Photo: Ray Bouknight via Flickr

The Natural History Museum of San Diego or theNat, was founded in 1874, it is the oldest museum of its kind in Southern California and it took up its present location in 1933. The present building has 5 floors covering 14,000m² and provides enough space for both an extensive permanent collection and a large temporary exhibition space. The museum focuses on the natural history of Southern California and the biodiversity in the region including the Peninsula of Baja California and Mexico.

Among the permanent collections is the Bird and Mammal Collection with about 46,700 taxidermy birds, 8050 bird skeletons, 23,450 taxidermy mammal specimens and 960 mammal skeletons. The entomology collection includes 980,000 pinned insects and 20,000 preserved in ethanol. The species come from Southern California, Mexico and the Peninsula of Baja California. Other sections of the museum include botany, marine invertebrates, mineralogy and herpetology but the star attraction is the paleontology exhibit.

Here you can see fossils of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants mainly from California and Mexico. In all there are fossils of 108,000 species. Models, dioramas and interactive displays have been used to present the Fossil Mysteries exhibition. There is a fun display of real-size dinosaurs which have been animated so that they appear to come to life. Near the paleontology display there is the Demonstration Lab where visitors can observe scientists preparing, preserving and studying the specimens. One of the most popular recreations is of a giant wooly mammoth on the basement level.

The fascinating Sculls exhibition displays the sculls of 200 creatures from around the world starting with that of a hummingbird and progressing to larger animals like a rhinoceros.

One of the museums most recent additions is a state-of-the-art Giant Screen Theatre with a Dolby Digital 3D projector. This is California's largest museum 3D theatre; it can seat 300 in its stadium-style auditorium. The films change daily and include subjects like Dinosaur Alive; Titans of the Ice Age and Ocean Oasis. Entrance to the theatre is included in museum admission.

The museum hosts regular temporary exhibitions like Coffee: The World in Your Cup and Water: California Story. In addition the museum has special projects, events and activities like lectures, kid's sleep-overs, nature hikes and Wacky Science Sunday.


Hours: Open daily 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Address/Map:  1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 232-3821
Website: Plan your visit to theNAT
Adult: $17 | Senior: $15 | Students, Military, Youth: $12 | Child(3-12): $11
Free for members and children 2 and under