Located in Balboa Park between the Fleet Science Center and the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Natural History Museum is one of Southern California’s finest museums. Affectionately nicknamed “The Nat,” the San Diego Natural History Museum has exhibits on a diverse range of topics such as dinosaurs, gemstones, cacti, whales, lizards, flowers, and more. Multiple educational films run here regularly, too, and the impressive Moreton Bay Fig Tree stands nearby as well.
Save on your visit to the The Natural History Museum!
The Natural History Museum is included on the Go San Diego Pass. Save an additional 10% on the Go City Pass with Coupon Code: CMGOCITY10 The discount stacks on top the current sale prices! Promo expires on March 31st.
The organization responsible for the museum we know and love today as The Nat is the San Diego Society of Natural History. This venerable organization was founded way back in 1874, a fact that makes it the region’s oldest scientific institution. The early years of the society saw them working to protect local wonders like Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, and striving to establish their own natural history museum, which they finally did in 1912. At the time, it consisted of one rented room of a hotel in downtown San Diego.
From those humble origins, the society would eventually raise enough money to construct a permanent museum in 1933, the stately structure that still stands today in Balboa Park. While much has changed in the ensuing decades, the San Diego Natural History Museum’s emphasis on research, education, and appreciation for science remains the same as ever.
What’s at the San Diego Natural History Museum
The San Diego Natural History Museum has four full floors of exhibitions to explore. You’ll encounter a mixture of permanent exhibitions and temporary installations, but regardless, there’s truly something here for everyone. Fossil Mysteries showcase some of the museum’s finest locally discovered dinosaur bones, while Coast to Cactus in Southern California highlights the unique wildlife that calls the area home. Hidden Gems presents over 100 precious minerals in a creatively arranged gallery.
The Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater is where you’ll find the Subaru Giant Screen Experience. This spectacular theater seats 300 people and regularly shows movies on fascinating subjects like dinosaurs, oceans, and the history of Earth. These films typically last anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes, and a ticket to the theater is included as part of your general admission.
If you catch yourself in need of a quick pick-me-up during your visit—or perhaps you’re just ready for lunch—the Flying Squirrel Café has you covered. This casual establishment sells pastries, snacks, salads, sandwiches, tea, and coffee. It’s open for business the entire time the museum itself is open.
Not far from the Flying Squirrel Café is the Alex and Elizabeth Wise Museum Store, where you can find a great gift for your favorite natural history buff. They sell an assortment of souvenirs, books, and apparel, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for in-person the day you’re visiting the museum, you can always hit up their online store later for more great options.
Tips for Visiting the San Diego Natural History Museum
- If you are seeing other sights while in San Diego you can save some money if by getting a Go San Diego Pass. The The Natural History Museum is included as are many other great San Diego Attractions.
- Some of the best photo opportunities at the San Diego Natural History Museum aren’t even in an individual exhibition. You won’t want to miss out on snapping a selfie in front of the Megalodon shark replica that hangs from the ceiling of the atrium. Likewise, the Allosaurus skeleton is not to be missed!
- Another place for amazing pictures is the Moreton Bay Fig Tree, which stands majestically just north of the museum. Over 100 years old, this massive fig tree has become a symbol of the city of San Diego, and is well worth taking the time to admire.
- The Nat runs numerous special events throughout the year. These can be anything from guided hikes through local nature preserves to panel discussions on scientific topics to collaborative art projects and beyond. Check the museum’s official website for more details to learn what extraordinary outings might be happening when you’re planning to visit.
- Wheelchairs are available at no charge for the duration of your visit. Check with the Visitor Services Desk upon arriving at The Nat.