The flora and fauna of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico are a fascinating lot, and have been since the days of the Allosaur. And at the San Diego Natural History Museum (nicknamed theNAT) you’ll learn all about it, through fascinating exhibits by award-winning designers on the diversity of the natural world that surrounds you.
As you’ve no doubt noticed if you’ve read many of the other articles on this website, most of the museums in Balboa Park aren’t nearly as old as the buildings that house them, and none predate the 1915 California-Panama exhibition. None, that is, but theNAT. It started off in 1874, making it not only Southern California’s oldest scientific institution, but also the third-oldest west of the Mississippi River.
theNAT is home to the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias, who conduct research in a staggering range of fields, contributing to the museum’s vast collection. On permanent display you’ll find Fossil Mysteries, a huge exhibit on dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, including both skeletons and life-size models of everything from Lambeosaurus to the extinct shark Megalodon. At one end of the exhibit you’ll find both a huge OmniGlobe showing the movement of tectonic plates and a Foucault Pendulum. Water: A California Story, another exhibit, explains how the region’s water supply system works and how climate change affects it, while the exhibit simply named SKULLS displays 200 of the weirdest and most wonderful from the museum vaults. There’s always a couple rotating exhibits as well, with topics such as arctic creatures, DNA barcoding and even pirate shipwrecks.
At Dino Café you can get coffee, paninis and salads—simple fare, but considered by some reviewers among the best museum food you can find. Equally superlative is the Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater, the largest Dolby digital 3D theater in any California museum. Documentaries in the third dimension, covering everything from dinosaurs to the ocean floor, are shown in regular rotation. Tickets are included in the regular admission price.
The museum can be found at 1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101.