San Diego Natural History Museum

Natural history museum
The San Diego Natural History Museum located in Balboa Park is 4 stories tall and filled with exhibits relating to our earth's past, present, and future. This museum has information about humans, animals, plants, minerals and phenomena related to us and our environment. You will see things from the bottom of the ocean floor to the top of the highest mountains. It covers topics from the north pole through the south pole. There's a lot to see and experience in this museum, expect to spend about 3 hours here.

Natural history museum History

The San Diego Natural History Museum was founded in 1874 by the San Diego Society of Natural History. This society is the oldest scientific institution in southern California. During these formative years, the society did not have a building to showcase their collection.

In 1912, the first museum was opened on 6th Avenue in downtown San Diego; it was only a single room however, it was the first museum! By 1917, the society purchased property in Balboa Park hoping to have a larger and more permanent location for their collection. Because of world events such as the Depression and World War II, their dream of a large museum was not realized until many years later.

The Natural History Museum building as we know it today, was formally dedicated on January 14, 1933 but renovations and expansions continued for many years as funding was made available. Currently, the museum has approx 150,000 square feet (14,000 m2) of usable floor space. That's an impressive improvement compared to the one-room museum established in 1912.

Natural history museum

Atrium or Lobby

If you enter the natural History Museum from the north entrance, you will find a spacious lobby with life-sized sea creatures suspended over your head. Facing you is the skeleton of a large dinosaur.


This is just the beginning of your adventure. At the atrium level you will also find:

The Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater
This is a 300-seat movie theater capable of featuring 3D movies. The screen is 56' wide and features educational shows which are typically 20 to 40 minutes long. Previous shows have themes such as dinosaurs, sharks, ocean life, caves or Mars. Showings are hourly starting from 11 am to 4 pm. No food or drinks allowed inside the theater. Entry to the theater is free with paid admission to the museum.

Alex and Elizabeth Wise Museum Gift Shop
This small gift shop is filled with fun and intriguing items available for purchase. Gifts include, T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, books, CDs, DVD's, jewelry, and more. Prices range from under $25 to over $100. Bring a piece of the museum home with you!

Dinosaur Cafe
This is a small seating area where you can purchase coffee, soda pop, juice, chips, snacks, and a limited selection of soups & sandwiches. Please note, food and drinks are not allowed in any other areas of the museum.

Your adventure into our natural history begins in the upper or lower levels of the museum.

Natural history museum Natural history museum Natural history museum

Level 2

Half of level 2 is dedicated to "Fossil Mysteries" This is a permanent collection which you can see any time the museum is open. Exhibits may change a little but for the most part, this section of the museum is here to stay.

Many of the exhibits here are interactive so you can push the button, pull the lever, turn the knob, flip the page, spin the drum, or even climb the wall.

Natural history museum

Exhibits include prehistoric animals as well as modern day animals. Shown are American Lion, Baby Mastodon and Carcharodon megalodon.

Natural history museum
Children love the dinosaur exhibits best, but there is more than that: plants, ocean life, geology and land masses. Shown is Lambeosaurus with clutch of eggs, leaf impression of Cycad, and sampling of prehistoric sea life.

Natural history museum

As the Fossil Mysteries come to an end, you will see a large pendulum which is also a permanent exhibit. This is the Foucault Pendulum: it is a large pendulum hung from a tall place and it is allowed to swing with minimal friction. The pendulum swings left and right in the same vertical plane, but does not teeter out of the plane. But as time passes you will notice that the pendulum knocks down the wood bricks placed on the floor. It appears as if the pendulum is shifting a little back and forth, but this is not so, it is the floor which we stand on that is shifting. The floor is shifting because the earth is rotating.

Natural history museum Note, you can also enter the Natural History Museum from the south side. If you do so, the first thing you will see is the Foucault Pendulum.

Natural history museum

Also on the second floor is a moving or temporary exhibit. These often stay in the museum for about 6 months but can be as long as a year. At the time of this site review, the Exhibit was "Ends of the Earth: from Polar Bears to Penguins". Previous exhibits have been quite varied including aspects of humans, our culture, and our environment.

Natural history museum

Lower Level

The basement or lower level also has a temporary or moving exhibit. At the time of this review, the exhibit was "All That Glitters: The Splendor and Science of Gems and Minerals". Although the exhibit is filled with wonderful jewels and crystals, the exhibit is really about the forces of the earth which creates these gems.

Natural history museum
Perhaps the most newsworthy exhibit held at the San Diego Natural History Museum was the "Dead Sea Scrolls" (June 2007) where 24 Dead Sea Scrolls were shown: 10 of them had never been on display to the general public. It was the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls ever assembled.

Natural history museum
3rd and 4th Levels

The third and fourth levels of this museum are designed a little differently. Exhibit space is in the form of a walkway which surrounds the central opening of the museum. If you look down the central opening you will see the lobby below.

Natural history museum
Because of this, many of the exhibits in the upper two levels are photo exhibits. Some small display cases are installed here but mostly they are no more than one or two feet wide. At the time of this review, the ongoing exhibits were "Among Giants", "Water: A California Story", and "Aerial Portraits of the American West".

Admission Prices
Senior (62+)
Military, youth (13-17), student (with ID)
Child (3-12)
Child 2 and under
There are many ways to sponsor the Natural History Museum ranging from an annual individual membership of $25 per year up to $1200 Leadership Circle membership which includes exclusive events. A Family membership suitable for a family of 4 is $70 per year.

Location, Parking, Hours of Operation

San Diego Natural History Museum
1788 El Prado, Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92101
map location #16 Open Daily: 10am - 5pm
Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.


There is plenty of parking in and around Balboa Park, but the closest parking to the Natural History Museum is probably right on Park Blvd. There is a small parking lot north of the museum (see #11 of this map) and another parking lot south of the museum (see #16 of this map).