An accredited member of the American Association of Museums, the San Diego Natural History Museum was founded in 1874, making it the oldest scientific institution in southern California and the third oldest west of the Mississippi. It was housed in the Hotel Cecil on Sixth Street until 1917, when it moved to its current location in a building left vacant by the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
The museum's mission is to "interpret the natural world through research, education and exhibits; promote understanding of the evolution and diversity of southern California and the peninsula of Baja California; and inspire respect for nature and the environment.'' It does so through a number of permanent exhibits focused on peninsular California and changing displays of a global nature, such as "Darwin: Evolution / Revolution,'' celebrating the life and work of the famous 19th-century British naturalist.
One of the first permanent exhibitions established here is "Fossil Mysteries.'' It covers dinosaurs, mastodons, and the rich fossil history of California, tracing a 75-million-year timeline from the age of dinosaurs to the Ice Ages and the prehistory of southern California and Baja California. The installation of additional permanent exhibits is planned over the next six years.
Traveling and temporary exhibits include nature photography, a study of water resources, gemstones and mineral collections, animal art, live snakes and lizards, polar exploration, the relationship of horses and humans, and much more. The museum's Discovery Room, intended for visitors of all ages, is an interactive display of objects, live plants and animals, while the Habitat Journey takes participants on a virtual "habitat hike'' from the Pacific Ocean to California's coast, mountains, and deserts.
The Charmaine and Maurice Kaplan Theater is one of the most popular aspects of the San Diego Natural History Museum. This 300-seat, stadium-style theater features 3D movies with Dolby sound on its giant screen. The 3D film "Wild Ocean'' is presented five times a day, complemented by a daily showing of a short called "Ocean Oasis.'' Screening times are on the hour between 11am and 4pm, subject to change.
Specially arranged by the museum on a regular basis are educational classes, trips, lectures, and camps. There are programs for schools, teachers and home-schoolers, as well as scouting hikes and merit badge courses offered on weekends. The museum is also home to the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias and an extensive library of rare books and research materials.
Managed by the Cohn Restaurant Group, the Dinosaur Cafy is conveniently located in the museum's atrium. It offers an assortment of sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, gourmet coffee, tea, and other beverages. The cafy is open on Thursday through Sunday each week from 10am to 4pm, with hours subject to change.
The Museum Store is the place to shop for gifts and sale items, including those related to the current exhibits, such as A.R. Valentien products and Robert Turner art. Items stocked here include apparel, stationery, posters, media products, the curator's choice of books, children's goods, jewelry, and accessories.
General admission to the museum, which includes the giant-screen theater, is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors aged 62+, and $11 for students, youth aged 13~17 years and active military personnel. The cost of entry is $10 for children aged 3~12 years, and free for museum members and children under the age of three. San Diego County residents are admitted for free on the first Tuesday of each month, although a $5 charge applies for the giant-screen theater.
The San Diego Natural History Museum is located near the intersection of Park Boulevard and Village Place in Balboa Park at 1788 El Prado, San Diego, California 92101. The museum is accessible by bus, trolley and train. For those who come by car on the I-5 South, take 10th Avenue Exit, turn left onto A Street, and continue to Park Boulevard, Turn left on Park and follow the signs to the Balboa Park. Parking is convenient at the Inspiration Point lot, from which trams run to the museum.