Exhibits make up the bulk of the Nat’s floor space. They are the first thing you’ll see when you enter the doors, and likely the last thing you’ll see when you leave. There are hundreds of different displays, each one featuring some part of the natural world; many of them including specimens recovered in the San Diego area.
The majority of the exhibits at the San Diego Natural History Museum are permanent, but there are also rotating attractions that help keep the museum fresh for repeat visitors. These include specially themed displays, exciting looks at new research developments, and presentations by real scientists and researchers.
The Fossil Mysteries exhibit is the centerpiece of the museum. It showcases the incredible paleontological discoveries that have been made and the different kinds of creatures that once walked the Earth, swam in the seas, and soared in the skies. This exhibit includes creatures from the age of the dinosaurs all the way to the Ice Ages, which spans 75 million years of evolution and significant global changes.
Don't miss the Vivarium
The Nat has a Vivarium located in the basement of the museum, a facility in which we care for live animals. Museum staff bring these animals out and into the public gallery as part of this brand-new exhibition.
The fossils in this exhibit are primarily ones that have been uncovered in and around the San Diego area. They provide a peek into what the world might have looked like millions of years ago in the very same spot visitors stand to view these creatures.
Fossil Mysteries is a very interactive exhibit. While the dinosaur bones themselves are only for display, many include educational diagrams, voice overs, and models that are all safe to interact with and sure to delight younger visitors.
You can touch real fossils, practice your fossil identifying skills, and use your imagination to picture what these beasts would have looked like when they roamed.
One especially notable fossil in the museum is Al the Allosaurus, who stands tall and ready to welcome visitors. The Allosaurus is an older relative of the T. rex, so it’s quite the impressive sight to see.
The Fossil Mysteries exhibition also contains a life-sized replica of the extinct Megalodon shark. It is a recreation based on ancient teeth recovered from California by museum staff. Many guests enjoy snapping a picture in front of the display, all while sporting their own matching toothy grin!
The Skulls exhibit contains over 200 different animal skulls that come from all different eras of the world’s history. It includes the skulls of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds from all around the world.
This exhibit stands out thanks to the incredible variety of the skulls on display. Some skulls are hardly bigger than your thumb, while others may be as large as your torso!
The Skulls attraction also contains information about the different bones that make up the skull in all kinds of animals, as well as how these bones work together to make a fully functioning skull.
While many of the creatures on display at the Natural History Museum are fossils or replicas, the Living Lab is full of living, moving specimens. The Living Lab focuses on creepy crawly critters like snakes, bees, arachnids, scorpions, and lizards. This part of the museum isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those who are unafraid of these less cuddly animals, there is plenty to discover.
While all of the animals in the Living Lab are native to the San Diego area, they are rarely seen due to their size and reclusive nature. Learning about the adaptations these creatures have made to survive without detection is just one part of what makes this part of the museum so interesting. The exhibit blends science and storytelling, creating a lasting impact that is sure to leave an impression on all visitors.
The San Diego Natural History Museum’s team of professional animal handlers keep these animals comfortable and well cared for, year-round.
Coast to Cactus in Southern California
The Coast to Cactus exhibit is dedicated to showing off the incredible biodiversity that can be found in Southern California. San Diego’s terrain and landscapes are incredibly diverse, and this diversity is reflected in the animals and plants native to the region. In this exhibit, you’ll take a closer look at the region’s different habitats and their residents.
While Fossil Mysteries provides a look into San Diego’s past, Coast to Cactus focuses on San Diego’s present wildlife. Together, these exhibits are two halves of a still-developing story.
Insects Face to Face
Insects Face to Face is a photography exhibit that features some of the most unique insects captured in highly magnified images. In these photos, you’ll see the shocking beauty that can be found in some of the smallest creatures, if only you stop and look at them.
Hidden Gems houses the museum’s gemstone and mineral collection. Here, you’ll find over 100 different gems, many of which feature eye-catching bright colors, and some of which even glow in the dark. Hidden Gems highlights the gemstones native to the San Diego area, including topaz, quartz, and the hot pink tourmaline San Diego is known for.
Rather than being laid out in a more traditional fashion, this exhibit is right outside the elevator doors on each floor. This way, the first thing you see when you step out onto the new floor is another part of the collection.
The giant-screen theater at the San Diego Natural History Museum is perhaps one of its most well-known installments. The theater can fit up to 300 guests at a time. Tickets to a showing are included with paid admission, as well as with admission through the Go San Diego Pass.
The movies offered at the theater run on a rotating schedule, so check ahead with the website to see what’s playing. Most movies run between a half hour and 45 minutes, and all films are centered around educational, family-friendly content.