Nature and ‘The Nat’: A 149-Year Partnership and Counting 

San Diego Natural History Museum
The San Diego Natural History Museum. Photo by Richard Benton

How time flies.

In 1874, the San Diego census recorded about 3,000 people — just a little larger than the enrollment of San Diego High School today.

That was just 15 years after Charles Darwin published On the  Origin of Species, and the telephone hadn’t been invented yet. In October of that year, a group of amateur naturalists came together to form the San Diego Society of Natural History to be a primary source of scientific culture: find new species, discuss technical innovations, serve a growing community eager for information, and make real contributions to the study of this region. 

Nearly 150 years later, the organization now known as the San Diego Natural History Museum — or The  Nat for short — is still doing just that. It is now the oldest scientific institution in Southern California and one of the longest-enduring science organizations in the western United States.

The Nat has grown from a small society of natural history lovers and collectors to a big museum with more than 8 million specimens, an active research and conservation arm, spectacular programs, and award-winning exhibitions. 

In 2024, the Museum will celebrate its sesquicentennial — 150 years of studying, protecting, and bringing people closer to nature. 

“As we plan for our 2024 events and celebrations, we want to recognize that we are more than a  building with exhibitions,” explained Judy Gradwohl, the Christy Walton President and CEO. “We serve  the community in many ways — through conservation, research, education, and much more.”  

“Over the years, our programs have changed but our passion remains the same — we want everyone to love nature as much as we do so we can protect it for future generations. We hope the community is  excited to get involved and be part of the biggest year in our history.” 

Nature lovers will have much to celebrate, as the Museum is working on a full calendar of events to commemorate this milestone. Some programs and special offers will debut in January, with a larger emphasis on the second half of the year. Here’s just a peek at what’s in store:  

Year-Round Special Offers  

Free Birthday Admission—On the occasion of The Nat’s 150th birthday, visitors will receive free  Museum admission on one date of their choice during their birthday month.  ● Merch-a-Month—The Museum will roll out one limited-edition product every month, starting with a beautiful nature-themed art print designed especially for The Nat by nationally recognized author and illustrator Rachel Ignotofksy.  

Exhibitions and Events (Memorial Day weekend through late 2024)

Nature Garden—A new, native plant garden will bloom to life in early summer 2024,  surrounding the building with living displays that provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. This free amenity for all Balboa Park visitors is the Museum’s birthday present back to the community. 

150th Anniversary Exhibit—In October, a new exhibition will showcase important moments in the organization’s, and San Diego’s, history—particularly focused on how nature lovers have worked tirelessly to protect the wildlife and habitats that make this region so special.  

A new giant screen film—The Museum is commissioning a special film for its anniversary year.  Debuting in late 2024, a brand-new, 40-minute movie will showcase a year in the life of San  Diego’s spectacular flora and fauna.  

Planning is underway for special Nat Talks, history-infused docent tours, a community mural featuring nature photos submitted by the public, and parties for everyone from longtime patrons to new audiences. The building is getting spruced up too, with updated furnishings a new mural by artist Eva Struble in the Atrium, and a new store and cafe slated to open in spring 2024.  

For those who want to stay in the know about events and activities, the Museum is inviting people to visit its website, sign up for email updates, or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok.