Museum milestone: The Nat celebrates 150th anniversary in San Diego in 2024

The museum in Balboa Park will debut a new exhibit, plant garden, film, and special events to ring in the milestone throughout 2024.

SD San Diego Natural History Museum

The Nat moved into its permanent home in Balboa Park in the 1930s.

The year was 1874. A group of amateur naturalists formed the San Diego Society of Natural History in hopes of growing local scientific culture, finding new species, and contributing to the studies of our region’s one-of-a-kind biodiversity.

That group — the oldest scientific institution in Southern California — would grow to become the San Diego Natural History Museum, celebrating its 150th anniversary in SD in 2024.

The museum — aka The Nat — is ringing in its sweet sesquicentennial with fun additions and special events. We roamed The Nat’s archives and halls with Director of Research Library & Archives Ariel Hammond to see what we can expect during the milestone this year. Here’s what we unearthed.

Treasures from The Nat's archives.

Treasures from The Nat’s archives.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

  • New art, on display now: Last fall, local artist and SDSU professor Eva Struble created a colorful, 33-ft mural in the museum’s Atrium — “Frasera” — inspired by the 8+ million specimens in The Nat’s collection and the biodiversity of San Diego County and Baja California.
  • Birthday admission: In 2024, visitors can get free, one-time admission during the visitor’s birthday month; just bring your ID showing your birthdate and ask for the freebie in person.
  • Limited-edition merch: Expect the museum store to roll out one new, nature-themed item every month this year, like this art print by author and illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky.
  • New spaces: The Nat is getting a new store and cafe, opening this spring.
SD San Diego Natural History Museum Nature Trail rendering

The Nat’s new trail and native plant garden will debut in spring 2024.

  • Nature Trail and Garden: Construction is underway on a new trail and native plant garden surrounding the building, set to debut early this summer. The space will be a free amenity for all Balboa Park visitors — the museum’s gift back to the community. Its groundbreaking is set for Friday, Jan. 26.
  • New exhibition: “Action from the Archives: The Nat at 150” will debut on the fourth floor on Friday, May 24, showcasing the museum’s history and key players who have worked to protect San Diego’s natural spaces and wildlife. This is high on our list of art exhibitions to explore in SD in 2024.
SD San Diego Natural History Museum 150th anniversary

A view from above: Check out the new Atrium art by Eva Struble.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

  • New film: Debuting in late 2024, this 40-minute anniversary movie will showcase a year in the life of SD’s flora and fauna.
  • Special events: Keep an eye on The Nat’s calendar — fun events are coming like Nat Talks, docent tours, parties, and a community mural featuring nature photos from locals.
  • Guided hikes: As always, the museum’s Canyoneers will continue to lead treks across San Diego County; here’s the 2024 schedule.
SD San Diego Natural History Museum archives

Research expeditions have long been a part of The Nat’s work.

Did you know? The San Diego Society of Natural History’s first exhibits debuted in 1912 at Hotel Cecil in downtown San Diego. From 1917 to 1922, the society operated out of three buildings in Balboa Park. In 1933, local philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps gifted the society $125,000 to build its permanent home in Balboa Park, at 1788 El Prado.

SD San Diego Natural History Museum film archives

SDtoday editor Monica looking through some of The Nat’s film archives — these slides were from the museum’s construction in the early 1930s.

Photo via Monica Garske + SDtoday

Today, you can visit The Nat daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

As you walk the floors and browse the exhibitions one thing is clear — The Nat’s mission, 150 years later, remains steadfast: To connect people with nature and protect San Diego’s very special natural spaces for generations to come. Here’s to another 150+ years.

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