Nature and The Nat: A 150-Year Partnership and Counting

May 16, 2024

Plans unfolding for sesquicentennial (150 years) celebration in 2024; Museum is inviting people to “be part of the biggest year in our history”

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.

Now, 150 years later, the organization 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 is celebrating 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 a lot to celebrate, as the Museum is working on a full calendar of events to commemorate this milestone. Some programs and special offers launched in January, though the larger emphasis is 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 own 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 Ignotofsky

Exhibitions and Events (Memorial Day weekend through late 2024)

  • Summer of Wonder—With new exhibits and extended hours, a new T. rex film roaring into the theater, Nat at Night every Friday, and hands-on activities on weekends, there will be whole lot of wonderful to fill up a busy, beautiful summer.

  • 150th Anniversary Exhibit—A new exhibition opening Memorial Day weekend 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. 

  • 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.
  • 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 itself is getting spruced up too, with updated furnishings and a new mural by artist Eva Struble in the Atrium, and new store and cafe slated to open in spring 2024.  

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

About the San Diego Natural History Museum 

The San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat) is one of California’s oldest and most respected cultural and scientific institutions. Founded in 1874 by a small group of citizen scientists, the Museum works to preserve and protect this amazing place we call home. The Museum is located at 1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 in Balboa Park. For more information, call 877.946.7797 or visit sdnat.org. Follow The Nat on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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Press Kit


Media Info

A full press kit about the 150th anniversary is available on Dropbox.
For more information about the Nature Trail, click here.
For more information about Summer of Wonder, click here

Visit The Nat's website to learn more about its history and future

For media inquiries, please contact:

Toni Robin, TR/PR Public Relations, tr@trprsandiego.com, 858.483.3918
Paula Sternberg Rodriguez, Science Communicatons Manager, psternberg@sdnhm.org   
Rebecca Handelsman, Senior Director of Communications & Exhibits, rhandelsman@sdnhm.org