I can’t believe it took me 12 years of living in San Diego before I finally made it to this museum. Located in beautiful and historic Balboa Park, The Nat is a fantastic way to spend a day with your kids, especially a hot summer day in a city where air conditioning is a rarity and most sites are outdoors (like today: it’s 89 degrees inside our house as I write this). Camp-O-Saurus in the museum’s atrium is a fun place to stop for a while: The museum offers five floors to explore. We didn’t get to see everything; the dinosaurs proved so fascinating to my young kids (ages 3 and 15 months) that we spent most of our time with them. There are plenty of interactive exhibits, docents circulating to answer questions and point out interesting things, and the museum itself is architecturally lovely and the displays colorful and captivating. Many of the exhibitions circulate, making this a place that a membership for repeat visits could prove a great idea. One of our favorite areas was Dino Jaws – a recent addition where animated dinosaurs swerve and bend toward the food they would eat, one half of their faces bone and the other half looking so real you wonder if you just entered Jurassic Park and should perhaps exit the room immediately. “Life is great, and then you die.” This sunny phrase is the title of this interactive exhibit on dinosaur life cycles: The museum is a field trip destination for summer camps and during the school year, but it’s so large that it doesn’t tend to feel crowded. (The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, just across the plaza in Balboa Park, is another great museum for kids but it quickly becomes so crowded that my young kids grow frustrated that they can’t see or do anything.) Elevators make for easy access between floors and bathrooms are easy to find, spacious, and clean. The Dino Café offers some limited choices for drinks, snacks, and lunch (ranging from $6 to $12 or so) – we packed our own lunches. There are only four or five tables so if you plan on eating at the museum, eat early. Eating outside on a nice day is always an option, the museum is located right next to the large fountain, but there is very little shade outside and I didn’t see any tables. After we ate, we checked out the fountain. Several kids had stripped down to swimsuits and were running through the water, cooling off – we’d forgotten ours but would have joined in the fun if we’d remembered! Vitals:
Hours: Open daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Admission: $17 for adults, $15 for seniors (62+), $12 military, teens (13-17), and students, $11 Children (3-12), FREE for Children 2 and under. Memberships are available. The first Tuesday of each month is free to residents but beware – they don’t allow strollers on these days.
Parking: Parking throughout Balboa Park is free and there are several lots as well as street parking. During weekends and summers, it can be tough to find a spot. Going early means less trouble.
Events: Check the website. They offer summer camps, family days, story times, and several other things worth looking into. Special exhibits cycle through; we’ve seen the Dead Sea Scrolls and Pompeii here, there’s always something worth checking out, and exhibitions are world class.
Website: http://www.sdnhm.org/ (1908)