The San Diego Natural History Museum has transported visitors into the past for almost eight decades. The recently opened Ends Of The Earth exhibit lets museum-goers watch explorers conquer terrain in the multimedia theater, put on a penguin suit and slide like the birds themselves, or challenge a live polar bear to an ice-eating contest. Illuminate history through the Fossil Mysteries exhibit's life-size models of ancient animals, such as dinosaurs and mastodons, as well as a fossil aquarium featuring actual whale bones on display. Dads and future dads looking to enjoy 3-D movies without braving the multiplex's gangs of candy-craving teens can use the included tickets to catch The Ultimate Wave Tahiti, starring champion surfer Kelly Slater, or Turtle Reef 3D, from the award-winning producers behind museum mainstay Ocean Oasis.
The historic fountain at the east end of Balboa Park’s El Prado pedestrian walk is a lure for visitors, thanks to its majestic and cooling spray. But a quick turn to the right is the entrance to the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, another local draw. For the young, it’s a two story, interactive science playground. For the young at heart, there are sophisticated displays, rotating exhibits and the new, NanoSeam IMAX Dome Theater. Films splayed across the 76-foot wraparound screen plunge viewers into the depths of the sea and out into space, through jungles and between skyscrapers around the planet. Resident astronomers also create new shows monthly, using the latest SkyScan System software. The café near the entrance takes care of hungry visitors with a modest menu, a few tables indoors and patio seating in front of the fountain.
Traversing San Diego’s storied past, from the land’s ancestral Kumeyaay Native American tribe to modern day, the San Diego History Center stuffs minds with knowledge and inspires appreciation for local lore. Admission grants access to more than 45 million paper artifacts and 2.5 million images found in the library, fine arts collections, exhibitions, and displays of historic fast-food receipts. With a family membership, a pair of historians and two guests gain full access to the renowned research library, as well as to the center itself and the Junípero Serra Museum in Presido Park. A complimentary subscription to the quarterly Journal of San Diego History keeps members abreast of pictorial essays, in-depth explorations of regional culture, and hilarious membership-ID-photo outtakes. Members-only invitations to exhibition previews and events fill calendars with endless social opportunities.
For many, there is no greater honor than having served in America's Armed Forces. The curators at the Veterans Museum & Memorial in San Diego pay their respects to these brave men and women every single day, whether by hosting programs to perpetuate their memory or by assembling special exhibits of military- and war-related memorabilia. They've chosen scenic Balboa Park as the site for the Memorial, and with good reason; San Diego and its surrounding cities have a rich Naval heritage, and the site is part of a complex of architecturally significant buildings that speak to that heritage. Visitors can stroll through the lush Memorial Gardens and do push-ups on the grass before heading into the Museum, which hosts exhibits on World War I, World War II, Pearl Harbor, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, and Desert Storm.
The Museum of Man is San Diego County's only anthropology and archaeology museum, home to five permanent exhibits including Ancient Egypt; Kumeyaay: Native Californians; Footsteps Through Time: Four Million Years of Human Evolution; Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth; and the Children's Discovery Center's exhibit, Discover Egypt, as well as special exhibitions and cultural collections. Museumgoers can experience the entirety of human history by viewing actual artifacts, sculptural reconstructions of early man, a 42-foot Mayan rainforest mural in the Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth exhibit, and the June 2010–April 2011 special exhibit Counter Cultures: The Secret Lives of Games, which explores the rich history of games and their place in human societies from past to present.