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Exhibition Highlights

Welcome to the magical world of books. Creating Extraordinary Ideas has given the San Diego Natural History Museum the opportunity to share the once secret treasures of the Research Library with the public. The exhibition contains many impressive highlights, including:

  • An entrance that is clearly marked by a dramatic pediment featuring a griffin, a mythical beast whose image is found in many of the early natural history encyclopedias in the Museum’s collection.
  • Larger-than-life natural history books: replicas of 10 books in the Museum’s collection on each side of the glass doors at the entryway.
  • Rare books, art, photographs, and historical documents from the Research Library’s 56,000-volume collection that pay homage to the past, present, and future of citizen science.
  • An extremely rare copy of the gigantic Double Elephant Folio of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. The folio, one of only a few copies in existence, depicts life-size renditions of a wide variety of North America’s birds.
  • Information on current citizen science projects that invite visitors to become active participants.
  • Exhibits on naturalists—both past and present—featuring rare books alongside specimens from the Museum’s research collections, touchable objects, and multimedia experiences that allow deeper access to the works on display.


  • Two smaller galleries, one that showcases original watercolors of California wildflowers by A.R. Valentien and one housing a children’s book nook, comfortable seating, and rare books depicting dragons and other mythical creatures, some more than 500 years old.
  • Large-scale wallpaper murals of marbled end papers, a design detail included in many of the Museum’s rare books, and illustrations from rare books including a Reddish Egret from Birds of America as well as a stunning mural from Historia Naturalis Ranarum, a book from 1758 about the natural history of frogs.
  • A video interactive allowing visitors to click on an image of one of the paintings in the Audubon folio, look at a current photograph of the bird species, and see magnificently enlarged details in the painting never before revealed. Visitors can also listen to bird calls for each species.


  • The top of the Foucault pendulum that hangs from the Museum’s ceiling and welcomes visitors inside the historic south entrance. The pendulum was installed in the 1950s and has been restored and adorned with a new, modern casing.
  • Exposed skylights and other architectural elements from the original 1930s building.
  • A large-screen video interactive allows visitors to explore in detail the beauty and science of hand-made Victorian microscope slides, as well as a book illustrating all the wild plants found within a 10 mile radius of London during the 1700s.
  • Exhibits highlighting noteworthy local citizen scientists, such as Laurence Klauber, Joe Sefton, Charles Orcutt, Laurence Huey, and Ethel Bailey Higgins.