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Coast to Cactus in Southern California

A Sense of Place

San Diego is known for its incredibly diverse terrain, ranging from the beaches to the slopes. This terrain is what makes the region one of only 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world, meaning areas that have the highest concentration of different species of any geographic area of similar size. Coast to Cactus illustrates that richness and takes visitors on a journey through southern California’s habitats, from coast to chaparral, and from mountain forests to deserts.

Through immersive environments (hands-on interactive exhibits, live animals, life-like mounted specimens, and innovative media), Coast to Cactus will help visitors discover what it means to be a biodiversity hotspot:  the story of why one region is home to so many species, why those species are so critically threatened at this moment in history, and why it matters.


Some of the exhibition's main attractions include:

  • An oversized replica of a segment of mud from a local tidal flat. Young visitors can crawl inside, where they will discover animals that survive in the mudflats in spite of tough intertidal conditions.
  • A recreation of a residential patio overlooking an urban San Diego canyon, exploring how humans share space with nature and bringing to light the impact of introduced species on native plants and animals.
  • An immersive virtual storybook that tells the tale of the dynamic chaparral ecosystem and how periodic fires are a natural part of life in this signature California habitat.
  • A multimedia experience that includes a real Airstream Bambi and transports visitors to the desert at nighttime, when the sun goes down, temperatures drop, and the seemingly barren landscape springs to life as animals come out to hunt.
  • Exhibits highlighting the work of people, past and present, whose efforts help us better understand how the habitats of southern California have changed over time and what we can do to help sustain the plants and animals that live here.

Coast to Cactus in Southern California is located on Level 2 of the Museum adjacent to its sister exhibition Fossil Mysteries, which gives visitors a prehistoric look at the San Diego region. Together, the two exhibitions tell the story of southern California from the prehistoric era to present day.