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Coast to Cactus in Southern California

A Sense of Place

San Diegans often boast how we can ski in the mountains, hike in the desert, and swim in the ocean—all in the same day. But what we often don’t realize is that the topographic and climatic features that allow us to pursue all of these activities within a day also create one of the most biodiverse regions in the world—one that is home to more species than any other area of similar size within the continental United States.

That’s a pretty special story, and one we plan to tell through a new exhibition that’s being mounted on Level 2 of the Museum beginning this fall. Coast to Cactus in Southern California is an innovative, 8,000-square-foot permanent exhibition that has been years—even decades—in the making.

Coast to Cactus will invite visitors to explore the unique habitats of southern California, from the coastal wetlands and urban canyons to the high mountains and the desert. The exhibition will cultivate a sense of place for a region that offers much more than can be seen at first glance, taking visitors beyond the breathtaking coastlines that draw millions of tourists and into the ecosystems that make this area special.

Currently, there is no single venue where visitors or students can learn about the biodiversity of the region. Certainly, the visitor centers in our city, county, state, and national parks as well as some regional nature centers are already playing a key role in sharing parts of this story, and they are ideally situated to do so, as nature lies just beyond their doorsteps. But no one place currently interprets the comprehensive picture of the entire southern California bioregion under one roof. That is, until now.

Using specimens from the Museum’s scientific collections alongside immersive environments 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 very many species, why these species are so critically threatened at this moment in history, and why it matters.