Coast to Cactus in Southern California

The Science Museum of Minnesota worked with the San Diego Natural History Museum to produce Coast to Cactus in Southern California. This 9,000-square-foot permanent exhibition takes visitors on a tour through the amazingly varied habitats of Southern California. In one day you can travel from the beach to the mountains and the desert, from sea level to 5,000-foot elevations. In Coast to Cactus visitors take their own tour, exploring the rich animal and plant life throughout the region. Immersive, life-sized dioramas, interactives, and live animals engage all the visitors' senses. The exhibit also explores how humans have become key players in these habitats, affecting the natural processes and changing relationships of animals and humans to each other and their landscapes. Coast to Cactus opened in San Diego in November 2014.

Coast to Cactus in Southern California was a winner of the Excellence in Exhibition Competition at the 2016 meeting of the American Alliance of Museums.

BACK TO PROJECT HISTORY

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Attic
Attic
Residents of Southern California are observers and documenters of natural change, not simply scientists. In the Attic, visitors can see and hear from Southern California residents, as well as learn how to contribute their own stories.

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Chaparral—Story of Fire & Rebirth
Chaparral—Story of Fire & Rebirth
Chaparral habitats go through frequent cycles of growth, fire, and rebirth. In this area the chaparral cycle is presented as a three-dimensional storybook.

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Chaparral, Detail
Chaparral, Detail
This close-up of the Chaparral shows the carefully detailed animals with their handwritten storylines.

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Desert at Night Theater
Desert at Night Theater
Tucked up against the Airstream trailer is a small theater showing “Desert at Night,” an eight-minute-long multimedia story about two young campers who discover the wild world of the desert awakening after dark.

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Desert in Bloom
Desert in Bloom
The desert comes to glorious, colorful life in the spring. Here visitors can discover the many plants that call the desert home.

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Entrance
Entrance
As you enter Coast to Cactus in Southern California visitors are greeted with a hand-painted topographic map and a beautiful montage of flora and fauna images overhead, attesting to the remarkable breadth of natural environments in the region.

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Magnified Mudflat
Magnified Mudflat
The coastal wetlands are home to lots of crawly creatures, here magnified and sculpted for children and families to explore. Reading cards tell the story of “superpowered” creatures, highlighting their sometimes-bizarre features and abilities.

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Mountains
Mountains
The mountains that rise up east of San Diego are home to a wide range of species. An oak tree, displayed as a silhouette made from oak, is host to a wide array of birds, mammals, and plants.

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Navigation Point, Wetlands Diorama
Navigation Point, Wetlands Diorama
Just inside the entrance, a set of directional signs indicates the major ecosystems to be explored in the exhibit: coastal wetlands, streams, chaparral, mountains, and desert.

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Palm Oasis Diorama
Palm Oasis Diorama
Southern California is home to extensive deserts, represented here. One signature species is the fan palm, an enormous tree that punctuates the desert landscape.

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Patio with Native/NonNative Stories
Patio with Native/NonNative Stories
Humans and animals live in close proximity in the plateaus and canyons of the San Diego area. Visitors can explore these relationships from the patio of a Southern California rambler, peering into the canyon where animals and plants abound.

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Riparian Stream Area
Riparian Stream Area
Riparian streams are important sources and resevoirs of water in the dry Southern California inland. Live animals swim in the tanks ahead, and a media depiction (to the right) shows the remarkable cycle of life in the vernal pools of the area.

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Torrey Pines Diorama, Apothecary
Torrey Pines Diorama, Apothecary
This diorama includes live animals, visible in portholes in the rock. Nearby, visitors will find artwork and specimens of the plant and animal life of the region.

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Understanding Change Area
Understanding Change Area
Using museum collections and research documentation, this area in the back tells the stories of the scientists that have studied the changes in Southern California over the last century.
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