Permanent Exhibits

For Subject Matter Experts

With 32 scientific Institutions around the Monterey Bay, it is little wonder this area is sometimes called "Science Bay." The Museum is honored to collaborate with this scientific community on educational lectures, on possible research through the Museum Collection, including its library, and on the creation of permanent and special exhibits. (Ideas for special, temporary exhibits are encouraged through submission of the Special Exhibit Proposal Form, downloadable below.) These collaborations raise the profile of specific research and provide researchers with a channel for public education while deeply enriching Museum visitors' experience.

To explore possible collaborations, contact the Exhibitions Curator, Annie Holdren, PhD, by calling ext. 17 or emailing  

Native Plant Garden

The Museum's century-old Native Plant Garden has a new life with its newly updated landscape design. Created to be a living field guide to California’s Central Coast, this garden features three spaces that reflect the area’s important local ecosystems – coastal scrub, chaparral and oak woodland – as well as a butterfly garden and an ethnobotanical area featuring plants that local California Indians used for daily utility.

One of the garden’s crowning artistic touches is a “spirit nest” by Big Sur artist Jayson Fann. Built with the help from Pacific Grove Community High School Students, the interactive art piece of interwoven oak, plum, and willow boughs will accommodate four people at a time and offer a comforting respite from the world outside.

Beyond its modern aesthetic and educational value, the new Native Plant Garden is fulfilling a historic precedent: The 1900 by laws of the Pacific Grove Museum Association state that the "Museum will develop a garden of native flora, which together with the museum shall represent and preserve the life of the region.”

More than 100 years later, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History is illuminating the progressive ideas of its founders by showcasing the Central Coast’s native beauty in this botanical garden of note.


Native Americans

Monterey County has a rich ancestral history of Ohlone, Salinan, and Esselen tribes. Even after Spanish colonization brought a precipitous decline in their populations, descendants from each of these groups live here today.

Pacific Grove is the site of a recent discovery of artifacts dating back 5300 years. Exhibits provide a glimpse of locally found artifacts and what they tell about life in Monterey thousands of years ago.

The museum's Native Plant Garden will include a Useful Plants area, featuring plants that California Indians used in daily life before the modern era. 

The Museum's Bird Collection

The Museum showcases one of the most extensive bird collections on display on the West Coast. Use the Museum's bird collection of 291 bird species and 409 life mounted birds to identify the birds you’ve seen throughout Monterey County. Witness the size of a mighty California Condor, the Yellow-billed Magpie, Lawrence's Goldfinch, and the Tri-colored Blackbird, to name a few.

The Museum's strong bird collection reflect's the fact that Monterey County is one of the most important sites for bird life in North America. It is one of the top 5 destinations in North America to bird watch. Monterey County has one of the highest single-day bird counts in the country.  482 different species of birds have been sighted in Monterey County.

This rich bird sighting experience reflects the huge diversity of habitats in this area – the most accessible within a single day trip. Its coastal wetlands support thousands of birds and dozens of species that migrate along the Pacific Flyway. Many migrating birds reach Monterey wetlands from breeding areas in the Arctic. These birds spend the winter here or pause before continuing their trip to Mexico, Central and South America. Others come from breeding areas on the American prairies, inland lakes and marshes of the southwest, or even the Gulf of California. The Monterey coastline is also second-to-none when it comes to spotting Pelagic (open seas or ocean) birds. 

Rollo Beck

Rollo Howard Beck (1870-1950) was a remarkable world traveler whose hands-on fieldwork added immeasurably to the base of ornithological knowledge. In the early-to-mid 20th century, the native Californian obtained and preserved tens of thousands of specimens and collected data for some of the most important bird collections in the world. Institutions including The Natural History Museum in Tring, England, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco, and Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) at the University of California, Berkeley hold Beck specimens.
Many of the mounted specimens in the Monterey County Birds exhibit at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History (PGMNH) are also Beck's work.

Visit the Online Rollo Beck Exhibit


Easily the most popular exhibit at the Museum for younger visitors is the life-size sculpture of an adult female Gray Whale that rests in front of the building. Children can be seen climbing on "Sandy" the Gray Whale throughout the day. The Cetacean Room is located just off of the Main Room, and it contains marine mammal artifacts and photographs, including a Killer Whale skeleton and the large jawbone of a Humpback Whale which are suspended from the ceiling. Many recorded whale sounds are available at the push of a button.


The landforms of Monterey County reflect a long history of tectonic activity, fault movements, uplifting, and sculpting by local rivers and the ocean. The oldest rocks in Monterey Peninsula is the igneous rock, granodiorite, this cooled from a molten mass about 80 million years ago. However, some of the pebbles in conglomerate deposits are even older - some have been traced to the Mohave Desert and are over 2000 million years old.

Entering the Museum's Native Plant Garden you are greeted by Jade hoisted from the bottom of ocean in Big Sur by artist Don Wobber. There is also a large exhibit on Monterey County geology, paleontology, and mineralogy, with an enclosed booth devoted to fluorescent minerals.


The upstairs Mezzanine of the old wing houses an extensive exhibit on mollusks, including a giant squid.


An exhibit case on the second floor of the Museum are devoted to insects. A wall case contains a taxonomically arranged survey of the orders of insects, with notes on types of metamorphosis. A small exhibit diorama and a large photographic panel illustrate wintering clusters of Monarchs. A large television monitor is also located in this area which is used to display a variety of natural history videos.


The Museum's Collection includes an extensive herbarium developed largely by the Museum's Director Emeritus Vern Yadon. The Museum's herbarium is included in UC Berkeley's Jepson On-Line Interchange, California Florista.