Real Pirates Exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum

The San Diego Natural History Museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park offers year-round exhibits featuring early mammal, dinosaur, and plant/shell fossils, displays on the local San Diego water cycle, and more, always worth a visit of a few hours. From now until September 2014, however, the museum is also hosting the temporary Real Pirates exhibit, which takes visitors through two floors of displays showcasing the discovery of the slave ship turned pirate ship Whydah. This ship, discovered off the coast of Cape Cod, has a fascinating history, which is detailed with the aid of actual artifacts from the ship, visuals, movies, and interactive pirate displays.


The exhibit is best for kids eight and up, as there’s extensive reading and history involved, including fairly graphic slave-trade and pirate violence details. Our school-aged kids and teen were the perfect age. Younger children will enjoy the interactive (but small) pirate ship play area located downstairs (no need to pay exhibit admission to enjoy).


The pirate exhibit starts on the second floor of the museum, and does require upgraded admission (regular museum admission is $17 for adults, or $28 with Real Pirate admission). It’s not possible to buy Real Pirate admission solo. Tip: stay in a San Diego vacation home and spend at least 3-4 days, devoting a full morning or afternoon to the pirate exhibit.

Once you’ve entered the exhibit, it’s one-time entry, but visitors can stay as long as desired. They show you a short film first, which is extremely helpful to get the background of the ship, then guide you through the life of the Whydah, from it’s slave ship days, to its brief stint as a pirate ship in the “Golden Age of Piracy”. The lives of known members of the ship’s crew are highlighted, as well as general historical knowledge of pirates of the day, global politics of the time, etc. My kids most enjoyed seeing real pirate booty (an impressive collection of ‘pieces of eight’, and pirate weaponry (including step-by-step instructions for operating a pirate cannon). I most enjoyed the biographies of those on-board and learning about the complicated trading routes and political climate of the day.

Tip: If your party includes small children who will not want to tour Real Pirates, adults can ‘tag-team’ and enjoy the regular exhibits with young kids between ‘turns’.

Date last visited:

April 2, 2014

Distance from the interstate:

The Natural History Museum is located in Balboa Park, a short distance from I-5 and I-805.


No food or drink (or photography) is allowed in Real Pirates, but there is a sack lunch/snack dining area with tables and chairs in the main atrium of the museum. There’s also ample picnicking areas outside.


The museum is located at 1788 El Prado, San Diego. Free parking is available on-site.

As I disclose whenever applicable, we experienced Real Pirates as guests of the museum, for the purpose of review. Without hosted experiences, we would be unable to bring you reviews on Pit Stops for Kids. Written in partnership with VacationRoost.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.




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