The Chautauqua (shuh-TAH-kwuh) Literary and Scientific Circle established its Pacific Coast branch in Pacific Grove in 1879. A two-week Chautauqua assembly was held here every summer, featuring lessons, exhibits, lectures, picnics, and concerts. Over the years several members felt the need to have a storeroom and exhibition site to house collections of nature’s wonders and to make them available for study. In 1883, a petition calling for a Museum building was signed by Professor H. B. Norton, Dr. J. H. Wyeth, Dr. C. L. Anderson, Miss Lucy M. Washburn, Miss Mary E. B. Norton, and Professor Josiah Keep. The petition was sent to F. S. Douty, secretary of the Pacific Improvement Company, and the Chautauqua Museum's first home small wooden octagonal building located at what is now Jewell Park became the Chautauqua Museum's first home.
The original Chautauqua Museum in Pacific Grove was initiated at the second meetings of the Chautauqua Assembly in 1881, and the actual Museum was founded in 1883. The Museum was created to house collections of nature’s wonders and to make them available for study. The first Museum was in a small wooden octagonal building in the site that is now Jewell Park, located across from the current site of the Museum. In 1900 the Chautauqua Museum disbanded to form a more permanent organization as the Pacific Grove Museum Association. The Pacific Improvement Company donated the Museum’s current lot to the Association, and the Museum subsequently moved into a large building on its current site.
The Association maintained the Museum until 1916 when it was transferred to the City of Pacific Grove through a Charter election. The Museum remains city owned and is operated by a non-profit 501.c.3 The Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. The Museum has been accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1972, the first such institution in Monterey County.
The Museum's mission is to inspire discovery, wonder, and stewardship of our natural world. The Museum has become a living field guide to the California Central Coast.