Located in downtown Los Angeles on “Museum Row” within a short walk of the LACMA (one of the world’s largest art museums), La Brea Tar Pits & Museum scores big points among Southern California attractions for being unique. In this review, we’ll share thoughts and photos of the La Brea Tar Pits, and tips for visiting.
For starters, I’ll bet you didn’t know that monsters used to roam the streets of Los Angeles–and I’m not just talking about Lindsay Lohan! Well, technically they weren’t monsters (not like LiLo, at least), but the ground that is now home to the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum used to be home to some crazy animals. The La Brea Tar Pits and its museum showcase some of the prehistoric creatures that once roamed the land that’s now the concrete jungle of Los Angeles.
In the La Brea Tar Pits, natural asphalt seeps up from the ground (to this day). With this seeping, so too have fossils and animal bones that were preserved in the tar. One of the reasons these tar pits are so fascinating is because of their location. The La Brea Tar Pits and Hancock Park are situated directly in urban Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile district, in a decidedly urban (and even chic) area. The oil that seeps up and pools at the surface is a result of a fault line and oil field, and obviously this type of thing could occur anywhere. In Los Angeles, it’s a stark contrast to the modern city, and reminder of what came before civilization…
With that as background, let’s start with some basic info about the La Brea Tar Pits, which is located in Hancock Park (a public park). The park itself, where you can see and smell the tar, is open to the public without charge. Located right next to the LACMA, the park itself is an easy recommendation for a visit to Los Angeles because it’s easy to access and see while visiting the city for the museum or other purposes.
Wandering around the tar pits (which are mostly viewable only through fencing, and some of which are only accessible to researchers) is a unique and quick experience that’s well worth the time.
The question thus becomes whether it’s worth going into the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, which costs $12 per adult. The displays inside the museum are really well done, and reading about the various prehistoric creatures is incredibly fascinating. There are even some animated creatures and you can observe researchers at their stations working on fossils and specimens that have been excavated from the active sites within Hancock Park. All of that is really cool to see.
The museum is on the small side, and even if you read every placard and spend a decent amount of time wandering through the exhibits, I cannot imagine spending more than an hour here. Our total time in the museum was more like 45 minutes, and I felt pretty satisfied that we had explored it in sufficient depth. Given that, I think it’s a bit overpriced, but this is a minor quibble with an otherwise neat–and unique–attraction.
If you aren’t already visiting the LACMA or another nearby point of interest, the value proposition is worse, as parking in this area can be quite expensive (you’re looking at a minimum of about $10 in the area). If this is the only thing you’re doing in the area, the effective cost is prohibitively expensive.
Still, if you have fossil-obsessed kids, it’ll be worth the money, as it’s a really unique place. Other museums might have a Woolly Mammoth skeleton or elements of these displays, but they don’t have the same depth, nor do they have the connection between the fossils and the place itself.
I’m no expert on how kids learn, but the displays certainly resonated with me more because everything I was observing was where I was standing at one point. I suspect it would likewise be a heightened learning “experience” for kids by virtue of seeing the tar pits (and fake Woolly Mammoth in them) outside, and then going inside and seeing what has been found in those pits.
The wall of Dire Wolf skulls is one of the cooler displays. Don’t feel bad if, like me, you thought the Dire Wolf was something the Grateful Dead hallucinated during a campfire jam session.
“Look, kids, the nice tiger is hugging the great-grandmother of that one DMV worker in Zootopia!”
Not exactly advanced robotics, but some of these creatures actually move, which is pretty neat. The saber-tooth game is strong at La Brea, with several displays dedicated to these glorious cats.
The displays pack a surprising amount of depth despite the small footprint of the museum. There are timelines, evolutionary notes, and other displays that offer detailed information and historical synopses. Of course, I didn’t photograph any, but trust me. They’re there.
The visuals throughout the museum were also good, and presented a nice balance to the informationIn terms of educational value, I thought the La Brea Tar Pits Museum offered a lot, and it didn’t pander too much to children. Rather, the displays were sufficiently captivating and would retain their attention.
Overall, the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum is a cool exhibit. With awesome source material like active tar pits and badass prehistoric animals, I really wish it were larger, but it’s still one of the cooler attractions in Los Angeles. It’s also one that is unique to the area (it still boggles my mind that there are tar pits in Los Angeles!). Nonetheless, you’ll want to visit a couple of stops along Museum Row to get your time’s worth (and money’s worth, if you pay for parking). The pricing is a bit steep, but you will definitely enjoy the museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.
If you’re planning a California vacation, check out my California category of posts for other things to do. For Los Angeles-centric trips, we’ve found the most useful guidebook to be The Best Things to Do in Los Angeles: 1001 Ideas, which is written by locals (and we use it even as locals!). If you enjoyed this post, help spread the word by sharing it via social media. Thanks for reading!
Have you been to La Brea Tar Pits? What do you think of it? Did you think the museum was worth the money? Would you add this to an itinerary spent exploring Los Angeles’ Museum Row or the Miracle Mile? Any tips of your own to add? Share your thoughts on this or anything else, or questions you have in the comments!