Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Continuing my adventure from California, my travel buddy and I ventured to the first of several destinations located in Los Angeles. This first location is one that I really wanted to see as I enjoy all things science related. The museum is…

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, located in Los Angeles, California

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The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is located in Exposition Park, so it conveniently has parking lots nearby for those who wish to drive. However, for those who wish to travel via public transportation, there is the option of either light rail or bus. My travel buddy and I were driven to the museum, so I won’t discuss about public transportation, but the parking lot costs $10. The museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 5pm, except for a handful of holidays (check the website). Admission to the museum is $12. The museum has free admission days on the first Tuesday of each month, except for July and August, but they make it up by having several free Tuesdays in September. I visited on a free Tuesday, so no money spent on my part, however there are several special exhibits that require money, but I didn’t opt to see them.

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First up is the “Dinosaur Hall”, an exhibit that will make any dino fan squeal with joy. The exhibit contains many dinosaur specimens, some of which are interactive, thereby encouraging visitors to look and touch as much as they please. In addition to housing a variety of dinosaur fossils, the exhibit attempts to answer questions about the lives of dinosaurs, such as “how do dinosaurs have babies?” and “do dinosaurs get sick?”, through new discoveries and research findings.

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The special exhibit that was on display during the visit, but has long since closed was “Just Add Water: Artworks Inspired by the L.A. Aqueduct by Rob Reynolds” (November 5, 2013- January 19, 2015). The exhibit displayed 10 watercolors by L.A. based artist, Rob Reynolds, that highlight the significance of the L.A. Aqueduct to Southern California. (I’m not the biggest art fan, so I really didn’t look too much into the paintings.)

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“Age of Mammals” is an exhibit that spans 65 million years, starting from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the rise of humans. The exhibit does a wonderful job of explaining the evolution of mammals through climate and geographical changes. There is this display about the evolution of whales, how they had legs at first and then evolved to the modern whales, that I found to be fascinating.

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The next exhibit visited was “Becoming Los Angeles”, which documents the history of how Southern California started as a small settlement to becoming a modern city. The exhibit is organized chronologically, however I went through the exhibit backwards, so I started from the most recent to the beginning. The exhibit is broken down into seven sections; time periods of major changes that helped shape Los Angeles to be the metropolis that it is today. The exhibit includes some Hollywood memorabilia, and even the animation table used by Walt Disney to create Mickey Mouse.

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“Gems and Minerals Hall” contains a collection of over 2000 objects. Despite the fact that it looks like visitors have just walked into a jewelry store and can buy the gems from displays, the exhibit still does a wonder job of informing visitors about the scientific aspects of gems and minerals. Jewel enthusiasts should not miss the F.C. Hixon Gem Vault, which houses an exquisite collection of gems, including the Blue Moon Diamond (though it’s no longer on display according to the museum website).

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Finishing up the first floor are the “Hall of African Mammals” and “North American Mammal Hall”, where visitors can view dioramas that recreate various African mammals and North American mammals, respectively, in their natural environments. The exhibits are opposite of each other, separated by the dueling dinosaur display. (I somehow missed the North American Mammal Hall on the first floor, so no idea what dioramas are there, but I did see the North American Mammal Hall on the second floor, so look forward to that.)

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Not quite on the first floor, but not really on the second floor either, it’s actually on the stairs connecting the floors (so on floor 1.5) is the “Shell” exhibit. I don’t recall a shell exhibit in the other natural history museums that I’ve visited, so the exhibit is definitely something different. The exhibit displays over hundreds of specimens, including rare shells, big shells, colorful shells, so shell enthusiasts will find their little bit of heaven here.

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The first exhibit on the second floor is the “Ralph W. Schreiber Hall of Birds”, the largest of all the exhibits on the second floor. The Hall of Birds is a very detailed exhibit that covers a variety of bird related topics, so much that the exhibit itself could possibly be considered a museum if all the information was moved to a separate building. The exhibit contains not only a multitude of bird specimens, but also bird habitats, the science of birds, such as flight and anatomical details, and other bird related parts, such as eggs, and nest. The Hall of Birds is really an exhibit that can answer all the bird questions one may have.

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Next on the second floor is the “Dino Lab”, where visitors can view the dinosaur preparation process. There are actual staff members working in the lab (I thought one of the staff members was a prop at first, but a person was actually there), and they are working on real fossils, so visitors are treated to a behind the scenes experience.

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The “North American Mammal Hall” on the second floor contains more dioramas of North American mammals in their natural habitats. This exhibit is definitely bigger than the “African Mammal Hall”, so it’s most likely bigger than the “North American Mammal Hall” on the first floor, but as I missed it, I can’t be sure.

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Moving on is the “Discovery Center and Insect Zoo”, where visitors can enjoy hands on activities. In the Discovery Center, visitors can touch minerals, furs and fossils, and pose next to the iconic polar bear that was collected in Norway in the 1960s. The Insect Zoo is located within the Discovery Center, and contains 9 terrariums that are used to educate visitors about the world of insects and other bugs.

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The last exhibit on the second floor is the “Visible Vault: Archaeological Treasures From Ancient Latin America”. The exhibits displays over hundreds of artifacts from ancient Latin American cultures, such as the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans. This exhibit also gives visitors a behind the scenes view by displaying the artifacts as they would be kept in storage. For example, the artifacts are displayed in storage mounts that use material that is good for long term storage, and some objects are secured by an unbleached cotton twill tape in case of an earthquake.

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“Early California History” is the first exhibit that I came across in the basement level (Level G) of the museum. The exhibit covers the history of California from 1540-1940, starting with the Spanish explorers who visited and recorded what they saw. A variety of artifacts are on display, including elaborate dioramas of the lifestyles throughout the time period covered, and replicas of the Spanish explorers’ ships, such as the San Salvadore.

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The last major exhibit of the museum is the “Nature Lab”, which is an interactive space where visitors can learn about the plants and animals in Los Angeles. The lab has this really interesting and somewhat disturbing (at least for me) display with live rats running around in tunnels.

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In addition to the larger exhibits on display at the museum, are a few smaller ones that are scattered throughout in the nooks and crannies, thus it’s hard for me to pinpoint their exact location. The “Amber: Windows to the Past” is a small one wall exhibit highlighting the museums small collection of amber. The “Zuni Fetishes” is another small one case exhibit displaying small animal carvings, known as fetishes, made of stone and shell from the Zuni people, a Native American tribe.

My traveling buddy, and I spent about 3.5 hours at the museum, and I honestly don’t believe that was enough time for me. Considering that I missed a major exhibit, and possibly some smaller ones (as they aren’t listed on the museum map, they should really update their map), I say the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County warrants another visit from me. The museum is worth every penny that is listed as the admission as the museum contains so much that one can spend a whole day and still not see everything. Hence, I highly recommend everyone to visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to broaden their horizons, and learn more about natural history and California.

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