Isn't it funny what ideas stick from childhood? I remember reading about the La Brea Tar Pits in elementary school and I have been curious about them ever since. My husband felt the same way, so when we planned our family trip to Hollywood last June, we took the opportunity to visit this unusual prehistoric site on the last day of our trip.
In case you missed the La Brea Tar Pits in the Weekly Reader, here's the scoop. La Brea Tar Pits is an active paleontology site in the middle of Los Angeles, California. The still-bubbling pits can be found in Hancock Park, surrounded by skyscrapers.
Long ago, prehistoric animals wandered into the sticky, black tar pits and were trapped. Predators would sometimes attack those helpless animals and get stuck too. They sank into the tar, which preserved their skeletons beautifully. This happened many times, resulting in layers upon layers of fossils over thousands of years.
Scientists began digging fossils from La Brea Tar Pits in the late 1800's, and they have been digging ever since. Today, you can still see bubbling tar pits, scientists at work, and a family-friendly museum in the middle of L.A.
Here are my tips for visiting La Brea Tar Pits.
We drove our own car and arrived shortly before the museum opened. We had no trouble finding inexpensive metered parking on 6th Street just after 9 am, but it filled quickly. The museum has a pay lot on the corner of Curson and 6th. At the time of our visit, the parking fee was $12.
The museum posts this important note about parking on its website: “If you choose street parking, please read all parking signs carefully, as restrictions apply. Most importantly, DO NOT PARK ALONG WILSHIRE BOULEVARD between the hours of 7-9 am and 4-7 pm (Monday – Friday), or your car will be ticketed and towed. This applies even if you are parked at a meter.”
There are several ticket options at the La Brea Tar Pits. Basic Museum Admission includes admission to the museum and the Excavator Tour. For a few dollars more, you can add your choice of Titans 3D or Ice Age Encounters. For a few dollars more than that, you can see both shows, when available.
Titans 3D is a short movie that tells the story of the La Brea Tar Pits. I found it interesting and informative, especially for kids and other visitors who are unfamiliar with the history of the La Brea Tar Pits. However, I would not say that it is must-see for everyone. It is shown in a small theater, and while 3D, it is not as sophisticated as some movies I've seen in other natural history museums.
We purchased our tickets at the museum and that worked well. The museum was not crowded on the Friday morning in June that we visited. Discounts and free days are available. Find details in the Good to Know section later in this post.
The La Brea Tar Pits Museum tells the story of the tar pits and showcases the best fossils from the tar pits. You'll see fossils and models of mammoths, saber tooth cats, giant sloths and a lot of dire wolves. As prehistoric fossils go, these are pretty glamorous.
You may see paleontologists at work behind glass. You'll have an opportunity to touch real fossils and ask museum staff about them. There are several interactive exhibits inside the museum.
The La Brea Tar Pits are still there and still bubbling! Wandering around Hancock Park and seeing the pits was my favorite part of our visit. The tar pits are fenced, so there is little risk of humans or animals getting stuck in them today. You'll also see active dig sites and fossil crates all around the park.
We did not take the Excavator Tour, which is included in admission. Tour times are posted each day and you meet at the museum entrance to join in. We had a long drive ahead of us and didn't stay long enough to experience the tour. I'd love to try it another time.
The La Brea Tar Pits are located next door to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Between the two, you could spend a full day. There are several large outdoor art installations and park visitors are welcome to walk through and on them. Save a little time to explore these, even if you don't visit the Museum of Art.
The Petersen Automotive Museum and Craft and Folk Art Museum are located across the street from the La Brea Tar Pits and LACMA.
Good to Know
Where: 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California
When: The museum is open every day from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm. It is closed on four days of the year: Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
How Much: Museum admission starts at $12 per adult, with discounts for seniors, students and children. Children ages 2 and younger are always free. Discounts and free admission may be available.
- The museum is free every first Tuesday, October-June. The museum is free every Tuesday in September. Do reserve tickets in advance.
- Active or retired military and California teachers are free every day with ID.
- You may be able to find a discount on Groupon. I checked while writing this post, and the Groupon price for La Brea Tar Pits General Admission was the same as the walk up price, but Groupon was promoting a sitewide 20% off coupon code, which happens regularly.
- The La Brea Tar Pits museum is included in the Go Los Angeles Card. Bundle and save up to 50% on admission to 34 popular Southern California attractions. Save an extra $2 per Go Card when you purchase through our partner, aRes. Click the button to view and purchase.
How Long: 2+ hours. We spent 2-3 hours at the La Brea Tar Pits, but we didn't stay for the Excavator Tour.
Amenities: Restrooms, gift shop. The gift shop is small, but has some fun and unique items. There is no on-site restaurant, but you may find a food truck in high season, and there is a cafe at the art museum next door. There are a few picnic tables and plenty of lawn in Hancock Park.
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