La Brea Tar Pits and LACMA

Before I moved to LA, my dad told me I had to go to the La Brea Tar Pits. It’s one of those times where you say, “Yeah, okay Dad,” but in your head you’re thinking it seems kind of prehistoric and nerdy. Then my last Lyft driver from the day before said the museums are among his favorite thing to do in the LA area. I know typically a daughter should trust her dad’s judgment, but I needed a hip, local resident to confirm his suggestion.

I got to the grounds early because I had to be out of my AirBnb. However, instead of driving there and paying parking, I left my car at the AirBnb and got a Lyft. I figured the cost of one there and back was cheaper than on-sight or nearby parking. Because I was early, I went to the Starbucks across the street until it opened at 9:30am. As I headed back to the museum, I stopped by the area on their map called “Lake Pit.” It is what it sounds like, a lake where tar is still coming up from underneath. It smells exactly like when new roads are being paved. The edges of the lake are lined with tar that has bubbled up to the surface and spread out. You can still witness the bubbling tar. It is gated off, so if you have small children or curious teens, you don’t have to worry about them running up and trying to touch it.

There was practically no line to purchase tickets right at opening, so I highly suggest being there at that time.  When I was leaving the Tar Pits, which was only around 11:30am, there was a line of at least 30 people waiting to enter. Due to the size of the lobby, the line extends outside. You don’t have to worry about rain because this is LA, but if it’s a warm day, you may want to bring something to drink or shade yourself with.

A regular ticket, no perks included, is only $12. If you want to see Titans of the Ice Age 3D, which I highly suggest because it basically summarizes the entire museum for you in a nice 25 minute video, it’s an additional $5.  You can also add the Ice Age Encounters 15 minute show for also only $5 more. If you also want all three, it’s $22. Again, pretty affordable.

When I got up to the counter to pay, the girl at the checkout convinced me to get the annual membership for $59. Now, that may sound crazy instead of just $22, but you get so many added features to becoming a member. The main feature that sold me was the fact that you are also getting a membership to two other museums as well, the Natural History Museum and the William S. Hart Museum. If you visit each one just one time and see the extra features included, you get your monies worth. I also bought it in case my friends want to go when they visit me.

After you pay inside the George C. Page Museum, if you get the 3D movie ticket, they give you a time to be in line for the showing. Since I had a few minutes before the show, I decided to walk around the exhibits. It’s kind of up to you the route you want to take. I suggest getting a map because the grounds are pretty large. There is an indoor section, which comprises most of the museum. Then there is a massive outdoor area, that includes many little places to stop, observe, and learn. You could technically wander the grounds without having to pay, but the museum is pretty neat experience to have at least once.

Giant sloth

First I went to see the mammoth exhibit. It’s weird to think in the middle of sprawling LA, there were once mammoths roaming around. They had some fun hands on activities, like how hard it is to move in tar. How can you tell if you’re not actually in it? There are giant metal plungers in a display case that you can try to pull up out of the tar they’re sitting in. Kids and adults were both into testing it out, and it was more difficult than I had anticipated.

As I was only about 1/3 through the museum portion, I realized it was time for me to head to the 3D movie Titans of the Ice Age. It seemed like it only had about 25 seats total, but it was a very good showing. It explained why the museum and active dig sites are here today, and what we have learned about the past through the excavations. I thought it really helped bring the whole experience together.

After that, I explored more of the museum. I decided to go through the gift shop because it was right there as you exit the theater. It has some fun stuff, and as a member I get a discount. However, I didn’t buy anything. From there, I went through the atrium, which was beautiful. I’d only been in LA for a day and a half at this point, but you recognize the lack of lush foliage in the city, and here you get a small taste of it. It’s also nice because it’s quiet. School groups cannot go through. Kids can with their parents, but not large groups of children.

In the exhibit areas there are people standing by who help explain things in more detail or answer questions. One woman showed me some baskets that were lined with the tar inside. They were made by the inhabitants to carry water, so the tar was used as an essential tool. There were dire wolf skulls on display. Don’t know what a dire wolf is? They have plenty of exhibits to explain their lifestyles based on what they’ve found of their remains from the tar pits. They’re still being found there to this day.

Dire wolf skulls

In fact, that’s the incredible part. The La Brea Tar Pits aren’t just an attraction, they are also a working excavation site. Inside the museum there is a laboratory where you can watch people literally in the process of handling found fossils and other findings. Outside, there is a section called Project 23 where you can also watch archeologists perform in the newest active dig site. It’s one of the few places in the country, and by being connected to the museum with constant visitors, is able to continue to research the history of the area.

As you continue to walk the premises, you can see the oldest active dig site Pit 91. Pit 3, 4, 7, 9, 61, and 67 all are slightly fenced off (not as much as the Lake Pit). When I went, they looked kind of dried up, but you could see the remnants of where the tar had bubbled up. At one point in the museum, I overheard a worker talking to a little girl saying there was a section in between the entrance to the museum and the Lake Pit that had caution tape up. That’s because it was a new recent place of tar activity reaching the surface. I later passed by it, and you could definitely see the ground raised up as if it were a mini volcano ready to expose new tar. However, when you watch the speed of tar, you realize it’d be the opposite of an eruption when it does decide to surface.

Speaking of watching the speed of tar, the best place I witnessed that was in the Observation Pit. It’s a little round building with a Tar Pits worker standing at the entrance, I’m assuming to make sure you had the wrist band on to enter. Otherwise, I think you can’t see that without having paid for a ticket. It’s a random structure, but when you get down the stairs, you can finally see the tar on it’s own and bubbling. It’s not very riveting, but besides the animals and fossils, it’s kind of the point of the La Brea Tar Pits.

From there, I rounded the corner to discover LACMA. I honestly did not know that is what I was walking towards. That day I just planned to go to the La Brea Tar Pits. Then you can clearly see a building in the distance that looks nice and has a lot of people surrounding it. So I went to see what it was, and it happened to be LACMA. Being one day new to LA, I didn’t even really know what exhibits were inside, I just knew it was a famous place because I had seen the outdoor light exhibit on social media.

Again I went to buy a ticket and was convinced to buy a membership. And again, I don’t know if it was because I was still so new to LA that I was enticed by bringing guests here, but I think it was worth it. A general admission price is $15 for one adult. To see the Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera exhibit was an extra $25. So $40 in one visit, where as I paid $60 to have free admission to many extras. They just had the Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage exhibit going on, and again it’s $25 for non-members. So between those two experiences, I’ve already paid off my membership without even taking visiting friends to the museum.


I didn’t know this would happen at the time, but each month I get sent a newsletter/calendar that has all of the events by date and time. For most of them, I’m able to go to them for free as a member. So you can definitely get more than your monies worth out of this membership. They feature films, concerts, and smaller exhibits. If you are really into art, the membership is no doubt the way to go.

As you are buying tickets, there is a restaurant on the left. I didn’t eat at it, but it had many patrons. Instead I later at at the LACMA Cafe. I got a Portabello Mushroom burger with sweet potato fries. No, I’m not a vegetarian or vegan, but I was very surprised at just how tasty this meal was. It wasn’t terribly priced, and was extremely filling. The portion size was worth the price. There were a variety of items on the menu, and because it’s LA, they included health conscious options, but you could definitely get a bacon burger if you wanted. It also wasn’t just limited to burgers. I will be going there again during my next visit to try something different.

Okay, so back to the actual purpose of LACMA, art. I started by going up an escalator behind the ticket area into the BCAM building (Broad Contemporary Art Museum). Then I climbed some stairs to go to the third floor so I could just make my way down each floor. Before you enter the building, look around. You can see the Hollywood sign, which was my first time seeing it since I arrived.

When you enter the building, there’s a giant elevator in front of you, but then you can go right or left into the exhibits. There was a pretty cool toy car piece in this building. There’s a schedule on the wall that lets you know when it will be running because it isn’t always on. Basically a couple hundred toy cars go through many different paths/roads all on the same structure. Check it out from all angles: upstairs, downstairs, front, and all sides. There is so much going on that your eyes can just wander for 10-15 minutes. There’s also some cool light work on the way.

Car structure
Light installation

I’ll be honest, I was a little overwhelmed by the size of LACMA and the amount of pieces and exhibits that it all kind of meshed together. I’m glad I have a membership and can go back and experience it again and again. I did go in the Resnick Pavilion, Ahmanson Building, Hammer Building, Art of the Americas, and ate at the Leo S. Bing Center. I didn’t make it into the Pavilion for Japanese Art. The gift shop is okay. Nothing really stood out to me there.

I should also tell you how I view art, because everybody is different. My mom is an artist. Her medium of choice is oil on canvas. Art class and my mom taught me a lot about what to look at or for. I read every placard beside each piece to understand who made it, when they made it, and what they used to make it. That’s important because it’s what is so impressive. Things look so simple, but some of them were made in the 1800s or even 1200s. Sometimes I hear people say, “I could do that,” and to those people I would say go do it then. It’ll be a lot harder when you actually sit down and try to replicate it. And at the time when the artist made that piece, it was innovative and never done before, which is why it’s now in a museum.

Sometimes there will be explanations too about the background of the art. If it’s a painting or drawing, I like to look at it up close and from the side to see the texture and thickness. I’ll look at how it’s framed or stretched. I’ll look at how many layers are there and try to find the base color. I’ll look from afar to try to get the bigger picture. I try to put myself in the artist’s shoes and feel what they felt while making it. I’ll try to appreciate it for it’s intention. I’ll try to relate it to something in my life.

Art is really beautiful because it’s an independent interpretation. I appreciate and am lucky to live near a city that really appreciates every form of expression. I’m glad I stumbled upon LACMA after La Brea Tar Pits. And check out what the outdoor light exhibit looks like at night.