As a six year old visiting New York City for the first time, my mind was completely blown by the American Natural History Museum. Standing under a fossilized T-Rex skeleton was like witnessing my dinosaur books come to life. I still carve out time to tour ANHM whenever I'm in Manhattan. Therefore, it would make sense that I was a regular visitor to LA County's Natural History Museum prior to having a child...
Except that I wasn't.
In fact, I'd never even been there. I was vaguely aware that we had a Natural History Museum in LA, but there was one thing preventing me from visiting:
I'm a snob.
I'd already been to the museum with the name AMERICAN in it. America is way bigger than LA County. I've never visited Chicago, but I've heard of the Field Museum. London is reputed to have a fantastic Natural History Museum which makes sense because the Brits spent two centuries pillaging the globe. Since I had never even heard of NHM LA prior to living here, I just assumed that we had a provincial, second-rate collection of dusty bones. As a young man, I was way too busy getting rejected by women to waste my time on a sub-par museum.
This will not surprise you, but I was totally wrong.
If someone put a nerf gun to my head and forced me to choose just one place in Los Angeles to take a kid: NHM is undoubtedly the choice. Since parents are just big kids who have already had their dreams crushed, NHM is perfect for us too. It is the blessed solution to every problem:
Want to play outside? NHM.
Want to play inside? NHM.
Need to entertain a toddler? NHM.
Need to entertain a big kid? NHM.
Need to entertain yourself? NHM.
Want to play in water? NHM.
Don't want to sit in traffic? NHM.
The answer is always: NHM.
NHM has an extensive collection of dinosaur greatest hits: Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Pterosaurs, and more. It's the ONLY museum in the world with four complete T-REX's....(drops mic)
There are three giant, blissfully air conditioned halls of animal dioramas devoted to North American and African mammals:
An interactive Nature Lab:
Even a section devoted to molesting stuffed, dead animals like this polar bear:
Vintage Little Dictator Shot
The dead animals are conveniently placed next to some padded stools and gym mats on which to play. Below is the Little Dictator's future wife catching major air:
One of my favorite things about NHM is that we don't have to choose between indoor or outdoor play. We get both. The L.A. based Mia Lehrer and Associates landscape architecture firm designed an incredible outdoor space where kids can play in the dirt, wander through an edible garden, or splash in wading pools.
(Mia Lehrer also sits on the board of Silver Lake Forward - a group that is working to transform the fenced, concrete ditch that is the Silver Lake Reservoir into a world class park. Having a jewel of a park that all Angelenos can enjoy in our neighborhood is surprisingly controversial, so please join the cause for the Silver Lake Great Park here - I have no connection to Mia Lehrer except admiration for her work)
Below is a photo sampler of the outdoor garden:
Awesome stick structure.
How amazing is this play area!?! Does Silver Lake not need this? There is even a sculpture that plays music when you drop pebbles through it:
Whomever came up with that needs a MacArthur Genius Grant.
There's too many awesome exhibits at NHM to list everything. Check out the Natural History Museum website here: NHM.ORG
Parking a car in the lot is $12 (ouch!), so you save some serious coin by riding a bike to NHM. On the day I shot the above video, Google Maps gave an estimated 25 minute travel time home via car. It took us 28 minutes on our bike via the Westmoreland route below.
Do the math: 25 minutes in a car to travel 5.1 miles averages out to around twelve miles per hour. Limping along in traffic at 12 miles an hour is so torturous that it should be illegal based on the Geneva Conventions. Drives like that are why you're checking Redfin for "Ojai/2 bedroom/2 bath" at night before wondering who the hell makes enough money in Ojai for that piece of shit ranch house to cost $800K. Behind door number two is biking the whole way which took us an extra three minutes of singing songs, waving at firetrucks as we passed Station 15 and Station 13, and life extending cardio.
If a roundtrip bike ride is a little ambitious for you, ride on in then take public transit back home (little kids LOVE trains and buses). It's only $1.75 for a bus or train trip with free transfers to other METRO lines and kids under 5 ride FREE.
The grass really is greener over here. Come ride with us on a bike.
HOW WE GOT THERE
On the way in, we road from Bellevue & Hoover east along Bellevue to Silver Lake Blvd. Then we continued through the intersection before turning right onto the sidewalk. After riding "salmon" on the sidewalk for one block along Silver Lake Blvd, we hung a left on London which is a residential sized street next to the 101.
Hang a right at the first street: Vendome. Vendome is also a pretty calm neighborhood street that allows you to cross under the 101 without taking an arterial like Hoover or Silver Lake Blvd. Luckily, it also runs all the way to Lafayette Park. There can be a homeless encampment along the sidewalk under the 101, but the people living there almost always wave and smile at us as we ride by, so I wouldn't let that dissuade you. You also might want to be a little more careful with this route in the evenings on weekdays. Rush hour commuters sometimes use it as a cut-through, but outside of weekday evening rush hour or very late at night when the kids would be asleep anyway, I've always felt safe here.
The only other challenge with Vendome is crossing Beverly & 3rd. There are crosswalks at both intersections, but Beverly and 3rd are essentially inland highways where they intersect with Vendome. Make sure you make eye contact with the drivers and confirm they are stopping in ALL FOUR LANES as you walk your bike across in the crosswalk.
Vendome ends at Lafayette Park. Cross 6th at the light and hop onto the sidewalk for one block. You can bike through Lafayette park to the corner of Wilshire & S. Lafayette Park Pl. or just hang a right on Lafayette Park Pl. from the sidewalk along 6th.
Once you cross Wilshire Blvd., hop onto the sidewalk near Chuck E Cheese and ride "salmon" to 7th Street.
Cross Hoover at the light then ride on the sidewalk on the west side of the street all the way to Venice Blvd. As always, it is your responsibility to keep pedestrians safe. Ride slowly on the sidewalk. At Venice the bike lane starts. I don't "love" this bike lane, but I don't hate it. Cars move faster than I like, but the bike lane is pretty wide, so there is decent separation from them most of the time. Beware of drivers turning right at the last light before the 10 freeway. It leads to the on-ramp to the 10, so sometimes motorists take that turn as if they're already on the freeway.
Keep traveling down the Hoover bike lane past LAFD Station 15 where your child can admire the fire trucks if the doors are open. At Jefferson cross the street then cut through the very relaxing USC campus. Cross Exposition in the crosswalk and you are there!
After you enter the main entrance to NHM off Exposition, the bike racks are directly to your left.
If you would prefer to not spend so much time on the Hoover sidewalk, you can take an alternate route down Westmoreland (a few blocks east of Vermont) starting from the gorgeous former Bullock's Wilshire all the way to Washington Blvd. Then use the sidewalk to get to Hoover and ride in the bike lane from there. Westmoreland is a relatively calm two lane street that a lot of cyclists utilize. Most of the route accommodates cyclists and cars riding next to one another with room to spare, but there are a few blocks where you will be required to "take the lane" amongst slow moving traffic.
The Vermont Rapid Bus (Line 754) comes from the south (or north) and drops off just about 100 meters from the museum at the corner of Expo & Vermont.
If you are coming from the westside, the Expo Line drops you off right in front of the museum. From the valley or Hollywood you can also take the red line subway to 7th Street Metro stop then switch trains to the Expo Line toward Santa Monica. Disembark at the "Exposition Park/USC" stop.
Soon there will be a PROTECTED BIKE LANE (Yea!) along Figueroa all the way from downtown LA to USC, so you will be able to travel from Fig/7th all the way to USC separated from traffic and pedestrians. Once that bike facility opens, I may just choose to take the 7th street bike lane downtown to the Figueroa protected bike lane down to Exposition Park. We'll see...
WHERE & THE WHEN & THE HOW MUCH
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
According to freemuseumday.org, the free days are: The first Tuesday of every month except July and August, every Tuesday in September. Check the calendar.
Open 9:30AM to 5:00PM daily
Adult Admission: $12.00
Senior Admission: $9.00
Student Admission: $9.00
*Youths 13-17 or College Students with Valid ID.
Child Admission: $5.00
Children 2 and Under are admitted FREE of charge!
A family membership is: $99
Obviously, the above info is subject to change, so double check before leaving the house.
Yes, there's a decent food court, but trust me when I tell you to hop on your bike and ride for five minutes to: