La Brea Tar Pits (Los Angeles)

https://tarpits.org

One of my kids’ favorite historical sites is the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Its history goes back tens of thousands of years, and even though the city of Los Angeles has built up all around it, nothing can keep the black tar from oozing between the cracks in the earth. 


History

The tar pits have been bubbling here for millenia, and nothing, not even urban sprawl, can keep them contained. The tar pit seepage is crude oil which forms asphalt as it encounters the air. Throughout the years, animals and plants became trapped in the sludge – the oldest dated organism found in the tar pits dates back 38,000 years!

A museum for fossils discovered in the pits has been on this land for over one hundred years, with its current museum opening in 1977. The surrounding land is now Hancock Park and excavations are continually occurring as more fossils are discovered. 


Visit

When visiting Los Angeles with kids, it’s easy to spend time in star-studded neighborhoods or at amusement parks. However, nothing beats seeing a prehistoric tar pit seeping right out of the ground, mere steps away from Wilshire Boulevard! It’s hard to imagine how something so primal can co-exist with the high-rise apartments and skyscrapers surrounding it.

Visiting the tar pits with your kids is easy, no matter their age. You don’t even have to visit the museum to see the major attraction – the tar pits themselves. The museum is a lot of fun, though, and shouldn’t be missed!

We’ve visited the tar pits several times, including just this past summer. My kids still talk about the fun we had at the museum from a couple of years ago. Either way, seeing the pits is a must-see while in LA!

The museum encourages advanced tickets, which you can buy here. Note that currently, all visitors must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter (12 and up). Be sure to check all state and local COVID rules and regulations before planning your trip.

The museum building itself is impressive and picture-worthy! 

The museum exhibits are fun for all ages with massive mammoths and mastodons recreated before your eyes and sabertooth tigers baring their fangs at you as you walk through the museum. There’s lots of hands-on activities and exhibits and a fossil lab that you can observe. Your kids will be so excited, running from exhibit to exhibit as they learn about the prehistoric animals who once lived on this very ground. My kids’ favorite part was getting a photo done that placed us right in one of the tar pits. Yes, it was cheesy but kids love that sort of thing and it’s a great memory! There’s also a 3D movie and awesome gift shop to explore.

The real star of the tar pits is the actual pits themselves. They can be observed without visiting the museum and outside of the museum hours. Wander around Hancock Park to see the different pits in various stages of excavation. Be sure to check its website to see what pits are currently open and available for viewing.  

The most well-known and must-see pit is the lake pit which runs right along Wilshire Boulevard. The first fossil from the tar pits was found right here, and now you can imagine what it was like thousands of years ago as you view a mammoth family getting trapped in the oozing tar.

As you tune out the distractions of the cars whizzing by, you can actually believe you’re in a prehistoric scene with tar still bubbling to the top of the water. Your kids will love seeing the water gurgle and splosh!

The park has several tar pits to view along with other fun statues of animals. It’s a beautiful respite in the middle of such a busy city.

If you’re looking to explore the tar pits on the small screen, a new TV show called La Brea debuted this fall on NBC!

When visiting LA with kids, don’t just take them to see dinosaurs and fantastical creatures at Universal or Disney. Take them to the La Brea Tar Pits to see the real historic creatures who once roamed this land. It’s like going back to the “land before time!”


Helpful Hints:

  • Cost:
    • Park: free
    • Museum: $15/adults; $12/ages 13-17; $7/ages 3-12; free/2 and under
  • Recommended: all ages
  • Tour time: 1 hour
  • Gift shop located in the museum. Shop online here!
  • Transportation: There is a large parking lot behind the museum along with street parking available on the surrounding roads (be sure to note parking restrictions!). 
  • Dining options: I recommend driving a few blocks away to The Grove, an extensive outdoor shopping center with tons of restaurants, shops, and open space. I also recommend The Farmer’s Market beside The Grove – tons of neat food stalls and restaurants!
  • Hotel options: One of my favorite hotel chains is just a few blocks away – the Kimpton Hotel Wilshire. We stayed at the Kimpton in Westwood which is a short drive away. There are plentiful hotels in nearby Beverly Hills.
  • Nearby attractions include: LA Museum of Art, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (just opened!!), Cayton Children’s Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum (lots of cars from movies!), and the shopping and dining of Beverly Hills

Books to Read:

All links are Amazon affiliate links.

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