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The Ultimate LA Family Guide ™

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The Nature Gardens and Nature Lab at the Natural History Museum

The Nature Lab and Nature Gardens are the newest additions to the Natural History Museum. The museum is located in Exposition Park at 900 Exposition Blvd. in Los Angeles. The cost of admission is as follows: Adults are $12, Students and Seniors are $9 and Children ages 2 and older are $5. Teachers receive free admission. Parking at the museum is $10. There is an Expo line station next to the museum so that is another option if you want to avoid the $10 fee and also treat the kids to an experience on a light rail line. The hours are 9:30 am-5 pm daily.

The Natural History Museum is a mix of old and new exhibits. A couple of years ago we visited the Dinosaur Hall and the Hall of Mammals, both brand new structures filled with light. Those exhibits, as well as the new Nature exhibits that I am reviewing today are modern and feature technology that engages the visitors. They are also focused on Los Angeles and make this museum stand out from any other natural history museum in that way.

The Nature Lab is downstairs where the Kids Discovery Zone used to be. It has been gutted and the result is a very stark, all white space with an open layout giving plenty of room for kids to spread out and explore. The children here are learning about LA nature...mostly the bugs and animals in our environment that many kids will be very familiar with. Every area in this room is interactive. There are many live animals including at least a dozen rats that climb through clear tubes at the ceiling and come down in two places the eat and play. Kids will love learning all about the behaviors, predators, diet and impact on nature that all of the animals and insects have on our LA area. Some other animals to observe are newts (the two we saw were riding piggy back), a gecko, turtles, a tarantula, crayfish, frogs and snakes. The habitats are low for the kids optimal viewing and all of the animals seemed well cared for.

Once we got past the live animals we also saw several taxidermy animals that our kids were familiar with: an opossum family and a coyote. I just think it was great that the animals, insects and literature regarding the wildlife was centered around the LA area: much more relevant than a zoo and a great way for kids to differentiate between what they read about in books (like the rainforest or the big cats in Africa) and what is close by.

In the back of the Nature Lab we noticed a huge space just past the end of the room that leads right into the Nature Gardens. This indoor/outdoor concept was clever and modern, leading the kids from studying about LA wildlife to then experiencing the native plants and bugs firsthand. Before we went outside we went through several tables of hands-on exploration. My favorite was the microscopes hooked up to large screen monitors. The kids could take slides of various bugs like butterflies and see them projected or even put their hands and arms under to see their hair and skin magnified many times. There were many touch screens with games and activities on these tables which were quite engaging. The kids could learn about what various nocturnal animals eat (like coyotes and raccoons) and how they search for food while we’re all asleep. They can also discover the various sounds made by bugs in their own backyards.

Once we had thoroughly explored the Lab we headed outside. The gardens are huge: 3.5 acres to be exact. Being that the gardens just opened in June the plants were in impeccable condition. There is a living wall with various plants with flowers growing in the cracks of stone. I loved the wide variety of succulents and the kids totally understood that these native plants don’t require a lot of water because we live in a desert. There is a pond and a butterfly area with a variety of butterflies attracted to a few plants in particular. While the Natural History Museum has a Butterfly Pavilion, I’m not sure it’s worth the additional charge since you can see so many butterflies in the garden. There is one plant in particular called a butterfly bush and we sat right near it and watched one butterfly after the next at the very end of the trail for the Nature Gardens you’ll come upon a gorgeous edible garden. Just about every type of vegetable, herb and fruit is growing here. My kids loved going to each plant, reading the red markers to see what type it was and then searching for any visible fruits or vegetables. They also were close enough so that we could smell the plants if we wanted. They especially loved the blossoming artichokes with purple flowers and the varieties of peppers. I hope that the thousands of children that come to the museum for field trips won’t damage this garden, and that the museum is prepared if they do! There are many places to sit and take in the beauty of the garden and we could have spent much longer in it but the museum was closing.

We are looking forward to our next visit to the museum!