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The Ultimate LA Family Guide ™

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Los Angeles Natural History Museum

The focus of this review is the Dinosaur Hall and Hall of Mammals at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park. Here are the details about how to plan your visit:

The museum is located at 900 Exposition Blvd. just south of downtown Los Angeles. The hours are 9:30 am-5 pm daily. Admission prices are as follows: Children ages 4 and younger are free, children ages 5-12 are $5, youth ages 13-17 are $8, students and seniors are $9 and adults are $12. This admission cost does not include the special butterfly and spider exhibits that the museum routinely houses in a greenhouse area just outside the museum. Parking at the museum is $8. So for a family of four, plan on spending a minimum of $42.  This admission cost could seem pricey when you compare the museum to the neighboring California Science Center’s donation only admission cost.  ON the upside this museum does not get the level of crowds that the science museum gets likely because of this entry cost.  This museum like many others throughout Los Angeles does have a free day which is the first Tuesday of each month.

The natural history museum museum has been in the midst of expanding and construction of new wings is continuing. The plan is to renovate nearly half of the Museum’s interior, add five major new exhibitions, and create a 3.5-acre outdoor wilderness experience.

Dinosaur Hall opened in July 2011 and it is housed in a beautiful building bathed in sunlight. The exhibit hall is 14,000 square feet and there is so much to see and take in and talk about with your kids. Getting to observe the range of sizes of various T Rexes, for example, can spark a conversation about what they might have looked like then (feathers or no feathers?) and how much they can grow in just a year. Your family will get to see 20 complete mounts of dinosaurs, all in unique displays and showing them in action, prompting your little ones to strike a dino pose or two. My two loved reading about the differences between the various types of dinosaurs and seeing many specimens such a footprints and fossilized droppings. Throughout the rooms you’ll find touch screen monitors that let you explore all of what you are seeing with more detail.

 I loved the 68 foot long dinosaur found in China:It is hard to believe what scientists are able to put together and preserve for the public to learn from! And it was very fun to be able to walk underneath it and see it all up close.

We were awed and overwhelmed, but making everything so hands on and ultra kid friendly makes this new exhibit perfect for families, even if your kids have short attention spans. Some museum exhibits feel so distant but not this one! You get to stare into the eyes and study everything up close. It’s also so cool to show and explain to your kids that these dinosaur bones were discovered by scientists that work right at this museum.  While we were there we read that the bones are being studied every day to learn as much as they can, and that what was once thought to be true has changed and could even change again. These dinosaurs are still mysteries to us and we get to be part of the journey of discovery.

Another new exhibit that we explored was the Age of Mammals, also a two story, sunlight filled space. The exhibits tell us about ancient mammals and trace the evolution to the present animals that we know and love. There are 38 complete specimens on display here and we all loved getting to know more about many of them. My favorite part of this exhibit was that many of the mammals were local to Southern California. One example,  is a mastadon found in nearby Simi Valley, but there are many more and it makes the exhibit very relevant for kids. Another great feature here that we spent a long time reading about and looking at was this odd amphibious mammal that was native to the Orange County coastline. The specimen that they have on display is the first known of its kind and looks kind of like a hippo. I found it beautiful and tried to imagine what it might have looked like with skin and fur. Liked the dinosaur exhibit, all of the displays are hands on and there are many touch screens throughout the space to spend time with and explore the features, habitats, habits and more of the mammals that interest your family.

One area that we also explored this visit to the natural history museum was their ornithology section.  My children have never been that excited about birds, but this area of the museum was very well designed and interactive.  They were able to light up different areas of the exhibit and walk in a dark multi-level forest.  It seemed endless with glass displays of literally hundreds if not thousands of birds.  Their were even drawers to open up with more bird specimens.  

The children’s discovery section is now housed on the level above the main entrance.  The children’s section used to be on the ground floor below the main entrance but now it is in a bright and airy room with a beautiful view.  On the downside, this room seemed to be filled with mostly crates from their educational loan department and did not yet have permanent exhibits for children to see.  Hopefully in time there will be displays of live animals and much more creative and hand-on activities in this section, much like it was in the previous discovery room. We would like to see a little storytelling area like the museum used to have in its discovery area.

On a final note about the natural history museum, I have to commend the gift shop for having some very affordable items for children to purchase. For a few dollars each of my children came home with a very interesting rock to share with their classmates and display proudly at home.