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The Ultimate LA Family Guide ™
Natural History Museum and The Butterfly Museum
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and its adjacent Butterfly Pavilion. Here is the need-to-know details:
The Natural History Museum is located at 900 Exposition Boulevard in Exposition Park, across from the University of Southern California (USC) between Vermont and Figueroa.
The parking lot next to the museum is $6.00 which is kind of pricey, but since we didn't want to drive around looking for street parking, we went with it.
The entrance fee is pretty steep too: It's $9.00 for adults, Seniors are $6.50, children 13-17 are 6.50, children 5-12 are $2 and under 5 yrs old are free. Since I am also reviewing the Butterfly exhibit outside next to the museum, I let you know that the entrance fee for that is $3.00 for adults, seniors are $2.00 and children ages 5-12 are $1.00. Here is a great bonus: teachers are always free at least for the museum, but not for the pavilion of wings outside.
As for bathrooms, unfortunately there is no changing table in the bathroom on the main floor of the library. Since my kids were still in diapers then, I had to take an elevator up to the next floor to change them.
In terms of eating, I would suggest bringing a picnic lunch and spreading out a blanket on the lawn in front of the museum. The cafe in the basement of the museum had very unappetizing food and was pricey. One neat thing about the cafe is that They did have tables and chairs designed for children which was a nice bonus, but my hot dog was inedible and my sister and husband also gave a thumbs down to the cafe.
OK, so back to the review of the exhibits. We started out on a hot Thursday morning and got there at about 10:30 or so. We went directly to the Pavilion of Wings which is an exhibit that the musuem has had each summer for several years. It is in a greenhouse adjacent to the front steps that lead up to the museum entrance. We lined up and paid and found out that we would not be allowed into the pavilion until 11:30. They stagger the entrance times so that it doesn't get too crowded.
We turned around and went into the main museum and walked through three rooms that show African and North American mammals in their natural environments. It was a nice introduction to the museum and the kids could run around and look at everything and stretch their legs. If your children like stuffed animals they will really like this exhibit, because in this case it is real animals that are stuffed.
We walked back to the pavilion and entered the exhibit.
So, here is my take on it. I was expecting more exotic butterflies for one. And two, a museum guide was watching every kid like a hawk, restricting their movements to a level that wasn't fun for my husband and I and for the kids. . Yes, I have two two-year-olds who are very curious and want to touch everything, But there is a way to reign them in and still make it enjoyable and he did not accomplish this. It also showed that the this individual was not about to trust parents to be parents. I really liked seeing the large quantity of caterpillars and so did Madison and Logan. And while the guide was on top of us, I did notice that he had a genuine interest in the butterflies and enjoyed imparting knowledge on the topic even if he was kind of mumbling it to himself. Another note, it was very warm on the day that we went to the museum and the pavilion has a greenhouse effect so be prepared to be very hot and sticky while in it. Oh, and they don't allow food in the pavilion so try to snack or eat lunch before entering. There is a gift shop at the entrance of the exhibit and the do sell numberous entomology related books and gifts.
While exiting the pavilion and Madison demanded lunch. Jody wanted to walk down to McDonalds at the Calif. Science Center but got vetoed by my sister and father who were with us for the excursion. Generally museums have pretty good cafes attached to them. For example, in Los Angeles we have had great experiences at the Getty, Autry National Center and the Huntington with our children. We went down to the cafe and were sorely disappointed. After this, we visited the newly reopened children's discovery center. They have brought the live insect exhibit from another part of this museum into the disocvery center and this was the highlight! The children can walk around the small glass-enclosed cases and view the insects from all angles. Unfortunately, my kids are too short to see the insects without us lifting them up. Here are some more highlights:
Lots of hands-on displays. We liked the rocks and minerals and there is a huge geode to touch that our kids will like. There are also animal pelts which delighted them. There is a pit for excavation but the children ned to be three to go in it. They have a couple of tortoises but again, kind of high up so our kids couldn't see well. They also have an area to do fossil rubbings which older kids may enjoy.
Here are a few parts to this room that I wish were different:
It was poorly lit. This room shouldn't be in the basement but rather central to the other exhbits in the museum. While I understand and appreciate a children-only zome, I also think the museum could have more hands-on learning throughout all of the exhibits. A recent LAtime article focused on the skirball museum shed light on the topic of how museums more and more are creating a literal ghettoization within their museum for children and their parents in that they are seeking and getting grants for these children discovery centers yet at the same time isolating children from rest of the exhibits.
After the discovery room we went into another exhibit on that level: the Lando Hall of California History. The exhibit was very large and had lots of room for the kids to walk around and feel part of the main museum while seeing some unique and historical artifacts. There were artificats starting from the Native American to 1940 Los Angeles. We enjoyed showing them a 3 dimensional display of LA which was huge and appealing to children because it looks like a playset. Both of my kids are into fire engines and they had a huge historical firetruck on display and big engines that the kids were able to touch. I also lked the models of the missions and M and L loved the mannequins portraying historical figures. This exhibit is a must!
Other collections that the museum has are:
The Museum is home to Megamouth, the world's rarest shark — a 14.5 foot long male that was the first to be placed on public view. Only 17 of the elusive sharks have been found since the first one was discovered in 1976.
Dinosaurs, the perennial natural history museum favorite, are well represented here. Dinosaur exhibits include a cast of the complete skeleton of a Mamenchisaurus, the largest-necked dinosaur ever discovered, one of the few and finest Tyrannosaurus rex skulls on view anywhere, and dramatic models of an Allosaurs and Carnotaurus by sculptor/paleontologist Stephen Czerkas.
Animated birds, tree walk-through habitats and 27 separate learning stations are featured in the popular Schreiber Hall of Birds.
A unique exhibit, "Chaparral: A Story of Life from Fire," demonstrates fire's importance in the life cycle of chaparral through a multi-media presentation that surrounds the visitor with the sights, sounds and even the smells of a chaparral ecosystem.
The Marine Hall features intricate dioramas of sea life in California waters, from the inter tidal to the deep sea. Identifications of many of the animals and plants seen by beachcombers and scuba divers are provided.
More than 2,000 gem and mineral specimens are on view in the Gem and Mineral Hall. The hall features one of the largest gold exhibits in the world, that includes over 300 pounds of natural gold along with gold mining artifacts and other memorabilia. The walk-through Hixon Gem Vault houses such spectacular treasures as exquisite star rubies, emeralds and sapphires.
There is so much more to see at this museum and we are already planning another trip there in August. My kids were losing it and needed a nap so we had to leave but the good thing is that we all enjoyed our trip.