BY: KARINA ANASTASIA ROCHE
Los Angeles was made famous by Hollywood, but the city’s love of stars doesn’t end with those in its Walk of Fame. Southern California is home to SpaceX, NASA, world-renowned research universities (from CalTech, USC, to UCLA) and several incredible science museums. We’ve picked our top 5 must-see museums for science lovers looking to spy a different sort of star.
1. The Griffith Observatory
2800 East Observatory Rd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Admission: FREE. Closed on most holidays, excluding July 4th. See their schedule here.
Parking: The museum gets crowded fast, and the observatory recommends taking a bus to avoid contributing to congestion on the mountain road leading up to it. But if you prefer to drive and park, here are your options, in order of nearest proximity to the museum: First, there are designated parking spots on Westward Road ($4.00) which are impossibly packed. There is also roadside parking before that if you don’t mind a fairly steep walk on a dirt roadside trail, and a free lot (Section 9) on Ferndell Drive. Or, if you don’t mind adding a hike to your list of daily activities, find free parking at the bottom of the hill by the Greek Theatre (limited when there are events at the theater) and take a trail up to the museum. Alternatively, take the DASH Observatory bus from the theater. We recommend arriving earlier at the museum to avoid the evening rush, when large crowds arrive for stargazing, and, if possible, avoid weekend and holiday visits. For more details, see the observatory’s transportation and parking guide.
The Griffith Observatory is one of the most popular museums and tourist destinations in Los Angeles–as the enormous crowds testify. You might recognize it as the location of the romantic sky dance from the La La Land–a kind of advertising that certainly doesn’t make finding parking any easier on a date night. This historic observatory is situated on a mountaintop, its great domed structure as elegant as the sweeping views of Los Angeles that surround it. Enter through the great wrought-iron doors and you are greeted with the enormous and impressive Foucault pendulum–a clock that measures the rotation of the Earth. Look up, and you will notice that the pendulum is suspended from a painted dome ceiling depicting astronomers and scientists from every continent and time period. Various exhibits educate on everything from a periodic table made from actual elements to a display of the Tesla coil. And, of course, be sure not to miss one of the museum’s stunning planetarium shows. Once the sun goes down, go take a peek at our neighboring planets through one of the museum’s telescopes. To get the most out of your visit, refer to the museum’s sky report for a list of upcoming astronomical events, and plan your visit accordingly. The Griffith Observatory is a comprehensive and truly awe-inspiring attraction, whether for seasoned science-lovers or the casual tourist seeking out L.A.’s most beautiful sites.
2. The Natural History Museum
900 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Admission: $12 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students, and children. Closed on July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Parking: $12 in Museum Car Park lot on Exposition Blvd. and Bill Robertson Lane. Because the museum is part of the University of Southern California’s campus, lots tend to fill up during football games. See their page for the game schedule and information on alternative parking.
Located in the University of Southern California’s historic Exposition Park, the Natural History Museum is a perfect complement to a visit to the university campus, downtown Los Angeles, and is an all-day visit in its own right. From taxidermy exhibits of animals and ecosystems around the world, fossils of prehistoric creatures, looming dinosaur skeletons, collections of stones and precious gems, a dino lab, and a seasonal greenhouse pavilion filled with gorgeous spiders and butterflies, the museum is a truly fascinating place for curious minds of all ages. Complete your exploration of nature by taking a walk through the enormous Exposition Park Rose Garden sprawling between USC’s museums.
3. The California Center
700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037
Admission: FREE. For specific exhibits, please make a reservation and purchase your tickets here. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Parking: $12 in lot adjacent to the museum. Because the museum is part of the University of Southern California’s campus, lots tend to fill up during football games. See the Natural History Museum’s page for the game schedule and information on alternative parking.
Another science museum in Exposition Park is the California Science Museum, a vast, hands-on museum that covers nearly every field of science. Visit the actual Endeavour space shuttle (for weekends and holidays, make sure to reserve your tickets), enter an earthquake simulation room, several ecosystem rooms, see microscopic cells, bacteria, and fungi, a chick hatchery, ride a suspended bicycle, and view a 3D IMAX science documentary. This is only a snapshot of the museum’s features: it really has too much to see in one day, so plan your viewing wisely and choose the exhibits you would like to see most!
4. The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Admission: $12 for adults, with discounts for seniors, students, and children. Additional features come at an extra cost. Closed on July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
Parking: $12 in museum parking lot, on Curson Ave. and 6th Street.
The La Brea Tar Pits is a truly unique museum, due to its location over continually seeping, naturally occurring tar pits. Watch where you step, because here and there you’ll find the black, sticky ooze coming up through the grass. This tar is what preserved prehistoric animals for scientists to discover thousands of years later: woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and giant sloths–all the creatures starring in the popular Ice Age animated films. View moving, roaring replicas of the awesome beasts, a variety of skeletons and fossils, and visit an observation pit to watch scientists excavate new life forms amid the tar. Additionally, experience the Ice Age Encounters theater performance or a 3D movie on the ice age.
5. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109
Admission: FREE by reservation on Mondays and Wednesdays, 1PM. Reserve at least 3 weeks in advance. See schedule and information here.
For serious science lovers, a visit to NASA’s JPL cannot be missed. While this is not, technically, a museum, JPL hosts free 2-hour tours for the public. Complement your visit with their NASA’s Eyes app, which creates an immersive experience tracing the journeys of several famous space missions. For science nerds in need of a souvenir, download one of JPL’s free “Visions of the Future” space tourism posters here. A visit to JPL is a reminder of how important Los Angeles is to science and space discovery and innovation.
We are lucky in that these five museums are all within driving distance of the Topanga Canyon Inn. After a day walking around museums, put your feet up and relax on one of our balconies with a cup of our complimentary tea or hot chocolate. Gaze at the stars that adorn the dark and quiet Topanga skies, and watch the moon rise above a hilltop directly across from the inn.