2 Kids and a $20: A Trip at The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
Written by Cindy Morgan
Prehistoric Day Trip
…To the Page Museum & La Brea Tar Pits, Where the Twins & the Dinosaurs Roam
It’s a few weeks into summer and my kids have officially entered the “I’m bored” phase of vacation. This unfortunately, though not surprisingly, coincides with the sibling bickering phase of summer. When I was their age, my mom’s solution to the boredom/bickering problem was letting my brother and I watch endless reruns on TV, and I did consider “Love Boat” reruns to calm the twins after refereeing yet another battle at the breakfast table over who would get to read the comics first. Instead, I took a different page from my childhood memory book: a trip to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles where I hadn’t been since a second-grade field trip.
A 60-mile car trip on the 405 with two 10-year-olds in the bored/bickering phase of summer may sound like one of Dante’s circles of Hell, but I timed our travel between morning and afternoon commutes and brought an audio book. With no major snarls on the freeway, the trip took just over an hour from Laguna Niguel.
Our first stop was the Page Museum, built in 1972, which houses over one million fossils excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits. We started our visit with the introductory video—a film with animation so rudimentary I am fairly certain it’s the same one I watched on my last trip here, circa 1980. A few of the exhibits, like the life-size moving mastodon model are also dated. My kids didn’t seem to notice that and found plenty to keep them engaged.
Their favorite exhibit was one where they had to lift different sized rods sunk into containers of tar, showing hands-on how hard it would be if you were an animal whose leg was stuck in the tar. Lifting the largest rod was a full upper body workout and they did it tirelessly.
Most of the fossil cases didn’t interest them, though we were all impressed by the display of prehistoric wolf skulls arranged over an entire wall of the museum. Making sure their multiplication skills weren’t getting rusty, I had them calculate the number of skulls. They got 371, though the museum claims there are 400.
The “Fishbowl” paleontology lab is far and away the star attraction at the Page. A wall of glass separates museumgoers from a team of scientists and volunteers at work cleaning up and studying specimens that are still being excavated at the tar pits. Some bones in the fishbowl came from creatures as large as Zed the Mastodon, whose humerus is taller than my ten-year-olds, and others came from a baby mouse, whose tooth looks a lot like a grain of sand. The only drawback is that you can’t ask the paleontologists behind the glass questions like; just how dothey know that’s a mouse tooth and not a grain of sand?
After admiring the koi and the turtles in the atrium we headed out to see the Tar Pits in Hancock Park. They were nonplussed.
“It’s just mud,” my daughter said, peering through the chain link fence.
“Yeah, with trash in it,” added my son.
It was only later, when a friend asked me if we saw Pit 91 that I discovered we had somehow missed the daily tours of an active tar pit. Though I was disappointed to learn this, our visit to the Page, followed by a picnic lunch in the park and a round of rolling down the grass hill behind the museum kept the boredom and bickering at bay for hours, so I really can’t complain.
What I spent: $21 on admission to the Page (okay, I was over by a dollar). The parking lot behind the Page is $9 Monday-Friday; $7 Saturday and Sunday, cash only. Museum validation on your parking ticket refunds $2 when you leave. Street parking is available but limited and is mostly metered. What they learned: Here in Southern California there could be just about anything buried not so far under your feet—like 371 ice age wolves. What I learned: A summer day spent at the Page and La Brea Tar Pits beats “Loveboat” reruns hands down. But I sure wish Julie McCoy had been there with her clipboard, making sure we didn’t miss the tour of an active tar pit.
The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is located at 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 323-934-PAGE (7243). Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Children under 4 are free; Kids ages 5 through 12 $5; adult $11.