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Guide to Visiting The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles

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Prior to moving to California in the early 80’s, I lived in London.  Our flat was a 5 minute walk from the Natural History Museum and a quick train ride to the National Gallery, Tate and British museum.  My mother was very much into exposing me to the arts and history.  We would go to the theater and see shows regularly; actually I think I saw a play before I saw a movie.  It was such an everyday experience that when we moved to Orange County I went through a bit of a culture shock.

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How could there possibly be no theaters, or museums or galleries.  It was a bit of a disappointment and I longed for my summers back in London, not only to be with my family, but also to be exposed to culture.  Yes I know that California has its own culture but by culture I was talking more about the arts and museums.  Growing up I learned not to be bothered by the lack of culture in SoCal; I got it in London.

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It wasn’t until I had children that I started to research where I could go to expose my children to not only the arts but also museums.  Unfortunately Orange County has limited choices but we are situated perfectly between two counties that have a vast number of museums and galleries; San Diego and Los Angeles.  This year I have been all about exposing my children to LA.  My children have taken more trips to LA this year than they ever had before.

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Our special journey to Natural History Museum started at 10am on a Sunday.  Now we all know that LA has traffic problems and unfortunately it a 7 day a week occurrence.  My favorite way to travel to Downtown LA is take the 405N to the 110N.  Why wouldn’t I take the 5 straight up?  CONSTRUCTION!  The 405 and 110 have carpool lanes so once it gets busy I just hop onto the carpool; side note the 110 has now become a toll and you must pay via your transponder in order to use it.  The Natural History Museum Los Angeles (NHM) is located directly across from USC on Exposition; you really can’t miss the two dinosaur statues at its entrance.

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They have two lots to park in and parking is $10 (cash only). The Coliseum, which is walking distance from the museum, hosts USC football games several times a year and parking can be quite a problem so look the game schedule and plan accordingly.  Another option you have is parking at Union Station and taking the metro directly to the Museum.  I know this all sounds overwhelming but we didn’t have any problems finding parking, I just wanted to give you a heads up just in case you decide to go the weekend of the USC/UCLA game.

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Once you park and purchase your tickets, you enter the museum and can spend a good 5 hours absorbing the past.  It’s no secret that I love architecture and the NHM did not disappoint.  The NHM is the largest natural and historical museum in the western United States with a collection of nearly 35 million specimens and artifacts that cover 4.5 billion years of history.

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It opened in 1913 and in 2013 the newly re-invigorated museum welcomed the public in the celebration of its centennial year after a $135 million, 12-year overhaul.

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Taking a cue from the city’s modernist architecture, the museum blurs the line between indoors and out with the debut of the Otis Booth Pavilion and a 3.5-acre Nature Garden.  As you walk along the nature trail you don’t really realize how much work and planning has been done to bring this ecological haven to such an urban setting.

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With the help of scientists from the museum, the landscape architects identified plant palettes that would create the best habitat to attract birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. At the sidewalk, chain-link panels perpendicular to the fence are teemed with butterfly and bird friendly vines. A 600-foot rock wall hosts plants and spiders within its cracks while the 27,100-gallon pond attracts dipping birds and dragonflies as a nearby dry creek bed collects storm water.

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Walking around the grounds you feel safe and forget that you are only blocks away from skid row.  The museum prides itself with keeping the Nature Garden clean, safe and restricted to museum guests.  Once you go inside you feel a bit overpowered by all that the museum has to offer ranging from the dinosaur exhibits, the mammals, gems and in spring through summer the Butterfly and Spider Pavilion.

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My advice is to start on level one, then level two and end at the ground level which also has a café that you can rest at.  We made the mistake of going from level one to ground floor, resting and completely forgetting about the second level.

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We started our visit with the displays of animals in North America and in Africa. My children were taken aback as to how realistic and lifelike the animals were which then led to a long discussion about the art of Taxidermy.

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On to our next adventure which also happened to be my favorite exhibit, the Gem and Mineral Hall.  Ahhhh talk about a kid in a candy store singing diamonds are a girl’s best friend.  No joke whatever I saw I put my hand next to and thought yes this would do nicely.

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My favorite rock was a meteorite which I’m pretty sure is a motherboard from outer space.   When you look closely at its carvings you can totally see that it looks just like a motherboard from a computer, hopefully the little green men won’t be coming back for it.

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The dinosaur exhibit is the NHM’s most popular collection and incredibly interesting. Not only do you get to see the reconstructed bones of these magnificent creatures but also you get to read about their lives with interactive touch screens.

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There is also a smaller exhibit that shows the evolution of man and examining our distant cousins. On the opposite end of the museum (same floor), you can read up on the California History and see many modern artifacts such as the desk that Walt Disney used to create Mickey, portraits of LA pioneers as well as a model of Los Angeles.

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With so much to do and so little time, we had to skip the Butterfly Pavilion but did make it out to the beautiful Rose Garden.  If you go up to LA for the museum make a day of it.  We only allocated a few hours which wasn’t nearly enough to fully gasp all that the Natural History Museum Los Angeles has to offer.

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If you have time you can also walk next door and visit the California Science Center which will be next on our list. For more information about the Natural History Museum Los Angeles please visit their website at www.nhm.org.

I’m an OC mom of two and photographer. I love living in Southern California and want to expose my children to all that it offers. I love taking my kids on adventures and capturing their every moment so much so that my kids find it odd if I don’t take their pictures. You can see my work on facebook.com/photosbynaz.
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