The La Brea Tar Pits are one of LA's most unusual attractions. Located in Hancock Park on the Miracle Mile, the bubbling pools of asphalt in the middle of the city's Museum Row, partially behind the LA County Museum of Art, are the richest source of Ice Age fossils on the planet. Their treasures can be seen in natural history collections around the world.
Also known as Rancho La Brea, the site provided tar for waterproofing ships and roofs for early Spanish settlers. The name La Brea Tar Pits is redundant, since "la brea" means "the tar" in Spanish. The sticky, petroleum-based deposits, often covered by pools of water, have been trapping and preserving animals, plants, and bacteria for at least 38,000 years.
Mammoths, mastodons, dire wolves, saber-tooth cats, sloths, horses, and bears are a few of the creatures whose bones have been extracted from the site. In recent years, microfossils like pollen and bacteria have been isolated and studied.
The Tar Pits are spread across Hancock Park (which is not in the neighborhood of Hancock Park). The pools are fenced to prevent curious tourists from joining the legions of dire wolves under the muck. Orange signs identify the pits and tell you what was found there.
The largest is the Lake Pit, which has a viewing bridge on the Wilshire Blvd side. Life-size models of a Columbian Mammoth family at the east end show the mother stuck in the tar. A model of an American mastodon is at the west end, near the Japanese Pavilion at LACMA. Escaping methane gas makes the tar appear to boil. Smaller pits are scattered across the park and are marked with fencing and signs.
Pit 91 is still being actively excavated. A viewing station has been built so people can watch the excavators at work, and tours are given at prescribed times.
The Observation Pit is a round brick building at the west end of the park, behind LACMA, where a massive block of bones has been partially uncovered, but left in place, so you can see how the deposits all mass together. Interpretive panels help you sort out what kind of bones you can see. It used to be open to the public during park hours but is now only open on official tours from the Page Museum.
Project 23, named after the 23 huge crates of fossils collected, is now open to the public for several hours a day and visitors can watch excavators at work there from outside the fence. You'll recognize it by the giant crates next to Pit 91.
Once the excavators have extracted fossils from the tar, they are sent into the lab at the Page Museum at the northeast corner of the park. The Page Museum is a part of the LA County Natural History Museum dedicated exclusively to the history and finds from the La Brea Tar Pits.
Admission to the La Brea Tar Pits
A ticket booth off the parking lot gives the impression that you have to pay to go into the park, but it is FREE to visit Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits. There is a fee for the museum and tours.
Parking at the La Brea Tar Pits
Metered parking is available on 6th Street or on Wilshire (9 am to 4 pm only, read signs carefully!). Paid parking is available behind the Page Museum off Curson, or in the LACMA garage off 6th Street.
More on the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries
The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is a project of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Although some of the most important discoveries from the La Brea Tar Pits are at the main Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, and in other natural history museums around the world, the Page Museum is dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and exhibition of the remaining artifacts retrieved from the La Brea Tar Pits.
In addition to displaying the skeletons of animals preserved in the tar, like a Colombian mammoth, a western horse, an extinct camel and a whole wall of saber tooth cat skulls, a windowed "fish bowl" laboratory allows visitors to watch scientists at work cleaning and preserving new finds from the tar pits.
There's also a 3D movie and a 12-minute multimedia Ice Age performance available for an additional fee.
Excavation staff can be observed outside the museum in the ongoing excavations at the tar pits. Entrance to the excavation pits now requires museum admission, but you can observe some of their work from outside the fence.
The Page Museum
There is a ticket booth in the park near the parking lot behind the Page Museum. Admission is only required for the museum itself.
Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
Address: 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone: (323) 934-PAGE (7243)
Hours: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm daily, closed Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day
Admission: $14 adults, $11 seniors 62+, students with ID and youths 13-17, $6 children 3-12, Free under 3; Additional fees for special attractions. Free for all on the first Tuesday of each month and daily for CA teachers with ID, active or retired military and CA EBT cardholders with ID.
Parking: $12, enter off Curson Ave., metered parking is available on 6th and Wilshire during limited hours. Read posted signs carefully.