California ScienCenter - Exposition Park

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My kids and I visit California ScienCenter in Exposition Park from time to time, roughly a 1 hour drive from Thousand Oaks. It is worth the drive. The ScienCenter is built in the location where the first State Exposition Building that opened in 1912.  The redeveloped building is modern and beautiful, with several floors of scientific exhibits of interest to all ages, including Ecosystems, Creative World, World of Life, Air and Space and Science Court. Entrance to the museum is FREE, although donations are greatly appreciated.  Parking is $12 (as of December 2017).

The "World of Life" exhibit on the third floor is a perennial favorite in our family, where we get to see everything from brains and lungs to live cockroaches, termites and animals. There's also a kids' "Discovery Room" with additional fun activities for the younger one.

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If you have more time and energy on your trip to Exposition Park, visit the adjacent Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California African American Museum as well as the Exposition Park Rose Garden (where they have 16,000 or so rose plants).

California ScienCenter is located at 700 State Drive at the corner of S. Figueroa and 39th Street in Exposition Park.  Visit www.californiasciencenter.org or call 323.SCIENCE (724.3623) for more information.

The Space Shuttle Endeavor went on a flyover trip to the West Coast atop a Boeing 747 on Friday, September 21, 2012. The Endeavor completed 25 successful space missions between its first mission on May 7, 1992 and its final mission in May 2012 to the International Space Station, now resides at the ScienCenter in the Samuel Oschin Pavilion. It is so popular that you must reserve a time slot to visit. There is a $2 convenience fee for reserving a spot at www.californiasciencecenter.org/GenInfo/PlanningYourVisit/Hours/endeavour/endeavour.php.

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NASA named California ScienCenter one of only three museums in the U.S. to permanently exhibit a retired space shuttle.  We have visited the Endeavor and the exhibit is extraordinarily impressive. Learn more about the Endeavor at www.californiasciencecenter.org/Exhibits/AirAndSpace/endeavour/Endeavour/Endeavour.php.

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Noah's Ark at the Skirball Center

Noah's Ark Exhibit at Skirball Center
Noah's Ark Exhibit at Skirball Center

Noah's Ark at the Skirball is a can't miss excursion for your kids.  It is an 8,000 square foot permanent exhibit with a huge ark and numerous interactive exhibits involving the various animals on the ark.  While roughly based on the biblical story of Noah's Ark, the exhibit is nondenominational and is an interactive learning and fun experience.  I would say that generally kids between the ages of 2 and 7 will enjoy this exhibit the most but kids and adults of all ages enjoy this amazing display of life-size giraffes, camels and uniquely displays. 

Noah's Ark Picture #2
Noah's Ark Picture #2

If you plan to attend, reserve a space in advance as they limit the crowds to manageable quantities (which is good because it gives the kids more space to explore).  This is a beautiful museum off the 405 freeway going down the Sepulveda Pass, off at Skirball Center Drive, roughly 25 miles from Thousand Oaks.

More information from the www.skirball.org website:

Imagine yourself immersed in a favorite childhood tale. Five years in the making and occupying an 8,000-square-foot gallery, Noah's Ark at the Skirball welcomes children and families to take this journey together. Inspired by the ancient flood story, which has parallels in diverse cultures around the world, this one-of-a-kind new destination invites visitors of all generations to have fun—and to connect with one another, learn the value of community, and help build a better world.

The galleries are divided into three distinct and lively zones embodying the central themes of the Noah's Ark story:

  • Storms (meeting challenges)
  • Arks (finding shelter and community)
  • Rainbows (creating a more hopeful world)

Inside a floor-to-ceiling wooden ark, filled to the rafters with whimsical animals, you and your family will play, build, climb, explore, collaborate, and more. Conduct a storm, help construct the ark, and bask in the glow of a beautiful rainbow. Mingle with hundreds of fanciful animals—from cuddly companions to life–sized puppets—all crafted from recycled materials and everyday objects, including bottle caps, bicycle parts, baseball mitts, croquet balls, mop heads, and rear-view mirrors.

The Skirball is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays and certain holidays). Museum admission is $12. $9 for 65+, full-time students with ID and children over 12.  $7 for ages 2-12. FREE admission to all on Thursdays.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

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The 133 acre Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens first opened in 1966. The Zoo is home to more than 1,100 mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles representing more than 250 different species of which 29 are endangered. In addition, the Zoo’s botanical collection comprises several planted gardens and over 800 different plant species with over 7,400 individual plants. The Zoo receives over 1.5 million visitors per year and is owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles.

There's a children's zoo area with a petting zoo and fun exhibits. There's also a play area for kids that is quite popular.

Some advice! The line to get into the park can get pretty long on weekends. My advice is to buy an L.A. Zoo Membership! There is a $134 one-year family membership (as of June 2016) that gives you FREE admission for 2 adults and all of your kids, plus 2 one-time guest passes.  If you have a family of 4 and visit the park twice a year, this membership SAVES YOU MONEY as the regular entry cost is $20 for adults and $15 for ages 2 to 17. Ages 62+ is $17. (Pricing as of June 2016.) Plus, there was NO LINE to get in with your membership card! That alone gave us an extra 30 minutes in the park today.  Lastly, the card gives you 10% off your meals and gift shop purchases.  Seems like a no brainer!

Zoo membership also gives you free or discounted admission to zoos and aquariums across the country.

The Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, Reptiles (LAIR) exhibit opened in March 2012. There is a damp forest section that has Fiji Island banded iguanas, poison dart frogs, Guatemalan palm vipers and Fly River turtles, an area where you can watch staff taking care of the animals, tortoises, lizards, crocodile swamp, desert reptiles and much more. We also learned that Mexico has more reptile species than any other country on earth.

The L.A. Zoo is located at 5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles. Visit www.lazoo.org or call 323.644.4200 for more information.

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Hippo relaxing at the Los Angeles Zoo

Hippo relaxing at the Los Angeles Zoo

Nicely appointed kids' play area at Los Angeles Zoo

Nicely appointed kids' play area at Los Angeles Zoo

Rhino at Los Angeles Zoo is just kickin' it

Rhino at Los Angeles Zoo is just kickin' it

Zebra at Los Angeles Zoo is having a snack

Zebra at Los Angeles Zoo is having a snack

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Page Museum / La Brea Tar Pits

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The La Brea Tar Pits has the largest collection of Ice Age plants and animal fossils in the world.  Over the last 100 years, more than 3 million bones, plants, bugs and other items have been retrieved from the oily asphalt that continues to ooze up out of the ground at Rancho La Brea in the heart of Los Angeles.  These bones are between 10,000 to 40,000 years old.

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The Page Museum located at the La Brea Tar Pits displays many of these bones...giant mammoths, saber tooth cats, ground sloths, bears, wolves, bison and a whole assortment of animals.  The museum is open 361 days per year from 9:30am to 5pm, closed only for Independence Day, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day.  We visited on a Sunday and were amazed by the fact that half a dozen scientists were hard at work in this amazing "fish bowl" laboratory, cleaning and restoring fossils while we watched.

Outside, you can walk around and see the gooey sticky tar-like asphalt, including "Pit 91," where the annual excavation of Ice Age fossils has taken place since 1969. 

This is a great place to take the kids, for both education and for a fun, active excursion.

Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is located at 5801 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles 323.934.PAGE (7243) Visit www.tarpits.org for more information.

Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles

The Petersen Automotive Museum at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles re-opened in December 2015 after a 14 month, $90 million complete renovation. Displays include some of history’s most breathtaking collector cars, championship winning race cars, groundbreaking art cars, famous Hollywood vehicles, seminal motorcycles and more through the Museum's 25 galleries.

Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum

Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum

There are three full floors of content with 95,000 square feet of exhibit space. Guests are invited to enter the museum through either the parking structure off Fairfax or the new entrance on famed Wilshire Boulevard. There they can see several display vehicles in the David and Ginny Sydorick Grand Concourse, purchase tickets, and take an elevator to the third floor, where the experience begins.

The History Floor (3) covers history of the automobile. “Concept Cars as Art” shows what the future looked like in the 1950s and 60s, while the Hollywood Gallery includes the Batmobile, the Magnum P.I. Ferrari, several vehicles from James Bond movie Spectre, the Pontiac Aztec from Breaking Bad and other fan favorites. Also featured is “Southern California: A Region in Motion, " which uses interactive video content to show how Los Angeles grew out, instead of up, like most cities.

As visitors descend the staircase to the Industry Floor (2), they can explore the diversity of automotive design and technology and see cars that have been modified for speed and efficiency. Learn what it’s like to work in the car industry and watch automotive design students as they design the next generation of transportation.

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One of the most visually stunning displays in the museum is the Precious Metal exhibit in the Bruce Meyer Family Gallery presented by Rolex, a gathering of the world’s rarest and most exotic cars – all finished in silver. The gallery includes a 1995 McLaren F1, the 1959 Chevrolet Corvette XP-87 Stingray, the 1964 Aston Martin DB5 driven by James Bond in the movie Goldfinger, a stunning 1953 Fiat 8V Supersonic by Ghia, a 1967 Ferrari 625/250 Testa Rossa by Scaglietti known as one of the most winning Ferraris of its time, and a 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner.

The Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute features a life-size Lightning McQueen and uses augmented reality technology to tech children how cars really work, starring their favorite characters from the Cars movies on Carspad tablets. The Industry Professionals exhibit features interviews with the engineers, designers, marketers and executives who take cars from design to reality – all hosted by Jay Leno. The Alternative Power exhibit showcases the history and future of alternative fuel vehicles – from early 20th century steam and electric cars to the latest in hybrid, CNG and fuel cell technology.

Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum

Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum

The Production Gallery features “Made in Italy: Design to Line,” an exhibit showcasing how a production luxury car goes from rendering to model to finished vehicle. The High Performance Road Cars exhibit celebrates the 50th anniversary of Ford’s historic win at LeMans with the museum’s GT40 MkIII alongside the all-new Ford GT supercar. The Motorsports exhibit features some of the fastest and most seminal race cars of all time, backed by a 134-foot, 180-degree projection wall immersing visitors in the sights and sounds of these incredible cars on the track. Directly behind the Motorsports exhibit is the Forza Motorsport Racing Experience, where fans can get behind the wheel of a variety of vehicles and try their hand at racing on driving rigs running the latest version of Microsoft’s racing simulator.

The Motorcycles Exhibit features nearly two dozen of the fastest, rarest, most beautiful or sometimes oddest two-wheeled vehicles from history. The Hot Rod Gallery celebrates Hot Rod Magazine, Petersen’s first publication, along with the cars featured in the magazine over the years, artifacts from Petersen’s life and a selection of wildly customized cars – from iconic customs (the Hirohata Merc and Billy Gibbons’ “CadZZilla”) to lowriders, roadsters and race cars.

One last trip down the grand staircase and visitors will find themselves on the Peter and Merle Mullin Artistry Floor (1), where they can discover the most artfully designed vehicles from history, often regarded as rolling sculpture. Explore how the automobile has been interpreted as the subject of fine art and even used as a canvas for artistic expression. The Mullin Grand Salon features the exhibit Artistry of the Automobile, featuring some of the finest coachbuilt cars of the art deco era, from the 1936 Type 57sc Bugatti Atlantic to the 1938 Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Teardrop, and more.

From the Mullin Grand Salon, visitors can move to the Ken and Dayle Roath Gallery, featuring a curated display of cover art from the 106-year history of Westways Magazine, the print publication of the Automobile Club of Southern California. Never before has such a collection been assembled and displayed in one place.

The last exhibit on the top-to-bottom tour is also the first one visitors see upon entering the museum – BMW Art Cars, featuring  a 1975 BMW 3.0 CSL, the 1995 BMW 850 CSi designed by highly influential British artist David Hockney, who now lives a few miles from the Petersen, as well as the 2008 BMW Z4.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is open seven days a week, from 10am to 6pm, and admission prices are as follows: adults - $15, seniors and students - $12, children - $7, active duty military and educators – free, Children under 3 – free. To learn more about The Petersen, its latest exhibits, rotating galleries and special events, visit www.Petersen.org

Getty Center in Brentwood

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Atop a 900 foot hill in the Santa Monica Mountains adjacent to the 405 freeway, Getty Center is a 24 acre complex that is one of the most visited museums in the United States. Getty Center opened in December 1997 and is part of the J. Paul Getty Museum, which has another location called The Getty Villa.

This is one of those "must absolutely see" places for every local resident and visitor to the Los Angeles area. It is a spectacular and pristine, inside and out.

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There are five main pavilions in the complex. The North Pavilion (on the immediate left after you walk through the Entrance Hall) contains pre-1700 art, including paintings on the upper level and sculptures and decorative arts, illuminated manuscripts and changing exhibitions on the main level. Adjacent to the North Pavilion is the East Pavilion, which contains paintings and sculptures and decorative arts from the 1600 to 1800 time frame.

The South Pavilion also contains art from 1600 to 1800. The West Pavilion contains art post-1800 as well as the Center for Photographs. Finally, the Exhibitions Pavilion contains rotating exhibitions.

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Stroll to the terraces on the south side of the complex and you'll be treated to panoramic views stretching to the San Bernadino Mountains, Century City, and the Pacific Ocean. You'll also be treated to a view of the Cactus Garden desert landscape in the South Promontory. The 134,000 sq ft Central Garden, large grassy area and stream leading into a pool with an azalea maze. You've got to see it to appreciate the beauty.

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There are also outdoor sculptures throughout the complex, starting in the area where you wait for the tram that takes you up to the Center, in the Arrival Area in front of the Entrance Hall and in and around the restaurant and garden areas.

The Center displays some of the most recognizable pieces in the world from artists like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Gaugin, and so many others. The photography display is also outstanding.

Irises by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh

Irises by Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh

There are several restaurants on the complex. I've eaten at the Garden Terrace Cafe located between the Exhibitions Pavilion and the Central Garden and it was good. Packaged, fresh sandwiches, salads, soups and other items are available.

To learn more, visit www.getty.edu/museum. Admission is free. Parking in the seven story underground lot near the bottom of Getty Center Drive is $15 ($10 after 4pm). Hours are 10am to 5:30pm Tuesday through Friday and Saturday and 10am to 9pm on Saturday.

There is a free tram that takes you to the top of the hill, or you can walk up the hill (it actually is not that bad, a 15 to 20 minute walk for most). Located at 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles.

I could go on and on...if you are not an art fan, don't worry. The views alone are worth the visit. But once you step foot in this amazing place you will be awestruck.

Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles

The Griffith Observatory opened to the public in 1935 and is a Los Angeles icon. After 67 years of operation, it was closed for renovation in 2002 and reopened in Fall 2006. The original art deco 27,000 sq ft building built during the Great Depression was expanded by an additional 40,000 sq ft of public space. 

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The Observatory is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, 1,134 feet above sea level, with expansive views of the surrounding city, mountains and Hollywood sign. Other than the spectacular views outside, the inside of the Observatory features the 300 seat Samuel Oschlin Planetarium, 200 seat Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon, public telescopes, dozens of exhibits and a cafe/gift shop.

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Parking and entrance into the Observatory are FREE! Even if you're not into astronomy, you'll love the scenic views up there. It is located at 2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles. More information at www.griffithobservatory.org or call 213.473.0800.

The Observatory is owned and staffed by the City of Los Angeles Dept of Recreation and Parks. As of May 2015, hours are noon to 10pm Tuesday to Friday and 10am to 10pm Saturday/Sunday. Closed Mondays. Free public telescopes are available each evening the Observatory is open and skies are clear.

Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History

The Natural History Museum (NHM) of Los Angeles County is located at 900 Exposition Blvd. in Los Angeles, near USC. It is open daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm. It was the first dedicated museum building in Los Angeles, opening its doors in 1913. The NHM has amassed one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history—with more than 35 million objects, some as old as 4.5 billion years. The Natural History Family of Museums includes the NHM, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall.

Sections of the museum include African Mammals, North American Mammals, Insect Zoo, Gems and Minerals, California History, Birds and much more. In July 2011, the new 14,000 sq ft Dinosaur Hall opened, featuring over 300 fossils and 20 complete mounts of dinosaurs and sea creatures. It includes a Tyrannosaurus rex growth series, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, long-necked Mamenchisaurus and much more! It is extremely impressive!

My kids were particularly wowed by the Insect Hall, where they were treated to dozens of display of live insects from around the world. In fact, I think they would have spent the entire day in there if they could have.

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Museum admission (as of August 2011) for NHM members and children under 4 are free; children 5-12 are $5; youth 13-17 are $8, college students w/ ID and seniors 62 + are $9; and adults are $12. Visit www.nhm.org or call 213.763.DINO for more information.