Hancock Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, and LACMA

Jul 15, 2009 by Lisa Newton

Last week I had an opportunity to visit to Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits. I enjoyed myself so thoroughly that it was hard for me to leave—but I’ll be back soon as they’re located in the middle of the city and quite accessible from all directions, with plenty of parking and Metro access.

Hancock Park– a 23 acre park right in the heart of Los Angeles– is named after G. Allan Hancock, who was born and raised in a home, at what is now known as the La Brea Tar Pits.

Hancock Park is home to three major attractions: The La Brea Tar Pits, the George C. Page Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Although, I’ve passed them all traveling on Wilshire Boulevard many times, I never knew just how exciting, interesting, and expansive all parts of the park were until I had the chance to see for myself.

LA Brea Tar Pits

The tar pits are really asphalt that comes out of the earth as oil. You can smell it in the air. Seeping in from underground, the asphalt, derived from petroleum, forms pools. For thousands of years, these pools have formed; some deep enough to trap animals. As the animals became stuck and died, their bones are fossilized and preserved.

Thus far, the oldest fossil found dates back approximately 38,000 years.

George C. Page Museum

Once discovered, the fossils are housed and studied at the George C. Page Museum, which is part of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Recently, the Page Museum announced Project 23: New Discoveries at Rancho La Brea, which to date, has uncovered over 700 measured specimens including a large pre-historic American

Lion skull, lion bones, dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, juvenile horse and bison, teratorn, coyotes, lynx, and ground sloths. Most rare of all is a well-preserved male Colombian mammoth fossil, about 80% complete, with 10-feet long intact tusks found in an ancient river bed near the other discoveries. Source: Page Museum News

Boiling effect

I stood watching as the methane gas kept rising from beneath, and it never stops seeping up–literally forming bubbles in the tar pits, which creates a “boiling” effect. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

Further down the trail, is Pit 91, where work has been temporarily suspended due to the Project 23 find. Walking into and looking from the vantage point of Pit 91, visitors get a feel for the down and dirty type of research the archaeologists at the Page Museum—have to endure–and are famous for.

Look Mom!!

While most were excavated in the early 1900’s, Pit 91 was reopened in 1969, and work continues there today.  During the ‘98 excavation, more than 1,000 fossils were recovered, including three saber-toothed cat skulls, four dire wolf skulls, and bones from giant ground sloths, horses, bison, coyotes, birds, rodents and even some insect and plant fossils.  Pit 91 is 28′ x 28′, approximately 14 feet deep, and the excavation area is divided into 3′ square grids. Source: George C Page Museum

Upon turning the bend, a display of color and plastic caught my eye.

Open Invitation

It’s part of the LACMA’a Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea exhibit. Visitors are invited and encouraged to be a part of the project by adding their own brightly colored plastic objects to the collection, which is reflection of the material culture and consumer habits of our industrialized urban society.


The multi-colored partition featured above is but a precursor to the artwork that greets visitors at the main entrance to LACMA.

Looking at the size of the chairs on the left compared to the height of the artwork, you can visualize the dimensions and massive size of this installation, by artist Choi Yeong-Hwa. When I was there, LACMA hadn’t opened yet, but I’ll be writing about it soon, as it’s remains one of the city’s defining art institutions.

After all my walking, I decided to sit in the park and enjoy the bountiful sunshine.

Green Grass

If you have children, Hancock Park should definitely be on your list of places to go. LACMA is named one of Child Magazine’s “Ten Best Art Museums for Kids,” the LA Brea Tar Pits will easily grab a child’s attention, and the George C Page Museum, with its large collection of fossils and affording the ability to watch the scientists at work, it’s literally a treasure trove of fun, entertainment, education, art, and history. Along with wide its wide-open green grassy expanses, kids have plenty of room to run around.

It’s also a beautiful respite for all ages, and during the daytime—and evening—you’ll always encounter couples, adults, and seniors, participating in all the fun that Hancock Park has to offer. Travelin’ Local has many advantages and Hancock Park, with the LACMA, and the George C. Page Museum, ranks among our greatest.

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7 Responses to “Hancock Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, and LACMA”

  1. David says:

    This is one of my favorite areas of Los Angeles, and one that holds many fond memories for me–I remember as a kid studying and really being interested in the tar pits themselves; Hancock Park is a great place to have a lunch or to have a respite; the George C. Page Museum is one of city’s major cultural assets; and the LACMA always has a great exhibition taking place.

    Anybody who is visiting–and those that live here–making a day of going here is always fun.

    Thanks for the story, Lisa. It always brings up fond memories for me.

    David’s last blog post..Hancock Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, and LACMA


    LisaNewton Reply:

    @David, Childhood memories are made at places like the La Brea Tar Pits. It’s a classic. :)


  2. Betsy Wuebker says:

    I regret that I never visited the La Brea Tar Pits while I lived in LA. Such fascinating discoveries! Where were my priorities? Doh!

    Betsy Wuebker’s last blog post..CHANGE DOESN’T COME FROM THE TOP


    LisaNewton Reply:

    @Betsy Wuebker, LA has so many different places to go, it’s not surprising that few will be missed. I hope the pictures gave you a little feel for it. :)


  3. Amy @ The Q Family says:

    This is so cool. I’m researching for things to do in LA for our upcoming trip in Nov and found your blog. I will probably spend hours reading through your archives. :)


    LisaNewton Reply:

    @Amy @ The Q Family, Amy, I’m so glad you’re coming. If you need any help, please feel free to ask me any questions. Maybe we can get together for a cup of coffee while you’re in town. :)


  4. 10 Fun Free Activities to Do in Los Angeles | Travelin' Local says:

    [...] can discover art at the LA County Museum of Art (LAMCA); or learn about pre-historic history at the La Brea Tar Pits and the George C. Page Natural History Museum. As well, the Hancock Park neighborhood, The Grove [...]

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