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Sunday at La Brea Tar Pits and Venice Beach

Our journey on the Coast Starlight last month put us down at Union Station in Los Angeles and we grabbed a rideshare over to our hotel for the night. Our hotel had a robot, but unfortunately it was out of service. Poor robot.

Sunday was our tourist day! MJ had to fly back home to get to work on Monday, and I was changing hotels to attend the Open Source Summit Monday morning. The main thing on my agenda was finally getting to see La Brea tar pits. I’d been down to Los Angeles several times, but it’s always been on business, and since it’s so close to San Francisco I often don’t extend my trip to do much visiting. This was an opportunity to finally see the tar pits, and actually do it together!

First we decided to have a leisurely morning. Enjoy breakfast outside, grab a local microbrew and spend an hour at the hotel pool. We left ourselves a bit of time to shower and pack up before checking out and finally making it out to the tar pits.

We arrived in the late afternoon, which gave us enough time to visit the museum before it closed. The museum is full of ice age fossils, some of the more impressive being the mammoths and sabre-toothed cats.

Formerly know as an American lion, I learned that it’s actually more closely related to the modern jaguar, sabre-toothed cat behind it

I’d also seen the wall of 404 dire wolf skulls in documentaries about the tar pits before, but seeing it in person was impressive.

As the museum hours wound down, we decided to walk around the tar pits themselves for a bit. I think the order we did things in was a mistake. It would have been more enjoyable to see the exhibits with a bit more context than the inside of the museum itself provided. The museum is on the older side and the exhibits themselves hadn’t been refreshed much over the years. They seemed to be more on the side of impressing kids with a thin layer of facts, some of which were out-dated, rather than getting into the history of the tar pits themselves. I did enjoy it because the somewhat campy feel of the museum was appealing to me, but I do like good modern museums too.

Now the signs outside at all the pits themselves filled the gap the inside of the museum left. If I were to do it again, I would have started at the side of the park where the Observation Pit is.

Signs explained that the observation pit was the oldest museum on site, housing a tar pit and still actively giving tours there in association with the museum, though they were over by the time we got there. From there a walk around the tar pits brings you close to a bunch of signs, talking about the history of the pits, how they were created and re-discovered, answering questions.

The outdoor pit area included the iconic Columbian mammoth struggling to free from her tar pit fate while two other mammoths look on, and then a sign next to it debunking the scene as it’s depicted. I thought this was really good. The sculptures were put in decades ago and are now famous along with the site so it would be sad to see them go, but the outdated portrayal is unfortunate.

The walk around the pits also brought us to Project 23. Millions of fossils were found as they were building the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art nearby. Instead of halting development for years, huge chunks of tar pits were removed to be examined later and building continued on the site. The boxes were put in their current place in 2008 and the project has been ongoing ever since.

After our tar pit adventure it was time to find dinner. We headed out to Venice Beach. MJ had been with colleagues before, but it was all new to me. We ended up at L.A. Gastronomy where I had a lovely dinner of yellowfin poke on rice with seaweed, sesame, caviar, daikon and scallions, along with an appetizer of their short rib poutine.

After dinner we still had a bit of time to walk around the pier at the beach nearby to watch the sunset before MJ’s flight. We even saw some lightning off the coast, which is not the most common thing on the coast of California.

With the sunset concluding our evening, it was back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and go our separate ways. It was a short getaway, but it was relaxing and I really enjoyed finally getting to see the tar pits.