#1 tourist attraction LA

Why Aren’t the La Brea Tar Pits the #1 Tourist Attraction in LA?

la brea tar pits

Elizabeth Weintraub at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles

We all joked about the La Brea Tar Pits for years. It started for me in the 1970s. I lived in Newport Beach for 15 years; owned Real Estate of America and sold homes there. Whenever we wanted to downgrade an experience, pick on another person or make fun of tourists, we would suggest they visit the La Brea Tar Pits.

Granted, at the time, I don’t think I knew what they were. For one thing, I thought they were in La Brea and not on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. For another, I thought it was one giant football stadium with overturned, jumbled asphalt, like a blacktop driveway that exploded during an earthquake. In any case, yet another place I had never seen but that did not stop me from participating in the mockery. I was such a kid, in retrospect.

The La Brea Tar Pits is bringing the Los Angeles Ice Age to life. It’s not tar like the name implies. It is naturally occurring asphalt that bubbles up from the ground. It’s the crudest kind of crude oil there is, and there is a large supply of oil still underground there. Another interesting thing we learned is animals did not sink into the tar pits when they became trapped. Instead, the asphalt rose up and covered them. Prey and predators were literally stuck in 6 inches of asphalt.

The museum has removed more than 5 million fossils from the La Brea Tar Pits. Isn’t that impressive? Many are on display.

La Brea Tar Pits

Daddy Mammoth and Baby Mammoth crying because Mama Mammoth is trapped in tar and dying.

When we entered the grounds, we spied a lake off to the left. In the lake of asphalt and collected rainwater are 3 sculptures of mammoths. I didn’t think anything of it until my husband started imitating the baby mammoth by crying out: “Mama, why are you sinking into the tar pit? Daddy, why don’t you save mama?” What? Surely he is joking around. But nope, that’s what the cute little family grouping was all about.

I was aghast. Little kids next to us were busy tossing pieces of asphalt over the fence. I asked them if that scene before us was not upsetting to them. Because it upset me. Surely it has damaged their view of the world in some manner. They glanced up, very matter-of-factly laughed, “It’s just statues,” and went back to throwing rocks over the fence.

La Brea Tar Pits

The skeleton of an ice age mammoth excavated from La Brea Tar Pits

In another exhibit inside the museum, which I can’t show you because it was too dark for photos, is a saber toothed cat. First, it is like a live animal, with hair and those long fangs. I thought I was losing my mind because it seemed a second later it morphed into a skeleton. Nah. Couldn’t be. See, that’s what you know.  It was indeed morphing. I was sane after all.

La Brea Tar Pits

Large mammoth pit at La Brea Tar Pits near Project #23.

We were offered a 40-minute tour of the pits, which aren’t really pits, and to see Project 23. That’s a long process, Project 23, decades long, to extract fossils retrieved from the parking lot construction next door.  Dire wolves, like from Game of Thrones. Ray Romano Mammoths. Saber-toothed cats and prehistoric birds. You can also see new seeps of asphalt scattered throughout, covered by yellow cones.

After all of that hard work traipsing the museum and grounds and tour, you can also grab lunch at the LACMA Cafe. If it wasn’t time to take off for Griffith Park Observatory, we would have stayed longer. Unfortunately, it was time for this Sacramento Realtor to leave.



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