There are many popular museums in Los Angeles, but the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County stands out among them with its comprehensive and broadly appealing exhibits housed in a historic building in Exposition Park.
The museum boasts almost 35 million items spanning billions of years of natural history in its vast collection, just a fraction of which are on display. This means NHMLA’s three floors of permanent exhibits represent the highlights of the entire natural history of the entire world! Where it’s fitting, they are curated to focus on Los Angeles and Southern California, but a visit to the largest natural history museum in the west can feel like a time-traveling trip around the world. It’s fun and fascinating for all ages, and a must-see LA attraction.
A Whale of a First Impression
If you enter the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County via the north entrance, take a moment to admire the genuine and massive fin whale skeleton suspended above your head. This native Californian whale is the second-largest species on Earth, and it requires two viewing floors to see its skeleton from all angles. Its sculptural presentation emphasizes the whale’s aerodynamics, substituting air and glass for its real-life ocean surroundings.
Century-Old Elegance in the Rotunda
The most impressive architectural feature of the 1913 museum building is the rotunda. Capped by a stained-glass dome, encircled by two-story-tall marble columns and starring a centerpiece statue of The Three Graces, it’s a soothing and elegant space with a nod to classical civilization. Rotating exhibits share the rotunda, but the focal point is the beautiful details of the room. You won’t be surprised to learn that the museum’s original building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dinos Dominate the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles knows that the showiest stars of its collection are the biggest, most complete dinosaur skeletons – a full-sized tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops erected as if in an epic battle. These 67-million-year-old monsters are the museum’s “greeters,” welcoming you to the award-winning Dinosaur Hall exhibition.
In the Dinosaur Hall, more than 300 fossils and 20 mounted skeletons represent the dominant creatures on Earth some 252 million to 66 million years ago. Among the most impressive exhibits are a hulking triceratops skull, the only fossilized pregnant plesiosaur ever found, and the T. rex growth series, a display of baby, juvenile and young adult skeletons.
Other dino-themed exhibits at the museum include the Paleo Play Zone in the hands-on Discovery Center, and the Dinosaur Lab where you can see real paleontologists at work. Consider getting tickets to Dinosaur Encounters, a live theater performance with full-scale puppet dinos.
65 Million Years of Mammals
The Age of Mammals exhibit has an enormous scope – exploring the evolution of mammals over 65 million years of climate and geographical changes. Inside the two-story Ahmanson Hall are hundreds of authentic animal specimens, from tiny bat skeletons to taxidermy tigers. Learn about the mammals that have inhabited Southern California over millennia, including extinct local mammals like the Shasta ground sloth, and today’s wild inhabitants like P-22, the world’s most famous mountain lion. P-22, featured in the now-iconic cover of National Geographic, prowling in front of the Hollywood Sign, has his own exhibit.
Delightful Diorama Halls
The African and North American Diorama Halls, plus the Hall of Birds, occupy three large galleries on two floors at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The stately halls are darkened, giving them a venerable vibe, to spotlight picture windows. Each reveals a diorama of taxidermy animals in a remarkably realistic setting. The painted landscape backdrops are photo-realistic, the faux vegetation impeccably detailed, and the animals expertly posed as if alive.
Strolling from diorama to diorama, from scenes of grizzly bear mother and cub scratching a log to black rhinos nestled in the scrub, feels like a vintage museum experience. It brings the impossible- (or unlikely) to-see right in front of urban masses’ noses in a way that’s just as appealing today as it would have been in 1913, when the natural history museum first opened. There’s a timelessness to the artistry, too, calling for mastery of such arcane skills as diorama construction and exotic-species taxidermy. The Diorama Halls really are a delight!
Becoming Los Angeles
In the Kevin Sharer Hall, the permanent exhibit Becoming Los Angeles tells the stories of the diverse waves of people drawn to the region’s mountains, beaches and sunshine. Learn how each successive group shaped the city and contributed to its patchwork of rich cultures, starting with indigenous peoples. Delve into LA’s water struggles, the glamor of early Hollywood and the era of cowboys.
Incorporating every element of the wider exhibit is a sprawling altar created by local artists Ofelia Esparza and Rosanna Esparza Ahrens. It represents 500 years of transformation of Los Angeles from a tiny pueblo to one of the world’s biggest and most vibrant cities.
The Nature Gardens Entice You Outdoors
Outside the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County are the Nature Gardens, a pleasant place to explore at the end of a visit. The gardens feature over 600 types of plants, including native and non-native species, and they attract all kinds of local wildlife such as birds, lizards and squirrels. Check out the colorful blooms of the pollinator meadow, stroll to the pond, browse the edible garden, and let kids enjoy hands-on activities with natural materials in the “Get Dirty Zone.”
Will it be Butterflies or Spiders?
In spring, NHMLA hosts the Butterfly Pavilion, an open-air experience dedicated to real, living butterflies and native plants. In fall, the space is the Spider Pavilion instead. Visit to see more than 500 spiders and tarantulas along with their amazing webs. The Butterfly Pavilion and Spider Pavilion are special exhibits, so there’s an additional admission cost.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Hours and Admission
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.. The museum is closed on the first Tuesday of every month, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Admission is free every day for CA EBT cardholders, teachers, active or retired military, USC students and faculty, and children 2 and under (bring ID). Los Angeles County residents enjoy free admission from 3 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Guided tours are always free with the price of admission.
Don’t forget to check out the NHM Store for souvenirs or gifts, or shop online at shop.nhm.org.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007