Today was… more loosely planned than my other three days in LA.
The first day? Make it to the hostel. Manageable!
The second day? Griffith Observatory and the trails. Perfect!
The third day? Beaches and park. Easy!
The third day… well I was sort of running out of things to do for free in LA. But a good start was heading over to the La Brea Tar Pits. I just love natural phenomena, and it’s crazy to me that this isn’t more of a central attraction in LA. Especially because most of the WORLD’S ice age fossils come from here.
(not sinking in) La Brea Tar Pits
The tar pits themselves are free to visit. They’ve got a wonderful park of their own, and you can walk around all of the pits while learning about them via informational plaques. They’re all surrounded by high fences, I guess to keep kids from meeting the same fate as the Mastodons and Sabertooths. Saberteeth? I’m not sure.
The biggest pit is right at the front. Called the lake pit, it’s appropriately named for the shallow water that covers this tar pit. Don’t worry, you can still see the tar that floats up and lines the edges. It’s really a lovely sight. It also bubbles in random places and disappears, before bubbling up again in another place. These are methane bubbles from vents deep within the earth.
And in case you were wondering, yes! The lake pit smells delightful. Like asphalt and gasoline.
The lake pit is complete with statues of a family of mastodons crying in panic as one of them sinks into the tar. Very dramatic for sure. It gives a good perception of how big these guys actually were, I always imagine them as Mammoth-sized, but Mastodons are more closely related to Asian Elephants, so they look like those guys instead.
Apparently, these water covered pits were the most dangerous, because mastodons would wade in them to take a drink, then get stuck, panic, and then the panicked flailing would actually cause them to sink and become fossilized. And what’s more? Predators of the time like Dire Wolves and Saberteeth would see this as an opportunity for an easy meal, and then they’d get stuck too! That’s why there are so many fossils.
There are some smaller pits marked by fences and numbers, but these are way smaller and are just little puddles of tar. There’s also a research station filled with boxes of tar waiting to be excavated by researchers.
You can go in during the week, but on Tuesdays they’re closed. There’s also a big museum containing tons of the fossils they’ve found, but it’s about $15 to enter and also closed on Tuesdays. They allegedly used to have free admission on first-Tuesdays, but given that they were closed when I went on May 3rd, they may have stopped doing this.
You can see the museum’s interior gardens from outside, though, and they are really pretty. They’ve also got outdoor gardens that are supposed to replicate the type of plants that grew during LA’s ice age. Apparently, lots of small animals and plant life survived the transition from the ice age to whatever age we’re in right now. I would know if the museum had been open!
The tar pits are really cool to see (and smell) in person, but it doesn’t take more than an hour to see them. They also have picnic tables where I had my lunch (despite the odor, I endured), so that added a bit of time for me to enjoy the gardens.
Pretending to be an influencer at the outdoor exhibits at LACMA
Next, I wanted to see what else there was to do in the area. If you’ve got money, there’s a lot!
Tons of museums besides the Tar Pits museum are in this area, with LACMA being the biggest and most visited one. Admission is $25, but there are a couple of outdoor exhibits you can see for free, including… the Urban Light installation!!! If that name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, no worries, you’ll recognize it here:
Yep! These are the lamps everyone legally has to take pictures with when visiting LA! (Just joking of course, but it seems like a right of passage) So you can do that here.
The artist designed it as an homage to LA’s urban development, and it’s meant to capture the city’s beauty and safety. Based on the number of people that feel drawn to it, I think he’s succeeded! Another exhibit I really liked I forgot the name of, but it’s a massive boulder held up with just two small metal plates, and a tunnel allows you to walk right under it! It’s a little unnerving but also fun to run back and forth under it.
You can also visit the Academy Awards museum if you want, it’s just next door.
With a few hours of my day left, I stopped back at the hostel to do some research. There, I read that downtown LA is home to the world’s shortest funicular railway, so of course, I had to check that out.
Surprise! A trip up Angel’s Flight Railway
Angel’s Railway was built all the way back in 1901 to take passengers up a whopping 315ft to Bunker Hill. It’s gone through its highs: serving the most passengers per square mile of travel, and its lows: becoming detached from the tracks and crashing, killing a man. However, the Angel’s Railway and its two cars, adorably named Olivet and Sinai, have stood the test of time.
When I arrived, there were a couple of people there, but no one seemed to be working the rail car. Google said the place was open, so we looked all around to find any sign that the rail car was alive. One of the turnstile gates was locked, but the other turned when I pushed on it, so I thought,
“What the heck, if it’s not moving at least I can check out the car!”
Well no sooner did I get on then the doors of the car electronically snapped shut and an intercom voice told me to sit down. As the car started to roll up the hill, the people still below seemed thrilled that the railway was running after all because they cheered as I was kidnapped via rail car by some unseen force. In that surprising moment where the car started rolling up the hill, I kind of felt like ET when he rides the bike into the sky and looks at everyone below.
It was wild.
The ride was nice for being about a minute long, and Bunker Hill itself is really pretty. But before I knew it, Olivet had already climbed 315ft and the gates opened at the top of the station.
I learned here that you pay for your rides up and down at the upper station. It’s $1 to go up and $1 to go down, but only $0.50 each way if you had a public transport (TAP) card which I did have. Pretty good deal for just a dollar! I looked around Bunker Hill for a minute before paying the $0.50 fare and heading back down.
Across the street from Angel’s Railway, I saw a lot of neon and decided to investigate.
Turns out, that’s Grand Market! Grand Market is a pretty well known spot in LA for serving groceries and all kinds of food.
Every business has neon signs, so it’s a really cool place to wander around. Here is where I really wish I had a bigger budget, there’s so much food I wanted to try! It’s definitely on my to-do list the next time I’m in LA 🙂
One last (maybe vegan) dinner in LA
I was supposed to get dinner with my friends who were set to be arriving in town, but their flight got delayed so I was on my own. Thankfully, a modern Mexican restaurant called “Tocaya’s Modern Mexican” was open and was having their taco Tuesday special, so I popped in there. With two tacos, avocado toast, and a passionfruit margarita, it was the absolutely perfect last meal to have in California.
Really, you HAVE to go here when in LA! If you’re on the edge of your seat wondering whether or not I stuck to my “try new vegan foods challenge”, I think my tacos miiiiiiiight have been vegan, but honestly I’m so exhausted after two weeks of travel that I’m really not sure what was in them. All I know is that they were fantastic.
Well, that’s it! My three days in LA have flown by, and I’m really happy with all the things I got to see and do on a budget. While there’s so many amazing activities that can be done, it’s awesome that LA has plenty of free things to do, it’s really an excellent place to go on vacation.
And that’s the official end of my California adventures! Tomorrow I have a direct flight back home, and with any luck, it will be uneventful enough to not warrant its own post.
But never should you fear! After 2 weeks of rest, my sister and I are going on a big ol’ trip that will make for lots of fun posts. So stay tuned if you dare 😉