Los Angeles is a crowded sea of humanity with seemingly no escaping the constant flow of traffic. It wasn’t always that way. Los Angeles started to grow in the late 1800s driven by the discovery of oil and the westward migration. The oil explosion fueled LA to grow from a population of 50,000 in 1890 to 1.2 million in 1930. Estimates are that by the 1930s, California was producing nearly a quarter of the world’s oil output. Of course, Hollywood also moved to Los Angeles and the entire region exploded during the 20th century. Many visitors are surprised to see the many active oil fields still in operation within the city. From a tourist perspective, oil provides one of Los Angeles’ greatest natural attractions, the La Brea Tar Pits.
The La Brea Tar Pits history goes back 50,000 years and provides a wonderful glimpse into the Ice Age era. This is an attraction that can be visited for free, but we recommend also going to the reasonably priced museum. It is a fairly short visit and can be combined with several other museums. as it is located in what is commonly referred to as the Museum Row on Miracle Mile. Less than a mile from Museum Row is the Original Los Angeles Farmers Market which opened in the 1930s. In this trip, we went to a late breakfast/lunch at the Farmer’s Market and then went the La Brea Tar Pits.
The Los Angeles Farmers Market
For a history of the Los Angeles Farmers Market see this article from LA Insider Tours.
The Farmers Market opened in 1934 at the intersection of Third and Fairfax in the heart of Los Angeles. The original layout has remained pretty much the same over the years, even as the area nearby has rapidly expanded. In the 1990s, the Grove shopping center opened next door and that provides some additional eating and shopping options. The Grove has one of the handful of American Girl stores in the country. As parents with young girls probably know, American Girl is a very high-end brand of dolls and accessories. As our daughter is hitting her teenage years we can now skip the Grove and just head to the Farmer’s Market.
We like to go the market on weekdays between 9 and 11 am. It is rarely crowded at this time and there is plenty of parking. With validation, you get 90 minutes of free parking. Next door to the market you will see the massive CBS Studio building. You can get tickets to watch shows being filmed there. At the Farmers Market we have seen audience members from The Price is Right coming here for a break. Of course, you can tell by the costumes they wear!
The Farmers Market consists of permanent stands. This is not like the hundreds of farmers markets throughout Southern California where vendors come in once a week or so and setup their tents for several hours. The vendors here remain the same and are generally open five to seven days a week. Basically there are 3 types of vendors: 1) traditional food and vegetable vendors; 2) restaurants and food stands and 3) shops and souvenirs. As a general rule the produce and meats are very reasonably priced while the restaurants and shops are on the expensive side.
We have tried many of the restaurants but the one we come back to again and again is Loteria Grill which offers authentic Mexican food. Since opening the original at the Farmers Market in 2002, Loteria has expanded to multiple locations throughout the Los Angeles region. We always come to the market early, so we have fallen in love with their breakfast which is offered throughout the day. For those that don’t want breakfast they offer their full menu as well.
The breakfast dish we love is Divorciados (divorced eggs) which is tortillas topped with two poached eggs and two kinds of salsa. We also like to get tacos including the carne deshebrada (shredded beef), tinga de pollo (chicken with chiplote peppers and chorizo), and the pork carnitas. The food here is excellent but it is not cheap. The Divorciados is $12.50 and the tacos are $4.50 each. That does not sound bad but the servings are pretty small. Burritos and a two taco platter that includes rice and beans is about $13. We don’t mind paying because the quality is superb and this is an infrequent treat.
One should also note that the Farmers Market has open seating so everyone in your group can order from a different vendor and still sit together. Some of these places have been here for decades. Bob’s Coffee and Doughnuts has been around since 1947, Dupars opened in 1938 and is best known for its pies. Magees Nuts opened in 1917 and moved to the market when it opened in 1934. The family also runs Magees Kitchen which is known for their deli sandwiches. This includes a Los Angeles original, the French Dip sandwich which was invented in downtown Los Angeles (there is a dispute over which restaurant started it). Bennett’s Ice Cream dates back to 1946 and is still run by the Bennett family. Check this article for a look at some of Los Angeles top ice cream spots. Patsy D’Amores claims to have introduced pizza to Los Angeles in 1949. One restaurant we used to like way back in the 1990s, was the Gumbo Pot featuring Cajun food. We haven’t tried it recently because reviews suggest it has gone downhill. However, based on past experience we will likely give it another chance one day.
The stores in the Farmers Market are pretty typical tourist operations, novelties, a toy store, a hot sauce store and candy stores selling candy at $13+ a pound that can be found at a normal store for under $5. The meat and produce look good but we are not locals so we don’t usually buy much here. We do like to buy spices from Dragunara which has some pretty unique blends. Our usual visit is about an hour. Often when we leave closer to noon, the parking lot is getting pretty full.
Next stop is the Las Brea Tar Pits, about half a mile away. Technically you could walk but the parking validation is only good for 90 minutes so we drive, since we have to move anyways.
La Brea Tar Pits/ George C Page Museum
The La Brea Tar Pits is in Hancock Park right on LA’s main drag, Wilshire Blvd, surrounded by high-rises, apartment building and the museums of Museum Row. Parking is $12 but we have usually been able to park for free on 6th st right across the street from the entrance. Entrance to the tar pits is free and there is plenty of excitement to be found just walking around. The museum is extra but costs only $12 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. They also offer free entrance on the first Tuesday of each month (supposedly it gets pretty crowded). The museum is small but we feel well worth it if you have children.
Overall, this is one of Los Angeles great attractions if you are at all into science and/or animals. It is part of a fairly large green open space, Hancock Park. The walk around the park takes you by the many tar pits. The largest pit, Lake Pit, has famous models of a family of mastadons getting trapped. The tar pits have unearthed countless skeletons of animals from 10,000 to 40,000 plus years ago. Many of these animals are now extinct and include the saber-toothed cat, American mastadon, dire wolf, ground sloth, North American camel and many others. These animals died when they got stuck in the tar (actually asphalt) and their skeletal remains are almost perfectly preserved.
The tar pits remain a very active dig area and you can go around and look at the current pits being excavated. There are different background tours you can take, but you can walk around the pits at no cost and there are plenty of signs describing the history and findings. Many of the largest early mammals were found here because every ten years or so there would be a log jam of animals dying in the pits. Basically some small animals would get stuck. Predators would hear their cries and when they went in for the kill they would also get stuck. Larger and larger predators would come along and suffer a similar fate. This was a rare occurrence but, as the sign in the park says, if it happened only every 10 years for over 30,000 years that is quite a few animals.
The George C Page Museum features the skeletons of many of the animals that have been excavated. There are also life-size models and dioramas and exhibits showing how animals became extinct and the general history of the tar pits. The center of the museum features an actual lab where you can watch scientists examine the latest discoveries. This is a museum that tends to fascinate kids of all ages and it is impressive to think all this natural history occurred in what is now a urban jungle. One interesting note, scientists wonder how much early humans may have led to the extinction of such animals as the mastadon. It appears this theory has been largely discredited as there was a mass of mammal extinction from 14,000 to 11,000 years ago . Far more than early humans could have accounted for (as much as 50% of mammals). The museum suggested it could have been a period of global warming that dried out water sources. Whatever the cause it is still a subject of debate.
For an extra fee there are some 3-D movies on Ice Age animals that cost about $5 each. We have not done these so we can not make any comments. Overall we usually spend about 1.5 to 2 hours touring the museum and tar pits. Note right next door is the massive Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Of course, it is possible to combine a visit to the tar pits and the museum of art but we have yet to do that. Also across the street is the Peterson Automotive Museum.
For a good background on oil in Los Angeles see this article from the American Oil and Gas Historical Society.
If you are in the LA area for three days or more you should definitely consider a Go City Card pass . A 3, 5 or 7-day pass gets you into multiple attractions including the La Brea Tar Pits. This also includes some attractions in the San Diego area such as Legoland and the San Diego Zoo. Note, if you are only staying for a day or two, Go City Card gives you the option to buy 2 or more attractions and gives you a discount of 20%