Monday, August 13, 2012

California Science Center

Monday, August 13, 2012
My Cost: $10 (parking)

700 State Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037

Today we finally got out of the house again after four days of indoor quarentine due to extreme heat and a family bout of sickness. (Think lots of snot, fevers, coughing, and even a little throwing up. I need to remember to use more hand sanitizer the next time we visit the pediatrician for a routine physical!) Boy, were we were all ready for a change of atmosphere. But the temperature was still so high that I decided we would escape the Valley and head south to cooler weather. Most folks would head to the beach, but I'm not ready for the stress of sand and surf with both kids alone, so instead we went to an indoor destination: the California Science Center.

As I circled around Exposition Park looking for the best parking lot, I was surprised to see what a neat place it is! There was a dinosaur sculpture of a triceratops and a tyrannosaurus rex by the Natural History Museum, a big playground, lots of shady trees and big rocks kids were climbing on, and the Rose Garden, and that was just what I saw from the road! I admit I felt slightly angry at myself that I had never been here before. I usually pride myself on having seen so much of LA since moving here in 2005. But I guess always living in the Valley kept it off my radar.

We pulled into the parking lot that is accessed from Figueroa. It costs $10, cash only, but was the best parking option for our destination. It has an underground level (aka covered parking so those car seats don't get too toasty!) and it's situated the closest to the California Science Center. Plus it's right next to the A-12 Blackbird! I snapped a pic of it with the stroller in the foreground, but it's really too shady and backlit to see the kids at all.

There are two lots to the west of the Natural History Museum across Robertson Lane, and those are great if that is your destination and/or you want to visit the playgrounds at Jesse A. Brewer Jr. Park, but those are just paved lots, no covered level, and they cost the same $10. (Or, leave your car at home and take the newly opened Metro Expo Line to the Science Center. You get off at the Expo Park/USC station. The station is right in the middle of Exposition Boulevard, so you literally only have to cross half the street to get to the park. It's so new, my GPS didn't even know about it! And just the train ride itself might be a whole bunch of excitement for your kids!)

I circled where we parked. The purple buildings are the California Science Center.
Now Exposition Park looks like the kind of place I could spend an entire day visitng. Even if you didn't want to go inside any of the museums, it would still be a worthy destination just for the lovely walks! Even crossing the distance from our van to the Science Center entrance was a lovely stroll with winding paths, signs identifying the vegetation, and other things to look at like all the airplanes. (I was informed that the entire Air Museum portion of the Science Center is closed while they are completing the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center, which will house Space Shuttle Endeavour. In fact, two months from today - October 13 - is when the shuttle is scheduled to travel through the streets of LA as it makes its way from an LAX hangar to it's new permanent home. Read all about it here.)

The entrance to the Science Center is lovely. I had to take a picture of it.

I was a bit confused entering because there was a large ticket window to the left of the doors, and while I knew the current special exhibition, Cleopatra, requires paid admission, I thought the rest of the museum was free. But when I went inside, there was a line at some turnstiles leading to an escalator, and it looked like tickets were required. The rest of the level was only dining and gift shop. So I went back to ask at the ticket window. It turns out the turnstiles are just for counting visitors, and you go through without a ticket. 

Here is a look at the map. Cleopatra is on the 3rd floor, but everything else is free.

We went to Ecosystems first, as that looked the most alive and interactive to me. (I already know Vivi loves animals based on our trips to the LA Zoo.)

We stopped for a bit in the Island Zone where they had a fish aquarium and some lizards. Also, a nice sized turtle sculpture on the floor that no kid can resist sitting on!

From there we went outside to see what they call the Rocky Shore, and is actually the exposed surface of the Kelp Forest aquarium. It's the first time I can remember ever seen an artificially simulated tide. You can see the surface of the water go up and down as if by waves. Plus there is a Touch Tank where you can get your fingers on sea stars and anemones (and shark eggs too, but we didn't get to see those as they rotate which side of the tank is open.) We also got to see three scuba divers gearing up and entering the water. Vivi enjoyed that!

Rocky Shores and a rare appearance by Alex! Hello little guy!
Of course I wanted to see more fishies, so we headed downstairs to get a better look at the Kelp Forest, and we got to see those same divers, now submerged.

 I knew the Kelp Forest would be hard to beat, but we did take a walk around to see what else might be of interest. We came across the Family Discovery Room for kids ages 0 to 7.

As soon as Vivi looked through the windows I could tell she wanted to go inside, but there was a sign on the door saying we would have to wait another 15 minutes. I thought it would be worth the wait since she wanted to go in so badly (and a nice lesson in patience having to wait our turn,) but BEWARE! Depending on the amount of mess made by the previous group, the wait can be longer than posted. We ended up waiting for over half an hour. (I got stubborn - I wasn't going to just leave after waiting all that time!) I was told, once inside, that management is very serious about wanting things disinfected, and that's good, but I would have rather done something else for the half hour. This does seem to be quite popular, though. A large crowd gathered behind us to wait, and I overheard from several that it was their children's favorite part of the Science Center, but once the delay became more than 10 minutes, a lot of those people left.

Basically, it's a play house version of a typical home with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, and back yard. Interestingly, they chose to have a real mouse and cockroaches on display in the kitchen! And there is a "dirt box" (not a sand box) in the back yard area that is actually filled with brown colored rubber shavings, so you can't actually get dirty.

Our enjoyment was cut short, however, by Alex announcing his immediate need to eat! I asked an employee if there was any type of mothers' lounge in the Science Center, and was surprised to be told the only parent facility was the changing table in the restroom. As the building is fairly cavernous, even if I were to find a bench in a quiet corner to nurse, I didn't want Vivi running away, so we just headed straight for the van accompanied by loud, hungry crying.

Once Alex was nursed and Vivi got her lunch, we headed home. I had anticipated traffic, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. So I think we will probably take another shot at Exposition Park in the not-too-distant future. We will definitely need to see Endeavour at some point!

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