A popular Los Angeles tourist attraction is the world famous La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. It sits on the western boundary of a stretch of Wilshire Blvd called the Miracle Mile and Museum Row.
It’s a group of tar pits in Los Angeles where natural asphalt or tar has seeped up from the ground for tens of thousands of years. They are composed of heavy oil that has seeped up from the 6th Street Fault (an earthquake fault line) from the Salt Lake Oil Field, a large oil field that underlies much of Los Angeles. The oil reaches the surface at several locations and forms pools becoming asphalt.
Over the ages, the asphalt would form a deposit thick enough to trap animals. The surface would become covered with layers of water, leaves and dust onto which unsuspecting animals would walk on, become trapped and die. Dramatic fossils have been excavated from the pits.
Excavations in the area first began in 1913. By the 40s and 50s public interest was created by preparation of large mammal bones. Study found the fossils were well preserved with little degeneration of the bone protein. Radiocarbon dating places the last ice age to be 11 – 12,000 years ago and the fossils are presumed to be 10 – 20,000 years old.
The remains of only one human have been found in the tar pits. The La Brea Woman as the remains are called was found in 1914. She was estimated to be 18-25 years old at death and the remains are over 10,000 years old. The La Brea Woman was on display at the George C. Page Museum along with a life-sized model thought to resemble the woman until 2004.
The bubbling seen in the tar pits isn’t tar coming up, but methane gas. Researchers from UC Riverside discovered in 2007 the gas was created by forms of bacteria found in the asphalt that release methane gas after consuming petroleum.
The George C. Page Museum on the grounds is dedicated to housing and exhibiting the fossil discoveries from the site. This and other exhibits at the site provide an enlightening history on how life evolved in the Los Angeles basin, as well as the world, eons ago.
The La Brea Tar Pits have been a location used in several movies including Volcano, My Girl 2, Miracle Mile, Last Action Hero and Seven Psychopaths.
Tickets range from $15 to $25 for adults. Discounted rates are available for seniors and children. The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is open from 9:30 to 5:00 every day except Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Years Day.
Parking is available on the corner of Curson Ave and 6th Street for $15.00. Limited street parking is available, but care is urged to read all the signs particularly on Wilshire Blvd where your car will be both ticketed and towed during morning and afternoon rush hours.
The address is 5801 Wilshire Blvd. For more information on tours and activities visit the La Brea Tar Pits website. We also recommend if you are visiting Los Angeles that you walk a block west on Wilshire to and check out the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the spectacular Urban Light Sculpture at its entrance. Also the Petersen Automotive Museum is just across the street from LACMA on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. Johnie’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant is also on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax. It is both an LA Historical Landmark and a popular filming location.