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The Native Angeleno’s Guide to Culture in the Brown Cloud: Visiting Museum Row

This is the second in a sporadic series of articles about places worth investigating in Los Angeles.

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Located on Wilshire between Curson and Fairfax, Museum Row isn’t exactly off the beaten path, in fact, the sidewalk looks like its taken quite a beating in some places, especially on the Fairfax end of the row. The area is called Miracle Mile and though you won’t get your tires slashed if you park on the street [if you can find street parking], it’s still some miles to Beverly Hills yet. This slight edge of scuzziness contrasts nicely with the refinement of the five museums that line the street. On one side of the street, we have the big guns: the La Brea Tar Pits Page Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA], and the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. On the other we have the smaller venues: The Peterson Automotive Museum, the Architecture + Design Museum, and the Craft and Folk Art Museum.

The Page Museum is at the Curson end of the Row, located on the rather redundantly named La Brea Tar Pits. The museum was opened in 1977 and is the only one in the world to have its fossils discovered, excavated, prepared, and put on display within its own campus. While visiting, you can witness all of the steps: the fossils are excavated in pits off to the side and behind LACMA, inside the Page building you can visit the Fishbowl where scientists and volunteers painstakingly clean and prep the finds, and then you can take a look at the exhibits to see the fossils cleaned up and displayed. Tickets to the museum range from $5 [children] to $12 [adult]. Both seniors and students can get in for $9. On the first Tuesday of every month but July and August, admission is free. The Page is open everyday. The grounds are free to explore and are well worth doing so, even if you don’t go into the museum itself.

Sharing a campus with the Tar Pits and spread over two city blocks is the monumental Los Angeles County Museum of Art. By far the biggest and most popular of the denizens of the Row, LACMA opened in 1965 with a handful of buildings. Since then it has expanded and built over a small street. The work displayed comes from artists ranging from Eastern to Western, contemporary to ancient, traditional to avant-garde. Going through all the exhibits could easily be a day trip in itself and appropriately LACMA has several small eateries to keep patrons on their feet: Ray’s and the Stark Bar [rather expensive] on the newer end of the campus between the Ahmanson and the BP Pavilion along with some small food stalls, Milk and Coffee [just drinks and sorbet] in the Los Angeles Times Central Courtyard, and the LACMA Café [moderately expensive] in the Bing Pavilion across the Courtyard. [If you are looking for cheaper fare, check out the food trucks parked on weekends across the street. Offerings range from Vietnamese to Currywurst to Korean BBQ.] The campus itself is lovely, great for an early evening stroll, and used for musical events every weekend in the summer starting at either 5 or 6 pm. Events and the grounds are free but the museum, for the most part isn’t. Children under 18, members, and people who show up on the second Tuesday of each month or on a holiday sponsored by Target get in for free. Otherwise, students and seniors are $10, everyone else is $15; groups of 10 or more are $12 each. The museum is closed on Wednesdays.

Next to LACMA, in the old, gorgeous but run-down May Co. Building at the end of the Row is the future home of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The opening date isn’t until 2017 so, besides the gold and black architecture and an abandoned diner across the street, there isn’t much to see before you cross Wilshire to see the Peterson.

The Peterson Automotive Museum, founded in 1994, is every car buff’s dream complete with cars of the future, cars of the past, and cars that are just plain drool worthy. The exhibits, fittingly enough start in the above ground parking lot where a smattering of cool old cars makes parking more interesting.  The museum itself opens out of the lot and contains an amazing selection of all things car-related from famous cars to sculpted motorcycles to Hot Wheels. There some great mock-ups of old-time streets that really give the exhibits context and make for great photo ops. If you get hungry while visiting, there is a Johnny Rocket’s integrated into the bottom floor of the museum. Admission is $3 for kids, $5 for students or military personnel, $8 for seniors, and $11 for adults. The Peterson is closed on Monday. If what’s on display isn’t enough for you, you can schedule a tour of the vault where they keep the cars not currently exhibited. Tours can be scheduled by calling ahead or talking to the front desk but you have to buy an $25 additional ticket. But what’s $25 to seeing a Popemobile?

On the block next to the Peterson is the newest addition to the Row, the Architecture + Design [A + D] Museum. The Museum opened in 2001 but moved to the Row in 2010 and is the only one on the Row and indeed in the city that continuously shows exhibits on architecture and design. Admission is free to kids 12 and under, seniors and students are $5, and adults are $10. On the first Friday of every month, if you visit either the A+D or the Craft and Folk Art Museum down the street, you get free admission to the other. A+D is closed on Mondays.

At the other end of that block is the promise of a Metro train station. Don’t count on it appearing anytime soon. On the next block over are fragments of the Berlin Wall that have been revitalized by L.A. based graffiti artists. They tower over the people who come to look at them and make an interesting contrast with the food trucks that line the curb on the weekends. The outdoor exhibit was put up by the Culver City based Wende Museum, which specializes in Cold War artifacts and art.

The Craft and Folk Art Museum [CAFAM] is situated near the end of the block after the Berlin Wall. It is a relatively small museum that opened its doors in 1973. The front as photographed was covered by crocheted squares for a public exhibition by Yarn Bombing Los Angeles that drew in contributors from around the country and the world. There is also an intriguing multimedia exhibit of non-traditional Inuit art currently running. The museum holds many artist workshops, including printmaking sessions, poetry readings, and graffiti workshops, as well as hosting YBLA’s monthly meeting. It also has the most interesting gift shop of the Row. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors. Children under 10 and people who come on the first Wednesday of every month get in for free.

And if you look across the street from CAFAM you will see the Page Museum’s lake of drowning mastodons and so our tour comes to an end. Have a lovely day and watch out for the tar seepage at the corner.

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