La Brea Tar Pits and Hancock Park
Visit the only Ice Age fossil site in the world that's being actively excavated in the middle of a city!
What are the Tar Pits?
The Tar Pits have fascinated scientists and visitors for over a century, and today, this area is the only actively excavated Ice Age fossil site found in an urban location in the world! Over the last 50,000 years, Ice Age animals, plants, and insects were trapped in sticky asphalt, which preserved them for us to find today. More than 100 excavations have been made at the Tar Pits since the early 1900s, and most of the fossils discovered here are housed in the museum at La Brea Tar Pits, at the center of the Tar Pits! The discoveries range in size from huge, extinct mammoths and sloths to "microfossils," or tiny remains of plants and animals that give us clues about how ancient ecosystems and climates changed.
The iconic Lake Pit, located in front of the museum, is actually a pit left over from asphalt mining operations in the late 1800s. Rain and groundwater has collected above the bubbling asphalt, creating a small lake. The lake’s bubbles, sheet, and distinctive odor come from a deep underground oil field. Here you can see a recreation of a mammoth becoming trapped in “tar.”
Enjoying Hancock Park
Hancock Park is nestled among the museum and the Tar Pits. It's a fun community resource where boot camp participants meet and train, kids play next to super-sized Ice Age mammals, and Angelenos and tourists stroll and picnic. Walk through the paths that wind around active excavation sites, the iconic Lake Pit with its mammoth and mastodon models, the playground, and the Pleistocene Garden!
Creek dogwood (Cornus sericea)
This wide-spreading shrub loses its leaves in autumn, revealing the colorful red stems. Some Native Americans use them to make baskets. The creamy white flowers attract insects and the white to blue-tinged fruits attract birds.
California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
The most widespread shrubby buckwheat in California, this species has needle-like, evergreen leaves and masses of creamy white flowers in summer that provide nectar for butterflies and other beneficial insects. They turn rusty brown in fall and the seeds are eaten by birds.
White sage (Salvia apiana)
This striking shrub has highly aromatic leaves that, when dried, can be burned as incense. Bees make a flavorful honey from the showy white flowers. In the garden, the large leaves and tall flower stalks add drama to a dry garden.
Saltbush or Quail bush (Atriplex lentiformis)
Saltbush is a versatile shrub. Plants tolerate salt spray and dry summers. The salty, tender young leaves can be used either fresh or steamed as seasoning. Birds and small mammals eat the nutritious seeds and use the dense branches for cover.
Sanford's arrowhead (Sagittaria sanfordii)
This aquatic herb is now considered rare because much of its natural habitat has been destroyed. The showy white flowers typically bloom throughout the summer.
Western elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. caerulea)
This common, fast-growing shrub or small tree occurs throughout much of California and is an important food source for wildlife. Its creamy white flowers and frosted blue berries are both edible, but all other plant parts are poisonous. Native Americans made hunting bows and flutes from the stems.
Purple sage (Salvia leucophylla)
The pinkish purple flowers of this beautiful, fragrant shrub are pollinated by hummingbirds and butterflies. Other birds such as quail eat the seeds. Upright and mounding forms occur in nature and both are useful ornamentals for sunny, summer-dry gardens.
Arroyo willow (Salix lasiolepis)
Arroyo willow is just one of several kinds of willows native to California. The supple branches are used in basket weaving and furniture making. Salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, comes from the bark of willow trees.
California sycamore (Platanus racemosa)
The mottled white-and-gray bark stands out in winter when this fast-growing tree is leafless. Bats and Monarch butterflies were known to use massive older trees as roosting sites. Chumash Indians fashioned beautiful, functional bowls from the wood.
St. Catherine’s lace (Eriogonum giganteum)
Of the more than 125 species of buckwheat native to California, this is by far the largest. Prized by gardeners for its silvery-gray leaves and massive inflorescence, it is valuable as wildlife habitat, too, offering food for insects, birds, and mammals.
Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium)
The fragrant yellow flowers in spring, powdery blue berries in autumn, and shiny evergreen leaves provide year-round interest. The bitter berries make tasty jelly or sauce when cooked. Share them with the birds. The roots yield a yellow dye.
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Plants from the Ice Age
Long before palm trees lined its busy streets, Los Angeles was an oasis of pine, sage, and buckwheat. Our scientists have recreated this prehistoric landscape with the Pleistocene Garden, representing the native vegetation of the Los Angeles Basin 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. Based on 35 years of research gathered from Pit 91 fossil excavation, the garden is divided into four ecological systems: Coastal Sage, Riparian, Mixed Evergreen/Redwood Forest, and Chaparral. Step back into L.A.'s original landscape, take in the fragrances, and escape the hustle and bustle of Wilshire.
La Brea Tar Pits FAQs
Ever wonder why there is “tar” bubbling to the surface, how animals became trapped, and what’s going on at the Tar Pits today?