The Most Fun (and Free) Hands-On Kids Museum in Los Angeles

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Located in the heart of downtown’s historic Exposition Park, the California Science Center is the largest hands-on science museum on the West Coast.  It’s the perfect way to help your budding scientist get her hands dirty, while sparing your floor and kitchen counters.  With three floors of beautiful exhibit space, an Imax theater, rotating special galleries, and the fantastic themed Discovery Rooms, everyone is sure to learn something. But don’t worry, they’ll be having so much fun, they probably won’t even notice it.

The best times to plan a California Science Center trip are in the middle of the week, Tuesday-Thursday. Try coming after lunch, around 1:00 pm during the school year, because by then all of the field trip groups will have left.  Also, check the Coliseum and Exposition Park’s schedules for any special events before heading out.

Getting There
The Science Center is located downtown in Exposition Park.  Parking in the structure is $10, and there are not many other options for convenient, safe parking in the area. To reach the parking structure, turn west into Exposition Park on 39th Street from Figueroa and follow the signs. Public Transportation is also available, check for details.

What to See
The new Ecosystems exhibit is a great first stop.  Showing how life thrives under all different types of ecological conditions, along your way you will encounter a chilly ice wall, a desert heat lamp, and a huge underwater paradise.  Try to time your visit to the ocean room to correspond with one of the daily dive shows, where kids can ask scuba divers in the tank all kinds of interesting questions.  If you are there with kiddos under 5, be sure to check out the Ecosystems Discovery Room, a fun interactive playroom that illustrates how even our homes are mini ecosystems.

The World of Life exhibit is another must see.  Make sure to catch the Body Works Show with Tess, a 50-foot body simulator.  Tess explains, in age appropriate terms, how the human body works.  The show is a lot of fun, but maybe a little overwhelming for little ones under 2.

If you have an aspiring astronaut in your midst make sure you set aside some time to visit the Air and Space exhibit in the Science Court.  Here you can learn about the science of flight and take a peek inside some of the Apollo space capsules.

If you are visiting with munchkins under 5, each exhibit space has a Discovery Room full of fun, hands-on activities and projects.  If you are visiting with some more mature junior scientists, try to catch a movie on the seven-story Imax movie screen.  Movies change monthly and tickets and show times are available online at Imax Movie Times.

Where to Eat
There are several places to enjoy a bite during your visit: McDonald’s, a familiar fast food option, and the Rose Garden Cafe, a cafeteria-style eatery, are on the first floor of the Science Center. The Rose Garden Cafe also has a Taco Bell Express and a Starbucks coffee bar. Restaurants feature indoor and outdoor patio seating, overlooking the beautiful historic Exposition Park rose garden.  If you are up for a bit more adventure make your way over to Little Tokyo for lunch.  For tips and fun things to do, see and especially eat while you are there, check out Little Tokyo: Fun Activities, Culture and Cuisine for Los Angeles Kids.

How to Dress
The museum consists of mostly indoor spaces, but it is adjacent to the beautiful Exposition Park Rose Garden.  Bring a light sweater so you can be sure to take a stroll through the historic garden.

There is a family friendly bathroom near the elevator on the second floor.

While there are elevators, the stairs are a much easier option for navigating the Science Center.  If you can go without, give it a shot.  Plus, there is so much to reach out and touch; your tiny scientist will not be a happy passenger for long.

Free. Wait, did I read that correctly? Yep, Free. Imax tickets must be purchased and occasionally there is a small charge for special gallery exhibits, but the permanent exhibits are open to the public.  A donation, however, is always appreciated.

California Science Center
700 Exposition Park Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90037

— Kate Woodruff Felton

photo courtesy of and copyrighted by Tracie Spence Photography

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