The Five Best Paleontology Museums in Southern California

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This article detailing the best paleontology museums in Southern California was created in collaboration with the fabulous folks at Expedia.com. As always, all opinions in this article are Outbound Adventurer’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Expedia.com or its affiliates.

Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?

Visit the best paleontology museums in southern California! From tar pits to student-run research centers, these represent some of the coolest spots for dinosaur lovers in SoCal.

Think about when you were a kid. Think back to the childlike awe of visiting a museum and seeing the skeletons of long-dead animals. Think about these creatures that were all at once terrifying, yet viewable from a safe distance, on kid terms.

Dinosaurs spark our imagination.

Dinosaurs are amazing. They are like dragons, but real, a tangible and fascinating part of our past, and of the history of life on Earth.

We love dinosaurs.

And, of course, as a paleontologist I collect, conserve, and study the remains of other fossil organisms as well.

Jessi and I are big kids at heart, and now, in our new home near Los Angeles, we can really explore the fantastic paleontology museums that dot the southern California terrain. Here are the best paleontology museums in southern California, submitted for your inner child’s approval.

The Five Best Paleontology Museums in Southern California

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

This is the flagship of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, which spans the main building here as well as two other campuses – the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and the William S. Hart Park and Museum. We’ll talk about the La Brea Tar Pits just ahead.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles holds more than 35 million objects, and emphasizes the “big picture” of our planet – from our natural history to our cultural world.

You can wander through the dinosaur halls here, and check out live fossil cleaning and preparation at the Dino Lab and Dinosaur Institute, located on site. Want to know what it’s like to find, excavate, and study a T. rex? Look no further. It’s a dinosaur-lover’s dream, and a world class resource for studying ancient life.

La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Long after the dinosaurs went extinct, Los Angeles is an icy world, where saber-toothed cats prowl, dire wolves hunt camels, and mammoths and mastodons roam the landscape.

Dark, sticky tar bubbles up from the ground in what will become downtown LA.

A mammoth plods along and becomes mired in the hot asphalt.

Predators stalk closer, attracted by the easy prey, and are trapped as well.

La Brea Tar Pits: The Five Best Paleontology Museums in Southern California

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum was a death trap for ancient animals. It’s a world-famous paleontological site, sitting right smack in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. You can watch paleontologists peel back layers of bone from the black muck, in real time, as you wander the grounds outside of the main museum building. In fact, this is the only consistently active Ice Age paleontological site, in an urban setting, in the entire world. The La Brea Tar Pits are an incredible site that you can’t miss! This is a place I always dreamed of visiting as a little kid.

La Brea dire wolves: The Five Best Paleontology Museums in Southern California

It is technically a part of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, but the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is located about eight miles northwest of the flagship building.

Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology

What if you’d had a paleontology museum attached to your high school campus?

I know I would have been there every day!

alf museum: The Five Best Paleontology Museums in Southern California

The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology is a part of a private high school, known as the Webb Schools. Located outside of Los Angeles, in the little college town of Claremont, this museum is the only one of its kind in the country. High schoolers and researchers here have access to decades of collected fossils, including dinosaurs and mammals. The Alf Museum’s chief curator, Andy Farke, is an expert on ceratopsians – those are the horned dinosaurs, like Triceratops.

Located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, this little museum is top notch and a great place to geek out about the latest research in paleontology.

San Bernardino County Museum

This museum is tucked away in Redlands, and is one of the largest museums in southern California – especially this far inland. The San Bernardino County Museum is jam-packed with southwestern history, and it’s surrounded by fragrant citrus groves. It’s a great place with a ton of cool fossil collections behind-the-scenes.

The museum’s interactive and engaging Fossils Underfoot exhibit leads visitors through the course of deep time, from Earth’s earliest life to dinosaurs and beyond.

San Diego Museum of Natural History

Also known as the Nat, the San Diego Museum of Natural History loves immersing its visitors in the natural world. The hands-on exhibits are always rotating and changing, though paleontology is a key theme here. Touch ancient fossils, learn about how our planet has changed over time, and create your own story on how an animal lives, dies, and gets to be a fossil.

The museum also hosts a fossil monitoring and salvage lab, PaleoServices, which helps collect and preserve fossil resources found at various construction sites around southern California.

Paleontology and Science Lovers Rejoice!

If you live in southern California, or plan on visiting, don’t miss any of these great paleontology museums. Your inner science geek will thank you.

And, of course, so will that inner child, daydreaming about the world that once was.

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  • Yes! As a kid I loved dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist. I went into a different field instead but I still love learning about science and natural history. Awesome post!

  • Andrew Farke

    Fantastic post (and thanks for the shout-out to the Alf Museum)! I can also highly recommend the Western Science Center in Hemet…some great exhibits of local Ice Age fossils!