Our visit to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California and a recipe for Rocky Road Cookies inspired by our travels!
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La Brea Tar Pits
The La Brea Tar Pits is currently one of my son’s favorite spots in Los Angeles and sparked his love for paleontology. Tucked among the high-rise buildings and surrounded by concrete at 5801 Wilshire Boulevard, the La Brea Tar Pits is home to one of the world’s largest deposit of Ice Age fossils and the only actively excavated urban site.
Protected by fences (mostly- watch your step when venturing off the sidewalk), natural asphalt continues to seep to the surface along with the bubbling of methane. The tar pits are only a few inches deep, but became well camouflaged by leaves and debris causing a variety of animals, plants, and insects to become trapped over the last 50,000 years. Even now, animals such as birds, squirrels, lizards, and insects continue to get stuck on occasion.
The grounds (Hancock Park) surrounding the museum are free to explore. You can get a view of the tar pits up close, active/past excavation sites, and even a Pleistocene Garden.
The Pleistocene Garden was created based on the fossils recovered from Pit 91. It features the native vegetation found in the area 10,000 to 40,000 years ago and is divided into four main sections: Coastal Sage, Riparian, Mixed Evergreen/Redwood Forest, and Chaparral.
The largest tar pit, the Lake Pit, is located directly in front of the museum and a result of asphalt mining operations during the late 1800s. Pit 91 is one of the longest running urban excavation sites and has a viewing station where you can look down into the pit. Thousands of fossils were excavated between 1913-1915 and created the original collections for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Excavations were renewed in 1969 with the help of modern equipment and samples of microfossils previously undetected were uncovered. Learn more about the excavations here.
During the Live Theater Ice Age Encounter Show (Friday-Sunday, free for members or at an additional cost with admission), we learned about Project 23. Construction of the underground garage next door for the LACMA in 2006 revealed an abundance of new fossil deposits. The deposits surrounding the fossils were transferred to large wooden crates, 23 in all at over 120,000 pounds, to be further examined at their present location. Scientists can be seen working on the boxes daily.
Over 3.5 million fossils have been uncovered in the pits and many of them are on display inside the museum along with life-size replicas, over one hundred artifacts, and interactive exhibits. Many sections are hands-on, so there are plenty of opportunities to see and learn about the Ice Age up close.
The most abundant large fossils found in the deposits come from the dire wolf, followed by the saber-toothed cat, and the coyote. Other fossils on display include the Harlan’s ground sloth, American lion, Short-faced bear, yesterday’s camel, bison, Columbian mammoth, and even a number of extinct birds.
The kids especially love the watch the paleontologists working on fossils in the Fossil Lab. During our visit, they had the skull of Zed on display. Zed is a nearly complete (about 80%) adult Columbian Mammoth found during Project 23. He lived about 35,000 years ago and wasn’t originally stuck. His body washed into a stream (current cause of death is believed to be soft-tissue injuries during combat) and the bones were then covered and preserved in the asphalt.
In addition to the Live Theater Show available Friday-Sunday, the museum also has a 3D Theater. Showings are daily, every 30 minutes, and currently feature Titans of the Ice Age (free for members or at an additional cost with tickets).
The museum is open daily 9:30-5 with the exception of July 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Check the current ticket prices here. Daily guided tours are included with museum admission and you can even find some ideas for self-guided tours here. We have a family annual pass to the tar pits (also includes the Natural History Museum and William S. Hart Museum). Free admission days take place on the first Tuesday of every month (with the exception of July and August) and every Tuesday in September.
We usually spend about two hours here. Restrooms can be found inside the museum and outside by the picnic tables. All the exhibits inside the museum are wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Parking in the lot off of Curson Avenue is $15. Metered spots may also be found along Wilshire, but take note of surrounding signs- specifically no parking on Wilshire between 7-9 am and 4-7 pm on weekdays.
Have some time to spare? The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Petersen Automotive Museum are also nearby.
We often pair a visit to the tar pits with a food stop or two. I am listing a few of our favorites below in order based on distance from the museum. Picnic tables are also located in Hancock Park in front of the museum.
On weekdays during lunchtime hours, the section of Wilshire Blvd in front of the LACMA is lined with food trucks. On the weekends there are usually only a couple, but we did come across Vchos Truck one day for some delicious Pupusas. Other featured menu items include Shrimp & Potato Tacos, Gourmet Street Tacos, Chicken Pastelito, and Platano Empanada.
Uovo’s second location (the first is in Santa Monica) opened in September 2019 at 6245 Wilshire Blvd about half a mile west of La Brea Tar Pits. They feature traditional handmade pasta from their kitchen in Bologna, Italy using the “sfogline” method of sheeting and cutting the pasta without the use of an extruder. I tried the Crema di Parmigiano- Handmade pork tortellini in a Parmigiano-Reggiano cream sauce. The rich sauce complimented the meat filling perfectly.
Bar seating is situated around the open kitchen so you can watch the pasta as it’s prepared, plus a couple of tables at either end of the restaurant. Reservations are not accepted. I walked from the tar pits, but the building has a garage with parking validation for up to 2 hours.
Yuko Kitchen is a little less than half a mile walk east at 5484 Wilshire Boulevard. It is tucked behind The UPS Store (there is a sign pointing towards the restaurant) with an outdoor patio and small amount of indoor seating. As we stepped inside, the kids were particularly mesmerized by the door above the restroom (photo above).
The special Chicken Plate included a huge portion of Teriyaki Chicken, Rice, Spicy Salmon Roll, Salad, Soup Shot, and a Mini Dessert. Yuko Kitchen also has a second location in Downtown LA. As a note, they are closed on Sundays.
Milk Jar Cookies
We came across Milk Jar Cookies during our first visit to the La Brea Tar Pits and it has since become a favorite stop while in the area. Located at 5466 Wilshire Blvd, the shop is about a 10 minute (0.5 mile) walk from the museum.
The cookies are hand-rolled and baked in small batches throughout the day. Our personal favorites are the Birthday Cookie, Rocky Road, and Chocolate Chip Cookie (photos above). I also recently tried and loved their Salted Butterscotch. You can turn the cookies into an ice cream sandwich for an extra indulgent treat. In addition to coffee and milk, I was excited to see they have Harney & Son’s Tea. It has been a nice reminder since moving away from the east coast.
Miracle Mile Toy Hall
Right next door to Milk Jar Cookies is the Miracle Mile Toy Hall. This small boutique is divided into rooms based on the type of toy with books, crafts, dress-up, games, legos, plus-plus, a baby section, and more. They are open 10-5 daily.
Met Her at a Bar
Met Her at a Bar is just a little bit further at almost a mile from the tar pits (parking can be tricky nearby) at 759 S La Brea Ave. This popular brunch spot tends to get busy on the weekends with tight seating. We were able to check into the waitlist on yelp after arriving at the restaurant and keep track of our spot in line.
Once seated, service was quick. We tried the His Waffle (Italian Style with fried chicken, waffle, and Alfredo sauce), Wow You’re Different…Waffle Benedict (poached eggs, ham, hollandaise sauce, salad), and Now This is Love Waffletella (strawberries, bananas, Nutella, whipped cream).
Met Him at a Bar also recently opened across the street and features homemade pasta.
Qi Steam Kitchen
Qi Steam Kitchen recently opened in a small shopping center on the corner of Olympic and San Vicente Blvd. As the name suggests, the menu highlights a variety steamed dishes from dumplings and meats to vegetables and desserts. We enjoyed the Pearl Pork Balls, Panda Lava Buns with a salty egg yolk center, Steamed Bok Choy, Steamed Beef and Shrimp Dumplings, and Crispy Steamed Beef Bao (my personal favorite).
There isn’t a restroom here so we stopped by The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf before driving home.
Spoon by H
Spoon by H is a small Korean cafe situated in a strip mall about a mile north of La Brea Tar Pits on Bevelry Blvd.
With the recent publicity over the past year, this spot has become incredibly popular. We arrived on a busy weekend during the winter break about 5 minutes after opening and the line was already 45 minutes long.
The Tea Fee (milk tea ice cream, espresso, milk tea, coffee cubes) and Hojicha (hojicha snow, hojicha syrup, tea cubes, boba) were fun diy drinks and I loved the presentation. I actually now have the mold to make the coffee bean ice cubes at home.
The Pork Belly Dumpling Soup was rich and packed with flavor. The spice definitely began to build with each bite. We also enjoyed the Beef Short Rib Rice Cake Soup (rice cakes are currently one of Claire’s favorites).
The Strawberry Milk Snow had an incredibly light texture and again, the presentation was beautiful.
There are a limited amount of (tight) compact-sized spaces in front along with metered street parking. As a note, there is no restroom in the restaurant, so afterwards we stopped by the Starbucks across the street before going home.
Rocky Road Cookies
The cookies from Milk Jar Cookies reminded me in texture a bit of a smaller version of the cookies from Levain Bakery in New York City with a crisp outside and a doughy, rich center. To help go along with that similar style, I developed this recipe for Rocky Road Cookies with my Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies as the base.
The rich chocolate Rocky Road Cookies are studded with mini marshmallows, chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. Don’t like walnuts? Switch them out for chopped almonds or peanuts.
After forming the dough, transfer to baking sheets with the help of a standard ice cream scoop (about 1/4 cup) to make them the same size. Press down lightly and decorate the tops with additional chocolate chips and marshmallows. Push the marshmallows in a little to help keep them from sliding off as the cookies rise in the oven. Before baking, freeze the cookies on the baking sheets for about an hour to help them hold their shape and texture.
These Rocky Road Cookies are best the day they are baked.
Rocky Road Cookies Recipe
Adapted from Kirbie’s Cravings
Rocky Road Cookies
- 1 cup unsalted butter chilled and diced
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup mini marshmallows
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until smooth and creamy.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.
- Pulse in the dark cocoa powder until incorporated, then mix in the all-purpose and cake flours with the baking powder, cornstarch, and salt until just combined.
- Fold in the chocolate chips, marshmallows, and walnuts.
- Use a standard ice cream scoop or pull off a 1/4 cup piece of dough. Roll into a ball and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press down lightly. Repeat with the remaining dough, dividing them between two baking sheets and about 2-3 inches apart. If desired, top the cookie balls with additional chocolate chips and marshmallows.
- Place the baking sheets in the freezer for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350˚F. Bake the frozen cookies in the preheated oven until just set, about 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, to set. They are best the day they are baked.