LACMA (Los Angeles, CA)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has a lot to offer families. The number of giant sculptures you can interact with, like the iconic "Urban Light" field of lamps pictured above, help kids appreciate art without really realizing they are appreciating art!

The LACMA is the largest art museum in the Western United States and their collections span art of just about every period, origin, and medium. The field of lamps pictured above, titled "Urban Light," was created by Chris Burden. He also created the beloved "Metropolis II," but more on that one later. What astonishes me is how iconic "Urban Light" has become for LACMA, but this art construct has only been there since 2008.

"Smoke" was originally designed by Tony Smith in 1967, but this installation was built posthumously at LACMA in 2005.

"Smoke" was originally designed by Tony Smith in 1967, but this installation was built posthumously at LACMA in 2005.

A lesson about palm trees

An interesting feature of LACMA's campus is its striking landscape composed of over one hundred palm trees. It was designed by artist Robert Irwin, who we've already discussed before...yep, he's the one who designed the garden at the Getty Center and the purple Vs in the eucalyptus forest at UCSD! Busy guy.

What I found so interesting is the statement Irwin made with his choice of palm trees. You're probably thinking, "what's so interesting about palm trees in LA? They're all over the place." Well, I highly recommend you listen to the "Palm Reading" episode of the podcast 99% Invisible. But if you don't want to listen to that, let me catch you up: Despite palm trees being ubiquitous in Southern California and practical the emblem of Los Angeles, they are, in fact, not a native species. They were brought in by the Spanish, and people started really pushing the use of palm trees in landscaping in Southern California around 1850. Orientalism was a big thing back then, a fascination with the East, and efforts were made to make California appear as an exotic foreign land of leisure for the wealthy.

Palm trees are actually susceptible to diseases and are expensive to replace, and so a move was made in recent years to replace dying palm trees with sturdier native alternatives that also provide more shade. So, slowly, Los Angeles is losing its trademark look that so many visitors have come to associate with vacation.

But back to our artist Irwin and his landscape proposal to LACMA. He took a look the backlash against palm trees and figured, "they’re almost a symbol for the city. I suggested, ‘No, let’s do the opposite.’" (The Horticult)

And that's the story of how LACMA came to have a ton of gorgeous, revengeful palm trees. I bet if you look from the air, they'd probably spell FU. (I made that up, please do ask LACMA to confirm this.)

You can see some palm trees in the background behind the "Levitated Mass", pictured below.

More about a rock. A big rock.

The "Levitated Mass" is a 340-ton rock floating on concrete walls, designed by Michael Heizer and installed in 2012. The project was first conceived and attempted by Heizer in 1968, but the original 120-ton boulder broke a crane and the project was abandoned. In 2002, Heizer found the current 340-ton rock in a Southern California quarry and contacted the LACMA to re-attempt the project. The transportation requirements for moving such a large boulder were insane. The truck carrying it could only move at 7 miles per hour, detours had to be made to avoid roads that could not support that much weight, street lights had to be temporarily removed. The 100-mile trip took 11 days to complete and a crowd assembled to witness its arrival at LACMA.

What can kids do?

Boone Children's Gallery offers a space where kids can try East Asian brush painting for free. It's not open every day, so be sure to check the schedule ahead of time if you want to participate.

Andell Family Sundays offer artist-led workshops and family-friendly gallery tours between 12:30 and 3:30 pm every Sunday outdoors in the Central Court. We caught one of these quite by happenstance and had a blast making two different watercolor projects at different booths. The staff was very friendly and helpful.

Don't miss out on the "Metropolis II" kinetic sculpture in the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building. When it's on, the miniature city sends over one thousand toy cars speeding around metal roads, intermingled with miniature trains running on train tracks. To the artist, Chris Burden, it is a prediction of our future in 10 years—when self-driving cars will have liberated freeways of their gridlocks and traffic jams. The sculpture was launched in 2012 and is to remain at the LACMA for 10 years...long enough to determine if Burden's vision turn out to be true!

I'm with the artist on this one, sign me up for a Tesla.

Unfortunately, the sculpture doesn't run very often—select hours on Fridays and weekends—so keep this schedule in mind if you want to catch it in action. It's cool to check it out even if it's not on, but definitely more fun when it's all moving around!

While you're in the BCAM building, ride the giant apartment-sized elevator! Depending on where you live, it may be a living room-sized elevator. Nevertheless, its size is a novelty for kids. Ride it to the third floor to admire the views of LA and then work your way through some of the art exhibits on your way down because, if your kids are anything like mine, the contemporary art sculptures made of recycled material are the only art they'll be seriously impressed with.

Another fun feature is this noodle forest of a sculpture aptly named "Penetrable," created by Jesus Rafael Soto. The artist intended the viewers to be part of the art.

Man is no longer here and the world there, he is inside the fullness and it’s this fullness that I want to make people feel.
— Jesus Rafael Soto

It's basically impossible not to have fun walking through, and children—and adults—will do it for quite a while before getting bored. The downside is that everyone is excited and visibility inside is poor so it would be fair to expect the occasional collision!

Geekling's Guide Tips

Kids always get in free, but adult tickets are $15. However, here's the trick...If you sign your child up for a free NextGen membership, an adult can accompany each child for free. So a family of 4 like ours can visit the museum for free rather than $30. The NextGen membership doesn't cost anything, you don't need to renew it, and it is good for as long as your child remains a minor. It is just the museum's way of valuing families, no catch.

Itinerary Ideas

Okay, so you've spent the whole morning at LACMA and now your family's all arted out?

Skip the food options at LACMA and head over to The Counter for lunch, which is just a short walk away. The Counter is a fancy burger restaurant with a lot of creative burger options, but you can also get a create-your-own-burger worksheet with all the possible bun, meat, sauce, and topping options to build your own wild burger creation. It is not by any means a cheaper alternative—hello $15 burgers!—but we had a lot of fun building our custom burgers.


Okay, *I* had a lot of fun building my own custom burger. Anyway, they also have a great beer selection, so relax, have a beer, build your crazy burger, rest your legs, watch TV on the big screens, and let the kids recoup.

After lunch, you can walk across the street to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum next door. It's not huge and the tickets add up quickly for a family of four, but it's worth checking out at least once. If you're not interested in the museum, the park area around La Brea Tar Pits is a nice place to walk for free. Just watch out for the tar!

When you're done with all that, drive by the Sprinkles cupcake "ATM" on your way out of town! I would argue about the incorrect usage of the word ATM in this case—shouldn't it be a cupcake vending machine?!—but who cares. Cupcakes! 24 hours a day! From a machine! You can't tell me that's not fun.