A fusion of two longstanding prior facilities, the California Science Center opened in 1998 in a bright, airy building directly in front of the Rose Garden in Exposition Park. The undisputed standout here is also the museum's most recent acquisition: Endeavour. The final ship to be built in NASA's space shuttle program, Endeavour inspires a reach for the stars ambition unlike any other exhibit in the city. And its story is distinctly rooted in LA: Endeavour was built in Palmdale and, almost 123 million miles later, rolled along our streets to its permanent resting place in the museum. Elsewhere in the museum, permanent exhibit galleries—World of Life, Creative World, and the SKETCH Foundation Gallery featuring air and space exhibits—explore life sciences, human innovation and powered flight, albeit with a decidedly '90s flair. The Ecosystems wing tackles science with a hands-on look at Earth's biomes, from polar extremes to life in our own backyard. The many touch-friendly exhibits cater almost exclusively to kids; childless adults will likely find the bulk of the museum too crowded, chaotic and, well, boring.
Other exhibit highlights include the Kelp Tank, populated with 1,500 live fish, kelp and other marine life; the ever-popular High-Wire Bicycle, which allows the brave and the trusting to ride a bike along a one-inch wire some 43 feet above the ground in order to demonstrate the power of gravity; Tess, the 50-foot body simulator and star of the Body Works show; and actual space capsules from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo-Soyuz missions. Further entertainment is provided by a roster of temporary exhibits and an IMAX cinema, screening the usual array of dazzling, quasi-educational, nature-slanted films.
Entrance to the museum's permanent exhibits is free, which might explain why the main attraction on the ground floor is an enormous shop.
|Venue name:||California Science Center||Contact:|
700 Exposition Park Dr
|Opening hours:||10am-5pm daily|
|Price:||Museum free, temporary exhibit prices vary. Advance tickets required ($2) for Endeavour during weekends and holiday times. Parking $10.|
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Endeavour is an amazing sight to behold, especially if you witnessed its arrival into LA. This thing went to space—I couldn't help but think that as I stared up at the individually number tiles on its underside. Endeavour is simply a must-visit experience, but the rest of the museum sadly can't measure up. I never went here on field trips as a little kid, so I don't feel any particular nostalgia for the museum. It also probably doesn't help that most of the exhibits are clearly aimed at kids. That said, most of them could definitely use an update and a bit of polish.
I'll admit, I've only visited the California Science Center to get a look at the Endeavour, and need to return in order to check out all the other exhibits. But it's quite an impressive exhibit on its own. I'm looking forward to coming back for the Endeavour's new home, when it's turned upright and visitors are able to walk around a plan to the nose of the shuttle. In the meantime, there is a lot of fantastic information here about the Endeavour and it's twelve flights into space - and it's thoroughly perplexing to think about how they rolled this beast into such tight quarters.