By Sarah Gustafson, 18, Immaculate Heart HS
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You can spend a long afternoon enjoying Exposition Park. Check out the Natural History Museum, the IMAX Theater at the Science Center, the African American Museum, the Rose Garden and Mercado La Paloma. Teens might overlook the area, thinking that it’s too far away or not in the best part of town, but the park lies only two miles from downtown, and it’s in a laid-back, safe place that draws a diverse group of families and young people.


Movies and Sheryl Crow videos have made the Natural History Museum’s animal dioramas famous. Dozens of life-sized cheetahs, birds, and bears peer out into the eerie, darkened halls. My friend and I also enjoyed the collection of glittering rocks, gems, and gold. You can also find towering dinosaur skeletons, ancient Latin American charms and clothes, and twelve-foot-long eel fish floating in glass cases. Each summer, the museum sets up a Butterfly Pavilion outside—a greenhouse filled with beautiful butterflies. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m daily. Admission is $5.50 for students with ID. For more info (213) 763-DINO or

The California Science Center

You might not find much to see at the California Science Center, since the museum targets a much younger audience. If your little siblings keep pestering you to take them somewhere, however, the Science Center will make them grateful for at least a couple days. They can scale a rock-studded wall, ride a bicycle across a 30-foot-high tightrope, learn about human internal organs, and get shaken up in an earthquake simulator. It’s open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with free admission. For more info, (323) SCIENCE or (323) 724-3623 or

The Science Museum also boasts the IMAX theater with its 3-D science films on a walloping 50-ft screen; admission is $5.25 for teens 13-17 years old. Call (213) 744-7400 to find out what’s playing and showtimes.

The California African American Museum, in a modest, airy building, has permanent and temporary exhibits. Skip the permanent one on Ella Fitzgerald—it only offers a disappointing collection of the jazz wonder’s old dresses, and doesn’t even have any samples of her singing. The museum has rotating art exhibits that are often worth a look.
Last summer, they had a cool show on African-American braids, and I loved the watercolors by Jerry Pinkney. This artist usually focuses on the history and legends of American blacks, but his portraits of a young Nigerian noble stripped of his culture and sent into slavery especially moved me. Free admission. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tues. to Sun. For more info (213) 744-7432 or

Where to take a break
The Rose Garden lies between the Science Center and Exposition Blvd. On its shady edges, children climb boulders and families play soccer. Inside, gazebos and a rainbow of roses cover the huge lawn. It is a lovely place, especially to have a picnic or a romantic interlude (be careful of the couples making out!). You might see little kids splashing through the fountain in the center, while wedding parties saunter around taking pictures.

Where to eat
If you don’t mind walking a few blocks, you can pick up a cheap and delicious lunch from Mercado La Paloma. Walk east on 37th Street (past Flower and then under the 110 Freeway) and turn left on Hope. Right across from the DMV office, you’ll see a concrete building with a blue mural. The painting sticks out like a jewel among the dusty streets; it shows artists, children, farmers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Cesar Chavez, and Einstein sharing food and conversation.

Inside the community market, you can buy a bag full of goodies (flan, fresh concha sweet bread, sprinkly butter cookies, sticky cream cheese pastries) for $2-$3 at La Joya Bakery. At the far end of the building stands a tiny restaurant called Chicken Itza. Vaporcitos (savory chicken tamales) cost $1.75. You can also get a plate of pollo asado for $5—with roast chicken, jicama salad, rice, black beans and pickled red onions (they sound weird but taste great). Watch out; the orange can rip the skin off your tongue though the red and green sauces aren’t that hot. My family and I sometimes order take-out and go to the Rose Garden for a picnic on the grass.

Esperanza, a community organization, created the mercado out of an old warehouse. You can find bilingual books at the Aztec Pride and Imix bookstores, and farmers’ markets and music festivals on weekends. Check out the Web site at for a schedule.

Getting there

Exposition Park stands between the south side of the USC campus and the north face of the Coliseum.

Driving: Take the Exposition Blvd. exit off the Harbor Freeway (110). Either head west and park off of Menlo Avenue or turn left on Flower, left on Figueroa, and follow signs for public parking lot in front of Science Museum. Cost for parking will run from $5 to $10 depending on events in the Exposition Park area.

Public transportation from downtown Los Angeles: From Union Station, take the MTA Red Line from Union Station to the 7th/Metro Station. Catch the Dash F bus at the corner of Seventh and Flower. The bus will stop in front of the University of Southern California.