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Becoming Los Angeles

NHM's new, permanent exhibition, Becoming Los Angeles, is open!
The exhibition chronicles how people and the land affected eachother over 500 years and transformed a remote pueblo into the L.A. we know today.
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Preserving our History and Culture

The Museum's History Department encourages everyone to explore the colorful past of California and the American West. Learn more >

Los Angeles is for Hikers

Get out and explore any of the 82 great hiking trails located right here in L.A. This guide book features short and long day hikes while keeping you close to home. 
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Print out a Field Trip Guide!

Want help navigating your visit?

Plan your route by using our Suggested Itineraries.

See our Lesson Plans and Activities for fun things to do in your classroom and during your trip!

Finally, jot down details about your visit on our printable Chaperone Guide

What is "Material Culture"?

Need more info about history terminology, our artifacts, or donation procedures? The History Department has answers to a number of frequently asked questions.
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Lando Hall of California History

The examination of natural history doesn’t focus on plants, animals, and fossils alone, but also encompasses the activities of people and cultures and the ongoing relationship between human activity and cultural and natural environments.

The Southwest in Four Centuries 

Artifacts record the passage of time, reveal forgotten details, and bear witness to the lives our ancestors experienced. Our Hall of California History covers roughly four centuries of human history from 1540 to 1940 and spans the geographic area that is presently the United States Southwest.
Some of the artifacts described below are now on display in the new Becoming Los Angeles exhibit. Learn More.

Marking the Passage of Time

Start at the entrance and zigzag through the gallery and you’ll see that the exhibit is organized chronologically and marks changes in human settlement of the region, focusing first on open and unsettled spaces and then concentrating on the modern industrial society of the 20th century, with the City of Los Angeles as a final focal point. The exhibit’s 12 themes are: Native Americans, New World Exploration, Spanish Outpost, International Competition, Mexican Territory, War with the U.S., 31st State, Craftsman Style, Agriculture, Land, Sea & Air, Motion Pictures, City of Los Angeles. In this hall the story of the past appears in both artifacts and the records of the people who lived there.

Curators' Favorites

The Founding of Los Angeles, September 4, 1781

In the 1930s a series of 20 dioramas was constructed representing aspects of California history. This diorama depicts the eleven families from northwest Mexico who established the second pueblo in California during the Spanish period. Multi-racial in composition, these settlers reflect the region’s ongoing diversity.

Portrait of Pío Pico by Ignacio Wenceslaus Covarrubias

Pío Pico (1801-1894) was the last governor of California under Mexican rule. Born at San Gabriel Mission, he was from a family that made significant contributions to the region’s development. His grandfather served with Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish expedition that established the overland route to California. Pico and his younger brother Andrés held numerous posts in state and local government. When he died in 1894, he had lived through all the transitions from Spanish to Mexican to early American rule in California.

Oil Well Pump

This unit was installed in the Los Angeles City Field (Colton Street, between Toluca and Boylston), and was one of many new wells opened in the 1920s in response to an oil shortage. The well was 1,025 feet deep and had an average production of three barrels per day.

Walt Disney’s Animation Stand

Walt Disney built this animation stand in his uncle’s Los Angeles garage in 1923. He used it to film the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Steamboat Willie.”

Model of the 1924 Douglas World Cruiser, the "New Orleans"

Built by the Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica, the "New Orleans" was one of a team of four biplanes commissioned by the U.S. Army Air Service to complete the first round-the-world flight. The "New Orleans," successfully circumnavigated the globe — taking off and landing in Seattle — and is one of two of the planes that survive today. Apart from the model, the actual plane is also part of the NHM collection. The other surviving Douglas World cruiser, called the "Chicago," is in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. where it is also on display.