Los Angeles is composed of many interesting and unique neighborhoods. We decided to spend the day in Westwood, specifically at UCLA. We wanted to visit two interesting places that would have a lot of activities for our 3½-year-old son. In the morning, we went to the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden (100 Stein Plaza Driveway; 310-825-1260; www.botgard.ucla.edu). In the afternoon, we headed over to the Fowler Museum (UCLA North Campus, www.fowler.ucla.edu). We paid for all-day parking in one of the UCLA campus lots near the north side of theMEMBG.
The MEMBG is a tranquil gem in the middle of bustling Westwood. There are multiple entrances that quickly lead you to windy paths away from the traffic and noise of the city. We stumbled upon a creek where small turtles sunbathed on rocks and gently swam along the shore. The slow-moving creatures instantly mesmerized our son. A path leads you along the creek, where you can also see koi fish, lizards and other small animals. There are quaint little bridges and stone pathways. Students and families seem to take refuge in the garden as well.
The paths lead through various sections including the Cycad, Palm and Desert sections. There is a Botany Building for experimental gardening and a small amphitheater called The Nest, used for outdoor teaching. A variety of medicinal plants are on display, and seeing them led to an interesting discussion on the body and various ailments. My son had a lot of questions about how plants could help heal a person.
The MEMBG is used for teaching and I found myself learning and sharing information with my son. The garden is named after Mildred E. Mathias, a former director of the garden. She was a leading botanist who was also a pioneer in the field of ethnopharmacology, studying the medicinal uses of plants from native herbalists and medicine men. Mathias was the first woman president of the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.
Along the garden’s paths are benches, chairs and tables. Pack a lunch, because a family could easily spend two hours in the garden. We didn’t pack a lunch, which we regretted, since walking into Westwood with a toddler takes a long time! However, we did have a fabulous pizza at 800 Degrees Pizza (10889 Lindbrook Dr.; 310-443-1911, www.800degreespizza.com) which also serves beer, wine and ice cream. This added an extra half-mile or so of walking.
After lunch, take a leisurely stroll through the beautiful UCLA campus toward the Fowler Museum. It is about a 10-minute walk from the North entrance of the MEMBG. As we admired the architecture, we saw students practicing on a tightrope, kids skateboarding and students playing soccer.
The Fowler is a cultural museum with a wonderful collection of artifacts from around the world. We went on a Kids In The Courtyard day (one Sunday a month) and were treated to a Buggy Petting Zoo. Each month features a different activity with hands-on art making. We saw up close (too close!) scorpions, tarantulas, hissing cockroaches, millipedes, and even a venomous centipede. We were allowed to touch some of these bugs, too.
Afterward, families made spiders from recycled materials. We also looked at the exhibitions, one of which featured masks from Northern Mexico. Between these three activities, our son did not want to leave the museum.
It is easy to spend another two hours at the Fowler, so be sure to have snacks on hand. The courtyard has a nice little fountain to sit by. We enticed our son to leave the Fowler by suggesting we have a snack on the way back to the car. Any shady spot on the UCLA campus is full of people watching and interesting activity. We sat down as we walked back towards the MEMBG. Once again, the north side of the garden is close to the Fowler. If you park on the South side, that is easily an additional 10-minute walk, which is no fun after an all day outing.
Normally, we go to Westwood and visit the UCLA Hammer Museum (10899 Wilshire Blvd.; 310-443-7000; www.hammer.ucla.edu). We knew, for this particular outing, that would be too much for our son. However, if you do have the time and energy, take a look at the amazing and diverse art collection there. The MEMBG is in between the Fowler and the Hammer, so it is easy to make any combination of activity.
The Hammer has many works on paper from the Renaissance, prints by the French 19th century satirist Honoré Daumier, as well as an extensive collection of contemporary art. When we need to take a break from the galleries, there is a table of architect-created building blocks that are innovative, unique and well crafted. Our son can spend at least 30 minutes with just the blocks.
By the end of the day, we had spent about six hours at UCLA and were exhausted. My husband ended up carrying our son for quite a bit of the walk. But packing lunches will really help in the future. Our son still talks about our adventures, especially touching the bugs!
Admission is free to all three of these world-class institutions. They have different operating hours, so check their websites before visiting.
May Jong is a Los Angeles-based artist, educator and mother.