Explore and discover fossils as you travel around Southern California!
There are several museums south of I-10 that will give you a chance to see the fossils of animals and plants that once lived in this region…as well as from other spots in the world.
Start at the Western Science Center, near the entrance to Diamond Valley Lake, Hemet, California.
Ice Age animals excavated from the Diamond Valley Lake site include the massive Columbian mammoths and American mastodons, as well as the predatory sabertooth cats and North American lions. See the ancient bison, long-horned bison, as well as extinct forms of the horse and camel. Compare the mammalian fossils found at Diamond Valley Lake with those found at other sites in the region.
Travel to Anza Borrego State Park where thousands of fossil specimens have been recovered from the park area and are now stored in the Daniel Laboratory and Fossil Library. Ancient bison, North American lions, llamas and horses are among the animals that once roamed the Borrego Badlands. Call 760-767-4205 for information about tours of the lab.
Head south and visit the San Diego Natural History Museum. Visit Fossil Mysteries. See both real fossils and replicas. Look into the mouth of an American Lion or pat the trunk of a baby mammoth. See fossils found throughout California including an extinct Gray Whale from the Pliocene epoch.
Across Balboa Park you’ll find the San Diego Zoo, home of the new Elephant Odyssey exhibit. See the living relatives of the giant animals that roamed California in the Pleistocene. Touch full-sized models of mastodons, sabertooth cats and American lions, ground sloths, and giant Pleistocene birds. Visit a simulated tar pit and see how fossils are recovered.
Move north to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. See more Ice Age mammals at the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits and The Page Museum. Learn what animals roamed the Los Angeles Basin 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. Watch scientists clean and study fossils that were found in the tar pits.
Continue to the near-by Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Find the skeleton of a Harlan’s Ground Sloth along with other extinct animals from California’s past. Visit “Thomas”, a Tyrannosaurus Rex from southeastern Montana currently being prepared by the Museum’s paleontology team in the “Thomas the T. Rex Lab” exhibit.
Head east to Claremont to the campus of the Webb Schools and visit the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. Follow in the footsteps of extinct animals in the Hall of Footprints; see tracks from dinosaurs, ancient camels and the giant bear-dog, Amphicyon. See a fossil skull of a giant alligator from the Amazon, along with fossils from Ice Age mammals in North America.
Collecting outside of museums
Collecting fossils on public lands requires a special permit, so most of us won’t be out digging any time soon. The museums give you a chance to see some amazing fossils and build your own “life list” of fossils.
Still hungry for more? Continue your fossil safari online!
Visit The Pleistocene at UC Berkeley for a brief overview of the Ice Age
Pleistocene Extinctions, from the Illinois State Museum describes some theories about what caused extinctions
Paleoindians and the Pleistocene Extinction, from the National Humanities Center discusses the possible roles of early humans and extinctions
American Quaternary Association is an association of scientists who focus on the Quaternary period