Becoming L.A. | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Explore the transformation of Southern California in a whole new way!

The Story of P-22

Now on view

Discover the story of P-22, L.A.'s famous mountain lion that roams the hills of Griffith Park.

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California History at NHM

Teachers and educators: We have closed the Lando Hall of California History for renovations and eventual installation of new exhibits.

We invite you to explore Becoming Los Angeles which traces the history of our city and state from the 1500s to the present day, as well as the Gem and Mineral Hall’s “Gold Rush” exhibit.

Street Names of Los Angeles

You may ride, drive, bike, run and walk your L.A. streets, but do you know the history behind L.A. street names?
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Best of the West

NHMLA's gem and mineral collection of about 150,000 specimens is the most significant in the country, west of the Smithsonian. See More

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Become a member today to skip the lines and receive free admission and special exhibit tickets all year long!

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Becoming L.A.

Becoming Los Angeles

Temporarily Closed through May 31

We are currently making updates to our exhibit. Becoming Los Angeles will reopen in late Spring. During this time our rotating gallery will be open, showcasing Sin Censura: A Mural Remembers L.A.


The permanent exhibition, Becoming Los Angeles, tells a 500-year story about how Southern California went from tiny pueblo to sprawling metropolis.

School groups interested in California history should visit this exhibit. We are developing new activities and curricula tied to state standards over the next 12 months.

Becoming Los Angeles unfolds in six major sections:

  • The Spanish Mission Era
  • The Mexican Rancho Era
  • The early American Period
  • The emergence of a new American city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
  • The Great Depression
  • World War II to the present

Here are just a few of the exhibition's highlights:

The Spanish Mission Era

After colonizing Mexico, Spain continued to the frontiers of North America and established California's 21 missions, founded between 1769 and 1833, as revenue generators and military outposts.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

The Mexican Rancho Era

Mexican independence from Spain changed the way Californians traded with the world and also triggered permanent ongoing environmental change. The cattle ranching industry affected the land in many ways: livestock fed off local and exotic grasses, spread the seeds across the region, and changed the plant life of Southern California.


Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

The Early American Period

When California became part of the United States, Los Angeles shifted from Mexican ciudad to American city. During the mid 1880s, early city infrastructure and government services began to emerge. This shotgun, made in 1847, belonged to Swiss immigrant Charles Louis Ducommun who trekked across the country on foot and built a successful business in Los Angeles, which allowed him to invest in the railroad, agriculture and oil industries. 

Photo courtesy of Karen Knauer

The New American City (Late 19th Century/Early 20th Century)

One of the eariler start-up businesses in Los Angeles was the Auto Vehicle Company, which manufactured this 1902 Tourist automobile, the only survivor from the car's first year of production.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

The Great Depression

Fast-forward into the 20th century to see the 1939 City Model of downtown Los Angeles, built as a Works Progress Administration project. It has been outfitted with touch screens, which feature interactive slideshows and narrated stories of downtown L.A. landmarks, including Pershing Square and Chinatown.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

World War II to present:

This strikingly designed section features everything from World War II fighter plane models to vintage graphics and an engine emblematic of America's growing industrial power.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Miller/Capture imaging

Come experience more about L.A.'s colonists and settlers; Native Americans, rancheros, citrus growers and oil barons; boosters, andradicals; filmmakers, innovators, and more! To plan your visit, click here.

Teachers and educators:

We have closed the Lando Hall of California History for renovations and eventual installation of new exhibits. We invite you to explore Becoming Los Angeles as well as the Gem and Mineral Hall's Gold Rush exhibit.