Editor’s note: With the opening of the Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica, locals have a new way to explore neighboring areas. The Daily Press will publish a weekly travelogue about what to eat, see and do near each of the stations along the Expo Line, continuing this week at the Expo/Vermont stop.

At the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the concept of time is truly mind-boggling.

The Hall of Gems and Minerals features a meteorite exhibit with specimens that are 4.5 billion years old. The popular Dinosaur Hall houses fossils that date back more than 65 million years. And the Age of Mammals display includes a Simi Valley mastodon that was believed to have lived some 50,000 years ago.

Even the main museum building, a cherished icon among Southern California residents and tourists alike, has been around for more than a century.

But the museum, located south of USC near the Expo Line’s Expo/Vermont station, is far more than a collection of dusty rocks and remains. Following a decade-long transformation project, the museum has entered the 21st century with a focus on bringing the planet’s history to life for contemporary audiences.

“It’s a more quintessential Southern California experience,” Kristin Friedrich, the museum’s director of communications, said of the recent upgrades. “There’s a lot of sunlight, there’s modernity in the design and there’s a three-and-a-half-acre nature garden.

“You don’t just come inside — you move inside and outside, you come in and you go back out. Our visitors move around more now. Before, there were a lot of old and dark exhibits. We didn’t have many amenities at all.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, attendance has been on the rise at the museum in recent months, although it’s difficult for officials there to judge whether that increase is due in part to the extension of the nearby transit line to Santa Monica from its previous terminus in Culver City. Anecdotally, Friedrich said she takes Metro to work and regularly sees fellow light-rail riders heading to the museum.

There’s a financial benefit in taking the Expo Line to the museum, which offers a $1.50 discount on general admission to visitors with proof of public transportation.

One of the attractions of the Natural History Museum is the structure itself, a 1913 project designed by architects Frank Hudson and William A.D. Munsell. The building’s rotunda, which is highlighted by a 58-foot dome, is a beautiful sight to behold. Presiding over the interior space is a statue crafted by Julia Bracken Wendt entitled “Three Muses,” a nod to the disciplines of art, history and science.

Attractions abound at every turn in the museum, which is home to hundreds of dinosaur fossils as well as captivating crystals, active laboratories, an insect zoo, an indoor African mammal safari, a special spider pavilion and an exhibit on the history of Los Angeles. Visitors will marvel at towering sculptures, including a Mamenchisaurus whose neck is longer than a standard bus.

Through early October, the museum is spotlighting pterosaurs — flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs.

“We are more than just walls and fossils,” the museum website reads. “We are hands-on. We are the past, present and future. We are indoors, outdoors and all over Los Angeles. We are a new way to museum.”

The museum has taken advantage of its relatively new garden by hosting a wide variety of events in the space, including nature walks, butterfly explorations and cocktail hours. Concerts, festivals, workshops and other evening events have also become popular draws during the summer months.

“The garden,” Friedrich said, “has changed the experience.”

And the experience is worth your time.

The Natural History Museum, 900 Exposition Blvd., is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with occasional special events outside in the evening. General admission costs $12 for adults, $9 for seniors and students and $5 for children. For more information, visit www.nhm.org, call (213) 763-3466 or email info@nhm.org.

The Expo Line now has 19 stations covering 15.2 miles between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. A regular one-way fare is $1.75 and includes two hours of free transfers for riders using a TAP card. A daily pass good for unlimited rides on Metro is $7 and monthly passes are $100. Visit taptogo.net for more information.

jeff@smdp.com

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