A trip to Disneyland has been our default summer vacation for many years. Our familiarity with the Magic Kingdom takes away the stress that goes along with figuring out the drill in a new place. As soon as we’re through security, we’re off to get Fast Passes for Indiana Jones so we can squeeze as much fun as possible out of our two-day Park Hopper passes.

However this year, we decided we would make a trip to Southern California to help Valerie get a little more familiar with Chapman University in Orange but skip going to Disneyland. Chapman is so close to the Magic Kingdom that you can almost hear the screams from the Tower of Terror when you are on campus quad, so we figured we will have plenty of opportunities to do Disneyland over the next four years.

So if you’re not going to Disneyland, what do you do in Southern California – besides sit in stop-and-go traffic on the 405 Freeway?

I would highly recommend going to Exposition Park, a collection of museums and exhibits that sits on 160 acres on the west side of town. Who knew there was a chunk of land in LA that didn’t have cars on it?

It also is where the LA Memorial Coliseum, home to the USC Trojans is located. A fun fact: the Coliseum It is the only facility in the world to play host to two Olympiads (X and XXIII), two Super Bowls (I and VII) and one World Series (1959).

Although the west coast’s largest hands-on science center is in the park, our reason for heading to Exposition Park was to visit the Natural History Museum. Steve had fond memories of visiting the museum on elementary school field trips when he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley. And hard as it was for us to believe, our daughters said that after spending the previous day at an antique mall, an upscale mall and an outlet mall, that even they had had their fill of shopping. Looking at always-in-style dinosaur bones sounded pretty good to them.

Exposition Park has to be one of the best entertainment values anywhere. Tickets for the four of us was a total of $28.50 which paid for admission to both the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Gallery at the Science Center.

The Natural History Museum opened in 1913 and is certainly reflective of a different age of museum design. Forget the interactive exhibits that are the norm of museums today; this museum was meant to be a place of reverence – very dark with lots of marble and wood. And definitely, a hands-off experience.

But the cavernous rooms with glassed-in dioramas of taxidermied California mammals are part of the reason for going. There is probably some of the same dust on the bobcat’s fur that was there when Steve saw the exhibit more than 50 years ago, but that’s part of its charm. It’s easy to forget how much smaller the world seems to us now than it did when these exhibits were originally installed.

However, recent additions to the museum and renovations keep the museum from seeming like it is frozen in time. The beautiful rotunda with its stained glass dome was just restored and reopened last year and they have added an “Age of Mammals” exhibit that has so much light flooding the gallery that it’s almost blinding after the dioramas.

I could go on describing lots more cool stuff we saw; I especially liked the space capsule that Ham, the chimpanzee, rode in for the Mercury space program and Steve liked the A-12 Blackbird that was on display.

Looking at a T-Rex skull will never be as thrilling as going on Space Mountain but the oldest exhibit in Los Angeles never gets old.