L.A. Science Weekend: Natural History and Space - May 10, 2019 - Atlas Obscura Trips

Los Angeles, United States

L.A. Science Weekend: Natural History and Space

Join New York Times Journeys and Atlas Obscura for three days of scientific learning in Los Angeles, focused on natural history and zoology or space and aviation. This two-track program includes talks, expert-hosted site visits, and special access to scientists and venues to get up close to everything from telescopes and taxidermy to dinosaur skeletons and space artifacts.

Accompanied by New York Times journalists and scientific experts, meet lab specialists, particle physicists, science illustrators, dinosaur researchers, and urban astronomers. Start with a specially curated display from the Moore Lab of Zoology, followed by a rooftop workshop on urban astronomy. Panels of reporters and experts will walk you through the current challenges and triumphs of their fields. Break into smaller groups and choose from several visits and focused discussions as you explore natural history and zoology or space and aviation. Visit the Natural History Museum after hours for a happy hour with special visits to the Dino Lab in the company of a top paleontology expert.


  • Atlas Obscura’s special access: From the private Dino Lab at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to a visit to the Carnegie Observatories, get special access to some of the city’s most fascinating sites for natural history, zoology, space and aviation.
  • New York Times journalists: Interact with leading science journalists from The New York Times who will put the weekend of scientific exploration in context with panel discussions, hosted site visits and lively conversation over shared meals. Atlas Obscura’s experts and insiders will host you at some of the city’s leading scientific institutions.
  • Workshops and field excursions: Attend a workshop on deep sky objects, astronomy apps, astrophotography, and image-stacking software, and learn to take better sky pictures on your smartphone. Dive deeper into zoology and natural history or space and aviation in smaller groups, selecting from topics like the Apollo missions, scientific illustration, and the history and ethics of zoos.
  • Insider events: Enjoy a special after-hours event at the Natural History Museum focusing on the Dinosaur Institute, with many interactive exhibits and small-group tours.

Participation in the Science Weekend is limited. We’ll break into smaller expert-led groups for field excursions (details below).


Please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857 with any questions about the itinerary, logistics, and payment. 

Courtesy of SkiesAway
Day 1
The Night Sky

This evening, we’ll kick things off with a private reception at the LINE Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, which boasts beautiful views over the city skyline. Enjoy a round of welcome drinks and be sure to take a closer look at the bird specimens on display, courtesy of the Moore Lab of Zoology. This is also a great opportunity to start getting to know some of your fellow participants. We’ll then adjourn to another room for an introduction to the weekend ahead, and to meet the New York Times experts who are joining us.

After a leisurely dinner and a chance to chat with the reporters, we’ll meet the directors of SkiesAway for an introduction to urban astronomy. We’ll follow them to a nearby city rooftop for a workshop on deep sky objects, astronomy apps, astrophotography, image-stacking software, and ISS flyovers. In addition to learning how to use a proper telescope, you’ll pick up tricks for capturing stunning nighttime images on your smartphone.

You’re welcome to stay and stare at the sky for the full two-hour workshop or retire early for the evening in preparation for an exciting weekend ahead.

Courtesy of The New York Times
Day 2
Astronomical Wonder & Prehistoric Beasts

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast on your own before joining us for one of our two breakfast roundtables, taking place at 10:00 a.m. at the LINE Hotel. New York Times journalists will discuss the relationship between science and the press, with each panel focused on one of the themes of the weekend.

  • Roundtable A: How different global regions report on the natural world.
  • Roundtable B: The future of space journalism.

The panels, which include time for a Q&A, will wrap up around 11:30, giving you a chance to explore neighborhood lunch spots or hang out at the hotel before our curated afternoon experiences. We'll depart for our afternoon’s activities at 2:00 p.m. and last a couple of hours, depending on the pace of the group. Note that group sizes are limited. While everyone will be able to participate in two of excursions, spots on your excursions of choice are subject to availability. 

Natural history and zoology excursion:

  • History, Ethics and the Economics of Zoos
    Join Atlas Obscura Field Agent Hadley Meares on an exploration of the abandoned remains of the L.A. Zoo, closed since 1966 but once home to thousands of animals. While wandering through empty animal enclosures, "natural" habitats, and secret stairways, hear tales of individual animals as well as the zoo's troubling history and development, followed by a larger discussion of the history, ethics, and economics of zoos around the world.

Space and aviation excursion:

  • Telescopes, Astronomy and Machines
    On this special tour of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, founded in Pasadena in 1904, we’ll encounter treasures both historical and modern, such as the second-largest collection of glass astronomical plates, a modern machine shop where new scientific instruments are made, and the beautiful Hale library. Carnegie Observatories is now a research institute hosting the largest telescopes in the world, with groundbreaking astronomy research continuing to this day. Led by an observatory researcher, learn about the revolutions in our understanding of the cosmos including Edwin Hubble's discovery of our universe and the discovery of supermassive black holes—as well as the Carnegie Observatories’ role in these breakthroughs.

Take some down time to rest, relax, and get ready for our after-hours soirée at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Transportation to the will depart from the hotel at 6:00 p.m., though you’re also welcome to make your own way there.

This evening you will join the L.A. Obscura Society for a festive evening of drinks, food, and prehistoric exploration. Upon arrival, we'll be greeted by a display of touchable dinosaur casts, followed by welcome remarks in the “Dueling Dinos” Grand Foyer. We’ll then receive an overview of the evening’s highlight: the Dinosaur Institute, including tours of the private Dino Lab where you can learn about conservation practices and see real fossils. The museum will also have two of its galleries open for self-guided exploration.

Light appetizers and a bar with wine, beer, and non-alcoholic options will be available for the evening. Our soireé at the museum concludes at 9:00 p.m., though guests aiming for an earlier dinner are welcome to depart before then. Transportation back to the hotel will be available and dinner and the rest of the night is on your own, though we’ll provide a list of recommendations for nearby restaurants and nightlife.

Courtesy of the Moore Lab of Zoology
Day 3
The Unknown Universe

This morning from 10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m., you have another opportunity to delve into one of our small-group experiences. 

Natural history and zoology excursion:

  • Taxidermy for Research and Display
    Brought to you by the Moore Lab of Zoology at Occidental College & Prey Taxidermy, observe the preparation of bird specimens as you gain an understanding of the difference between preparation for research vs. taxidermy. There will also be a discussion on the role and value of seeing and understanding the day-to-day, hands-on work of animal science in reporting breakthroughs and stories.

Space and aviation excursion:

  • Launching Apollo
    On this special guided tour of the Columbia Memorial Space Center led by executive director Ben Dickow, we'll discover aerospace artifacts and relics of the space program, explore the Robotics Lab, and learn about the fascinating history of the Apollo launch from someone who worked on it. The Space Center is located on the former manufacturing site of the Apollo Space program and now serves as a hands-on science museum.

Take some time for lunch before gathering back at the hotel at 2:00 p.m. for your choice of two hands-on activities.

Natural history and zoology workshop:

  • The Art of Illustrating Science
    The oxygen in 1 of every 3 breaths you take was produced by microorganisms in our oceans. These tiny engines power the transfer of energy and nutrients through all other organisms on our planet. Join microbial oceanographer Dr. Sarah Hu and science illustrator Bailee DesRocher as they bring these microscopic machines into plain sight with new science, conceptual art, animation, and 3D printed models.

Space and aviation workshop:

  • Breakthroughs in Design for Space Exploration
    Led by Manan Arya, a technologist and space origami engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this 90-minute workshop will showcase the ways in which the principles of origami can be used to design unfoldable spacecraft. Manan, who received his PhD in Space Engineering, develops technologies for the next generation of spacecraft structures that need to be folded up for launch and then unfolded once in space. During the workshop, Manan will present samples of his artwork and discuss the ways in which nature and space inspire his art. All participants will create their own unfoldable mini spacecraft that they can take home as a souvenir.

After our workshops, we'll all join together for our final send-off, brought to us by the brilliant duo, Daniel Whiteson and Jorge Cham. In a deft and masterful combination of storytelling and live cartooning, this particle physicist and PhD in Robotics will remind us just how little we humans still know about the universe.

Our long weekend officially concludes at 4:30 p.m. Guests can catch flights (or cabs) home, extend their stay, or abandon everything and change their career path to one of the scientific fields we encountered in our three days together. We’re happy to assist with any of the three! 


Kenneth Chang is a Science reporter for The New York Times. With a background in physics, he specializes in writing about NASA and the physical sciences. His articles have included the mysteries of ghostly elementary particles known as neutrinos, the discovery of a planet with the puffiness of cork around a distant star and how the American Museum of Natural History in New York demoted Pluto years before the rest of the world.

Cornelia Dean is a lecturer at Brown University and a science writer and former science editor of The New York Times. In her editing tenure in the paper’s science department, members of its staff won every major journalism prize as well as the Lasker Award for public service. She is at work on her fourth book about coastal land use in an era of rising seas.

John Schwartz is a reporter at The Times who writes about climate change. In his career at The Times, he has also covered the space program, a beat that took him to a half dozen shuttle launches and two zero-gravity flights, and to Space City in Russia, where cosmonauts and astronauts train together to fly to the International Space Station.

Anahad O’Connor, who joined The Times in 2003, covers consumer health, medicine, science and other topics. A graduate of Yale with a degree in psychology and a focus on neuroscience and child studies, he is the author of four books, including the best-selling “Never Shower in a Thunderstorm.” His work has been featured in “The Best American Science Writing,” a collection of articles selected by Atul Gawande. Anahad is a frequent guest on national media programs, including “PBS Newshour”, “Good Morning America,” and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

The Fine Print


  • All activities described in the itinerary, including a welcome evening, a breakfast roundtable with a New York Times Journalist, daily workshops and excursions, an after-hours museum soirée, and a send-off presentation by Daniel Whiteson and Jorge Cham.
  • Opening reception, welcome dinner, breakfast roundtable, and a happy hour at the museum.
  • Transportation between the hotel and event/workshop/excursion venues.
  • Opportunities to meet and mingle with various NYT journalists and experts, as well as scientific researchers, communicators, and illustrators.
  • Recommendations for science-themed activities and sites to check out on your own before or after the Science Weekend, curated by Atlas Obscura and The New York Times.


  • One breakfast, daily lunches, and Saturday’s dinner (though light appetizers and an open bar with wine, beer, and soft drinks will be provided). (Recommendations will be provided.)
  • Accommodation in Los Angeles; guests can book directly using a group discount code at the LINE Hotel, which serves as a central program venue (further details below).
  • Flights or other transportation to and from Los Angeles, California.
  • Travel insurance (recommended).


For those coming from out of town, please note that hotel accommodations are not included in the price of the Science Weekend. We recommend staying at the LINE Hotel in Downtown LA, which will serve as the venue and meeting point for many of the weekend’s activities. Participants in the Science Weekend will be given a special, private rate not available to the public. A private booking link will be provided in your deposit confirmation message.


The weekend’s activities kick off at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 10 with a welcome reception at the LINE Hotel, and wrap up at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 12. Participants coming by air should plan to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) by 3 p.m. on Friday, May 10, and to depart LAX any time after 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 12. For assistance with travel arrangements, please email us at trips@atlasobscura.com or call us at (646) 961-4857.


Itineraries are subject to change. This Science Weekend has been designed with specific activities and events in mind, whose schedules and availabilities may change in coming months. If any activity or attraction that is advertised is missed or not available, then we will always attempt to replace it with another activity or location of significant interest and value.


This tour is fairly active; travelers should feel comfortable walking 2 to 3 miles over the course of each day and remaining on their feet for long periods of time. Some activities involve walking on uneven ground, and up and down steps.  


You will be charged a $500 deposit to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $480 will be due by February 9, 2019. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the Terms & Conditions. Please note that hotel accommodations are not included in the price of the Science Weekend.


This trip is part of a series of Science Weekends produced by Atlas Obscura and Times Journeys. Read about our  London Science Weekend in September and stay tuned for more in the future. 

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