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When you think of Los Angeles, Hollywood, beaches, and those signature palm trees probably come to mind. However, the City of Angels is also home to some amazing museums. From art and science to history and pop culture, there are a variety of museums to explore.
Here are 10 of the best museums in (and near) Los Angeles.
1. The Getty Museums: The Getty Center and The Getty Villa
The Getty Museums include the Getty Center in the Sepulveda Pass and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades. Both museums began as a way to showcase the art collection of oil magnate J. Paul Getty.
The Getty Center is a series of unique white buildings with beautiful gardens high on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. In the Getty’s permanent collection, you’ll find pre-20th century European paintings and manuscripts, American photography, modern sculptures, and more. Additionally, the museum hosts captivating rotating exhibits and a wide variety of events, many of which are family friendly. Another popular feature of the Getty is its gardens. They’re a great place to wander, relax, and enjoy views of the city.
The Getty Villa is a replica of an ancient villa at Herculaneum and is located just across Pacific Coast Highway from the ocean. The works on display at the villa focus on ancient civilizations, from the Neolithic period to Late Antiquity. A good portion of its artwork comes from ancient Greece and Rome. At the Getty Villa, you’ll also find a variety of exciting rotating exhibits and plenty of activities and events.
Whether you’re a fan of ancient Roman art, modern sculptures, or you just want to take in some lovely views, you can’t miss the Getty Museums in Los Angeles.
2. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art — or LACMA (pronounced “lack-muh”) — is an art museum in the Miracle Mile area of LA. An institution since 1910 and at its current home since 1961, it’s the largest art museum in the Western United States and a local institution.
With more than 150,000 pieces in its collection, you can imagine the variety of artwork on display at LACMA. From ancient Roman artifacts to Renaissance paintings to modern sculptures, there’s a bit of everything at the museum. One of the most famous attractions at LACMA is outside its doors on Wilshire Boulevard — namely Chris Burden’s Urban Light sculpture, which is made up of rows of vintage street lights.
LACMA is a local landmark in the heart of the city, with plenty of art and space to explore, making it one of the best museums in Los Angeles.
3. The Broad
The Broad is one of the newer museums in the city. The museum — which is pronounced brōd with a long o, not “brawd” — is named after its founders Eli and Edythe Broad. The Broads have a long history of supporting art in Los Angeles and have been involved in getting several museums off the ground. Their popular namesake museum opened in 2015 in downtown LA.
The Broad’s collection consists of more than 2,000 pieces, consisting primarily of modern works. Among them are classic pop art pieces by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as many striking contemporary works from artists like Barbara Kruger. The Broad is also famous for its popular rotating exhibitions. This currently includes Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms: Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away and Longing for Eternity.
With its unique honeycomb style exterior, impressive permanent collection, and fascinating rotating exhibits, The Broad is a great addition to downtown LA and a must-visit local museum.
4. Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is an institution dedicated to modern works of art in Los Angeles. The museum has a couple locations in the city, MOCA Grand and MOCA Geffin — both in the downtown area — but MOCA Grand is the main campus. The museum was founded in 1979.
At the MOCA, you’ll find a variety of contemporary art, ranging from modern paintings and photographs to sculptures and mixed media pieces within its permanent collection and rotating exhibits. The works number around 7,000 and focus on pieces created after 1940. The museum is known as the only artist-founded museum in LA.
The MOCA is a great place to visit for contemporary art admirers and one of the most interesting museums in the city to explore.
5. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM)
Located in Exposition Park near the University of Southern California you’ll find The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. The museum is an awesome space filled with dinosaurs, gems and minerals, gardens, and labs perfect for all ages.
The Natural History Museum was established in 1913 and is the largest museum of its kind in the Western US. The museum’s collection includes millions of artifacts and specimens spanning 4.5 billion years. With all that natural history, there’s so much to do at the museum. Visitors can marvel at massive dinosaur skeletons; examine minerals, rocks, meteorites, and gems from around the world; wander through the butterfly pavilion (in March through September); experience the discovery center; and take part in a variety of events.
The Natural History Museum is a wonderful educational and interactive space for kids and adults alike. Don’t miss it during your time in LA!
6. California Science Center
Also just next to USC in Exposition Park is the California Science Center. If you grew up in the LA area, you likely remember the science center from school field trips. The museum is home to permanent and rotating exhibits, education programs and events, and an IMAX theater.
The California Science Center was originally known as the California Museum of Science and Industry back when it was founded in 1951. However, after undergoing renovations, it was renamed as the California Science Center in 1998. The museum has as variety of permanent exhibits, but one of the most popular is the display of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Every day the museum hosts an array of science-themed interactive programs and demonstrations for visitors. Plus, the massive IMAX theater is always showing something fun and educational!
Between its out-of-this-world exhibits, events, and movies, the California Science Center is a fun family-friendly museum to experience in Los Angeles.
7. Autry Museum of the American West
There are many treasures within Griffith Park, like the Griffith Observatory, the Hollywood sign, and the Autry Museum of the American West. The Autry aims to showcase the diverse history of the American West through its exhibitions and events.
The Autry was originally founded by Jackie and Gene Autry and Joanne and Monte Hale in 1988 as the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum. The museum later merged with nonprofit organization Women of the West and soon after joined with Southwest Museum of the American Indian as well, creating the current Autry Museum of the American West in 2003. Among the Autry’s collection are paintings, pottery, and historical artifacts. Plus, the museum hosts a wide variety of events, from lectures and film screenings to family events and festivals.
When in Los Angeles, the Autry Museum of the American West is the place to go to learn all about the area’s history.
8. Valley Relics Museum
For a dose of retro charm and local history, look no further than the Valley Relics Museum. The museum — which is located within a nondescript airplane hangar at the Van Nuys Airport — is brimming with neon signs, old Hollywood treasures, historical photos, and pop culture memorabilia.
The Valley Relics Museum was originally located in Chatsworth before moving to its current home at the Van Nuys Airport in Lake Balboa. The nonprofit museum works to collect, preserve, and display historical pieces from throughout the San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas. At the museum you’ll find all kinds of souvenirs from movies, television shows, and concerts, along with photos of celebrities and bits of Valley culture. The museum’s most impressive sight, however, is its room full of massive, vintage neon signs.
Between its bright lights, vintage pinball machines, Hollywood memorabilia, and Valley lore, the Valley Relics Museum is an awesome place to visit. It’s a must-see museum for fans of vintage treasures, pop culture, and local history.
9. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens
The Huntington isn’t located in Los Angeles, but at just about 10 miles from downtown, it’s close enough to make the trip. Officially named the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, the Huntington is a large property in San Marino brimming with rare books, notable works of art, and picturesque gardens.
The Huntington is home to a variety of art, but the main focus is on European and American art. Among its notable works are Pinkie (1794) by Thomas Lawrence and The Blue Boy (1770) by Thomas Gainsborough. There are also lots of significant books and manuscripts to see as well, including The Gutenberg Bible and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (known as the Ellesmere Chaucer). The grounds are filled with beautiful plants spread throughout 16 gardens, including the Japanese Garden, Desert Garden, and Subtropical Garden.
The Huntington Library near Pasadena covers more than 120 acres and is the perfect place to visit for fans of gardens, manuscripts, and art.
10. Catalina Island Museum
This museum is also not located in the city of LA — rather it’s about 20 miles into the Pacific on Catalina Island. The Catalina Island Museum is devoted to preserving the history of the island, showing art exhibits, and serving as a gathering place for the community.
While Catalina Island may not be large, it sure has an interesting story. The museum spotlights different parts of the island’s history, such as local 8,000-year-old settlements, famous handmade pottery, wartime significance, and tales of Hollywood. A variety of events take place there as well, such as film screenings, book signings, and benefits. Plus, First Fridays at the Museum takes place on the first Friday of every month, where visitors are able to grab a drink and wander the museum.
It’s also worth noting that the museum is part of the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, as are the Autry and the MOCA, so if you are a member of that association, you can visit these museums for free.
When in Los Angeles, you really can’t miss out on visiting Catalina Island (which is totally close enough for a day trip). And when you’re there, make sure to visit the Catalina Island Museum to learn all about the local history.
Well, there you have 10 of the best museums in Los Angeles! From art and history to science and pop culture, there’s something for everyone at LA museums.
Have you been to any of these museums? What did you think? Are there any others you would add! Let me know in the comments!