If there’s one thing I’ve learned over and over again since moving to L.A. ten years ago, it’s that this city is hard to put in a box. It’s a metropolis, a beach town, a mountain hideaway and a suburban neighborhood all at once, and it expands for miles in every direction. The same can be said for the collection of museums that call Los Angeles home. From art and culture to science and technology, the past, present and future all converge here and are put on magnificent display.
L.A. has some of the best museums in the country (yes, really) and with so many to choose from, there’s bound to be something to pique nearly everyone’s interest. It might be hard to imagine spending the day indoors when you could be soaking up rays at the beach, but trust me, a visit to any one of these museums will be well worth the trip. (Plus, there’s many outdoor exhibitions so you can enjoy the weather while expanding your cultural knowledge.)
Here’s a sampling of the most recognized, beloved, awe-inspiring, and downright weird museums in Los Angeles:
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA (pronounced LOCK-MAH), opened in 1965 and “has been devoted to collecting works of art that span both history and geography, mirroring Los Angeles’s rich cultural heritage and uniquely diverse population” ever since. LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States and sees more than a million visitors each year. Some of the most sought-after works on display are by Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Barbara Kruger and local artist, Ed Ruscha. The most iconic of all works at LACMA is Chris Burden’s Urban Light, a sculpture composed of 202 restored streetlamps from the Los Angeles area during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The sculpture has become a ubiquitous symbol of LACMA and one of the most identifiable landmarks in the city.
Formally called the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Getty is an art museum split between two equally-stunning locations: the Getty Center in Brentwood, and the Getty Villa off of Highway 1 in Pacific Palisades. The Getty Center’s permanent exhibits include paintings, drawing, sculpture and photography from around the world, from ancient history to the modern era. The Getty Villa is dedicated to works of art from ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. Both campuses are nestled in beautiful hilltop settings with grounds and gardens to wander through and impressive panoramic views of the city and ocean.
Admission to both the Center and Villa is FREE. Parking is $15 at both locations.
One of the newest museums to arrive on the L.A. scene, The Broad is a contemporary art museum that features rotating temporary exhibitions and interactive installations. Visiting The Broad is a refreshing break from tradition; there’s always something new to see when you visit, and opportunities to interact with and become part of the art experience yourself. Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms have been hugely popular with visitors since the museum opened its doors in 2015.
Admission is free, reservations recommended but not required if you’re willing to wait in the standby line. The Broad tweets expected wait times so you can check before you go if you don’t have tickets already.
The Los Angeles County Natural History Museum (NMH) was the first dedicated museum building in L.A., opening its doors in 1913. Today NHM protects over 35 million specimens, some as old as 4.5 billion years. From the biodiversity of the planet to the human culture that has evolved in it, NHM covers the history of our planet from the beginning of time, up until now. Where else can you look at 100 million-year-old dinosaur fossils and living butterflies in the same place?
The Museum recently underwent a massive renovation is more impressive than ever, including a new entrance atrium that houses a giant 63-foot long Fin whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling. The Gem and Mineral Hall is another favorite among visitors with more than 2,000 specimens on display and you can touch a selection of gems, minerals, and even a meteorite.
Bring your lunch or pick something up at The Grill and head out to the beautiful Rose Garden for a picnic lunch.
Ticket prices range from $6 for kids to 14 for adults with special pricing for students, seniors and groups.
You don’t have to be a gear head to enjoy a visit the Peterson Automotive Museum. This museum is much more than a car show; it tells the story of the automobile as an art form, a technological achievement, and a cultural phenomenon. Cars have had a huge impact on our lives and culture, from everyday transportation to Hollywood movies. And there’s nowhere car culture is more pervasive than here in Los Angeles.
Fun Fact: Miracle Mile, where L.A.’s Museum Row is located, was the first street to have a dedicated left-turn lane and had the first timed traffic light.
The museum itself is a feat of art and technology; recently undergoing a $90 million renovation
that included an ambitious redesign of the building’s façade. Once inside, you’ll experience the artistry, industry, and history of the automobile while viewing 150 cars on three floors, along with optional interactive and VR experiences.
Tickets start at $11 and for an extra fee you can book a special tour of The Vault.
The Annenberg Foundation that founded and oversees The Annenberg Space for Photography set out to create a place where people can “see the world through a different lens and leave feeling motivated to make a positive change.” The Space opened in 2009 and is the first museum in Los Angeles dedicated solely to photography and photographic culture. The interior design of the building was even modeled after a camera and its lens.
The Space features both traditional prints and digital media, and shows works by world-renowned photographers as well as emerging artists. There are roughly two special exhibitions each year showcasing innovative and thought-provoking work–plenty of reasons to keep coming back to see what’s new. Best of all? Admission is always free.
L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art is spread out across three locations, but the main branch is at 250 S. Grand Ave in Downtown L.A. All of the works at MOCA were created from 1940 to present, and while many of the exhibiting artists’ names might be new to you, they’re worth checking out. MOCA takes great pride in finding and presenting what it considers to be “the most significant and challenging art of our time.” Works by more well-known artists like Jackson Pollack, Roy Lichtenstein and Mark Rothko are part MOCA’s permanent collection. Admission is free on Thursdays from 5:00-8:00PM.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology is, without question, the most unique museum in Los Angeles. The dimly-lit space is a winding maze full of oddities and cultural artifacts that make up its 30 permanent exhibits—some presented in familiar museum format while others are more esoteric. David Wilson, the museum’s founder and director, received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (aka the “Genius Grant”) in 2001 for his work challenging “perceptions of what is real and what is not” and demanding “reinterpretations of our understanding of science, natural history, mythology, and vernacular art forms.”
In all likelihood, you’ll exit the museum with more questions and confusion than you entered with, but that’s kind of the point. You might love it, you might hate it, but you’ll certainly have something to talk about at your next dinner party. Don’t miss the Tea Room on the rooftop patio, it’s one of those hidden urban oases that L.A. is famous for and makes you feel like you’re in another world, not a strip mall off Venice Boulevard.