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The Best Art Museums in California
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The Best Art Museums in California

As spectacular as it is viewing the masterpieces, the best art museums in California are regarded as more than just eye candy.

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6 min read

September 24, 2021

Preserving history and exhibiting mankind’s creativity is no easy feat—just visit any art museum in California. From the most comprehensive collections to the most famous pieces of art, these places tell the story of different cultures, whether it’s ancient civilizations or contemporary art. And as spectacular as it is viewing the masterpieces, the best art museums in California are regarded as more than just eye candy. There’s a reason why millions of people visit art museums; read on to find out why. 

The Coolest Art Museums in Southern California

The official Balboa Park website calls the San Diego Museum of Art "the region's oldest and largest art museum."

1. San Diego Museum of Art

Location: 1450 El Prado, San Diego, Balboa Park
Admission: $15 for seniors, $20 for adults, and free for visitors under 17

Where else to admire fine art than in America’s Finest City? Located in the heart of Balboa Park, the San Diego Museum of Art houses collections by Spanish and Italian old masters, 19th and 20th-century American art, and more. Visitors especially love the South Asian paintings on display, namely the Edwin Binney Third Collection of Indian paintings. With extensive year-long exhibitions and programs, this San Diego museum will surely inspire you. 

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2. Laguna Art Museum

Location: 307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach
Admission: $5 for seniors, $7 for adults, and free for visitors under 17

The Laguna Art Museum’s mission is to promote California-based artists representing the history of the Golden State. Located just steps away from the Pacific, the museum was originally an art gallery built in 1929 by the Laguna Beach Art Association. Nowadays, visitors show their appreciation of California art by viewing the exhibitions and partaking in educational programs organized by the museum. Next time you’re in the area, pay this Orange County art museum a visit.

The Palm Springs Art Museum is an innovative and forward-thinking artistic cultural center in the Coachella Valley.

3. Palm Springs Art Museum

Location: 101 North Museum Drive, Palm Springs
Admission: $11 for seniors, $14 for adults, and free for visitors under 18

Located in one of California’s coolest art towns, the Palm Springs Art Museum is the largest cultural institution in the Coachella Valley. The museum’s permanent collection features 19th, 20th, and 21st-century art, focusing on classic western and native American, contemporary, Mexican, European, and glass studio art. This Southern California art museum is also home to the 433-seat Annenberg Theater, which hosts classical, jazz, and opera performances. If you ever need a fun thing to do in Palm Springs that won't break the bank, the entrance to the museum is free every Thursday after sunset. 

4. The Broad

Location: 221 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles
Admission: Free

Considered one of the top attractions in L.A., The Broad was founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad in 2015. The museum is home to nearly 2,000 pieces of art, making it one of the world’s leading collections of contemporary art. Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away—is one of the main features of the museum. This free art gallery will surely change your life. 

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest art museum in the western United States, attracting nearly a million visitors annually.

5. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Location: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
Admission: $16–$21 for seniors, $20–$25 for adults, free for visitors under 17 from L.A. County 

Who hasn’t heard of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)? This art museum is as famous as it gets, attracting over a million visitors annually. If you’re wondering what draws visitors to this SoCal art museum, just search #LACMA on Instagram. Considered the largest art museum in the Western United States, LACMA was founded in 1961 and has steadily continued growing in popularity ever since. The museum features Asian and Latin American art—we’re talking Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Jose Clemente—and a significant amount of prominent Islamic art. Need we mention that it’s also home to one of the most recognizable California art installations, the Urban Light exhibit? 

6. The Getty 

Location: 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles
Admission: Free

Not only is the Getty considered a top L.A. art museum, but it’s also one of the top Instagrammable places in the county. Featuring European art dating back to the eighth through the 21st century, this museum draws 1.8 million visitors annually, and we totally understand why. In addition to all the paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts, the Getty also features European, Asian, and American photographs. With magnificent gardens, city views, and dramatic architecture, it’s no surprise that the Getty is a must-visit destination not just in L.A., but in all of California.

Must-Visit Art Museums in Northern California

The Fresno Art Museum's permanent collection preserves and protects over 3,600 works. Photo courtesy of Fresno Art Museum.

7. Fresno Art Museum

Location: 2233 North First Street, Fresno
Admission: $10 for adults, $7 for visitors aged 5–17, and free for visitors under 4

Founded in 1949, the Fresno Art Museum houses artworks by local and international artists from the 20th and 21st centuries. Its permanent collection includes unique pre-Columbian sculptures. Most of the art museum's exhibitions change every two years, hosting several events annually. A visit to this art museum in California is one of the most educational things to do in Fresno any time of the year.

8. Oakland Museum of California

Location: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Admission: $20 for seniors, $25 for adults, and $16 for visitors aged 9–17

The Oakland Museum of California is devoted to the preservation of the Golden State’s art, history, and natural sciences. Opened in 1969, the museum merges the Oakland Art Gallery, Oakland Public Museum, and Snow Museum of Natural History. The museum showcases more than 70,000 art pieces telling the history of the Golden State. Its art collection includes the works of Addie L. Ballou, Albert Bierstadt, and Maynard Dixon. The Oakland art museum also holds archives of Dorothea Lange, donated by the artist herself. A visit to this gem is a must-add to your Bay Area itinerary. 

The de Young showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles, and costumes, and more.

9. de Young Museum

Location: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco
Admission: $12 for seniors, $15 for adults, and free visitors under 17

Care to travel the world without flying? A visit to San Francisco's de Young Museum takes you on an international tour. Located in the Golden Gate Park, the museum hosts thousands of artworks from across the globe, including the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. The de Young museum also features impressive collections of textiles, dresses, and carpets—you get the chance to view pieces by Christian Dior, Yves Saint Lorent, and Coco Chanel. If there’s one art museum in California you need to see, this San Francisco attraction is exactly that.

10. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Location: 151 3rd Street, San Francisco
Admission: $22 for seniors, $25 for adults, $19 for visitors aged 19–24, and free for visitors under 18

Built in 1935, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) was the first museum on the West Coast dedicated to modern and contemporary art. With its outstanding collection of over 33,000 artworks, SFMOMA is considered one of the top art galleries in the area. The museum features collections by both modern and up and coming artists. Here, you’ll find the Doris and Donald Collection, considered to be one of the best in the world. On top of that, you also get to see the works of Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol on display. 

Located in Sacramento, the Crocker Art Museum holds one of the state's premier collections of Californian art.

11. Crocker Art Museum

Location: 216 O Street, Sacramento
Admission: $8 for seniors, $12 for adults, $6 for visitors aged 6–17, and free for visitors under 5

An ideal day trip to Sacramento is incomplete without a visit to the Crocker Art Museum (CAM)—the world’s leading display of California art. Housing European, Asian, African, and Oceanic art, ceramics, and photography, CAM hosts a series of events and programs throughout the year such as hosting films, lectures, and studio classes. The Gerald Hansen Library is situated on its first floor as well, adding more charm to the museum. 

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