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The Best Museums in California
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The Best Museums in California

World-class collections of fine art, historic artifacts, and immersive experiences—here are the best museums in California!

Roubina Al Abashian

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7 min read

February 25, 2022

We’re going to come right out and say it: California’s museum scene is everything you would expect from one of the nation’s most diverse states. Slow-paced visitors and time-crunched tourists, casual spectators and hardcore fanatics alike are welcome to marvel at world-class collections of fine art, historic artifacts, and immersive experiences that redefine the meaning of simply visiting a museum. No matter what your preferences are—railways, contemporary art, the evolution of aviation, or era-defining architecture—the best museums in California prove why this state is an innovative hub.  

The Best Museums in Northern California

The Crocker Art Museum holds one of the state's premier collections of Californian art including American works dating back to the Gold Rush.

1. Crocker Art Museum

Location: 216 O Street, Sacramento
Admission: $10 for seniors, $15 for adults, $8 for visitors aged 6–17, free for visitors aged 5 and under

The Crocker Art Museum is the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi and features the world’s foremost display of California art. Aficionados all over the world have Crocker on their bucket lists since it serves as a primary regional resource for the study and appreciation of fine art. Find displays dating from the Gold Rush to the present day and admire one of the largest international ceramics collections in the nation as you visit this Sacramento attraction.

The California State Railroad Museum has an extensive educational program for elementary students to help them learn about railroad history.

2. California State Railroad Museum

Location: 125 I Street, Sacramento
Admission: $12 for adults, $6 for visitors aged 6–17, free for visitors aged 5 and under

Home of the Polar Express, the California State Railroad Museum is on everyone’s itinerary when visiting Sacramento. Here, you’ll find more than 20 authentically restored locomotives and cars, some of which date back to the 19th century. Learn all about the “iron horse” and how it connected the Golden State to the rest of the nation and you’ll quickly realize why this is one of the best museums in California.

3. Haggin Museum

Location: 1201 North Pershing Avenue, Stockton
Admission: $7 for seniors, $8 for adults, $5 for visitors aged 10–17, free for visitors aged 9 and under

The Haggin Museum will give you a newfound appreciation for 19th and 20th century American and European art. However, Haggin will also surprise you with a lot of 90s pop culture nostalgia. Fan-favorite displays include Albert Bierstadt’s breathtaking paintings of Yosemite Valley, historic exhibits on Stockton, and J.C. Leyendecker’s collection of original illustrations. As one of the best art museums in California, Haggin celebrates almost a century of art and history, attracting enthusiasts from all over the world.

The California Academy of Sciences is among the largest museums of natural history in the world, housing over 46 million specimens.

4. California Academy of Sciences

Location: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco
Admission: $35–$45

If you’re spending a day in Golden Gate Park, stop by the California Academy of Sciences. Not only is this one of San Francisco’s top museums, but is also one of the best science museums in California. Keep yourself busy by checking out any (or all) of the four departments onsite—a natural history museum, aquarium, planetarium, and rainforest. 

5. Oakland Museum of California

Location: 1000 Oak Street, Oakland
Admission: $11 for seniors, $16 for adults, $7 for visitors aged 13–17, free for visitors aged12 and under

The history, natural sciences, and art of California can all be experienced firsthand at the Oakland Museum of California. Combining several interests under one roof, this museum has over 1.8 million objects on display. If you’re ever looking for things to do in Oakland, the museum’s exhibits on the social justice system and the Black Panther movement is sure to leave an impression.

The Computer History Museum presents stories and artifacts of Silicon Valley and the information age, and explores the computing revolution.

6. Computer History Museum

Location: 1401 North Shoreline Boulevard, Mountain View
Admission: $17.50 for adults, $6 for seniors and visitors aged 8–10, and free for visitors aged 7 and under

The Computer History Museum exposes you to the rapid tech evolution of the 90s in the best way. Informing and empowering people to build a better world, this innovative museum in the heart of Silicon Valley invites you to take a glimpse into the history of technology. Try your hand at coding, take a ride in a self-riding car, and discover more immersive experiences at one of the best museums in California.

7. Blackhawk Museum

Location: 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville
Admission: $10 for seniors and students, $15 for adults, and free for visitors aged 6 and under

Consider yourself a classic car fanatic? Make your way to the Blackhawk Museum in Danville. As one of the best car museums in California, this attraction has an extensive collection of historically significant cars from the 1800s and 1900s. Been before? The exhibits at this can’t-miss car museum change regularly, so you can revisit whenever you feel like it.

The Best Museums in Southern California

The Museum of Western Film History has over 10,000 square feet of exhibits, an eighty-five-seat movie theater, and a gift shop.

8. Museum of Western Film History

Location: 701 South Main Street, Lone Pine
Admission: $5 for adults, free for children aged 12 and under

Before Marvel or DC movies, the American Cowboy was the star of the silver screen. Paying homage to that is the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine. Exhibiting a diverse collection of Western film memorabilia, this unique museum features film programs and interpretive projects that provide narrative support for the people in the industry. 

9. MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation

Location: 125 State Street, Santa Barbara
Admission: $16 for adults, $12 for visitors between 3–12, free for visitors 2 and under

As one of the best children’s museums in California, MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation encourages curious minds to discover new things, ask questions, seek answers, and have a blast doing so. This top museum in Santa Barbara is where children are welcome to explore topics like sound, speed, and magnetism. With three floors of interactive exhibits and rotating art installations, MOXI motivates visitors of all ages to learn about the world around them.

Designed by architect Richard Meier, the Getty Center is well-known for its architecture, gardens, and views overlooking Los Angeles.

10. The Getty Center

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

Are you a fan of Rembrandt and Van Gogh? The Getty Center will have you falling in love. Featuring artwork by international masters from the 17th through the 21st centuries, the Getty will have you exploring for hours on end. The exterior of this museum is just as captivating as the exhibits—no wonder it’s considered one of the best art museums in California and an icon of Los Angeles architecture

11. Museum of Flying

Location: 3100 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica
Admission: $8 for seniors, $10 for adults, $6 for visitors aged 3–12, free for visitors aged 2 and under

There’s no other place in the Golden State that honors astronauts, aviation, and aerospace leaders more than the Museum of Flying. One of the best aviation museums in California, this establishment features iconic historical memorabilia, several original artifacts by the Douglas Aircraft Company, as well as a 360-degree flight simulator. Whether or not you’ve dreamed of being a pilot, the museum will definitely spark a newfound appreciation. 

A contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, The Broad offers free general admission to its permanent collection galleries.

12. The Broad

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

Admire works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring at The Broad, one of the best museums in Southern California. Comprising almost 2,000 pieces of original contemporary artwork, The Broad attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. Looking to up your Insta game? Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room will have you taking a bunch of selfies.

The Palm Springs Art Museum features compelling art exhibitions, a vast permanent collection, and the 433-seat Annenberg Theater.

13. Palm Springs Art Museum

Location: 101 North Museum Drive, Palm Springs
Admission: $11 for seniors, $14 for adults, free for visitors 17 and under

If you haven’t visited the Palm Springs Art Museum, it’s time you do. As one of the best art museums in Southern California, it houses a collection of over 12,000 pieces, covering everything from modern and contemporary art to architecture and design. Not only is this inspiring Palm Springs museum an educational experience, but it’s also the largest cultural institution in the Coachella Valley. 

14. USS Midway Museum

Location: 910 North Harbor Drive, San Diego
Admission: $26 for adults, $18 for visitors aged 6–12, free for visitors 5 and under 

The USS Midway Museum is one of the most inspiring museums in San Diego for military history buffs. Aboard the longest-serving aircraft carrier, you’ll encounter over 30 restored aircraft, an HD holographic movie theater, as well as a VR flight simulator. As one of the best air museums in California, the USS Midway gives you exclusive access to the aircraft carrier’s sleeping quarters and jail for a more authentic experience. 

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