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The Top Museums in SoCal
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The Top Museums in SoCal

If you're looking for the list of the best museums in Southern California, you’ve come to the right place.

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5 min read

March 01, 2022

Southern California’s cultural offerings are many, but none quite match the variety and scale of its incredible museums. Whether you’re interested in the best of art, history, and science, or more niche subjects like trains and dinosaurs, you’ll find a museum in Southern California calling your name. One thing’s for sure—there are plenty of cool institutions to check out over at this end of the state.

These are the Best Museums in Southern California to Check Out Now

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art was founded in 1961, splitting from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art.

1. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Address: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art often tops lists as one of the best art museums in Southern California and beyond. Housing a collection of more than 147,000 pieces that span 6,000 years of international artistic expression, this pioneering institution is a renowned symbol of innovation in the art scene. If you haven’t been yet, touring the largest art museum in the Western United States should be on the top of your itinerary on your next getaway to L.A. Don’t forget to take pictures by the Urban Light installation outdoors—it’s a must. 

2. Norton Simon Museum

Address: 411 West Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena

Art history buffs will marvel at every turn when visiting the Norton Simon Museum. Featuring an internationally regarded collection of paintings, sculptures, prints, and tapestries spanning Europe, Asia, and the Americas, this art museum in Southern California gives plenty to admire. Don’t rush inside as you arrive; surrounding the exterior of the Norton Simon Museum are impressive sculptures that include notable Rodin pieces near the entrance—you don’t want to miss checking them out.

The Bowers Museum features a collection that includes more than 100,000 objects consisting of Asian, African, Oceanic, and more types of art.

3. Bowers Museum

Address: 2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana

Bowers Museum is one of Orange County’s most impressive institutions dedicated to art. Bowers today has a permanent collection of more than 100,000 objects to admire—it has come a long way since it first opened in 1936 as a city-run museum devoted to the history of Orange County. 

Upon visiting this art museum in Southern California, you’ll realize that it has significant strengths in the areas of Native American, Asian, African, and Oceanian art, as well as California plein-air painting. Among its impressive current exhibitions, you’ll also find one dedicated to jewelry and accessories from the Disney archives. Titled All That Glitters: The Crown Jewels of Walt Disney Archives, this unique display will definitely be a hit with the younger visitors.

4. The Broad

Address: 221 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

Another one of Southern California’s coolest art museums is The Broad in Downtown Los Angeles. Displaying one of the world’s most impressive collections of contemporary art, The Broad is a great locale to check out works from big-name artists such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

While conventional art adorns the interior of this top art museum in Southern California, the exterior is a work of architectural masterpiece itself. The design dubbed “the veil and the vault” is an incredible feat and a bucket list attraction for every architecture admirer.

The Palm Springs Air Museum features one of the world's largest collections of flying World War II warplanes, many of which were built in SoCal.

5. Palm Springs Air Museum

Address: 745 North Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Air Museum is a non-profit historical museum in Southern California displaying the nation’s most extensive collection of World War II flying aircraft. With a mission to eternalize the role of the pilots, combat aircraft, and American citizens in World War II, this museum in Palm Springs educates and exhibits its collection with the utmost care and attention to detail. This awesome museum in Southern California also allows you to take a seat in the cockpit of some of its aircraft for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

6. Southern California Railway Museum

Address: 2201 South A Street, Perris

The Southern California Railway Museum, formerly known as Orange Empire Railway Museum, shines a light on SoCal’s railroad history in an exciting and interesting manner. Housing historical locomotives, railcars, trolleys, model trains, and more on its 100-plus acres of space, this Southern California train museum is as fun as museums can be.

The knowledgeable docents at this Southern California railway museum will be glad to answer any and all questions you have about the trains, the museum’s 64-year history, and more. You’ll definitely have a newfound appreciation for the Golden State's railroad history after leaving the premises of this museum in Southern California.

The Maritime Museum of San Diego preserves one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the United States.

7. Maritime Museum of San Diego

Address: 1492 North Harbor Drive, San Diego

More interested in historical seafaring heritage? Make your way to the Maritime Museum of San Diego. This impressive museum in Southern California preserves one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels in the country, the centerpiece of which is the Star of India—an 1863 ironbark sailing ship. This San Diego museum’s reputation for excellence in restoring, maintaining, and operating historic ships precedes it, but nothing beats seeing these ginormous vessels in person.

8. Petersen Automotive Museum

Address: 6060 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

Cars are cool, and the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is the coolest place to see them. With over 100 vehicles on display in 25 galleries, this museum in Southern California spans three floors, each with a specialized vision. The ground floor focuses on automotive artistry; the second floor highlights industrial engineering aspects like design and performance; the third floor chronicles the history of automobiles with an emphasis on SoCal car culture; the industry floor has special displays covering racing, motorcycles, hot rods, and customs. Trust us, this car museum is a can't-miss in every way.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County boasts collections that include nearly 35 million specimens and artifacts.

9. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Address: 900 West Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles

A whopping 35 million specimens and artifacts covering 4.5 billion years of history are found at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (NHM). As the largest natural and historical museum in the Western U.S.A. and one of Los Angeles’s oldest cultural institutions, NHM continues to inspire generations of visitors walking through its doors.

Planning on checking out this museum in Southern California soon? Journey back in time to 65 million years ago as you meet the dueling dinos, get up close to nature in the outdoor gardens, and discover how people, places, and possibilities helped create the L.A. you know today at the altar created by local artists. No other museum in Southern California explores your world past and present quite as well as NHM.

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