With so many museums in Los Angeles and its surrounding area, you’re almost certain to find something in the list below to enhance your vacation, getaway or holiday. The list is not exhaustive; rather, it highlights some of the most popular museums, some with world-class art collections and others that lean toward quirky.
This museums list is organized by city/neighborhood. The Los Angeles area is vast, and you’ll need a way to group activity ideas in a way that makes travel around it most efficient. And, speaking of efficiency, if you’d like to skip immediately to any of the specific area discussions, you can use these links:
Hollywood and Griffith Park Museums
Wilshire Boulevard Museum Row
Downtown LA and Exposition Park Museums
West Los Angeles Museums
Malibu and Santa Monica Museums
Long Beach and San Pedro Museums
Madame Tussauds – Located in the heart of Hollywood, adjacent to TCL Chinese Theatre, this is the first Madame Tussauds wax museum attraction to be built from the ground up in the company’s 200-year history. More than 100 figures are on display in 11-themed areas, many of which are related to movies and celebrities. Visitors are able to actually touch and approach these Madame Tussauds figures and even pose for photos with them. (madametussauds.com/hollywood/)
Ripley’s Museum, Hollywood – Enjoy displays and interactive exhibits of the strange, the shocking and the magnificent. (ripleys.com/hollywood/)
Hollywood History Museum, Hollywood – Located just steps away from the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the historic Max Factor Building, movie fans will enjoy its exhibits. (thehollywoodmuseum.com)
Hollywood Wax Museum, Hollywood – We agree that some Los Angeles museums are probably more correctly classified as tourist attractions, but you’ll find engaging likenesses of past-and-present Hollywood stars here. (hollywoodwaxmuseum.com)
Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park – This is also covered in our Los Angeles Tourist Attractions article because it’s really an attraction, a museum, a fabulous building in an incredible location and so much more.
Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West, Griffith Park – The Autry museum features a permanent collection of eight galleries full of art and artifacts depicting historical and fictional episodes and their impact on the complex, evolving history of the western United States. The auxiliary Mt. Washington campus, open on Saturday only and about a 20-minute drive from Griffith Park, is home to the historic Southwest Museum and the nation’s second largest collection of Native American objects. (theautry.org)
Travel Town Museum, Griffith Park – This outdoor Los Angeles museum focuses on western railroad history (1880-1930s) with particular emphasis on southern California and Los Angeles. (laparks.org/traveltown/)
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures – After much anticipation — it was originally slated to open in early 2017 — this museum will finally be ready for its closeup on September 30, 2021. Italian architect Renzo Piano has reimagined a 1930s-era department store to create its home, the new Saban Building (honoring Cheryl and Haim Saban’s $50 million gift). A centerpiece of the last-surviving full-scale shark model from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, along with film artifacts like Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and memorabilia from the Star Wars and Matrix films is sure to delight movie buffs. Timed tickets are available on the website, including the additional ticket required for the special exhibit, The Oscars® Experience. (academymuseum.org)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art – With a collection of more than 150,000 works of art from ancient times to the present, LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States. Its iconic “Urban Lights” outdoor exhibition — a sculpture garden in its own right — is a popular photo opportunity spot in the city. (lacma.org)
Petersen Automotive Museum – The automobile and Los Angeles are linked together in a historical experience at this expansive and innovative automotive museum. (petersen.org)
Zimmer Children’s Museum – This unique children’s museum encourages cultural awareness and celebrates diversity through entertaining hands-on exhibits and activities. (zimmermuseum.org)
The Broad – This museum and art gallery opened in 2015 to house the collection of entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad (pronounced BRODE). Directly across from MOCA in downtown Los Angeles, the experience begins even before you step in the door with an intriguing futuristic exterior designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the New York firm that also created the High Line in Manhattan and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Free admission is available to its permanent collection, but you must reserve timed tickets. (thebroad.org)
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles – Financed by private donations and developed with pieces acquired from private collections, MOCA is a premier showcase of modern art (created after 1940). Its permanent collection and thematic exhibitions include paintings, sculpture and environmental works. (moca.org)
Heritage Square Museum, Los Angeles – About a 15-minute drive from downtown LA and established in 1969, this living history museum reflects the settlement and development of Southern California from 1850 to 1950. It consists of eight Victorian-era structures of historical and architectural importance. (heritagesquare.org)
California African American Museum, Los Angeles – In Exposition Park, this state-run museum was renovated in 2005 and offers permanent fine arts and history collections as well as changing exhibits that document the 20th century African-American experience. (caamuseum.org)
California Science Center, Los Angeles – In Exposition Park, this public-private partnership between the State and the California Science Center Foundation consists of an IMAX movie theater, the Sketch Foundation Gallery Air and Space Exhibits, the Weingart Exhibit Gallery and a Science Court and Plaza. (californiasciencecenter.org)
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles – Founded in 1913 and located in Exposition Park, this is a national powerhouse in research, exhibitions and education, safeguarding more than 33 million artifacts. It’s the largest natural and historical museum in the western U.S. (nhm.org)
Getty Center, Los Angeles – This stunning Richard Meier-designed structure offers free admission to breathtaking gardens and European masterpieces and also presents lectures, films, concerts and special programs. The complex includes a restaurant (reservations required), two cafeterias and two outdoor coffee bars. Paid on-site parking is subject to availability and often reaches capacity on holidays and summer weekends; the Center is accessible by public transportation. (getty.edu/visit/center)
The Hammer Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles – Works by Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, and other masters are part of permanent collections shown on a rotating basis. Alice Waters, of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse fame, is expected to open her first new restaurant in nearly 40 years here in Fall 2021. (hammer.ucla.edu)
Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles – A visit to this educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center can provide a breathtaking journey through 20th century history, enlighten thinking about what leads people to hate and provide insights into how ordinary people have changed the world with extraordinary actions. The museum strongly recommends advance reservations. (museumoftolerance.com)
Getty Villa, Malibu – The Getty Center’s coastal counterpart displays Roman and Greek antiquities in an exquisite venue, the only reconstruction of a Roman Patrician country home in the U.S. Easy access, however, is not its strong suit; be advised that you must be north-bound on the PCH in order to enter the driveway. Given the location, driving is the only convenient way to visit, and you must reserve a timed ticket in advance. While admission is free, there’s a charge for parking. (getty.edu/visit/villa)
Museum of Flying, Santa Monica – Founded by Donald Douglas Jr, the second President of the Douglas Aircraft Company, and located near the entrance to the Santa Monica Airport, the collection features a rare collection of World War II fighter aircraft and many original artifacts related to Douglas Aircraft. (museumofflying.com)
USC Pacific Asia Museum – One of only four U.S. art venues dedicated exclusively to the arts and culture of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The gorgeous building that houses the museum, which previously served as the Pasadena Art Museum, was built in 1924 by Grace Nicholson to store and display her collection. (pacificasiamuseum.org)
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena – Perhaps the most underrated art museum – and maybe the U.S. – it boasts a world-class collection of fine art, reflecting the vision and effort of its extraordinary founder. (nortonsimon.org)
Kidspace Children’s Museum – Its primarily outdoor exhibits focus on the environment, science and art. Children of all ages love the giant kaleidoscope! (kidspacemuseum.org)
This city is a perfect home-base for museum-loving travelers as even Pasadena’s tourist attractions share museum-like qualities!
Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), Long Beach – This is the only U.S. museum dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American and Latino art, and the 15,000-square foot, internationally recognized sculpture garden is worth the price of admission in and of itself. (Do call ahead to confirm that it is open for viewing, however, since it’s a popular event venue.) Free admission is offered on Sundays, which can be reserved online. (molaa.org)
Los Angeles Maritime Museum, San Pedro – Housed in a geautifully restored “Streamlined Moderne” building, this museum offers exhibits that include historical artifacts of the Los Angeles fishing and canning industry and the US Navy’s presence here, as well as ship and boat models and an amateur radio station. (lamaritimemuseum.org)
If this list didn’t have what you’re looking for, you might want to check out our Orange County and San Diego sections to see if it may be available to you nearby.
Photo of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra figure at Madame Tussauds by Loren Javier via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Sunrise Hike at Griffith Observatory by Colin Durfee via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of The Broad and the Walt Disney Concert Hall by joey zanotti via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Academy Museum of Motion Pictures by Eden, Janine and Jim via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Getty Center Main Entrance by bfurlong via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Getty Villa in Malibu by CheWei Chang via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of USC Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena by dizzymissytrolly via flickr (Creative Commons); and Photo of Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) in Long Beach by Tom Ipri via flickr (Creative Commons).