12 Best Museums in California [Update 2024]


California is one of the most renowned states in the US and has a rich cultural history. California is renowned for its art, beaches, entertainment and downtown amenities. Every year, the state of California attracts millions of tourists.

One of the perfect places for these tourist to get know about California’s rich culture and heritage is its museums. Furthermore, these museums don’t just comprise pre-historic unique artifacts and medieval paintings, they also consist of collections that represent the incredible history of California and its culture.

California is home to some of the most renowned museums in the US and the best ones are listed below.

1. The Getty

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The Getty is one of the best museums in California

Getty Center, one of California’s most lucrative museums, cost a staggering $1.3 billion to build. Located in Los Angeles, Getty Center was established on 16th December 1997 and designed by the architect, Richard Meier.

The Getty Center has over 1.4 million visitors annually, making it one of the most visited museums in the US. Getty Center’s famous collection includes drawings, sculptures, paintings and many more from renowned artists Pontormo and Paul Gauguin.

2. USS Midway Museum

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USS Midway Museum

USS Midway Museum, a naval aircraft carrier museum, located in San Diego, California. The USS Midway Museum comprises numerous aircraft, most of which were built in California.

Named after US’s longest-serving military aircraft, USS Midway Museum is a fantastic destination for those who are fascinated with naval history and world war memorabilia. The USS Midway Museum is the most renowned warship & aircraft museum in the United States.

3. Getty Villa

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Getty Villa

Located in the eastern coast of Malibu, Los Angeles, Getty Villa is one of California’s finest museums. Getty Villa consists of over 44,000 Greek and Roman collections, dating from 6500 BC to 400 AD.

Moreover, this campus also hosts Getty’s Archaeological master’s program. Getty Villa has around 450,000 visitors annually. The famed gallery of Getty Villa consists of “Getty Kouros”, “Marbury Hall Zeus” and many others.

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4. Petersen Automotive Museum

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Established in 1994, Petersen Automotive Museum is perhaps the best automotive museum in California. Located in Los Angeles, Petersen Automotive Museum was founded by Robert E. Peterson, a magazine publisher.

Currently, Petersen Automotive Museum has a value of around $40 million and an amazing collection, full of an array of luxurious cars. Its 25 galleries can host up to 100 vehicles.

5. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is one of the best encyclopedic museums in the US. Located in Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art has around 1.6 million annual visitors, one of the most visited in the US.

This museum’s collection consists of prestigious arts and film series. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest museum in Los Angeles, consisting of contemporary, modern, Latin American art collections.

6. The Broad

Located in Los Angeles, The Broad is a contemporary art museum. This renowned museum has a collection of around 2,000 pieces of contemporary art. Established in 2015, The Broad features 200 collections of artists, including the famed, “Single Elvis” from 1963.

Moreover, The Broad has the largest collection of works by Cindy Sherman. It is one of the most modern museums in California.

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7. Griffith Observatory

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Located in Los Angeles, Griffith Observatory is an observatory created with a Deco and Greek Revival style of architecture. Griffith Observatory has a full array of science-related and astronomical displays.

Moreover, the iconic “Hollywood” sign can be seen very closely from Griffith Observatory. Griffith Observatory was inaugurated back in 1935, being an excellent monument for science and astronomically displays in the US for around 85 years.

8. Norton Simon Museum

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Norton Simon Museum, referred to as the Pasadena Art Institute, is an art museum located in Pasadena, California. Norton Simon Museum is famed for its art and sculptures, consisting of medieval European art and Asian sculptures.

Some of the most famous Asian sculptures in Norton Simon Museum include “Jina Suparsvanatha”, “Digambara Yakshi” and “Hindu Goddess”. The European art galleries include “Giovanni di Paolo” and “Dieric Bouts”. It is one of the best historical museums in California.

9. California State Railroad Museum

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Known as the “Iron Horse” for joining California with the rest of the US, California State Railroad Museum is a railroad museum. The California State Railroad Museum comprises 21 historic locomotives and railroad cars.

Most of these railroad cars date back to the 1860s. The California State Railroad Museum is renowned for its “Sierra Scene” which depicts the high scene in the Sierra Nevada.

Located in Sacramento, this museum is full of exhibits that highlight how railroads ushered in an era of societal and commerce development, as well as, expanded travel and business.

10. California Academy of Sciences

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California Academy of Sciences, a natural history museum, is one of the most renowned natural sciences research facilities in California.

Located in San Francisco, California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. With around 1.4 million visitors annually, this museum is one of the most visited natural history museums in the US. Established in 1853, it is one of the oldest museums on this list.

11. Bowers Museum

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Bowers Museum is an art and cultural museum, located in Santa Ana, California. Founded back in 1936, Bowers Museum is designed using the architectural style, Spanish Colonial Revival.

Bowers Museum’s vast collections are categorized in specified manners such as, “Spirits and Headhunter”, Ancient Arts of China”, “California Legacies” and “California Bounty”. Bowers Museum also hosts various special international exhibitions in partnership with the Shanghai Museum, the British Museum and the Tokyo Museum.

12. Laguna Art Museum

Started by 150 local residents, Laguna Art Museum is one of the best art museums in California. Located in Laguna Beach, contents of the Laguna Art Museum are fully Californian. This museum’s history dates back to 1918, and it covers art from countless eras and genres.

Laguna Art Museum consists of over 3,500 collections that include 19th-century art and spaces for pop-art. Furthermore, each year, Laguna Art Museum hosts California-based art events and collections. Some of its most well-known collections are by artists like Frank Cuprien, William A. Coulter and Thomas Hill.

For those looking for a museum that presents a wide range of ancient or cultural artifacts, should choose Getty Villa or Norton Simon Museum. On the other hand, those who are into artistry should choose museums like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art . From art to history or automotive to aircraft, the state of California is full of museums with historic significance suited for everyone’s preference.

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