The Best Museums in California
Collected by Julia Cosgrove , AFAR Staff
Balboa Park, San Diego, CA, USA
A 1,200-acre green space filled with museums, theaters, and gardens, Balboa Park is the center of art and culture in San Diego. It’s also one of the city’s most historic sites, built for the Panama–California exhibition in 1915. While the museums...
307 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, USA
Laguna Beach’s deep connection to the arts goes back to 1918, when 150 local creative residents started the Laguna Beach Art Association (the city’s population was only 300 then). That association went on to launch what’s now the...
62975 Blair Ln, Joshua Tree, CA 92252, USA
Throughout his life, African-American artist Noah Purifoy reimagined junk as art, using found materials to create sculptures inspired by Southern California’s culture and landscape. Some of his best-known pieces were made out of charred...
101 N Museum Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92262, USA
It’s a sign of the Palm Springs boom that what started as a modest local museum is now a premier destination for art and design aficionados. Today, the establishment, first opened in 1938, celebrates performing arts, modern art, and...
221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
When it opened in 2015, this museum drew headlines for its extensive contemporary art collection and Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed building, which resembles a futuristic honeycomb. Then a single exhibition catapulted it into fame: artist...
17985 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272, USA
J. Paul Getty’s original museum is as much about the transporting setting as it is about the pieces inside. When the billionaire oil tycoon decided to open a museum for his extensive collection of antiquities in 1974, he modeled it after an...
1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049, USA
Crowning any one location as having the “best view in L.A.” would be controversial, but the Getty Center is certainly a contender. The anticipation that builds upon approach to the arts and cultural center—up a driveway to park,...
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA
Encyclopedic is one way to describe L.A.’s oldest art institution. Sprawling is another. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened in its current Miracle Mile location in 1965 and has not stopped growing, becoming the largest museum in the...
250 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012, USA
Founded in 1979, the mission of this institution is clear—it’s committed to preserving, presenting, and interpreting art created after 1940. Its methods, however, are ever changing. Three distinct venues in the city shine a spotlight...
750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452, USA
This sprawling, 165-room mansion may be known as Hearst Castle, but officially, it’s called La Cuesta Encantada (“The Enchanted Hill”), former owner William Randolph Hearst’s affectionate name for the property. Designed by legendary California...
55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA 94118, USA
The California Academy of Sciences is an unfortunately stuffy name for an institution that is anything but staid. The country's largest natural-history museum includes an aquarium, a planetarium, an enormous rain-forest exhibit under a...
151 3rd St, San Francisco, CA 94103, USA
It had been a long wait for modern art lovers, but after a three-year closure and a $305 million renovation and expansion, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) reopened in May 2016, and was it ever worth the wait. A new 10-story...
2301 Hardies Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95403, USA
Peanuts characters are alive and well at this Santa Rosa institution, which celebrates the life and legacy of Snoopy creator Charles M. Schulz. The museum was founded in 2002 by Jean Schulz, the cartoonist’s widow, and today it houses the...
4411 Redwood Rd, Napa, CA 94558, USA
Yes, the Hess Collection in Napa makes wine and sells it under the same name. But really, the brand is about something equally wonderful in entirely different ways: modern art. Owner and entrepreneur Donald Hess began collecting art in the 1960s,...
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