The best museums in Los Angeles take pride of place in a city otherwise known for all things modern, shiny and new. Fittingly, for this sunny Southern California city, many museums have extensive outdoor areas in parks or on the hillside, so you don't have to worry about being stuck in a stuffy and dark indoor setting when exploring museums here.

    The mighty Hollywood entertainment industry is well represented at the likes of the Hollywood Museum and the Grammy Museum, while places like the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and Getty Center take you back through time to see ancient works of art (no, we don’t mean botox-ed celebrity faces) and learn about the birth of stars (no, not those posing on the red carpets at awards shows). Here are the best museums to check out on your next visit to Los Angeles. 

    1

    Battleship USS Iowa Museum

    Famed WWII naval ship known as “The Big Stick”

    Delve into US maritime history at the USS Iowa Museum, an iconic US Navy ship that served from WII through the Korean War and Cold War years. Set on the Los Angeles waterfront, this ship-turned-museum offers exhibits and interactive experiences that highlight its historic moments.

    Explore the ship on a self-guided tour using the museum’s tour app. You could also join a guided group tour to learn more about the battleship’s sailors and adventures – and even its beloved mascot Vicky the Dog – during its nearly 50 years of active duty. The museum appeals to curious kids and adults, with great views of the waterfront to enjoy from the ship’s decks, too. Expect to spend at least 1-1.5 hours on board to complete the tour and see all the exhibits.  

    Location: 250 S. Harbor Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90731, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 877-446-9261

    Map
    2

    Grammy Museum

    Find out how the Grammy greats create their musical magic

    • Couples
    • History

    The Grammy Museum is a celebration of music of all forms, featuring exhibits and interactive experiences set over four floors within the L.A. Live entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.

    While the Grammy awards offered by the same organisation honours the stars of the music recording industry, the museum offers a broader look into music, from the technology of recording to the creative process of songwriting. It also hosts numerous special exhibits, films, workshops and live performances in the 200-seat Clive Davis Theater throughout the year. Before going inside, check out the sidewalks around L.A. Live, which are embedded with bronze disks honouring past Grammy award winners. 

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    Location: 800 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90015, USA

    Open: Friday–Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm, Sunday–Monday and Wednesday–Thursday from 10.30 am to 6.30 pm

    Phone: +1 213-765-6800

    Map

    photo by biofriendly (CC BY 2.0) modified

    3

    Los Angeles County Museum of Art

    Visit after dark to see the Urban Light exhibit in its full glory

    Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) offers a huge showcase of local and international artworks, with more than 120,000 pieces housed in 5 buildings. Its diverse collection spans the globe and covers thousands of years, ranging from ancient Asian and Latin American objects to cutting-edge contemporary artists. It also has one of the world's largest collections of Islamic art.

    LACMA is in Hancock Park, about halfway between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Visitors here could easily extend their day of exploring the city’s historical places by making a stop at the next-door La Brea Tar Pits fossil excavation site and museum.

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    Location: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA

    Open: Monday–Tuesday and Thursday from 11 am to 5 pm, Friday from 11 am to 8 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm (closed on Wednesdays)

    Phone: +1 323-857-6000

    Map
    4

    Petersen Automotive Museum

    A celebration of classic automobiles and LA car culture

    Petersen Automotive Museum is a true magnet for motorheads, with hundreds of vehicles and automotive exhibits on display over 3 floors. The building itself even evokes an aura of a sexy, sleek hot-rod vehicle with its façade of flowing ribbons of steel.

    Step inside to find cars, cars everywhere from vintage vehicles to modern supercars, to cars that once had a life zooming around Los Angeles' freeways and Hollywood Hills with a celebrity at the wheel. Among the exhibits are “Hollywood dream machines” (vehicles that have been featured in films like Back to the Future and Blade Runner), high-performance Porsche racing cars, and snazzy Italian motorcycles from the swinging 1960s.  

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    Location: 6060 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA

    Phone: +1 323-930-2277

    Map

    photo by David Zaitz (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    5

    The Hollywood Museum

    A star-studded collection of movie memorabilia

    The Hollywood Museum is a must-visit for film fans, with more than 10,000 movie mementoes and images on display. Here you’ll find props from popular TV shows like Star Trek, hundreds of costumes, vintage film posters and some personal artefacts of the stars.

    The museum’s hosted many exhibits over the years, including a ‘superhero’ display and those celebrating the life and work of iconic stars as Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. Head downstairs to the Dungeon of Doom to see creepy film props like Hannibal Lecter’s jail cell in The Silence of the Lambs and set pieces from The ExorcistPsychoThe Mummy and other Hollywood thrillers. The museum is just short walk from the TCL Chinese Theatre, famous for its forecourt marked with the handprints and footprints of numerous Hollywood stars.

    Location: 1660 N Highland Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028, USA

    Open: Wednesday–Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays and Tuesdays)

    Phone: +1 323-464-7776

    Map

    photo by Jllm06 (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    6

    Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

    Some 35 million specimens to take you back through time

    The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles is most famous for its Dinosaur Hall, but there’s plenty more in its collection to keep curious minds busy for hours on end. Delve into billions of years of planetary history by exploring the museum’s Nature Gardens, Age of Mammals, Gem and Mineral Hall and other exhibits. Submerge yourself into a whale experience at the Otis Booth Pavilion, with the giant skeleton of a fin whale dangling inside a 6-storey glass cube.

    Back at Dinosaur Hall, visitors are sure to linger here with its thought-provoking tableau of dinosaur fossils, including 3 fearsome-looking T-Rex skeletons. Those wanting a full exploration of the museum could expect to spend a whole day here.   

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    Location: 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90007, USA

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 213-763-3466

    Map

    photo by David Leigh Ellis (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    7

    Getty Center

    Check out the centre’s daily architecture tours

    Getty Center is a sprawling haven for art, history and nature in Los Angeles. Its main hilltop complex hosts the Getty Conservation Institute, the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, the Getty Research Institute, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and nearly 90 acres of landscaped gardens. There's also a collection of ancient Greek and Roman art housed in Getty Villa about 10 miles away in the Pacific Palisades. It’s free of charge to enter all of the Getty’s buildings and grounds – the only fees are for parking. 

    The centre is a showcase of the vast and diverse art collection of the late J. Paul Getty, including ancient artefacts, medieval sculptures, 17th-century Baroque art, and hundreds of photographs from the 19th to 21st centuries. It’s a great destination for families, with not only the gardens and galleries to explore but also free concerts every Friday night and interactive exhibits in the centre’s Family Room.

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    Location: 1200 Getty Center Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90049, USA

    Phone: +1 310-440-7300

    Map
    8

    Griffith Observatory

    Great spot to see the famous Hollywood sign, too

    Griffith Observatory is where Los Angeles stargazers of a different sort like to gather to search the night sky. Found in Griffith Park on the slope of Mount Hollywood, the observatory first opened in the 1930s. It's free to enter and using the telescope is also complimentary for anyone who visits (there’s a small fee to watch shows at Samuel Oschin Planetarium, however).

    In addition to enjoying the great sky and city views, you can check out a short film on the history of the Griffith Observatory in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theatre. If arriving in the daytime, you could take some time to explore the hiking trails in the surrounding park, which are also free to access. 

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    Location: 2800 E Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA

    Open: Tuesday–Friday from noon to 10 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 10 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +1 213-473-0800

    Map
    9

    Barnsdall Art Park

    Community arts centre with fabulous city views

    Barnsdall Art Park was first conceived in the early 1900s as a theatre company by Aline Barnsdall, who later donated park on Olive Hill to the city of Los Angeles to be used as an accessible centre for the arts. The park’s buildings were built by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his son. The structures remain fine examples of his ground-breaking California modernism designs.

    Oddly enough, though the park’s buildings like Hollyhock House are celebrated today, Aline Barnsdall disliked the designs and ended up giving it all away before it became the thriving art community that she’d dreamed of. These days, the park is host to many art classes, theatre productions, seminars and exhibits throughout the year. The best days to visit are Fridays when the park hosts wine tastings in the garden, and Sundays when you can enjoy free family art workshops. 

    Location: 4800 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 10 pm

    Phone: +1 323-660-4254

    Map
    10

    Autry Museum of the American West

    A celebration of cowboy culture and life in the Old West

    The Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park, named after its co-founder and famous “singing cowboy” Gene Autry, features some 50,000 Wild West-themed pieces of art and artefacts. You have a chance to explore the museum’s Western film and TV memorabilia, as well as an authentic-looking saloon and a full replica of an Old West town movie set. Several events and activities are held throughout the year, so be sure to check the museum’s schedule before you arrive to see if there’s a festival, lecture or art workshop you could join.

    The museum owns and operates the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, located on 234 Museum Drive on Mt Washington. It’s home to a huge collection of Native American art and artefacts. Every November, the American Indian Arts Marketplace features the works of hundreds of native artists and craftsmen.

    Location: Griffith Park, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA

    Phone: +1 323-667-2000

    Map

    photo by Chris English (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Lana Willocks | Contributing Writer

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