10 Best Museums in California (Including Must-See Exhibits)

California has over 1,000 museums, including some of the best in the world. You will find everything from world-renowned art pieces to natural history and science. Check out these 10 best museums in California, including prices and must-see exhibits. Let’s dive in! 

1. USS Midway Museum

USS midway  in San Diego
USS Midway Museum is one of the best museums in California, as well as one of the most-visited

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The USS Midway Museum is easily one of the best museums in California. It’s a must-see attraction if you’re in San Diego! Located in downtown at Navy Pier, the USS Midway Museum is a historical naval aircraft carrier museum, featuring an enormous collection. And, of course, you will find the USS Midway, the longest-serving navy carrier of the 20th century. 

Admission: $31

Walk-through time: two to four hours

Must-see exhibits: aircraft gallery, Midway flight deck, WWII-era aircraft, below deck

2. The Getty

The Getty Center
The Getty Center features an extensive collection of visual art

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Opening to the public in 1997, The Getty Center features renowned art and is one of the top destinations in West Los Angeles. This philanthropic institution features an extensive collection of visual art but is also known for its gardens, architecture, and spectacular views of LA. And the art primarily focuses on European paintings and sculptures by artists, such as Monet and Van Gogh.

Admission: free

Walk-through time: three to four hours

Must-see exhibits: Van Gogh’s Irises, Rembrandt Laughing, Cardinale Seduto, Department of Photographs, Central Garden, Cactus Garden, Family Room 

3. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

LACMA Lamps Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Museum of Art contains nearly 150,000 pieces

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Located in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, is the largest art museum in the Western United States. LACMA continuously ranks as one of the best museums in LA, featuring nearly 150,000 pieces across 6,000 years of artistic expression. You can also enjoy film and concert series.

Admission: $25

Walk-through time: two to three hours

Must-see exhibits: Metropolis II and Urban Light by Chris Burden, Levitated Mass, Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Picasso’s works, Resnick Pavilion  

4. California Science Center

The Space Shuttle Endeavour on display in the Samuel Oschin Pavilion, at the  California Science Center, Los Angeles, America
California Science Center displays the Endeavour Space Shuttle

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Located next to the Natural History Museum and USC in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park, the California Science Center is a world-class science museum with interactive exhibits. You can explore more than 100 permanent exhibits across several galleries, including a space shuttle endeavor. Visitors can learn about space, animals, and live habitats. Plus, experience a seven-story IMAX theater.

Admission: free

Walk-through time: three to four hours

Must-see exhibits: Endeavour Space Shuttle, space capsules, kelp forest tank, Island Zone, ice wall, a flash flood in the desert habitat, human body simulator, Earthquake Shade Table 

5. The Broad

broad museum balloon dog
The Broad features striking modern art displays

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Named after philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, The Broad is a contemporary art museum in Downtown Los Angeles. The building is modern and striking and houses post-war works of art from across the globe. The Broad is a newer museum that opened in 2015 and has become a favorite attraction in the LA area.

Admission: free

Walk-through time: around two hours

Must-see exhibits: Tulips by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol collection, Roy Lichtenstein paintings, Under the Table by Robert Therrien, Infinity Mirrored Room

6. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Los Angeles County Historical and Art Museum Entrance Building
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is the best overall museum in California perfect for visitors of all ages

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As the largest natural and historical museum in the Western United States, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles contains 35 million artifacts and specimens spanning 4.5 billion years. You can explore nature and culture throughout the world, including enormous dinosaur displays.

Admission: $18

Walk-through time: three to four hours

Must-see exhibits: the eastern entrance of the building, Dinosaur Hall, African diorama hall, gem and mineral hall, the Discovery Center, Nature Garden

7. Peterson Automotive Museum

Peterson Automotive Museum California
The Peterson Automotive Museum is 300,000 square feet

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Peterson Automotive is one of the largest automotive collections on Earth. Located along Museum Row in Los Angeles, this museum encompasses 300,000 square feet of exhibits, dioramas, and rare and classic cars. You will also find cars featured in famous movies.

Admission: $19.95

Walk-through time: about three hours

Must-see exhibits: Cars of Film and Television, Alternative Power, Cars Mechanical Institute, Forza Motorsports Racing  

8. The Getty Villa

Lovely views of the Getty Villa in LA
The Getty Villa features Greek and Roman art

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While The Getty Center houses European art and modern architecture, The Getty Villa features ancient Greek and Roman art in a recreated Roman villa. This museum and education center is along the Malibu coast in Los Angeles. If you are interested in art pieces from these eras, The Getty Villa is a must-see in California

Admission: free

Walk-through time: one to two hours

Must-see exhibits: Outer Peristyle, Herb Garden, atrium entryway, Statue of Hercules, Orpheus and Sirens, Basilica Gallery, Athenian vases  

9. De Young Museum

De Young
de Young Museum is a fine arts museum in San Francisco

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Located in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the de Young Museum is a fine arts museum and one of the most-visited in the nation. Along with its renowned art displays, the museum’s building is an architectural masterpiece. You will find American art, international textile art, costumes, Oceanic art, and African art.

Admission: $20

Walk-through time: two to three hours

Must-see exhibits: Hamon Observation Tower, Rockefeller Collection, Osher Sculpture Garden, Royal Hawaiian Featherwork, The Blue Veil by Edmund Charles Tarbell 

10. Computer History Museum

Computer History Museum California
Computer History Museum features artifacts from the information age

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The Computer History Museum is in Mountain View and features artifacts and stories of Silicon Valley, advances in technology, and the information age. If you are a techie, you must visit this large California museum packed full of information and interesting tidbits. 

Admission: $19.50

Walk-through: two to three hours

Must-see exhibits: Music Film Computers, Revolution: 2000 Years of Computing, Make Software, Little Emoji 

The Best Museums in California: A Recap of the Top 10

Rank Best Museums in California Location
#1 USS Midway Museum San Diego
#2 The Getty  Los Angeles
#3 Los Angeles County Museum of Art Los Angeles
#4 California Science Center Los Angeles
#5 The Broad Los Angeles
#6 Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County Los Angeles
#7 Peterson Automotive Museum Los Angeles
#8 The Getty Villa Los Angeles
#9 De Young Museum San Francisco
#10 Computer History Museum Mountain View

The Best Overall Museum in California

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County is the best overall museum in California. This massive institution contains a ton of exhibits that educates visitors on everything from space to natural habitats and dinosaurs. And it’s great for people of all ages.

The Best Art Museum in California

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Getty are tied for the best art museum in California. The Getty focuses more on architecture, gardens, and European art, while LACMA is more eclectic and spans ancient times through the present day. Both museums are must-visit attractions in the state.

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