Yes, New York City and Washington D.C. lure droves of tourists with their dearth of museums and cultural institutions, but don't think all that's good in the world is relegated only to the East Coast. It's high time you extend your view beyond the well-established meccas of the East, and head West to see how the other half lives. We're not saying you should skip the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the National Archives, but you'd be remiss to think of any city, especially Los Angeles, as a complete cultural wasteland.
With its fragrant botanical gardens and state-of-the-art stargazing facilities, Los Angeles offers more to travelers than just its sun-soaked beaches. From The Huntington to the California Science Center, L.A.'s museums showcase the wonders of the natural world and highlight scientific advancements made in the Southern California region.
Don't forget to check out discounts and free museum days. Try the Time Out site (and look in the section specific to the LA area)!
Discover these six must-see Los Angeles museums—plus a few fashion suggestions to help you hit the bricks in style—and start planning your next trip to La La Land.
Permanent collection: Perched atop Mount Hollywood in Los Angeles's Griffith Park, the Griffith Observatory boasts sweeping views of the city, making it the ideal location to observe the stars (of the celestial kind) in the City of Angels. Wander through the observatory's exhibition halls to learn more about the cosmos while enjoying a fantastic view of the Hollywood sign.
Currently on view: Arguably the best in the world, the Samuel Oschin Planetarium hosts three live storytelling shows accompanied by dazzling projections. See Light of the Valkyries, a light-show exploration of Viking cosmology and how it relates to the Northern Lights; it's set to composer Richard Wagner's 1851 opera, Ride of the Valkyries, of course.
Must-see: The building's Central Rotunda, itself adorned with classic mythological ceiling and wall murals, houses the mesmerizing Foucault pendulum, one of the largest such scientific instruments in the world that demonstrates the Earth's rotation.
California African American Museum (CAAM)
Permanent collection: Established in 1977, the California African American Museum (CAAM) highlights the art, history, and culture of African Americans with an emphasis on California. With the largest collection of works—from contemporary art to historical objects—by African, Diasporic, and African-American artists in the Western United States, CAAM deserves to be on your L.A. bucket list.
Currently on view: The artist Timothy Washington was a prominent figure during the 1960s Black Arts Movement and melds "American patriotism with Afrofuturistic narratives of fantasy and science fiction," says the museum. Catch his solo show, Citizen/Ship, a collection of the artist's remarkable mixed-media assemblage sculptures, before it closes in March 2020.
Must-see: The museum is proud of its acquisition of Untitled (Dog Bone), 2015, by the L.A. artist, Sadie Barnette, who is one of five Black female artists CAAM chose to headline its #5WomenArtists collection.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Permanent collection: You literally cannot miss LACMA's huge, Instagrammable Urban Light installation of 202 L.A. street lamps (by the Boston artist, Chris Burden) lighting its front entrance. The largest art museum in the western United States features a collection of more than 142,000 works, from Picassos to Pollocks, and represents 6000 years of artistic expression.
Currently on view: The powerful exhibit, Thomas Joshua Cooper: The World’s Edge, on view until February 2020, features 65 largescale and 75 black-and-white photographs of remote, isolated sites the artist visited throughout his prolific 50-year career.
Must-see: Plan a trip to check out a retrospective of the work of the contemporary Japanese artist, Yoshitomo Nara, spanning 30 years (and chock full of his sweetly sinister child portraits), when it opens in April 2020.
Permanent collection: Located in Pasadena, The Huntington is well worth the 15-minute drive from L.A. Designate a full day to cruise the museum's botanical conservatory, gardens, and art galleries.
Currently on view: Step outside to enter the Orbit Pavilion, a collaborative aerospace exhibit (the brainchild of two NASA jet-propulsion strategists, plus a composer and architect) that catapults visitors into an immersive sound experience.
Must-see: The Garden of Flowing Fragrance is architecturally and botanically dazzling. It's one of the largest Chinese-style gardens outside China and consists of carefully composed scenes rife with latticed doorways, endemic plants, and rock formations. Remember—no trip to the Huntington would be complete without a stroll along its many pathways!
Natural History Museum
Permanent collection: Although L.A.'s Natural History Museum tends to be overshadowed by the Griffith Observatory and LACMA, don't ignore it. With permanent exhibitions ranging from Ice-Age mammals to minerals, curious minds can run amok inside its 400,000-square-foot facility.
Currently on view: Pass through the museum's Grand Foyer, and into a darkly-lit room that's full of eerie surprises: The Science of Scary, on view until April 2020, explores how monsters portrayed in classic movies—from Dracula and Frankenstein to The Mummy—were inspired by science. Peep rare movie props, film footage, and interesting museum specimens.
Must-see: The Tyrannosaurus rex growth series in Dinosaur Hall is the only exhibit of its kind and features three (still huge) skeletons of a baby, juvenile, and sub-adult T. rex.
California Science Center
Permanent collection: One of the few museums in L.A. offering free admission (except for its IMAX and special exhibits), the California Science Center has a permanent collection of interactive and hands-on displays incorporating live animals and ecosystems as well as air and space technologies.
Currently on view: Peer into the center's permanent Kelp Forest, a 188,000-gallon tank filled with diverse marine life such as leopard sharks, moray eels, sea bass, rays, and anemones.
Must-see: Simply put, the Space Shuttle Endeavour experience is awe-inspiring even if you don't consider yourself an aerospace admirer. You'll be wowed. Trust us.
Museum-hop in style with some L.A.-ready gear.