Los Angeles travelers may come eager to take in the Hollywood vibes, the sun, the surf, and family-friendly theme parks, but the City of Angels is also a city (and county) of remarkable museums. There are more than 100 museums to wander through across L.A. County—many of them world-renowned—dedicated to art, industry, science, technology, and everything in between. Lovers of fine art will find inspiration at institutions like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Getty. Film and music industry lovers will delight in the collections at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Grammy Museum. Kids (and kids at heart) can get up close to the Space Shuttle Endeavour at one of the country's most popular science museums, the California Science Center.
Here are 10 can't-miss museums to consider on your next trip to Los Angeles.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles
Best museum to: explore nature and culture
The Natural History Museum is the one of the oldest institutions in Los Angeles County, having opened in 1913 in the then brand-new Exposition Park. The original structure, with its 75-foot Italian marble-lined rotunda, featured prehistoric remains from the Rancho La Brea tar pits. Today, the NHMLC has expanded to several architecturally impressive buildings and grounds that house a collection of 35 million artifacts spanning 4.5 billion years of history in the L.A. region.
Need to know: Don't miss the Dinosaur Hall, where you can see a giant T-rex skeleton and the remains of Polly, the only pregnant plesiosaur fossil ever discovered. Another must-see is the Gem and Mineral hall, where you can gaze at the “Mojave Nugget”—the largest existing nugget of California gold. When you're done at the museum, go for a stroll and a picnic lunch in the neighboring Exposition Park Rose Garden.
Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles
Best museum to: view the art of our time
If you want to see some of the most iconic works created between 1940 and present day, add an afternoon spent wandering one (or all!) of the three locations of the Museum of Contemporary Art to your itinerary. Founded in 1979 by artists, this popular institution showcases about 7,000 contemporary works, including Jackson Pollack's first drip painting, and pieces by modern art giants Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, and Takashi Murakami.
Need to know: There are three MOCA locations to take in: MOCA Grand Avenue, The Geffen Contemporary, and the Warehouse. There is a revolving door of impressive temporary exhibits, primarily at the Geffen, so you're likely to run into something completely new and thought-provoking each time you're in town.
California Science Center
Best museum to: see a real space shuttle
These days, the California Science Center is one of the most popular museum destinations in Los Angeles, thanks in part to one of its high-profile residents: The Space Shuttle Endeavour. The last of NASA's shuttles has been retired there since 2012, at home in the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.
The California Science Center offers a lot more than just the Endeavour though—this Exposition Park destination explores life sciences, ecosystems, and aerospace engineering in a series of hands-on exhibits and educational programs designed for all ages. Visitors can design an earthquake-proof building, play with fire (safely), wander through an underwater kelp forest, pet a sea star, visit a polar research station, and more.
Need to know: Admission to the center is free, but keep in mind that special exhibits and the IMAX screenings require a fee. If you want to get up close and personal with the Endeavour, you'll need to book a timed ticket in advance.
Best museum to: see the classics
When it comes to classic art, there are few places on the planet that rival the collections that live at the Getty's two venues, the Getty Center and the Getty Villa in the Pacific Palisades. Visitors can gaze at works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, view ancient sculptures and medieval manuscripts, wander through palatial buildings and manicured gardens, and traverse marble bridges. The museum’s views are also spectacular, with a 360-degree panorama of the Brentwood neighborhood and greater Los Angeles below.
Need to know: Bring your own AirPods and download the Getty Guide app to access self-guided and personalized audio tours of the Getty's current exhibitions. Admission to the Getty Villa is free and requires a timed-entry reservation in order to visit.
Best museum to: snap a selfie
Located in DTLA, The Broad is a popular contemporary art museum with a memorable exterior that bears a remarkable resemblance to a cheese grater. The inside is just as unique, with more than 2,000 works of art created between the end of World War II up until the present from pop culture superstars like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, and Barbara Kruger. It's a popular selfie destination, particularly for snaps in front of Jeff Koons' metallic blue balloon dog and inside one of artist Yayoi Kusama's two Infinity Mirror Rooms.
Need to know: The Broad is free, but is extremely popular, so reservations are required in advance to see some exhibits, like the Infinity Mirror Rooms. Also, the name of the museum rhymes with “road.”
Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
Best museum to: see an Oscar in real life
One of the newest museums in town covers L.A.’s most notable industries. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opened in 2021 and offers visitors a chance to walk the red carpet, hold an Oscar statuette, deliver an acceptance speech—and learn a whole lot about the history of Hollywood moviemaking.
The Academy Museum's collections include a number of familiar and beloved film icons like C-3PO and R2-D2 from Star Wars, Rosebud from Citizen Kane, and the original shark from Jaws, as well as an ever-expanding collection of iconic costumes.
Need to know: Tickets ($25) must be booked in advance. The Oscars Experience—where you get to hold the award and deliver a speech—is an added fee on top of admission.
La Brea Tar Pits & Museum
Best museum to: witness real-time scientific discoveries
Dinosaur lovers of all ages will love this famous spot along the Miracle Mile's Museum Row. The prehistoric tar pits have been an active archeological site since 1875, when paleontologists first discovered fossils in the bubbling asphalt. Visitors can actually watch scientists at work digging outside, and analyzing the fossils they find inside a laboratory. You can also get up close to some of the 3.5 million fossils that have been pulled from these 50,000-year-old pits and learn about Ice Age plants and animals.
Need to know: Walking around the tar pits outside is free for visitors, but you must purchase a pass to enter the museum. Don't miss the Excavator Tour (included with your ticket), which takes you through the live excavation pits and fossil lab. Due to its popularity, it's recommended that you book tickets in advance.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Best museum to: absorb conceptual art
This Miracle Mile Museum Row anchor is lauded as the largest art museum in the western U.S., with nearly 150,000 pieces that span 6,000 years of creativity worldwide. From ancient Japanese screen paintings to a world-renowned collection of Islamic art, LACMA offers visitors a diverse experience, particularly of conceptual art, on a massive 20-acre campus.
Outside on the museum grounds, you can wander through Chris Burden's Urban Light display, a breathtaking (and Instagram-worthy) array of streetlamps, or walk under Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass boulder. LACMA also has some of the best museum food in town. If you're hungry, make a reservation at the in-house, farm-to-table restaurant, Ray's, or visit the adjacent Stark Bar for a cocktail.
Need to know: LACMA is currently undergoing a major, museum-wide reconstruction project slated for completion sometime in 2024, which has taken a large chunk of its permanent collections out of commission temporarily.
Best museum to: learn how music gets made
A paean to the American music industry, the Grammy Museum is dedicated to the creation and appreciation of all things melodic, harmonic, and award-winning. From red carpet costumes to an interactive exhibit on the history of recording technology and a Latin American Gallery, the 30,000-square-foot museum's collections offer a unique glimpse behind the scenes of hit music-making, both from a creative and business perspective. It also features a 200-seat, acoustically impressive theater, and a chance to step into a state-of-the-art sound booth and record a cover or remix of a popular song.
Need to know: Check the schedule of events at the Clive Davis Theater ahead of time. You might be able to catch a concert or program featuring a music industry A-lister while you're there!
The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
Best museum to: see art, beautiful plants, and rare books
The Huntington is three memorable museum experiences wrapped up into one expansive estate in San Marino. The library itself has become a world-renowned destination for research, with hundreds of thousands of rare books. Most of it is off-limits to non-scholars, but visitors can take a peek at artifacts like an original Chaucer manuscript. The art museum boasts one of the largest collections of British art outside of the UK, as well as an impressive display of European art. The gardens are a big draw for visitors, with rare botanicals like the stinky corpse flower (it only blooms every few years!), a bonsai garden, the largest Chinese garden outside of China, and a stunning (and very popular) Japanese tea house and Zen garden.
Need to know: Plan to spend the better part of a day taking your time to wander the grounds. There are several dining options both outside the ticketed area and within, including tea time in the Rose Garden.
A day spent wandering one of Los Angeles' more than 100 museums is well worth your time. In addition to these 10, there are also museums dedicated to automobiles, impressionist art, digital art, African American, Latinx, Japanese, and Jewish cultures, and so much more. Many L.A. museums that normally require an entrance fee do offer free admission on special dates and times. Check their websites to find out when they offer free admission. And if you still can’t get enough museums, check out these 19 Cool California Museums, Best San Diego Museums, and Top San Francisco Bay Area Museums.