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7 Must-See Museums in Los Angeles and How to Visit

Modern art, globally inspired gardens, and Ice Age discoveries.

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Daniel Modlin is a writer and editor based out of Austin, TX, covering food, travel, and the environment. His work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, WIRED, Architectural Digest, and more. Follow his work on Twitter and Instagram.

Los Angeles is renowned for its beaches, its style, and its food scene, but its museums are top-notch too. And while there are great art museums to take in, a number of gardens, science centers, and other informative destinations are also scattered around the city’s sprawling landscape. Here, we’ve collected seven of the best museums in Los Angeles that are worth a visit, whether you’re a local or it’s your first time here.

1. The Broad

The Broad museum in Los Angeles.
The Broad is famous for its pop art.Foto: 4kclips / Shutterstock

A Downtown magnet for contemporary art.

The Broad is, in many ways, a quick glance from Pop Art up to everything contemporary. If you want to see Warhol, Basquiat, Kelly, and many more stars of the art world, this is the place to do it. Founded by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad with a mission of public accessibility, the museum always has free admission, but timed tickets must be reserved, including for Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room.

Because the space is Downtown, you can also go on a tour of all of the architecture this part of LA has to offer, including Disney Hall, The Broad itself, and plenty more.

2. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

The streetlights of Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The streetlights of LACMA make a great backdrop for photos.Foto: Alex Millauer / Shutterstock

Explore a vast, compelling collection of art, inside and out.

Next to the famous La Brea Tar Pits is LACMA, and you could easily spend a full day at this museum alone. Spanning Henri Matisse to Tim Burton, to paintings, sculpture, fashion, photography and other media from around the globe, art is oozing out of this place and onto the street, where you’ll find the famous Urban Light sculpture, comprising more than 200 LA street lamps. With over 140,000 objects in its collection, LACMA is the largest art museum in the western US.

3. The J. Paul Getty Museum

Inside the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The interior of the J. Paul Getty Museum is art in and of itself.Foto: OLOS / Shutterstock

Art, gardens, and views over Los Angeles.

Sure, J. Paul Getty has one of the best art collections in the world, but the building itself is a work of art. Built with tiles made from fossils, the Getty Museum towers above Los Angeles from its perch in Brentwood, showcasing 360-degree views of the city. Head to the gardens for a great spot to have lunch, and spend the rest of the day wandering the galleries, looking at tapestries, and taking in art spanning the Renaissance to the modern day.

4. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

A lake with lush gardens at The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.
Many people visit The Huntington Library for its gardens alone.Foto: Noah Sauve / Shutterstock

Treasured books and paintings amid stunning gardens.

Founded by Henry Huntington, The Huntington in San Marino showcases art dating back to 1450, with a specialty in 18th-century artwork, while the library houses 11 million items, including a Gutenberg bible. But many visitors are drawn to the lush gardens alone, on grounds spanning 120 acres (48.5 hectares). Get lost among 16 themed gardens, including a Chinese garden, Australian garden, and desert garden, as well as a garden blooming with thousands of roses. There’s even a high tea service here, which is well worth it.

5. The Getty Villa

The Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, CA.
The Getty Villa is known for its ancient Greek and Roman artifacts.Foto: Lilly P. Green / Shutterstock

An ancient retreat in the Pacific Palisades.

Step back in time and explore the art, culture, and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome at the Getty Villa. Set in the Pacific Palisades, it’s a stunning recreation of an ancient Roman country house, complete with beautiful gardens, courtyards, and a collection of artifacts including exquisite Roman mosaics, Greek vases, and priceless sculptures, in a setting with unbeatable views of the Pacific Ocean.

6. The Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.
The Griffith Observatory is a common pit stop in LA.Foto: Hayk_Shalunt / Shutterstock

Where to see the stars (of the celestial variety).

The Griffith Observatory is a one-of-a-kind destination in Los Angeles, offering visitors a chance to explore the wonders of the universe and the history of astronomy. Along with stunning views of the city from Griffith Park, it’s known for its planetarium, a telescope gallery, and a collection of space-related artifacts, along with a number of interactive exhibitions. The observatory also offers guided tours and monthly telescope viewing nights, making it a great destination for families, astronomy enthusiasts, and anyone interested in learning more about the mysteries of the universe.

7. La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Palm trees and elephants at La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.
The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is a treasure trove of fossils.Foto: MSPhotography / Shutterstock

Travel back to the Ice Age.

Explore the prehistoric past of Los Angeles at the La Brea Tar Pits. This natural asphalt seep has been a site of scientific discovery for over a century, revealing a treasure trove of fossils that provide a glimpse into the world of ancient mammals, and it’s located smack dab in the middle of the city. While you’re there, take in a variety of exhibits that showcase the many species of animals, such as mammoths and saber-toothed cats, who roamed the region during the last Ice Age. The museum's collection includes over 1 million specimens, making it one of the world's most important sites for the study of Ice Age life.

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