More nonessential businesses such as restaurants, nail salons and gyms have been allowed to reopen at limited capacity in the sunny state. And now California museums are starting to open. Whether it’s a trip down history lane, arts lane, culture lane, or even the science and the stars lane, the Golden State has so much to offer. It is, after all, the home of museums.
With over a thousand museums, it’s hard to choose which ones to take on. While it might seem like there is an endless list of places to go, here are some of the 5 must see museums in California.
USS Midway Museum, San Diego
Adult – $26
Seniors – $22
Students – $18
Age 6 and under – $12
Military – $10
Children 5 and under – Free
Schedule: Sun – Sat (10am – 5pm)
A floating city at sea, the USS Midway Museum, was U.S. Naval history’s longest-serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century, with 47 years in service. Its scale is vastly impressive even for a colossal flight deck, atop which sits 29 restored aircraft and flight simulators, contributing to San Diego’s nickname, the Navy Town.
Sitting at the Navy Pier in silent attention, the museum welcomes guests from all across the world. Admission includes an audio tour narrated in different languages by Midway sailors. The tour focuses on teaching guests the operations of the ship, aboard which you can do other activities.
Climb a helicopter or a fighter jet in the flight deck. By the end of the tour, you’ll know the name, purpose, and capability of each aircraft on the carrier. At the lower deck you’ll find the flight simulators and cockpits.
The interactive museum brings to life patriotism and military service, giving the family an unforgettable adventure about the 225,000 members who served on the carrier. Other ships rooted for the Midway as the sole responder throughout WWII to Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Stay: Mission Bay RV Resort, San Diego, CA – This beautiful spacious resort is big rig, pet & family friendly with breathtaking views. Near Sea World, San Diego Zoo, Old Town, Sunset Cliffs and more.
Getty Villa, Malibu
Parking after 3pm: $15
Parking after 6pm: $10
Schedule: Wed – Mon (10am – 5pm)
Immerse yourself in the amazing replica of a luxurious Roman residence in Herculaneum buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
J. Paul Getty had built Getty Villa to house his antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria. After purchasing his first work of ancient art in 1939, his collection of art and artifacts grew to include Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art as well. By 1968, he declared he would build a replica of the Villa dei Papiri, an elite Roman’s coastal retreat 2,000 years ago, on his Malibu property.
It was said that Getty oversaw the construction of the villa some tens of thousands of miles away in the United Kingdom, and did not even visit the site until it was finished. And what a sight it was to behold.
The galleries on the first floor of the building display Greek art from the Neolithic and Bronze Age to the Hellenistic period, featuring some of the oldest and rarest of the artifacts in the museum. The second floor shows the sculptures, glassware, jewelry, and many other masterpieces from the Roman Empire.
The outer peristyle gardens are another beautiful collection, built and meticulously tended to in order to resemble the original first-century Roman villa.
Exploring the property might take you two hours, but if you have more time, take it. The gardens are absolutely stunning, and the private collection of artifacts are gorgeous, making it a must-see museum in California. Apart from a timed-entry ticket on your visit, the admission inside Getty Villa is free.
In April 2020 Getty created a $10 million fund to support arts organizations in Los Angeles County affected by the COVID-19 crisis. In February 2021 Getty joined a collaboration of philanthropic organizations to create the L.A. Arts Recovery Fund, which offers pandemic recovery funding to nonprofits across the arts sector in L.A. County. Currently, The Getty Center and Getty Villa are closed to the public as the region works to minimize the spread of coronavirus. They will welcome visitors when Los Angeles County public health officials authorize them to do so. In the meantime, put this amazing museum on your must visit bucket list.
Stay: Walnut RV Park, Northridge, CA – Nestled in the beautiful San Fernando Valley, close to Los Angeles, it gives you big city comfort in a friendly camping environment. Keep in mind all sites are back-in RV sites.
Exploratorium, San Francisco
Adult – Free per 10 youth, additional $10 each
Students – $7.50
Age 3 and under – Free
Schedule: Tue – Wed (10am – 5pm)
Thurs (10am – 5pm, 6pm – 10pm for 18+)
Sat – Sun (10am – 5pm)
Acres of hands-on science experiments that are sure to entice both kids and adults alike, the Exploratorium might be one of the most engaging museums you’ve ever been to.
While the main exhibits are immersive, dynamic, and truly cerebral, the bowels of the building offer so much more to discover. The Zero Net Energy Facility boasts bay source cooling, solar panels and advances lighting controls that rightly deserve their own tour
Be prepared to miss half of the museum because one day will not be enough to discover everything. Thursday: After Dark at the Exploratorium is an adults-only evening, with live music and a bar. Points of interest include drawing tables, light boards and a video screen that changed displays, and the safe in the telephone booth that lets you discover the lock’s code at the other end of the museum.
Go early, grab a self-guided map, and explore. Discover the many science exhibits in the building and tap into your inner child. Roam freely to your heart’s content, and we’ll guarantee that by the end of the day, you’ll want to go back and discover more.
Stay: Marin RV Park, Greenbrae, CA – This is the closest RV Park to San Francisco and is just 10 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Enjoy a ten-minute walk from the bus/ferry to San Francisco. Ride the trolley cars, trek to the Muir Woods, Pt Reyes, Napa Valley and more.
The Broad, Los Angeles
Parking on weekdays – $17 for three hours
Parking on weeknights and weekends – $17 after 5pm
Schedule: Tue – Wed (11am – 5pm)
Thurs – Fri (11am – 8pm)
Sat (10am – 8pm)
Sun (10am – 6am)
An architectural feat of a massive scale, the Broad is most certainly an apt name for the museum. Its wide array of contemporary art and its stylistic open floor plan and excellent natural light is a true testament to its bright design of an artistic, warm, and true cultural center.
This 120,000-square-foot space has two floors of installations, paintings, and sculptures that will satisfy your senses the first step you take inside. You will find a variety of artworks from the 1960s by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol. Privately owned by philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, the 2,000 brightly-colored pieces of art on display are enough to impress even non-museum lovers.
Be sure to visit the renowned Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away by Yayoi Kusama. A mirror-lined chamber with a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display, this is featured in the opening installation. Because of the people lining up for this particular experiential artwork, you can only visit for a minute at a time, and requires a separate free timed ticket.
The Broad is temporarily closed to support efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the health and safety of the community. Keep a look out on their website for updates on an opening schedule and in the meantime follow them on Instagram to your contemporary art fix.
Stay: Fairplex RV Park, Pomona, CA – Magic Mountain, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm & Raging Waters just miles away. Ask about their Hollywood Sightseeing Tour. Enjoy the beautiful grounds and the view of the San Gabriel Mountains from your RV, tent or cabin.
Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles
Adults – $7
Seniors – $5/$3
Students – $5/$3
Age 5 and under – Free
Schedule: Tue – Fri (12pm – 10pm)
Sat – Sun (10am – 10pm)
In the land of celebrities and actors, you’ll find the real stars in Griffith Observatory. Ironically, film buffs know exactly what this museum is famous for.
A behemoth for pop culture references, one of Los Angeles’ top tourist destinations has been featured in films like Rebel Without a Cause (1955) starring James Dean and Natalie Wood, and more recently in La La Land (2017) with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
Best renowned for astronomy, the observatory’s grounds, exhibits, and telescopes are free and open to the public. They also occasionally hold special events and “star parties”. Griffith Observatory will exceed your expectations in every way. Watch the programs and learn about astrophysics, electricity, and ecology.
Fantastic for all ages, if the view of the LA basin isn’t enough to take your breath away, the planetarium dome might be. Inside, visitors can experience flight into space around them. Designed for an authentic travel into the night sky, the planetarium shows are light years ahead of anything you’d ever seen. While it’s closed now in response to COVID-19, this is a great time to add this destination to your list of Southern California places to visit. The Observatory’s grounds and roads are open, as are the roads and trails of Griffith Park.
Stay: Valencia Travel Village, Castaic, CA – This RV resort is set in a beautiful country setting with mature trees and grassy sites. It’s close to many L.A. attractions including Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios, Hollywood, Beaches and Disneyland-California Adventure.