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5 World-Class (and wildly underrated) Los Angeles museums

While Los Angeles is known for its sunny skies, beaches, and endless traffic, residents aren’t afraid to brag about some of the top-notch museums the City of Angels has to offer. If you’re new to the LA area, checking out museums is a great way to spend time with friends, bond with roommates, and get a break from all that sun. LA is one of the most diverse cities in the US, and the 250+ museums in the area reflect that. But we’ve assembled this list to point you to some of the most intriguing and enriching museum experiences that LA has to offer.

1. The Natural History Museum

History buffs and nature lovers can learn about animal habits, prehistoric life, and pre-Columbian cultures in the Natural History Museum’s permanent exhibits, while featured exhibits offer a wide range of educational experiences. Check the calendar and plan ahead so you don’t miss the opportunity to see special exhibits before they’re gone!You won’t run out of things to see – this is the largest museum of its kind in the western United States, and it has over 30 million specimens in its collection. The outdoor garden features over 600 plant specimens so you can enjoy part of your experience outdoors and observe the diverse kinds of pollinators the flowers attract. Plan to spend a whole day here, or break it up into a few trips if you’re feeling overwhelmed. The Tyrannosaurus Rex growth series offers a one of a kind chance to see three T-Rex skeletons in different stages of development. Former and current dino enthusiasts should jump at the opportunity. Scheduled programs in the live theater and 3D theater cost extra, but are almost always worth it. Bonus: An LA Public Library card can save you money at this and other museums!

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2. California African American Museum

With over 4,000 pieces of African and African American art in their permanent collection, this museum aims to represent the vast cultural contributions African Americans have made to the United States. But it also strives to contextualize how the past has affected life in the present day, and as part of its mission, the museum is free to every guest. Take your time exploring the three exhibition halls, enjoy programs in the theater, and walk the sculpture courtyard. Beyond the artwork, you can participate in educational programs or explore the vast museum research library, with over 6000 items available for the public to peruse. The museum frequently expands its permanent collection, and the queue of special exhibitions makes it well worth repeat visits. History buffs and art lovers alike can find plenty to keep themselves engaged for hours.

3. The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Not quite a history museum, not quite an art collection, consider this museum more of an homage to museums and cabinets of curiosity of all kinds. Consider the quirky, paradoxical name as a way to get into the proper headspace to thoroughly enjoy what you find inside. You’ll find no guided tours here, and rumor has it that the employees in the gift shop are discouraged from answering certain questions you may have. The objects found in these halls are displayed with information of questionable veracity. While some of the artifacts are genuine, just as many of them are delightful fakes, and you won’t always know the truth from fantasy. Wandering the galleries inspires your imagination and prompts you to think about the times you accept the things you are told as true. Be sure to check out one of the longest standing exhibits, “No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again.” It features 33 letters purportedly written to the Mount Wilson Observatory. The letters go over topics such as where the gods dwell in the universe and proclamations of imperative and secret universal knowledge. Like anything else in the museum, whether or not they are authentic is up to you to decide. 

4. Center for Land Use Interpretation

This nonprofit organization catalogs the impact of human interaction with the world. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, anthropology, geography, or geology, the information presented in this museum allows for guided rumination about the enduring impact of our presence on planet Earth.As you explore, you’ll see photographs of things such as ghost towns, decaying waterfronts, or craters caused by accidental bomb drops. The exhibits are presented clinically. Instead of emotionally or politically charged descriptions, a photograph of smoke plumes billowing from a chemical weapons incinerator is described no differently than a naturally occurring geyser, and visitors are on their own to draw conclusions. This museum is conveniently located next door to The Center of Jurassic Technology, so make time to hit them both up, and you can enjoy a much more subtle and subversive experience than traditional museum-hopping offers.

5. The Getty Center

Reaching the Getty Center is a bit of a drive – but once you take the tram up from the street level entrance and see the view, you’ll know it was worth it. The Getty Center is on 86 acres of beautifully landscaped outdoor space, and the modern architecture and vast open space provide a jaw-dropping scene. The galleries showcase masterpieces by legendary painters such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir, among others. But you don’t have to have an art history degree to appreciate everything a day at this museum has to offer. Entry is free, but to avoid the $20 parking fee, you can take public transportation or use a ride-sharing app to get there. The Central Garden is a must-see, and the elaborate hedge maze feels like something out of the pages of a fairy tale. Stick around for sunset on the western facing terrace for a perfect end to an inspirational experience.

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