Travel Guide to California


State of the Arts

The Left Coast pays tribute to art, science and culture

By Laurie Weed

The California Academy of Sciences

Located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, this renowned scientific institution houses a world-class natural history museum, planetarium, and aquarium. Established in 1853, the academy serves as a hub for research, education, and conservation, fostering a deeper understanding of the natural world through its diverse exhibits and programs.

Whether you prefer to ogle modern art or antiquities, Ice Age fossils or space shuttles, the Golden State’s wealth of world-class museums awaits. With more than 1,000 museums of all sizes across the state, there’s a lifetime of fine art, science, history and culture to explore, as well as weird and wonderful collections for every imaginable niche-interest, from Star Wars memorabilia to the legends of Bigfoot. While it’s impossible to do them all justice here, we’ve attempted to highlight the best of the best.

The Arts

Visiting LA? It’s easy to spend hours in the West’s largest art museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Downtown, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Geffen Contemporary (MOCA Grand and MOCA Geffen, respectively) showcase the best in art created after 1940 in all media. The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA LA) is housed downtown to great acclaim. The renowned Getty Center in the Brentwood district includes art from the Middle Ages to today set amid modern architecture and gardens. Getty Villa in Malibu focuses on Greek and Roman classical art. Pasadena’s Norton Simon displays European and Modern artists amid a serene sculpture garden. In nearby San Marino, The Huntington features an impressive library, art collections and 130 acres of themed botanical gardens.

San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, in Lincoln Park, holds an extraordinary permanent collection and hosts top-notch exhibitions from around the world. In nearby Golden Gate Park, the de Young showcases the arts of Africa, Oceania and the New World. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)  spans seven dazzling floors of galleries and 45,000 square feet of free public art space. Across the Bay, the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is a museum, garden, and gathering place dedicated to California art, history and natural sciences.

Down the coast, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art deserves a nod for its ambitious and imaginative exhibitions. San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art features a variety of exhibits in the historic Jacobs Building downtown. Its oceanfront La Jolla property reopened last year after a major expansion project which quadrupled the gallery space, making room for its 4,700-piece collection of contemporary art. For photography buffs, there’s the excellent Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park, as well as Pier 24 Photography Museum in San Francisco.


The California Science Center in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park presents exhibits for all ages on invention, space travel and life sciences—many of them interactive, all of them free! Ice Age enthusiasts and fossil-philes will love the popular and gloriously sticky La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, an active geological site in midtown. San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, features the impressive Steinhart Aquarium, the walk-through Osher Rainforest with free-flying birds and butterflies, the Morrison Planetarium which boasts one of the world’s largest all-digital domes, and a “Living Roof” which was planted with 1.7 million native California plants. At Piers 15 and 17 on the Embarcadero, the legendary Exploratorium houses more than 600 interactive exhibits—including an amazing “Tinkerer’s Clock” and the crawl-through Tactile Dome.

Designed for explorers under ten, Sausalito’s Bay Area Discovery Museum is a pint-sized wonderland dedicated to promoting creative thinking. And, while not a museum per se, the Monterey Bay Aquarium deserves to be included among the Wonders of the World for its astonishing displays of sea otters and jellies, mesmerizing three-story kelp forest and a staggering million-gallon “Open Sea” tank.


California is a rare and enduring alloy of more than 50 immigrant cultures. Its museums reflect the racial diversity and cultural history of this melting pot in microcosm. What follows is but a sample; there are many, many more to choose from.

San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum and Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) provide fascinating insights into two of California’s most creative ethnic traditions. A visit to the Asian Art Museum in Civic Center is the next best thing to a trip along the ancient Silk Road.

In Long Beach, the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) features contem-porary works of the New World. San Diego’s tiny-but-mighty New Americans Museum honors the cultural diversity of immigrants through art and storytelling in Liberty Station. The Women’s Museum of California is dedicated to women’s history and  to celebrating women’s diverse contributions to society. 



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