Things to do in Santa Monica

A Guide to Museums Near Santa Monica, California

Dive into art, history, culture, and even flight with our guide to must-see museums in Santa Monica.

Visiting museums is one of the best things to do in Santa Monica. The region's finest art galleries provide inspiration, while local history museums let you get a feel for the region's fascinating past. Join us as we journey through Santa Monica’s museums. Every exhibit tells a story!

State and Local History Museums

Santa Monica boasts a rich cultural heritage, celebrated and preserved in its array of local museums. Each one provides a unique glimpse into the people, places, and events that have shaped Santa Monica into the community it is today.

If you’re keen to learn more about the city, these are the museums you need to visit.

1. California Heritage Museum

When you step into the California Heritage Museum, you're stepping into history. The museum was designed by renowned architect Sumner P. Hunt in the late 19th century. Its design blends Victorian Queen Anne revival and American colonial styles.

This building was initially a lavish residence for the Jones family. Fast-forward to today, and it's a treasure trove of Southern California's rich heritage. The house was saved from commercial development in the '70s when it was moved to Main Street.

In 1979, it opened to the public as the California Heritage Museum. Inside, you'll find exhibits chronicling its epic journey and glimpses into the lives of the Jones family. Today, it's committed to celebrating diversity through exhibitions, lectures, and community events.

You can also find the work of visual artists, such as talented quilt artist Alice Beasley, on display. It’s open from Wednesday through Sunday, with free entry on Fridays.

2. Santa Monica History Museum

Housed on the iconic Santa Monica Public Library campus, the Santa Monica History Museum is a treasure trove of local heritage. You'll uncover the stories that made Santa Monica the diverse community it is today.

Here, you can learn about the traditional lives of the Tongva people and the rise of the modern beachfront paradise. It's a journey through the ages! The museum offers a fascinating array of exhibits, from vintage photographs to artifacts, that offer a glimpse into the city's evolution.

The museum helps keep Santa Monica's spirit alive and thriving through educational programs, community events, and engaging exhibitions.

You can visit Thursday through Sunday; admission is free on the first Sunday of each month.

Art Museums

There’s something for every art lover in Santa Monica. You'll find avant-garde installations, mesmerizing sculptures, or thought-provoking exhibitions here. Come and immerse yourself in Santa Monica art galleries, and let your imagination soar!

3. Santa Monica Art Museum

Founded by visionary Christoph Rahofer and guided by the artistic vision of Gretchen Andrew, the Santa Monica Art Museum redefines the traditional art museum model. From the moment its doors opened, the museum became a “blank space.” It invites regional artists to transform it into a living, breathing testament to the evolving nature of art.

Santa Monica Art Museum sparks dialogue and fosters a new art ecosystem, and exhibits revolve around a central theme. Some themes from past exhibitions include the West Coast, elephants, and even Star Wars.

4. Hammer Museum

As performers, we’re interested in the idea that art isn't just about what we see, but also how it challenges, inspires, and changes us. The Hammer Museum shares this philosophy. Founded in 1990 by Dr. Armand Hammer, this cultural hub in Westwood stands as a testament to the power of art to illuminate the world's complexities.

The Hammer's galleries spark conversations and insights into the pressing issues of our time. Here, you'll find everything from old master paintings to contemporary installations. The museum invites visitors to engage with art in new and unexpected ways through dynamic exhibitions, lectures, film series, and musical performances.

It's a place where everyone is welcome to explore, discover, and be inspired, and admission is free.

Photographer: Nicholas Ismael Martinez

5. Getty

Situated on a hilltop in Brentwood, the Getty Center is a feast for the senses. Its collection includes medieval masterpieces and contemporary creations. As you wander the galleries, look out for works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and other titans of the art world.

But it's not just the art that captivates. The setting itself is just as enchanting. Designed by renowned architect Richard Meier and surrounded by landscaped gardens, the Getty is a masterpiece of modern design in its own right.

Admission to the Getty is free, so there’s no reason not to add it to your list of galleries in Santa Monica. However, the museum is closed on Mondays.

Photographer: Joel Muniz

6. The Wende Museum

Step inside the Wende Museum, where history comes alive in the heart of Culver City! More than just an art museum, the Wende is a thriving cultural center and archive dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Cold War.

The museum brings the complexities of the Cold War era to life through engaging exhibitions, insightful scholarship, and educational programs. Pay the Wende a visit to witness the events and ideologies that shaped the world as we know it today. The museum is open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

7. Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Situated on the vibrant Pacific Rim, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the largest artistic treasure trove in the Western United States. Its collection includes nearly 152,000 objects, and the exhibits span a mind-boggling 6,000 years of artistic expression from around the globe.

LACMA collaborates with artists, technologists, and thought leaders to bring cutting-edge initiatives to life. Its directors are committed to spreading the love for art far and wide through global collaborations and regional partnerships. The museum is open every day except for Wednesdays.

Photographer: Nathan Dumlao

8. Norton Simon Museum

Walk through the doors of the Norton Simon Museum, and you'll find yourself surrounded by artistic marvels. With approximately 12,500 objects in the museum's collection, there's no shortage of beauty to behold.

Around 800 of these masterpieces are on view at any time, so you're guaranteed to discover something new with each visit. Don't forget to swing by the sculpture garden for fresh air and a dose of outdoor beauty. It's the perfect spot to unwind and reflect on the wonders you've seen inside.

The museum is open Thursday through Monday afternoons. Get there at midday so you can take your time wandering through the galleries, marveling at iconic works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

9. USC Fisher Museum of Art

As the first museum in Los Angeles solely dedicated to fine art, USC Fisher Museum of Art has been showcasing the beauty and diversity of artistic expression since 1939.

It was founded by Elizabeth Holmes Fisher and accredited by the American Association of Museums. The museum houses a remarkable collection spanning five centuries. There's something here for art enthusiasts of all tastes, from 19th-century American landscapes to 20th-century works.

Located on the USC campus in the heart of Los Angeles, the museum is part of an extraordinary complex of cultural institutions in Exposition Park. You can explore the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, or the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in the park.

Aerospace Museums

As you enjoy Santa Monica hikes, do you ever look up and wonder at the planes flying overhead? The miracle of flight inspires us, too. That’s why we spend so much time on the flying trapeze. Come visit Santa Monica’s premier aerospace museum to learn about the history of how humans got off the ground.

Photographer: Artem_Apukhtin

10. Museum of Flying

Welcome aboard the journey through aviation history at the Museum of Flying! Initially established in 1974 as the Douglas Museum and Library, the museum took flight in 1979 under the wings of Donald Douglas Jr., the second president of the Douglas Aircraft Company.

While the early collection showcased aviation pioneer Donald Wills Douglas Sr. artifacts, it didn't include any aircraft — quite the irony for a museum about flying. After rebranding, it reopened as the Museum of Flying in 1989.

Today, it houses a vast collection of Douglas Aircraft Company artifacts, captivating exhibits, aviation art, a Wright Flyer replica, and modern jets.

Over the years, the museum has been a hub for special events. These include gala celebrations honoring aviation legends, tributes to the Tuskegee Airmen, and commemorative events, such as the Battle of Britain's 60th anniversary.

Don't miss key features such as the Museum Theater, MaxFlight FS3000 flight simulator, and the Douglas Aircraft Boardroom. Whether you're a seasoned pilot or an aviation enthusiast, spread your wings, and soar at the Museum of Flying.

Children’s Museums

Exploring Santa Monica with children? Museums that provide play spaces for little ones can be a lifesaver.

11. Cayton Children’s Museum

The Cayton Children's Museum was founded to inspire curiosity. It offers interactive exhibits and hands-on activities that spark joy and wonder.

There's something here to ignite the imagination of every young mind. Kids can explore a mini cityscape or dive into the world of science and technology. Learning through play is the goal, and it's impossible to get bored.

Each exhibit is carefully designed to encourage critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. They all help children develop essential skills while having a blast. The museum is open from Wednesday through Sunday and boasts a real-life helicopter and a state-of-the-art theater.

Nature and Culture Museums

Nature has many wonders to explore, but some argue human culture is even more wondrous. Whatever your opinion, you can find museums in Santa Monica to inspire and enthrall you.

12. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Welcome to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where the wonders of the natural world come to life before your eyes. Step into these hallowed halls and prepare to venture through time and space.

The extensive collection spans millions of years and showcases the incredible diversity of life on Earth. It has everything from towering dinosaur skeletons to sparkling gemstones.

Here, you can dive into the depths of the ocean, journey through ancient civilizations, and unravel the secrets of the cosmos. We also love the Nature Gardens, a beautiful outdoor space where lizards scamper over the paths and butterflies flutter by.

The museum is open 7 days a week from 9:30 am to 5 p.m., except for the first Tuesday of every month.

Photographer: Y S

13. Autry Museum of the American West

At the Autry Museum of the American West, the spirit of the Wild West comes alive. This museum celebrates the rich tapestry of stories and cultures that define this iconic era. Think cowboys, Native Americans, pioneers, and outlaws.

Beyond the cowboy hats and six-shooters, the museum offers a chance to explore the complexities of the West. Engaging exhibits, interactive displays, and captivating artifacts explore the history, art, and cultures that have shaped the region over the centuries. It also boasts an impressive collection of Native American art.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

14. Museum of Tolerance

As storytellers, we believe in the power of empathy and understanding to transform hearts and minds. The Museum of Tolerance shares this mindset and is dedicated to promoting social justice, human rights, and tolerance through education and engagement.

The Museum of Tolerance sheds light on past injustices, from the Holocaust to civil rights struggles and beyond. It equips visitors with the knowledge and tools to advocate for positive change and take action against bigotry and hatred in their communities.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays and Wednesdays at 1 p.m., you can meet and speak to a Holocaust survivor.

A Journey Through Museums Surrounding Santa Monica

After immersing yourself in the rich cultural offerings of Santa Monica's museums, continue your journey of discovery with one of our shows in Santa Monica. As the ultimate embodiment of artistic expression, our shows promise to ignite your senses and leave you in awe.

Step into our world of wonder, where amazing acrobatics, incredible choreography, and stunning visual effects combine to create an unforgettable experience. Secure your tickets today, and prepare to be dazzled by the spectacle that awaits.

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