Things to do in Orange County

Must-Visit Museums in Orange County

Get a feel for California culture at these museums in Orange County. It’s the best of SoCal art and experiences, and you’re invited!

With beach tunes as your soundtrack and the salty sea air as your perfume, your visit to OC is a dream in the making. While it’s true that sunbathing, visiting theme parks, and shopping are popular things to do in Orange County, the area is sprinkled with memorable museums to check out. Join us as we take you on a tour of some of our favorites.


Fullerton is home to less than 150,000 people, but this small enclave is also where you’ll find one of our favorite niche museums in Orange County.

1. Fullerton Museum Center

Over a century ago, what's now the Fullerton Museum Center was just a pharmacy on the corner of Pomona and Wilshire Avenues. Mr. and Mrs. William Starbuck dreamt of providing education programs and resources to their community, and the museum was born.

Today, it's home to a range of exhibits that showcase the best of art, science, and the humanities. Celebrate 30 years of Fender guitars or learn about biomimicry in art and design. Programming shifts often. Every visit is a chance to amplify your knowledge and gain a different perspective on the world and its key innovators.

2. The Muckenthaler Cultural Center

The Muckenthaler Cultural Center is an art gallery, educational center, and event venue rolled into one. The museum aspect includes temporary exhibits highlighting the work of legendary geniuses, such as Salvador Dalí.

We love the sculpture garden, which features masterpieces by Bret Price and Daniel Miller. These sit alongside jaw-dropping men’s house posts sourced from Papua New Guinea’s Middle Sepik River Region.

The center’s Sunset Garden is a haven for natural grasses and wildflowers cultivated by artists with their vision for nature meets nurture. You can meet some of those artists through educational programs, art education classes, and camps.

If you love the message and content at Muckenthaler, you might also like the nearby Muzeo Museum. This 25,000-sq.-ft. complex hosts everything from poetry slams and summer concert series to children's festivals and wine and paint nights.

Source: Muckenthaler Mansion


The city of Orange is in central Orange County, making it a convenient spot for tourists and locals to explore area restaurants and museums.

3. Hilbert Museum of California Art

The Hilbert Museum of California Art is a relatively young institution, opening its doors in 2016. However, history is still strong here, thanks to the museum’s commitment to art that focuses on the evolution of California. This includes works from artists producing some of Hollywood’s greatest animation.

The museum was made possible by philanthropists Mark and Janet Hilbert. Their donation of $3 million and another $7 million worth of art formed the basis of this Chapman University-housed venue. Here, visitors can view watercolors, drawings, and paintings that share a glimpse into California life.

Yorba Linda

Yorba Linda is a relatively small but beautiful city. Its main claim to fame is a museum honoring America’s 37th president.

4. Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Orange County museums take a political turn at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. The library’s mission is to educate the public on Nixon’s personal history and work during his time in the Oval Office.

A rich archive of about 46 million pages of documents and thousands of videos, photographs, and gifts helps get the ball rolling. In addition to the museum’s permanent collection, it also has temporary exhibits chosen for their adherence to the themes of public service and patriotism.

In early 2024, President George W. Bush’s portrait collection was featured. Another special event celebrated the 100th anniversary of the American Foreign Service Association.

Santa Ana

Spend a day in Santa Ana visiting the Santa Ana Zoo and these top-tier museums.

5. Bowers Museum

At Bowers Museum, you can travel the world—or at least learn about it—one exhibit at a time, simply by exploring artwork from all over the globe. We think it's like walking into a cultural snow globe. Each work of art and carefully chosen artifact in the museum’s nine permanent and rotating collections and exhibits tells a story.

A past exhibition included the popular Terracotta Warriors and Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. Extravagant displays are only possible due to partnerships with major historical institutions with a similar progressive mission.

There have been 80 such exhibitions since the Bowers Museum first reopened in 1991. From Tibet to Ethiopia and beyond, the world’s mysteries and beauty are on full display in the heart of Orange County.

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6. Heritage Museum of Orange County

Sometimes, a museum houses artifacts. Other times, it's part of the history it seeks to preserve. The Heritage Museum of Orange County is the latter, with preservation efforts focused on this Southern California estate’s 12 acres of floral gardens, citrus groves, and buildings dating back to the 1890s.

The heart of HMOC’s offerings are tours of the grounds and special exhibits that look into Victorian society, fashion, and art. Annual events broaden their focus. They invite area families to learn about dinosaurs or agriculture.

Activities include live demonstrations, nature walks, and interactive exhibits. You can also buy goods from vendors and munch on snacks from food trucks.

7. Discovery Cube

Next up is one of several museums in Orange County dedicated to the next generation. Discovery Cube makes STEM accessible for children of all ages, educators, and parents. Since the original campus launched in 1998, Discovery Cube has inspired and taught over 200,000 students.

Its offerings include multifaceted environmental programs, on-site exhibits, and off-site assemblies and workshops. Learn about physics by racing cars on a room-sized track or going on a rainforest adventure without leaving SoCal.

From planetary research and the power of recycling to helicopter tours and eco challenges, its exhibits give aspiring scientists, engineers, and inventors the tools they need to understand core STEM concepts.

Costa Mesa

Nestled in Costa Mesa sits a cultural center and a museum that salutes the veterans who sacrificed to keep our country safe. The city is also home to some of the best art galleries in Orange County.

8. Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Segerstrom Center for the Arts is all about experiences. That could mean attending a concert sponsored by a nonprofit arts organization or participating in a Polynesian dance night on a random Tuesday.

You might make friends while watching an AAPI Heritage Month movie selection or shaking your hips during a silent disco. It offers numerous opportunities to witness professional excellence or participate in cultural celebrations.

Educational programs are also abundant. Art instruction, broadway camps, free school tours, and all-abilities classes underscore Segerstrom’s vision for inclusive community offerings and engaging exhibits that are as dynamic as they are meaningful.

You can even get your fill online. Use the center’s website to watch show trailers, take virtual classes, and explore programs from the past and present.

Source: Segerstrom Center for the Arts

9. Heroes Hall

Heroes Hall celebrates the veterans of Orange County. See their impact via educational exhibits and artifacts displayed in a renovated Santa Ana Army Base barracks originally constructed in 1942.

The venue has approximately 3,600 sq. ft. of space inside, with plenty of room for shows such as The Vietnam War through the Art and Photography of Ed Bowen. Themes rotate semiannually. Some are personal, while others tackle broader themes. All speak to the collective experiences of military personnel.

The museum also encompasses a Medal of Honor Courtyard and the Orange County Walk of Honor outside. Both areas are beautiful and ideal for reflection. You can also rent them for festivals, parties, corporate meetings, and reunions.

10. Orange County Museum of Art

In 1962, 13 uncompromising women joined forces to create a venue that would give Orange County residents a place to view, learn about, and enjoy art. The Balboa Pavilion Gallery was born and soon blossomed into what is now the Orange County Museum of Art.

OCMA is technically part of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The two entities share space on campus yet maintain a separate slate of transformative programming and exhibitions.

A Moment in Time is an ode to national and global mainstays in the world of contemporary art. Yves Saint Laurent: Line and Expression promises a deep dive into the fabric-based creations of one of the finest French couturiers ever to wrangle chiffon.

In between temporary exhibits, visit OCMA’s permanent collection of works highlighting California-associated artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Rodney McMillian, Kota Ezawa, Chris Engman, Millie Wilson, and Rachel Lachowicz are just a few of the artists represented.

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Irvine is known as an educational hub, mostly because of the sprawling University of California, Irvine campus. But there’s also a lot to be discovered at the city’s museums.

11. Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum of California Art

Jack and Shanaz Langson Institute and Museum of California Art (Langson IMCA) sits on the University of California, Irvine campus. What was once a two-asset foundation swiftly burgeoned into an impressive collection.

Today, it houses more than 4,700 works produced in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Spread over multiple galleries, these works are displayed according to provenance and style.

The Irvine Museum collection concentrates on natural environments unique to California. This includes objects, paintings, and sketches by Alson Skinner Clark, Franz Bischoff, and Donna N. Schuster.

The Buck Collection is more dynamic. Its noteworthy contributions honor contemporary masters Carlos Almaraz, Ruth Asawa, and Wayne Thiebaud.

12. Pretend City Children’s Museum

What if you could shrink the world down until it’s child-sized and then let your little ones run amok? Pretend City Children’s Museum is a blessing for creative minds. Pint-sized visitors have carte blanche to start a band, create art, work at a bank, visit the beach, build a home, and whip up a cappuccino at a miniature café.

The possibilities are endless, with each of the museum’s unique learning spaces structured to be educational and fun. From dress-up to farming tasks, each interactive center teaches essential skills and nourishes imagination.

Kids learn math, negotiation skills, customer service, and critical thinking. It offers cooperative play that builds on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Newport Beach

Beach vibes and natural wonders, find permanent homes at these Newport Beach museums celebrating wildlife and local history.

13. Environmental Nature Center

Ecological responsibility, environmental education, and sustainability are central to the mission at Newport Beach’s Environmental Nature Center. Plant showcases, a nature preschool, and the butterfly garden are just a few of the items on display.

But the centerpiece of the experience is the network of trails that introduces guests to a slice of Southern California wildlife. Small critters scurry through the underbrush, and towering trees and plants filter sunlight and provide sustenance for the animals.

Programming includes field trip tours, homeschool and early childhood education, and scouting adventures. You can also throw a “bEARTHday” party for your child's birthday. Attendees get to learn about nature and get up close and personal with live animals.

14. Balboa Island Museum

Balboa Island is an idyllic community floating in Newport Harbor, connected to the mainland by a small two-lane bridge. The bay was originally used for transport and trade. Even when commercial traffic waned, the community continued to grow.

Harborfront properties served as summer homes for California families looking for rest and relaxation. That’s just a snippet of Balboa Island’s fascinating history. The rest can be found at the Balboa Island Museum.

Exhibits explore the island’s first ferry, the life of legendary local John Wayne, and the cherished Newport Beach traditions of fishing, surfing, and exploring creative pursuits.

San Clemente

In between visiting the best shopping centers in Orange County, CA, and twiddling your toes in the sand, take a tour or class at these San Clemente museums.

15. Surfing Heritage & Culture Center

Not all Orange County museums share residents’ love for fun in the sun. But the Surfing Heritage & Culture Center stands as a tribute to hangin’ ten. SHACC is a global collection of surfing artifacts and memorabilia.

Exhibits about surf style and docent-led museum tours help you learn about the culture, history, and nuances of surfing. Special events, such as film festivals and expert talks, further the collective experience.

16. Gray Matter Museum of Art

The Gray Matter Museum of Art offers modern art with a coastal California twist. While there's art on the walls, the vision is for a more interactive space. To that end, you'll find workshops, outreach programs, and hands-on art experiences on the docket at all times.

Aspiring artists can come to Gray Matter for tutelage from experts in everything from sculpture and pottery to glass-blowing and graphic design. Welders, carpenters, and architects are even in the mix.

Together, they push the boundaries of what constitutes art. We love that it helps inspire students to find their way to contribute to the artistic narrative and support innovation.

17. Casa Romantica: Cultural Center and Gardens

Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens is housed on Spanish colonial property that was built in 1927. It’s a historic landmark and a joy to look at, but that’s just the beginning. Inside, the center offers a wealth of education opportunities with expansive cultural programming.

The calendar includes forays into art, dance, music, theater, and horticulture. Many of the programs are free of charge, especially those geared toward children. There are also initiatives for school-aged kids who visit on field trips.

Photographer: Loc

Exploring Orange County Through Its Museums

The museums in Orange County explore art, music, dance, nature, and the bits of society that make life interesting. The same sense of exploration can be found in our acrobatic performances.

Past, present, and future come together to demonstrate art, movement, and out-of-this-world theatrics. It truly has to be seen and believed. Get a prime seat to our shows and prepare to be amazed.

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