Stay Cultured, LA: Museums to Visit in the LA Area

This article originally ran on March 06, 2014, but is being featured again in honor of the 10th-annual “Museums Free-For-All” taking place on Jan. 31st in LA, during which 25 of Southern California’s greatest museums will be offering free admission to patrons. Click here for a list of participating museums.

Wisteria in the Huntington Library Gardens

Wisteria in the Huntington Library Gardens

Think back on your middle and high school days. Most of you will have memories of those blessed, much-anticipated moments remembered fondly as field trips. Sure, you were probably less excited about the museum your class was visiting and the report you inevitably had to write than you were about actually getting out of the classroom for once and hanging out with your friends on the school bus (why did choosing the right seat-mate seem like a matter of life-and-death back then?). If you’re like most people, though, those outings to museums and cultural landmarks ended the moment you graduated, or at least died down considerably.

Maybe our teachers and administrators had the right idea, trying to expose our impressionable young minds to culture and art in the hopes that some of it would take root and grow. The millenial generation exists in a moment when media, in all its various forms, informs an increasingly large part of life. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it’s safe to say that a day when Michelangelo gets mistaken for a cast member on Jersey Shore is a day none of wants to be around for. If you find yourself in dire need of an infusion of art and want to trade in those Instagram selfies for some real oil-and-canvas portraits, check out these museums and other purveyors of cultural capital in the Los Angeles area:

The Griffith Observatory, 2800 East Observatory Avenue 

One of Los Angeles’ most well-known landmarks, the Observatory sits upon the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood. Its positioning gives visitors one of the most beautiful views of Los Angeles one could ask for; on a clear night, it’s possible to see the San Gabriel Mountains to the east and Santa Monica to the west, with all of LA’s various neighborhoods in between. Amazing view aside, this beautifully-constructed museum offers exhibits on space exploration, the science of telescopes, and other topics relating to the mysteries of the universe. One of its best attractions is the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, where viewers can watch an informative show about an aspect of space projected onto the dome’s ceiling. Entry to the museum is free, while the shows at the planetarium require that viewers purchase tickets.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), 5905 Wilshire Boulevard 
Nestled in the heart of Miracle Mile on Museum Row, this museum is as much known for its innovative exhibits (like James Turrell’s Perceptual Cell and Dark Matters running through April 6th) as it is for its installation of cast-iron antique lampposts on Wilshire. The buildings that comprise the museum and the space they inhabit are works of art themselves, featuring distinct architectural styles and promenades and courtyards where free jazz performances are put on for patrons and pedestrians. From classical to avant-garde, ancient architecture to contemporary fashion, LACMA is sure to have an exhibit that will capture your attention and wash from your soul the dust of everyday life, in the words of Mister Pablo Picasso. For Los Angeles residents, admission to the museum and many of its special exhibits is waived during certain hours of the day, so it’s the perfect place to check out on a day when you find yourself with some downtime.

Heritage Square Museum, 3800 Homer Street
For those of you proud Californians who are also fans of architecture, the Heritage Square Museum was built to cater to your interests. A living museum comprised of eight distinct architectural exhibits located only ten minutes away from downtown Los Angeles, Heritage Square allows visitors to witness what life in California was like during the first hundred years it was an official state (from 1850-1950, roughly). Guided information tours of the pristinely-maintained and unique buildings, like the Hale House, are augmented by exhibits and live performances, such as the upcoming Soirées Mystique – An Evening of Victorian Enchantment. Admission for adults into this window to the past is ten dollars.

The Huntington Library, 1151 Oxford Road
A collections-based museum that also function as an educational and research institution, the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens (known more commonly as The Huntington) is one of San Marino’s most treasured attractions. This museum specializes in European art from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and American art from the seventeenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, so it’s a must-visit for fans of classical art. The appeal of the Huntington isn’t limited to just classical art; the Huntington also features over one hundred twenty acres of botanical gardens, comprised of specialized exhibits like the Japanese Garden, the Desert Garden and the Jungle Garden. Make a day out of it with a special someone by touring the museum’s exhibits and then, once you’ve had your fill of art, enjoying a pre-packed picnic in one of the museum’s many picturesque gardens. Tickets for adults are a hefty twenty dollars on weekdays and twenty-three on weekends, but admission price is lowered to just twelve/thirteen dollars for students who present school-issued ID.

We’d love to hear about your experiences at these museums and any others that you visit in the Los Angeles area, so please feel free to comment on them below!

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