MUSEUMS & ART
Art, science and culture flourish on the Left Coast
Celebrating the Human Spirit
NORTON SIMON MUSEUM
The Norton Simon Museum began as the Pasadena Art Institute in 1922 and was renamed in 1975 for art collector and museum director Norton Simon. The museum comprises a collection of about 12,000 objects that include paintings by Raphael, Rembrandt, van Gogh and Degas, and a significant collection of Indian and Southeast Asian sculpture that spans more than 2500 years. Above, an art student traces the lines of a sculpture in one of the museum’s galleries. The Golden State is rich in museums, science centers and thriving arts scenes, all in astonishing variety. From the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego, you are never far from a world-class art collection. In addition, there are museums highlighting natural and cultural history, science and technology, and many that celebrate the diverse cultures of the state’s more than 39 million residents. Whether you prefer to ogle modern art or antiquities, space shuttles or steam engines, you’re sure to find at least one museum to dazzle you.
Visiting LA? It’s easy to spend hours gleefully lost in the galleries at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and Geffen Contemporary showcase the best in 20th- and 21st-century painting, sculpture and conceptual artwork.
The renowned Getty Museum includes both the Getty Center, a modern architectural wonder perched atop a hill in the Brentwood district, and the Getty Villa in Malibu, which focuses on classical Greek and Roman art and is styled after an ancient Roman villa. Pasadena’s Norton Simon displays a spectrum of European and Modern artists amid a serene sculpture garden. In nearby San Marino, The Huntington features an impressive library, art collections and 120 acres of botanical gardens.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art deserves recognition for its ambitious and imaginative exhibitions. San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art features a variety of exhibits in two locations, the historic Jacob building downtown and their
sparkling oceanfront La Jolla property. In Balboa Park, the Museum of Photographic Arts is California’s only museum dedicated exclusively to photography, film and video.
San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, set in Lincoln Park, holds an extraordinary permanent collection as well as changing 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), which reopened its doors in 2016 after a massive expansion project, now spans 10 dazzling floors of galleries and 45,000 square feet of free public art space.
The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is dedicated to native arts, history and ecology. Family-friendly OMCA also sponsors many events, hands-on exhibits and activities to engage young artists and budding naturalists. While you’re in the East Bay, check out the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), which reopened last year in a roomy, light-filled new building on Center Street.
The marvelous California Science Center in Los Angeles’ Exposition Park presents ongoing exhibits on invention, space travel and life sciences. The most amazing thing of all? It’s free!
San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, features the impressive Steinhart Aquarium, a walkthrough rainforest with free-ranging birds and butterflies, the world’s largest all-digital planetarium and a “Living Roof” with 1.7 million native California plants. The long admission lines can be daunting, but they move fast and it’s worth the effort.
At Piers 15 and 17 on the Embarcadero, the legendary Exploratorium houses more than 650 interactive exhibits—including an amazing “Tinkerers’ Clock” and the crawlthrough Tactile Dome (reservations required).
Designed for children under eight, the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito is a pint-sized Wonderland dedicated to promoting creative thinking.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium deserves to be included among the Wonders of the World for its astonishing displays of sea otters and jellies, its mesmerizing threestory kelp forest and a staggering million-gallon “Outer Bay” tank.
California is a rare and enduring alloy of more than 50 ethnic groups. 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.
Sacramento’s California Museum features a Hall of Fame, celebrating local legends from John Muir to Sally Ride. In San Francisco, the Contemporary Jewish Museum and nearby Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) provide fascinating insights into two of California’s most creative ethnic traditions. Visiting the Asian Art Museum in Civic Center is the next best thing to a trip along the ancient Silk Road. The city’s small but beloved Mexican Museum has plans to move from Fort Mason to Yerba Buena Gardens—and enjoy a long-overdue expansion.
In Long Beach, the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) features modern and contemporary work by artists from the New World.
LOS ANGELES ART DISTRICT, right; the expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which reopened in 2016, bottom.