The Best Art Museums in California
California is easily one of the most popular states that come to mind for visiting tourists.
Especially If you're visiting the west coast. After all, who hasn’t heard of Hollywood in Los Angeles, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Disneyland in Anaheim to name a few?
But outside of its usual tourist spots, California also boasts of a plethora of art places, galleries, and museums that provide rich insights into its culture, history, and diversity.
So if you ever wanted to see some new spots to visit while in the state, here are some of the best art museums in California:
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Situated on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums on the West Coast containing over 150,000 art pieces with an emphasis on geography and history.
Designed by Renzo Piano in 1910, it was originally part of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art before it relocated to its present location.
Its collections span periods ranging from pre-historic, and antiquity to modern art.
Highlights of its collections feature art from the Americas, Asia, and Islamic regions such as Persia and Turkey, while also featuring Etruscan, Greek, and Roman pieces.
Notable artworks include the “Weeping Woman with Handkerchief” by Pablo Picasso, “This is not a pipe” by René Magritte, and “Three Quintains” by Alexander Calder.
Named after the two philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad who funded its construction. The Broad houses 2,000 works of contemporary post-war art dating from the 1950s onwards in its two-floor 120,000 square feet area.
Exhibits feature art by Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Therrien, Cindy Sherman, and Ed Ruscha, to name a few.
One of the key features of the museum is two of the infinity mirrored rooms of Yayoi Kusama:
The Souls of Millions of LightYears Away and Longing for Eternity is at The Broad.
These infinity rooms utilize Kusama’s repetitive elements from her paintings into a surreal and unique one-of-a-kind experience for its visitors.
Fresno Art Museum
Founded in 1949, it serves as the regional arts center of Central California.
It features a wide variety of contemporary and modern works of over 3,600 pieces by local and international artists such as Andy Warhol, Normal Rockwell, Diego Rivera, Ruth Asawa, Ansel Adams, and Chester Arnolds.
A key feature of its collections are paintings, photographs, prints, and sculptures with Mexican-American influence dating from the pre-Columbian period to the present.
Another key moment in the museum came during the 1970s through Judy Chicago’s installation art exhibit “The Dinner Party,” which gave the museum widespread renown and helped establish the importance of women’s history and empowerment through art.
Oakland Museum of California
The Oakland Museum of California is a museum containing over 1.9 million pieces of art, history, and natural science that focuses on telling the story of California in its entirety – the people, the culture of its art, and the history of how it came to be the state it is now.
It originally started as three smaller museums: the Oakland Public Museum, Oakland Art Gallery, and the Snow Museum of Natural History before being merged in 1969.
Its art collections contain over 70,000 artworks mostly dating back to the 1800s.
It also contains a collection associated with the American Craftsman movement, which was a popular architectural design in the state during the early 1900s.
The movement’s founders, Arthur Matthews, and his wife, Lucia Kleinhans Matthews, are featured in the collection with over 500 artworks, decorations, and furniture being held in the museum.
San Diego Museum of Art
Located in Balboa Park, San Diego, California, the San Diego Museum of Art is a Fine Arts museum established in 1926 serving as San Diego’s “oldest and largest art museum”.
With an ever-growing collection, the museum features many historical art pieces from as early as 5000 B.C.
European works such as from Spanish masters such as Murillo, Goya, Rubens, and Zurbarán and Italian masters Giorgione, Veronese, Luini, and Giotto are among the distinct exhibits of the museum.
A South Asian collection from Edwin Binney and 19th and 20th-century paintings and sculptures are also displayed.
In 2012, the museum received German Expressionist paintings from notable artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, Gustav Klimt, and Egon Schiele.
Designed by renowned architect, Richard Meier, the Getty Center opened to the public in 1997.
With its iconic architecture, lush gardens, and a large collection of art pieces, the center is one of California’s most celebrated campuses of art, conservation, and research.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, housed within the Getty Center and Getty Villa campus, contains art pieces such as drawings, manuscripts, paintings, and sculptures from pre-20th century Europe.
19th century and 20th century European and American artwork are also featured.
Highlights of the museum’s art are a copy of the Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises, Portrait of Alfonso d’Avalos w/ a Page by Titian, The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens, and many more recognizable masterpieces.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Known for its distinct architecture among museums in the region. The Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco is a contemporary and modern art museum.
It opened in 1935 on the fourth floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building, before relocating and being reconstructed in 1995. With its 170,000 square feet of space for exhibits, it is one of the United States' largest museums and one of the largest contemporary and modern art museums in the world.
Its redesign by architect Mario Botta featured a centralized atrium with a circular structure akin to a zebra with its black and white stone bands above a staircase that gives it a turret-like appearance.
Henri Matisse, Jean Metzinger, Paul Klee, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, and Mark Ruthko feature in the museum's 30,000 works of art.
Outside of paintings, the museum also contains contemporary and modern architectural designs, photos, and sculptures.