There’s an interesting array of Orange County museums for your education and enjoyment, and while the list below may not be exhaustive, it highlights some of the most popular ones. Please keep in mind that you also may want to review information about museums in areas adjacent to Orange County (e.g., Los Angeles and San Diego) as you plan your perfect Orange County vacation, holiday or getaway. Links to those articles can be found in the “Related Posts” section below.
Catalina Island Museum, Avalon – Housed in the Art Deco landmark Casino Building, you will find a collection of historic artifacts, photographs and locally made pottery and tiles, as well as Indian archaeological finds from the island. (catalinamuseum.org/)
Discovery Science Center, Santa Ana – Dubbed the “amusement park for your mind,” this modern building houses 120 hands-on exhibits and a 3-D laser theater. (discoverycube.org)
Bowers Kidseum, Santa Ana – This children’s museum focuses on ethnic arts and culture. (bowers.org)
Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, Santa Ana – One of Southern California’s finest museums and the largest of all Orange County museums, this nationally celebrated institution has over 85,000 objects in its collections, dedicated to the preservation, study and exhibition of the fine arts of indigenous peoples. Close to four major freeways and four miles south of Disneyland, the Bowers is an ideal tourist destination. (bowers.org)
The Children’s Museum at La Habra, La Habra – A 1923-vintage Union Pacific railroad depot, with old railroad cars resting nearby, offering hands-on exhibits for children from preschool to fourth grade as well as an authentic Dentzel Carousel. Portola Park next door has tables for bring-your-own picnics. (lahabracity.com)
Fullerton Museum Center, Fullerton – This museum is dedicated to developing and presenting the best in multi-disciplinary exhibitions and educational programs in the areas of history, science, and art. (ci.fullerton.ca.us/depts/museum/)
International Surfing Museum, Huntington Beach – Founded several decades ago by Natalie Kotsch, a woman who’s never surfed, this small museum is about three blocks from the ocean and preserves over 100 years of surfing history. (surfingmuseum.org/)
Irvine Museum, Irvine – This is one of our favorite Orange County museums. It is the only California museum dedicated to the preservation of California Impressionism (Plein-Air) paintings, an art style that flourished here from 1890 to 1930. (irvinemuseum.org)
Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach – Offering a mix of historical and contemporary exhibitions and some “pop culture” shows dealing with topics such as surfing, cars and tattoos, the museum’s location – about 300 feet from the ocean – is one of the most spectacular and impressive in the world. (lagunaartmuseum.org)
Marconi Automotive Museum, Tustin – First opened in 1994 by founder Dick Marconi, this non-profit museum has accumulated an impressive $30 million collection of historical, exotic and classic cars to stimulate and delight the senses. (marconimuseum.org)
Muckenthaler Cultural Center, Fullerton – This historic home houses changing exhibits and hosts an annual Motor Car Festival. (muckenthaler.org)
The MUZEO, Anaheim – Southern California’s newest museum (opened October 2007), this center for arts, knowledge, entertainment and culture features a unique variety of changing exhibitions, special events, lectures, classes and weekend festivals. The 25,000-square foot complex encompasses Anaheim’s original Carnegie Library (built in 1908) and a new state-of-the art gallery space. (muzeo.org)
Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, Balboa Peninsula – Located in the Balboa Fun Zone and open Wednesday through Monday, this museum offers exhibits on the history of the harbor as well as of the Pacific as a whole. For lovers of ship models, there are more than $3 million worth, some dating to 1798; one is made entirely of gold and silver. Another fun display is a virtual deep-sea fishing machine. (nhnm.org)
The O’Neill Museum, San Juan Capistrano – The Garcia/Pryor residence, now known as the O’Neill Museum, was built between 1870 and 1880 by José Dolores Garcia. The San Juan Capistrano Historical Society has restored and furnished it in keeping with 1880s design and decor and opens it to the public on Saturday and Sunday from Noon-3pm. (sjchistoricalsociety.com/museum)
Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach – Open Wednesday through Sunday (except for major holidays), the museum houses a permanent 6,500-piece collection that chronicles California’s unique art history and is noted for organizing important exhibitions of contemporary art. (ocma.net)
Orange County Natural History Museum, Laguna Nigel – This museum is closed indefinitely.
Orange Lounge, Costa Mesa – The first West Coast museum devoted exclusively to the presentation and interpretation of video, computer and Internet-based art, audio works and other forms of new media. (ocma.net/orangelounge)
Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, Yorba Linda – The final resting place of the 37th president and his wife, Pat, exhibits focus on Nixon’s life and checkered political career. You can listen to the so-called “smoking gun” tape from the Watergate days, and you can also visit Pat Nixon’s tranquil rose garden and the small farmhouse where Richard Nixon was born in 1913. (nixonlibraryfoundation.org/)
Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Buena Park – Located in the E-Zone district on Beach Blvd., this museum’s exhibits focus on odd and amazing things like “an eight-legged pig” and “the world’s tallest man.” (ripleysbp.com)
If that list of Orange County museums doesn’t have anything that strikes your fancy, be sure to check out the links below to information about museums in nearby Los Angeles and San Diego.
Photo of Discovery Science Center by debaird via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo of Huntington Beach Surfer by johnvphipps via flickr (Creative Commons); Photo from the Muzeo museum in Anaheim by Jametiks via flickr (Creative Commons).
Note: Information in this article was accurate
when it was published, but hours, prices, etc.
change constantly. Please confirm details
with local contacts before traveling.