Getty, Broad, Hammer, LACMA, these are just some of the names that have helped elevate the Los Angeles museum scene from New York City’s ” oft-ignored kid brother” to a prominent player on the world stage. LA is now home to world-class galleries and museums, both public and private, and continues to garner respect from international artists, critics, and patrons alike. But what if you’re looking for something…different?
Looking for something a bit more interesting? Unique? Maybe even, quirky? Los Angeles has far more interesting and exciting places operating under the radar of the established art gate-keepers. Check out these gems that you probably have never stepped foot in… but should!
A portion of the overstuffed collection you can find at the Valley Relics Museum.
(Photo courtesy Tommy Gelinas/Valley Relics Museum)
(Yes, YES you really can find awesomeness in The Valley!!!)
Hours: Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
The San Fernando Valley often gets treated like the black sheep of the L.A. area, but this museum tries to give it the tender loving care it deserves.
Much of the collection feels like a shrine to kitsch, from neon signs to classic cars, cute T-shirts to an old school Jack In The Box drive-through intercom. You’ll find rare documents, postcards, BMX bikes, yearbooks (what are they wearing?!), an Alvin (of And The Chipmunks fame) statue, and much more.
It’s the brainchild of private collector and Valley native Tommy Gelinas, who opened the museum in 2013. And it’s got something that those who love the Valley know all about: free parking.
Classic cars shine under the lights of the Nethercutt Collection’s epic showroom. (Photo by Steve/Flickr Creative Commons)
Museum Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Collection Hours: Advanced reservations only; tours Thursday-Saturday at 10 a.m. or 1:30 p.m.
This is a car museum that’s not just a car museum. Tucked away in Sylmar, the Nethercutt Museum is a wonder in and of itself, with more than 130 antique cars restored and in working order. That’s due to the institution’s philosophy of function above all, with a staff dedicated to making sure their stuff actually works.
But beyond the museum, there’s the collection. It requires advanced reservations for a guided tour, but it lets you see a wonderland of functional art. The big showstopper: The “Grand Salon,” a giant, marble showroom designed to match car dealerships of the early 20th century, filled with 30 stunning vehicles from that time period. But the collection also includes music boxes, a 5,000-pipe Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, even antique furniture that you can actually sit your butt on. Remember: It’s all about function.
They also offer concerts throughout the year, using that giant organ to help you enjoy silent movies, special Christmas concerts, and more. But there’s one piece of functional, fine art you’ll need to use to get a spot — a phone, because tickets are only available by phone for a two-hour window. (We failed to secure a spot the last time we tried for a Christmas concert, so may the odds be ever in your favor.)
The Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. (Photo by Maciek Lulko/Flickr Creative Commons)
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 12-5 p.m.
Price: Free, with a $10 suggested contribution; tickets to PaleyFest and other special events range in price
The Paley Center was formerly known as the Museum of Television & Radio, and before that, the Museum of Broadcasting. Despite changing names as much as P. Diddy did, those names still give you an idea what the center is all about: the stuff we watch.
You can see exhibits, showing artifacts from your favorite shows, ranging from South Park to The Crown. You can also go deep — their archives include more than 160,000 TV show, radio programs and ads. Visit and watch everything you’re not getting in your Netflix and Hulu subscriptions.
Their signature event is PaleyFest, with panels featuring stars and creators. Get good seats, and maybe you’ll be able to grab an autograph, despite guards trying to move you along.
Signs from the Museum of Neon Art. (Photo by Jeremy Brooks/Flickr Creative Commons)
Hours: Thursday-Sunday; 12-7 p.m.; Sunday, 12-5 p.m
Price: $10 general admission — and only $5 for Glendale residents
Get ready to burn your eyes’ rods and cones out. Come see the world’s only museum dedicated to that bright light that calls to us by day and especially by night.
The museum has traveled since first opening in 1981, previously setting up shop at Universal CityWalk, Grand Hope Park and the city’s Historic Core. After closing in 2011, it reopened in a new permanent Glendale home in 2016.
Some of the highlights in their collection include neon signs from the Brown Derby and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Their current featured exhibitions are “There’s More to Neon Signs Than Liquor, Motels and Live Nude Girls” and “Motel California,” with previous showcases including women in neon, plasma (as seen in those cool globes), and more.
Beyond the museum, they also offer a “Neon Cruise” — a Saturday night bus tour of neon signs, movie marquees and other neon installations throughout Hollywood and Downtown L.A.
VPAM on the campus of East LA College. Photo Credit kid101.com
Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Vincent Price was most known for his myriad roles in horror cinema, but his side hustle was studying art history and building a formidable art collection (he got an Art History degree from Yale before embarking on his acting career). In the 1950s, he also acquainted himself with East Los Angeles College, eventually recognizing how students of the college could benefit from more opportunities to see art on their campus. In 1957, he donated some of his and his wife’s art collection to kick start the school’s collection.
The museum, which is named after him, has since grown to include a much larger collection and regularly hosts temporary exhibits. Currently, the first comprehensive exhibit of Laura Aguilar’s photography ever mounted is on display. Also, because it is attached to ELAC, it regularly showcases student work as well.
W Magazine: How the Family-Run Underground Museum Became One of L.A.’s Most Vital Cultural Forces. Photo Credit: Deana Lawson
Hours: Wednesdays through Sundays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The Underground Museum was established in 2012 by the late painter Noah Davis, who dreamed of bringing “museum-quality” art to Arlington Heights, a predominantly working-class neighborhood. The first exhibit was called Imitation of Wealth; in it, Davis re-created famous pieces of art because no museums were willing to lend their work. The exhibit asked questions of artistic hierarchy, class structures, and authenticity, and set the groundwork for a small museum that has grown into one of the most important art spaces in Los Angeles. In 2015, the Underground Museum began collaborating with MOCA, setting up an exchange where Davis would curate exhibits with works from MOCA’s permanent collection. Davis primarily focused on exhibits featuring the black experience in Los Angeles and America; his brother, artist and director Khalil Joseph, installed his video piece m.A.A.d at the Underground Museum before it showed at MOCA under the title Double Conscience. Davis unfortunately passed away at the young age of 32 back in 2015, but his vision and aesthetic are being continued via the new museum director and guest curators. The Underground Museum is also a strong community player in mid-city and South Los Angeles (Black Lives Matter and other groups often use the space to organize).