Orange County has more to offer than miles of sand and sea. There is a tremendous amount of diversity and culture. There’s an appreciation for art, history, and performance in Orange County that is reflected in the many museums and historic locations throughout the area. Here are a few Orange County museums you shouldn’t miss.
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana
Open Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
There are over 120,000 works of art in the Bowers Museum Collection. The permanent collection includes art and artifacts from regions all over the world, as well as Orange County. View collections from Native Americans, the Pacific Islands, Africa, South America, Asia, and more. In addition to the permanent exhibits, there are also several visiting and special exhibits that vary in subject. Collections include exhibits about the First Americans, Art of the Pacific Islands, Pre-Columbian Art, and California History. Kids love museums too, so Bowers offers Kidseum, with an emphasis on world cultures, art, and archaeology. Interactive exhibits allow the kids to touch and explore as they learn about the world both near and far. Bowers offers educational programs, school tours, and community days with a variety of activities from arts and crafts to archaeological digs. **Kidseum is currently under renovation but all family programs will be offered at Bowers.
Free Museum Days:
At Bowers Museum, kids under 12 are always free. All visitors receive free admission to the Key Courtyard for Family Festivals the first Sunday of the month. Santa Ana residents also receive free general admission on Family Festival Sundays.
Active Duty Military with a valid ID receive year-round free general admission. Veterans receive free general admission the Sunday before Veterans Day. Bowers Participates in the Blue Star Museums Program from August 1 – September 1.
The International Surfing Museum
411 Olive Ave, Huntington Beach
The International Surfing Museum is in Huntington Beach just off the main drag of popular Main Street in downtown Huntington. The museum is small, but there is a lot of memorabilia packed into the limited space. Admission is $2 and it’s worth checking out. The museum features a good selection of surfboards, and the Surf 2 Skate exhibit shows off how surfing influenced movement on land with skates, skateboards, and scooters. The International Surfing Museum occasionally hosts events and fundraisers. One to look for is the Surfin’ Sundays Concert Series where they host concerts at Pier Plaza by the Huntington Beach pier complete with food and vendors.
Laguna Art Museum
307 Cliff Drive, Laguna Beach
The Laguna Art Museum specializes in the art of California. There are over 3,500 pieces in the museum’s collection and all work comes from California artists, or is a work that represents life in or the history of the state of California. The museum often shows films about art, hosts lectures and live music nights, and offers other educational programs and special events like the celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday. The third Sunday of the month from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. the Laguna Art Museum hosts the Family Art Studio. The museum provides all materials for families to gather and create works of art together. Admission to the event is free for children. Summer camps for children, school tours, and docent programs are also available at the Laguna Art Museum.
Free Museum Days:
Laguna Art Museum offers free admission during the First Thursdays ArtWalk on the first Thursday of every month from 5 to 9 PM. Admission is always free for visitors 17 and under.
Laguna Art Museum participates in the Blue Star Museums Program and offers free admission to military members and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Marconi Automotive Museum
1302 Industrial Drive, Tustin
The Marconi Automotive Museum houses a collection of vehicles worth $30-million. One of the Marconi’s primary goals is to support the Marconi Foundation for Kids, an advocacy group that helps at risk youth through a variety of programs and financial support. They contribute regularly to local at-risk youth homes like Olive Crest, Orangewood, Covenant House, and more. Visitors to the Marconi will see an extensive collection vehicles including sleek motorcycles, shiny race cars, and historic vehicles like classic muscle cars and a vintage 1937 fire engine. No touching is allowed here, but older kids and car enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Marconi. Kids 12 and under are free. A $5 donation per adult is suggested.
Orange County Museum of Art
1661 West Sunflower Avenue, Santa Ana
The Orange County Museum of Art features over 3,000 works of art. The museum focuses on California and international pieces that include sculptures, paintings, and multi media works. OCMA provides an extensive list of curriculum and educational material on the website for parents and educators to use alongside a visit to the museum creating an educational experience that engages and inspires elementary, middle, and high school students. The OCMA calendar isn’t as full as other museums, but they do have special events like family day, and host film presentations and lectures from time to time. OCMA is currently in a temporary location and will be opening in it’s new home at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in 2021.
Free Museum Days:
OCMA offers free admission every day.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd, Yorba Linda
The Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum preserves and displays an extensive collection of documents, audiovisual material, and memorabilia from Richard Nixon’s life and presidency. Visitors can view 22 unique spaces in the museum that inform and educate about the life and times of Richard Nixon before, during, and after the presidency, including a replica of Nixon’s Oval Office, an exhibit about the Vietnam War, a dedicated space about First Lady Pat Nixon, the house where President Nixon was born. Visitors can also step inside Army One, the helicopter used by Nixon, Kennedy, Johnson, and Ford. The Library and Museum is located on the land that was owned by the Nixon Family. Nixon’s mother ran a citrus ranch here until the family moved to Whittier in 1922.
Free Museum Days:
The Nixon Library offers free admission every day to Active Military Members and children 4 and under.
Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center (SHACC)
110 Calle Iglesia, San Clemente
A list of Orange County museums wouldn’t be complete without the surfing heritage museum. There are actually two surf museums in Orange County – the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center in San Clemente and the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach. The SHCC offers visitors a chance to view artifacts, memorabilia, films, and other surf-focused material related to a variety of topics like the origins of surfing, women in surfing, skateboarding, the evolution of surfboards, and important figures in surf history like Bruce Brown, the filmmaker who brought us The Endless Summer in 1964.
Free Museum Days:
Admission to SHCC is free. Please consider purchasing a membership or making a donation.
More Museums & Historic Sites in Orange County
- Balboa Island Museum (210 Marine Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92662) FREE Admission
- Beall Center for Art + Technology (University of California, Irvine, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, 712 Arts Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697) FREE Admission
- Bolsa Chica Conservancy’s Interpretive Center (3842 Warner Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 92649) FREE Admission
- Bradford House (136 E Palm Cir, Placentia, CA 92870)
- Buena Park Historical Society (6631 Beach Blvd, Buena Park, CA 90621)
- Casa Romantica (415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente, CA 92672) FREE admission on the 1st Sunday of the month
- The Children’s Museum at La Habra (301 S Euclid St, La Habra, CA 90631)
- Costa Mesa Historical Society (1870 Anaheim Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92627) FREE
- Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center (34558 Scenic Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629) FREE
- Diego Sepulveda Adobe (1900 Adams Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626) FREE
- Discovery Cube OC ( 2500 North Main Street, Santa Ana) Visit the website for Bank Of America FREE Days and Santa Ana FREE Days.
- Doheny Visitor/Interpretive Center at Doheny State Beach (25300 Dana Point Harbor Dr, Dana Point, CA 92629) FREE
- Dr Howe-Waffle House & Medical Museum (120 W Civic Center Dr, Santa Ana, CA 92701)
- ExplorOcean (600 E Bay Ave, Newport Beach, CA 92661)
- Fullerton Arboretum (1900 Associated Rd, Fullerton, CA 92831) Donation Suggested
- Fullerton Museum (301 N Pomona Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832) FREE admission on the first Friday of the month from 6 – 10 pm
- Garden Grove Stanley Ranch Museum (12174 S Euclid St, Garden Grove, CA 92840)
- George Key Ranch Historic Park (625 W. Bastanchury Road
Placentia, CA 92870) CLOSED
- Grand Central Art Center (125 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701) Always FREE
- Helena Modjeska Historic House and Gardens (29042 Modjeska Canyon Rd, Silverado, CA 92676) FREE self-guided tours
- Heritage Museum of Orange County (3101 W Harvard St, Santa Ana, CA 92704) FREE to Santa Ana residents on the first Sunday of the month
- Heroes Hall Veterans Museum (88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, CA 92626) FREE admission
- Highway 39 Event Center (1563 S State College Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92806)
- Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University (167 N. Atchison Street, Orange, CA, 92866) FREE
- Irvine Regional Park Interpretive Center (1 Irvine Park Road Orange, CA 92869) FREE with paid park entry
- Irvine Ranch Historic Park (13042 Old Myford Rd., Irvine, CA 92602)
- Los Alamitos Museum (11062 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, CA 90720)
- Lyon Air Museum (19300 Ike Jones Rd, Santa Ana, CA 92707)
- Mission San Juan Capistrano (26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675)
- Mother Colony House (400 N West St, Anaheim, CA 92805)
- Muckenthaler Cultural Center (1201 W Malvern Ave, Fullerton, CA 92833)
- Murphy-Smith Bungalow (278 Ocean Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651)
- Museum of Teaching and Learning (1111 E Commonwealth Ave #C, Fullerton, CA 92831) FREE. Appointment only.
- Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center (241 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92805) FREE admission to the Carnegie Gallery
- Newland Center & Newland House (19820 Beach Blvd, Huntington Beach, CA 92648)
- Noguchi Museum (611 Anton Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92626)
- OC Center for Contemporary Art (Orange County Center For Contemporary Art ) FREE
- Ocean Institute (24200 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA 92629)
- Old Orange County Courthouse (211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, CA 92701) FREE
- Peter & Mary Muth Interpretive Center (2301 University Drive, Newport Beach) FREE
- Pretend City Children’s Museum (29 Hubble, Irvine, CA 92618)
- Ralph B. Clark Regional Park Interpretive Center (8800 Rosecrans Ave, Buena Park, CA 90621) FREE with paid park entry
- Ramon Peralta Adobe Historic Site (6398 E. Santa Ana Canyon Road, Anaheim, CA 92807)
- Santa Ana Fire Department Museum (120 W Walnut St, Santa Ana)
- Susanna Bixby Bryant Museum and Botanic Garden (5700 Susanna Bryant Dr, Yorba Linda, CA 92887)
- Tustin Area Museum (395 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780) FREE
- UCI Institute and Museum for California Art (UCI IMCA) (18881 Von Karman Ave #100, Irvine, CA 92612) FREE
- University of California, Irvine University Art Galleries (712 Arts Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697)
- Westiminster Historical Society (8612 Westminster Blvd, Westminster, CA 92683) FREE
- Yorba Cemetery (Woodgate Park Yorba Linda, CA 92886)
|Museums in Orange County||Children’s Museums in Orange County|
|Historic Sites in Orange County||Best Regional Parks in Orange County|
|Amazing Day Trips 90 Minutes or Less From OC||Educational Vacations In Orange County|
Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, an expert at exploring all that Orange County has to offer, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.