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.
Bowers Museum and Kidseum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center
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.