The Magic of 4 Quintessential L. A. Museums

In the impressive entrance lobby area of The Broad museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
In the impressive entrance lobby area of The Broad museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

These Museums Preserve the history and Magic of Hollywood

By Susmita Sengupta

Los Angeles is definitely a magnetic city with never a dull moment for a visitor – there are so many sights to see. The City of Angels offers plenty of outdoorsy fun too and a first time visitor can fill up their sightseeing time with visits to beaches and piers – Venice Beach and Santa Monica Pier teem with tourists.

Or they might trek up hills to see the iconic Hollywood sign that is an immediate identifier of this incredible city. Equally important are the gardens and parks like the tar pits that have the dinosaurs. And of course one has to head to Rodeo Drive and the Hollywood Walk of Fame for a brush with glitz and glamor.

What this means is that you might complete your trip without seeing some of the important museums that are quintessentially LA and offer an incredible experience of the culture that can only be associated with this vibrant city. And that would be a mistake. So here are 4 museums that should be included on a trip to Los Angeles.

A famous piece of art at The Broad contemporary art museum: Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons.Photo by Susmita Sengupta
A famous piece of art at The Broad contemporary art museum: Balloon Dog by Jeff Koons. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

The Grammy Museum

The Grammy Award displayed at The Grammy Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
The Grammy Award displayed at The Grammy Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

We began our quintessential L.A. museums trip at the Grammy Museum. Located in downtown L.A. at L.A. Live, a sports and entertainment zone on Olympic Boulevard, a major avenue in the city, the Grammy Museum which opened its doors in December 2008 is a must visit to experience the stories of American music and culture and the history of what is arguably the biggest music award show that many of us watch on television.

Look down on the pavement as you walk to the museum and notice the plaques embedded into the ground. Similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, this is the Grammy Walk of Fame that honors each year’s top 4 Grammy awards: Record, Album, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.

As we stepped into the museum lobby to get our tickets I was surprised to find the reception area to be quite small for the number of people that could enter the museum at a time. But do not be dismayed by this. Head to the top floor to begin your museum tour and start by stepping onto the expansive terrace for a spectacular L.A. skyline view.

We then commenced our tour at an immersive exhibit on the evolution of recorded sounds shown through a presentation of chart topping Grammy winners. It was incredibly exciting to walk through exhibits highlighting glitzy outfits, instruments and memorabilia of music legends like Roy Charles, Elvis Presley and Whitney Houston to name a few. A new permanent exhibit highlighting music of the world was equally fun as I noticed a section on Bollywood music.

Displays on items belonging to legends like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and others at The Grammy Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
Displays on items belonging to legends like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and others at The Grammy Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

We enjoyed the displays on songwriters and their hard work in putting together lyrics for chart topping songs which showed handwritten works of Cyndi Lauper and her song “Time after time”, Ricky Martin and his sing “La Vida Loca”, and many more.

A whole section was devoted to Shakira and her immense contribution to the music world. But certainly, one section was a crowd puller – the exhibit on the many, many outfits worn by Taylor Swift at all her concerts.

Taylor Swift's outfits which she wore at her various concerts are exhibited at The Grammy Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
Taylor Swift’s outfits which she wore at her various concerts are exhibited at The Grammy Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

The Broad

For an immersion into art and culture, nothing beats a visit to The Broad (rhymes with road), an absolute delight for all, not just art lovers. Admission is free but it is vital that you get your tickets online in advance if you want to avoid standing in long lines.

Outside The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, with The Walt Disney Concert Hall in the far background. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
Outside The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, with The Walt Disney Concert Hall in the far background. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

Located in downtown L.A. on Grand Avenue, the museum grabs your attention the moment you see it due to its dazzling design. A white concrete box set at an angle and perforated with thousands of holes reminiscent of a honeycomb, holds more than 2000 pieces of contemporary art from 1950 onwards.

A view of a stunning exhibition gallery space at The Broad museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
A view of a stunning exhibition gallery space at The Broad museum.
Photo by Susmita Sengupta

Enter into a cave like interior which is the lobby, store and reception area. We headed upstairs and were immediately drawn into a world of fabulous art.

The giant dining table with four chairs by Robert Therrien will bring you childlike joy and I was mesmerized by the simple yet magical transformation of red bottle caps into a flowing, lyrical sheet of contemporary art by the Ghanaian artist blah.

Enjoy the walk through amidst the permanent exhibits highlighting works of all major modern artists like Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and many more..

A major draw at the museum are the Infinity Mirror Rooms by Yayoi Kusama where you are immersed into a mirrored chamber lit up with LED lights. Unfortunately we had to give it a miss due to a waiting period of close to two hours so be sure to do your booking online in advance.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is a marvel of architecture designed by Frank Gehry in his signature style. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
The Walt Disney Concert Hall is a marvel of architecture designed by Frank Gehry in his signature style. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

Once you finish at The Broad, it is imperative to walk for about two minutes to see another architectural masterpiece of L.A. The Walt Disney Concert Hall, the home of the L.A. Philharmonic was designed by Frank Gehry in his signature style of undulating futuristic curves in glistening stainless steel.

We visited in the daytime and took a peek into the gloss and wood lobby atrium with its stunning columns sheathed in wood shaped to look like tree branches. You can of course attend a concert if you have the time.

The eye catching facade of Petersen Automotive Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
The eye catching facade of Petersen Automotive Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

Petersen Automotive Museum

In the minds of most people, Los Angeles is synonymous with car culture. So which better museum to go to than the Petersen Automotive Museum which celebrates all things on two and four wheels. This spectacular museum will hold your interest whether you are a car aficionado or not.

The first Cadillac car on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. Photo by Susmita Sengupta
The first Cadillac car on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

I was taken in the moment I saw the spectacular, flowy red and stainless steel ribbons that wrap the red colored museum building creating a visually spectacular race car track like facade on Wilshire Boulevard.

Enter into an expansive lobby area to get your tickets and immediately step into the world of vehicles. There are three floors of exhibits that showcase the “history, industry and artistry of the automobile” and a special vault that holds more cars but needs an extra ticket.

We started with the history floor where you experience the evolution of cars from the famous Henry Ford’s Model T invented in 1908, and “the car that put America on wheels” to the very first Cadillac, a two seater vision in red, that looked more like a little cart.

Another floor displayed futuristic cars like sports cars of the future with their pointed noses and only one front wheel to varieties of Corvettes and Porsches. There were exhibits celebrating the race car drivers who have won motorsport races.

A line of motor vehicles used in various movies and television shows on exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum.Photo by Susmita Sengupta
Motor vehicles used in various movies and television shows on exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

But to me, the highlight of the museum and definitely the crowd puller were the cool cars used in various Hollywood movies and TV shows, also displayed on the history floor. There was the sleek black Batmobile from the Batman movies of 1989 and 1992, the silverish Porsche used in Top Gun, the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters and many others. Equally fun to see were the cars used by celebrities such as the Shah of Iran, Pope John Paul II, movie star Steve McQueen and the Saudi rulers.

The Batmobile as seen in the Batman movies of 1987 and 1992 on show at the Petersen Automotive Museum.Photo by Susmita Sengupta
The Batmobile as seen in the Batman movies of 1987 and 1992 on show at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Photo by Susmita Sengupta

Finish your trip with a stopover at the Meyers Manx Cafe housed at the entrance. The cafe offers delectable pizzas, burgers, salads, drinks and more, all served in a cozy and rustic interior.

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Wouldn’t the Oscars come to mind if you think of Los Angeles? And so the final museum to visit when in L.A. would be the Renzo Piano designed Academy Museum of Motion Pictures that opened in 2021. You can combine a visit here with the Petersen Automotive Museum as they are across the street from each other.

The history, art and science of cinema comes alive in the seven story museum. Start off by admiring the spectacular gold cylinder that forms a part of the building on Wilshire Boulevard. Also of note is the massive glass dome that houses a terrace and a theater.

The ground floor of the museum has free entry and if you are short on time, you can visit a section of the enthralling “Stories of Cinema” exhibit for free and still come away with an enriching experience.

We had to do just that as unfortunately the museum had reached its closing time when we entered. But with time on hand you must see the entire exhibit as it occupies three floors. We walked through multi screen exhibits of cinema clips from around the world. Particularly exciting for me was to see clips of classic Bollywood songs.

Exhibition floors are devoted to objects from classic Oscar winners like Wizard of Oz (Dorothy’s ruby red slippers), Citizen Kane, Jaws, Psycho and E.T., to name a few. There are permanent exhibits on the evolution of cinema and its technologies showcased through historical devices dating back to the 17th century. The Oscars Experience is another scintillating exhibit as its an immersive exhibit that mimics the entire event of an Oscar acceptance.

Susmita Sengupta

 

Susmita Sengupta, an architect by background, is a freelance writer based in New York who loves traveling with her family. She has written frequently for GoNomad, Go World Travel Magazine, Matador Network and other travel web magazines.

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