I believe that visiting a museum is a great date idea. It’s quiet so you can talk, and there are usually interesting things to see and comment on. Maybe you can even show off some of the stuff you learned in that art history class you took in college.
And Los Angeles has some amazing museums! Here are the top museums I would recommend in LA for a special date.
1. The Hunting Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
The Huntington is my top pick for the best museum to go to on a date in the LA area. It’s kind of cheating because this place is more known for its gardens than its museum. There is a tropical greenhouse, as well as Japanese, Chinese, Australian, and of course, rose gardens. The grounds are very romantic, but try to avoid mid-day during the summer, as it does get hot.
But the art museum is cool too, and the library has illuminated manuscripts, the Gutenberg Bible, and works of Shakespeare from the 1600s. You pretty much can’t go wrong if you bring a date here.
Admission is $25 per person, so this is not a cheap option, but I guarantee that you’ll have an enjoyable time.
Afterward, drive to nearby Old Town Pasadena and have a meal to make it a perfect date! Read my complete review with tips on the Huntington Garden! Or, check out my full list of Pasadena date ideas.
2. The Academy Museum
Probably the hottest museum ticket in town is the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures housed in the renovated May Company building adjacent to LACMA. There was a Tom-Hanks-hosted special on it and it looks pretty amazing. Of course, advance reservations are required. Cost is $25 per person. Anyone who appreciates movies would enjoy a visit here!
3. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) / La Brea Tar Pits
LACMA is a jewel in mid-city LA. It has almost every type of art imaginable from ancient to modern, western to Japanese, and beyond. But, I also like strolling the grounds. The tar pits are a geologic oddity, and you can see archaeological excavations in progress. Of course, don’t miss the photo ops at the Urban Light display piece!
It’s fun to go during the summer when they have free outdoor concerts. People usually picnic outside. Oh, and after 3 PM, the museum is free for LA county residents!
I personally would avoid the George C. Page Museum, aka the La Brea Tar Pits Museum, on the same grounds. It’s not a bad museum, but to me, it’s not worth spending an extra $15 per person. Yes, there are fossils on display, but they’re of mammals like wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers, not dinosaurs. I would avoid it unless you find that interesting.
Afterward, hang out at the Grove, or go to one of the trendy restaurants on 3rd Street nearby. See my full list of mid-city date ideas.
4. The Getty Center
As you ride the tram up the hill to the Getty Center, you’ll realize you’re in for something special when the majestic travertine stone buildings reveal themselves. The Getty Center is a “must-see” for LA visitors for a reason. The architecture and views of the West Side are simply amazing. As with the Huntington, for me, the artwork is secondary to the grounds, gardens, and incredible views.
For the best experience, time your visit to coincide with one of their outdoor concerts. Check their websites for the “Off the 405” and “Saturday Nights at the Getty” schedule of shows. It’s a great way to end your visit there.
Or, pack a lunch and have a picnic on the museum lawn. Yes, it’s allowed and encouraged! Many people do it.
If you have a special occasion to celebrate, make reservations at The Restaurant. The name is generic, but it’s high-end and definitely date-worthy.
Oh, and admission to the Getty Center is FREE!
5. The Getty Villa
The Getty Villa is a re-creation of an ancient Roman country house, nestled above Pacific Coast Highway in the Pacific Palisades. This is a really romantic place for a date!
The artwork focuses on ancient Greek and Rome. It’s cool for a while, but I really like the ambiance and views the best! (I guess this is becoming a common theme).
Admission is free but you need to get timed tickets in advance. And parking is $15 so it’s not exactly free, but it’s still a great deal.
6. The Broad
The Broad contemporary art museum opened with great fanfare in downtown LA in 2015. Admission is free to the permanent collection, which I swear contains stuff that I used to see at the LACMA modern art wing. More interesting is the Infinity Room, which requires either waiting in line early in the day or booking a ticket in advance.
The most interesting part of the Broad is usually the special exhibit featuring works by top artists like Jasper Johns and Cindy Sherman. These exhibits are not free and you need to get timed entrance tickets in advance, or risk being turned away at the door.
After your visit to the Broad, have dinner at Otium right next door! You won’t be disappointed. Or, if you time it right, catch a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. See my full article on Downtown LA Date Ideas.
7. The Griffith Observatory
OK, here’s yet another example where the museum isn’t really the primary attraction – it’s more the ambiance and views. Nevertheless, the Griffith Observatory is a great place to take a date.
The museum focuses on astronomy, of course, and has interactive exhibits of the planets and stars. But I recommend going at night when the views of the city from Santa Monica to Downtown LA are amazing. Read my article on how to have a great date at Griffith Park.
8. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel
Located in the heart of the revitalized Arts District near downtown LA, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is a fun place to take a date. The building is a former flour mill and contains multiple galleries, a central courtyard, and an on-site organic farm complete with chickens!
Be sure to check their website to see what the current exhibit is because there is no permanent collection. It would be a bummer to go when they happen to be in-between exhibits, or if the current exhibit is lame.
If you get hungry or want a drink, their on-site restaurant, Manuela, is great. Or, walk around the Arts District, one of my favorite areas to hang out in LA! See my complete list of attractions in the downtown LA Arts District.
Oh, and the exhibits are free, although there may be lines for the more popular exhibits.
9. Petersen Automotive Museum
I’m not a huge “car guy”, but I still love the Petersen Automotive Museum. Why? It not only has fancy cars, but it shows the history of car design and innovation, from the first primitive vehicles to modern-day sports cars. I also really like the collection of cars from Hollywood movies, from the famous De Lorean from Back to the Future to the original Batmobile and more.
If you want something to do afterward, simply walk across the street and hang out in the grounds of LACMA. Or, drive to a restaurant on 3rd Street or in the Grove.
Admission is $16 plus $13 after thirty minutes in the parking garage (and you’ll definitely need more than thirty minutes). So, this museum is pricey.
10. Norton Simon Museum
OK, I like a lot of the museums on my list not for their exhibits, but rather their gardens, view, architecture, etc. The Norton Simon one where the art s truly the star. If you’re into the Dutch masters like Rembrandt or French Impressionism (Monet, Manet, Renoir), the Norton Simon is for you.
Admission is $15 except for the first Friday of every month from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. when it’s free!
And, it’s within walking distance of Old Town Pasadena – a great place to hang out afterward.
11. Natural History Museum / California Science Center / Exposition Park
This is a huge complex that includes the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, and Exposition Park. You probably shouldn’t even attempt to see all of them in one visit. The permanent collections are free but the Endeavour space shuttle requires advance reservations with a small $2 service fee. Personally, I think the shuttle is the highlight of this museum, so I would definitely plan to see it.
There’s so much else to explore here though. This is an ideal place to take kids. While the caliber of these museums is not at the level of, say, the Smithsonian, it’s worth a visit if you’re not into art museums and prefer science, technology, or nature instead.
A Warning About Free Museum Days
Most museums have special days when admission is free. These are great for saving money, and to ensure the atmosphere at the museum will be lively.
The downside is that the museum could be a bit too crowded, and parking could become an issue. I went to LACMA on a free day once and the museum parking was completely full, so we had to drive around for fifteen minutes trying to find street parking. Just a word of warning.
If you’d like to save some dough, I’d recommend instead going during free museum hours. For example, LACMA has free admission after 3 PM during the week. The parking and crowds are very reasonable during that time!
Well, those are my picks! What do you think? Let me know about your favorite museums in LA! – Brian