The Best Things to Do in LA on a Rainy Day: Museums

Rainbow Clouds Rain Telescope Griffith Observatory
A rainy day at Griffith Observatory | Photo courtesy of John, Flickr

Museums are places to get out of the rain and into the past. Los Angeles boasts a plethora of such institutions, from niche outfits in cozy storefronts all the way to huge, family-friendly facilities complete with cafes and gift stores that merit all-day visits. As diverse as the city itself, the collections on display in LA museums span everything from Cold War memorabilia and classic cars to Native American artifacts and self-styled “Jurassic technology,” with something for all ages and audiences. Read on for ten museums where you can water your mind while keeping warm and dry.

Autry Museum of the American West

Founded by beloved Western actor Gene Autry in 1988, the mission of the Autry Museum of the American West is to explore an inclusive history of the American West. Its broad array of exhibitions and public programs includes lectures, film, theater, festivals, family events, and music; not to mention its research, scholarship, and educational outreach activities. The Autry Museum’s collection comprises 21,000 paintings, sculptures, costumes, textiles, firearms, tools, toys, musical instruments, and other objects.

During dry weather, make a day of it by also taking in the Los Angeles Zoo, which is located directly across from the Autry in Griffith Park.

California African American Museum

California African American Museum

Along with the California Science Center, the Natural History Museum, and the upcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, the California African American Museum (CAAM) is among the cultural institutions that continue to transform Exposition Park and South Los Angeles.

The first African American museum of art, history, and culture fully supported by a state, CAAM was founded in 1977, began formal operations in 1981, and debuted its inaugural exhibition in July 1984 to coincide with the Games of the XXIII Olympiad.

CAAM is focused on enrichment and education on the cultural heritage and history of African Americans, with an emphasis on California and the western U.S. The museum’s permanent collection houses 5,000 objects spanning landscape painting and portraiture, modern and contemporary art, historical objects and print materials, and mixed-media artworks.

NOTE: CAAM is currently closed for storm-related repairs. The museum's programming is ongoing at Art + Practice in Leimert Park.

California Science Center

Situated next to the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, the California Science Center is the home of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which landed at LAX in 2012 and is currently off public view as the museum prepares to open the Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.

There’s much more to America’s most-visited science museum, including multiple space and aircraft exhibits; plus other free-admission galleries such as World of Life and Fire! Science & Safety. The California Science Center’s mission is to stimulate curiosity and inspire science learning by keeping things fun and memorable for guests of all ages.

On less rainy days, stroll the Blackbird Exhibit and Garden, centered upon the 1960s A-12 “Blackbird” spy plane, which was developed in Burbank.

Wilder Hall of the Eye at Griffith Observatory
Wilder Hall of the Eye at Griffith Observatory  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Griffith Observatory

Escape the rain and reach for the stars at the Griffith Observatory, one of LA’s most iconic cultural attractions. The distinctively domed building offers spectacular views from the Pacific Ocean to Downtown LA from its perch on Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park and, through telescopes and exhibits, millions of miles into the cosmos. A celebrated landmark visible from much of the city, the Observatory opened in 1935 and today is nationally renowned as a leader in public astronomy, as well as being a beloved gathering place for visitors and Angelenos alike – rain or shine.

Museum of Death logo
Photo: Museum of Death

Museum of Death

Reopened in its new Hollywood location on Selma Avenue in June 2023, the Museum of Death is an enter-at-your-own-risk collection of serial killer artwork and memorabilia, antique funeral ephemera, mortician and coroners’ instruments, crime scene photos, and many more macabre artifacts. Strongly recommended for adults only, the experience is designed as a 45-minute self-guided tour through some of humanity’s darkest recesses, but guests are welcome to stay as long as they like.

“Rotten Luck: The Decaying Dice of Ricky Jay” at Museum of Jurassic Technology
“Rotten Luck: The Decaying Dice of Ricky Jay” at Museum of Jurassic Technology | Photo: Sgerbic, Wikipedia

Museum of Jurassic Technology

Lines between fact and fantasy, education and entertainment fascinatingly blur at Culver City’s endearingly bizarre Museum of Jurassic Technology. Currently open by advance registration only, it’s stuffed with sufficient odd artifacts and relics – portraits of canine cosmonauts, the “stink ant of Cameroon,” alleged carvings on fruit stones – to make the museum also a curio in itself. Incongruously tucked into a nondescript stretch of Venice Boulevard better known for strip malls and restaurants, this converted storefront houses hundreds of artifacts and the often dubious stories behind them – at least some of which you’ll simply have to figure out for yourself.

"Dueling Dinos" in the Grand Foyer of the Natural History Museum
"Dueling Dinos" at the Natural History Museum  |  Photo: Yuri Hasegawa

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

On rainy days, escape nature while getting closer to nature at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), where nearly 35 million specimens and artifacts span 4.5 billion years. Delve into Earth's past and present through jaw-dropping dinosaur exhibits, elaborate dioramas, and one of the most impressive gem and mineral collections in the world. Learn how LA went from tiny pueblo to vast metropolis in Becoming Los Angeles. The P-22 exhibit celebrates the eponymous mountain lion who roamed nearby Griffith Park, becoming a pop culture phenom and a figurehead for LA’s relationship with its natural environment.

Opening this summer, the $75-million NHM Commons will span 60,000 square feet of renovated space, new construction, and landscaping on the southwest side of the museum's Exposition Park home, including a light-filled welcome center, an inviting lobby with retail space, multipurpose theater, café and community plaza.

The Batmobile from "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992)at the Petersen Automotive Museum
The Batmobile from "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992) | Photo: Petersen Automotive Museum

Petersen Automotive Museum

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024, the Petersen Automotive Museum has constantly rotated its exhibitions to keep the experience fresh and relevant, and thus encourage return visits. Home to one of the world’s largest automobile collections, the Petersen displays less than half of its 300+ vehicle collection at any one time, with the remainder temporarily placed in storage. Located beneath the museum, The Vault houses some of the finest sports cars, collector cars, Hollywood movie cars, race cars and motorcycles ever shown to the public.

Noah's Ark exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center
Noah's Ark | Photo: Skirball Cultural Center

Skirball Cultural Center

Opened in April 1996, the Skirball Cultural Center is a self-described place of meeting guided by the Jewish tradition of welcoming the stranger and inspired by the American democratic ideals of freedom and equality. Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains just off the 405 Freeway, the Skirball features a stunning design by renowned architect Moshe Safdie and comprises an extraordinary museum, rotating exhibitions, live music, theater, comedy, film, family, and literary programs.

Make a day of it with the on-site Zeidler's Café and Audrey's Museum store. If you’re coming with kids, be sure to set aside time to enjoy the award-winning, interactive Noah’s Ark experience as a family.

The Surveillance Project at Wende Museum
The Surveillance Project | Photo: Wende Museum

Wende Museum and Archive of The Cold War

Trade cold weather for the Cold War at Culver City’s Wende Museum. Pronounced “venda,” wende is a German word that commonly refers to the era of uncertainty and possibility just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Wende Museum transcends exhibits and collections by placing equal emphasis on community engagement, international scholarship, digital access, and experimentation. That said, the facility houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Cold War art and artifacts anywhere, the majority sourced from the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union.