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Culture-Filled Getaways in the Golden State

After more than a year of temporarily closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several museums across California are welcoming visitors again. From new openings and exhibits to updated experiences and local favorites, below is a sample of the Golden State’s vast selection of enjoyable cultural institutions.


San Diego Welcomes Visitors with All-New Museum, Historic Sites and Exhibitions
San Diego is home to diverse arts and cultural offerings that provide an inspiring counterpoint to its famous beaches and family attractions. This summer, visitors to Balboa Park can experience the new Comic-Con Museum along with the Mingei International Museum when it reopens after major reconstruction, including the historic California Bell Tower and Balboa Park Carousel. The San Diego Museum of Art will offer a series of new exhibitions such as “Art Alive 2021” (June 18-20) and “Cranach to Canaletto: Masterpieces” from the Bemberg Collection (June 18-Sept. 27). The exhibit features some of the biggest names in European paintings, and this is the first time works from the collection have been shown publicly in the U.S.

Flannery Exchange Opens in the Heart of Palm Springs
Located in the heart of the Palm Springs uptown design district, Flannery Exchange is a brand-new, mixed-use space providing desert guests and residents the opportunity to work, play, shop, dine and celebrate. Created to share the love of Palm Springs and the creative energy of the desert with digital nomads, entrepreneurs and “bleisure” travelers, visitors are invited to extend their stay by adding remote workdays to their trip.

New Napa Art Walk and Exhibits in Downtown Napa
Napa Art Walk, a biennial, outdoor sculpture exhibit along the streets of Downtown Napa, will unveil new art pieces this July. The new rotation of sculptures will be united by a theme titled “Play” featuring kinetic artworks and remain on display until spring 2023. Napa Wrap Art is a new outdoor public art project featuring transformed utility boxes into works of art, which will be complete by the end of spring. Napa County Historical Society’s newest exhibit, “The Presence of the Past,” chronicles 18 select landmarks, representing nine different categories of buildings throughout the Valley. The exhibit will be open to the public until Sept. 25, 2021 and can be viewed at the Goodman Library.

Experience Mission Plaza Pop-Ups and Drive-In Performances in San Luis Obispo
Now through summer 2021, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa will be home to rotating exhibits through the City of San Luis Obispo’s recently launched plaza pop-up program. Each pop-up will feature a different cultural nonprofit who will create an art installation unique to that nonprofit’s mission.


The Walt Disney Family Museum's Main Museum is Reopen

The Walt Disney Family Museum began welcoming back members and guests to its main galleries on April 22. Located in San Francisco’s the Presidio, the Main Museum houses the museum’s permanent collection and presents the story of Walt Disney’s fascinating life and legacy through a myriad of state-of-the-art galleries. Highlights include the first known drawing of Mickey Mouse, one of only three Multiplane Cameras in existence, spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a highly detailed miniature model of Disneyland. Tickets can be reserved online.

Oakland Museum of California Reopening to Public June 2021
Following a major campus renovation project, Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) will welcome back visitors after 14 months of closure this June. Funded by an $85 million capital campaign, the renovation includes a new outdoor stage for performances and events, and a refreshed sculpture garden, featuring native California plantings. OMCA’s reopening is also accompanied by the launch of its new restaurant, Town Fare by Oakland chef and “Top Chef” contestant, Tanya Holland, and the opening of the much-anticipated exhibition, “Mothership: Voyage into Afrofuturism.”

The Sierra Mono Museum Invites Californians to Experience the Life of the Mono People
Like the glaciers that carved Yosemite Valley, the Sierra Mono people have been present in the Sierra mountains for over ten thousand years. The expanded and modernized Sierra Mono Museum in North Fork, CA will display the cultural treasures and priceless artifacts of the original inhabitants of the region. One of only a handful of museums in the state solely owned and operated by native people, the newly expanded and updated museum will give additional reverence to the significant contributions of the Mono people of California. For more information call (559) 877–2115.

The Arts Return to Sonoma Valley
The Charles M. Schulz Museum in Sonoma Valley is welcoming visitors back to enjoy not only the legendary cartoonist’s work but also to learn more about the art of cartoons. Current exhibits include “Lucy! Fussbudget to Feminist,” which traces Lucy Van Pelt’s empowering personality through original artwork and never-before-seen materials. The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is also open featuring “Ed Ruscha: Travel Log,” an exhibition of prints, books and photographs by the world-renowned American artist. Chamber music returns with Valley of the Moon Music Festival’s 2021 season, “Love and Longing: Reaching Across the Distance,” a series of nine programs inspired by the human desire to connect.

California Agriculture Museum Reopens in Yolo County
The California Agriculture Museum, located in Woodland, CA, has opened back up to the public. Home to the nation’s most unique collection of tractors and artifacts, the museum showcases interactive exhibits and special events that tell the history of farm to fork, dating back to the Gold Rush era. This summer, the museum will feature a special sunflower exhibit in celebration of the Yolo County sunflower bloom.

See Costa Mesa by Car and Foot
Costa Mesa Art Walk Audio Tour, a newly reimagined self-guided walking and audio tour, provides information about the artists and their sculptures featuring more than 20 art pieces, including “California Scenario,” known by locals as Noguchi Garden. The tour is free and can be accessed on any mobile device. Also, guests can take a driving tour of the city to spot street art and murals following Travel Costa Mesa’s Mural and Street Art Guide.

Beachside Exhibits in Laguna Beach
Wayne Thiebaud, the senior statesman of American art revisits early memories from his childhood with paintings, drawings and etchings of clowns at the Laguna Art Museum. The “Clowns” exhibition features more than 40 works and is the first museum showing of the series first unveiled in December 2019. The exhibit will run through Oct. 24, 2021. Coming this June, “Matthew Rolston, Art People: The Pageant Portraits” will feature Rolston’s stylized portraits of the participants in Laguna’s beloved Pageant of the Masters, through Sept. 19, 2021.

Get Artsy in Gilroy
Gallery 1202 is a contemporary art gallery in the heart of downtown Gilroy that provides an inclusive, welcoming space for talented artists from around the world. The spring exhibition, “The Power of Vulnerability (April 24-June 4), will feature BIPOC LBGTQ artists from California and explore the role of personal vulnerability as a site for love, growth, liberation and transformation. While in town, stroll through the historic downtown district to discover the larger-than-life mural celebrating Gilroy’s legacy as the “Garlic Capital of the World,” as well as bronze sculptures of figures from the city’s historic past and the educational Gilroy Historic Paseo.


California's Legendary Road Stop, The Nut Tree, Celebrates 100 Years

In July of 1921, the Power family started a roadside fruit stand that would become California’s favorite road stop and put Solano County on the map for travelers all over the country. The Vacaville Museum exhibit honoring the 100th anniversary of the original Nut Tree, “Nut Tree Centennial: 100 Years of Food, Family and Fun,” is now open. The Vacaville exhibit tells the story of the nut tree and the local family who, through a commitment to quality and innovation, created a world renowned “oasis of good taste.”

New Fallen Tree Project in Torrance
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of Torrance and California Arbor Week, 21 dwarf fruit trees were planted in March in Torrance’s Lago Seco Park introducing the new Fallen Fruit Project. The project invites people to experience Torrance as a fruitful, generous place, to collectively reimagine the functions of public participation and urban space, to ponder forms of located citizenship, and to explore the meaning of community and neighborhood through creating and sharing new and abundant resources.

Artist Haven in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Originating as an artist haven, Carmel-by-the-Sea is home to several unique outdoor art displays. These include Cypress Inn’s mural honoring Charlie Chaplin in a pink heart, Forest Lodge’s mural portraying theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and the new Carmel Shell mural showcasing Carmel’s symbol of home, shelter and recovery on a pale pink background. This year, Carmel Mission will celebrate its 250th anniversary. The architectural and cultural gem is one of the most authentically restored of the chain of 21 California Missions.


Tour the Historic Piedras Blancas Light Station in San Simeon

San Simeon’s historic Piedras Blancas Light Station, built in 1874 and still in operation today, stands on the coastal bluffs along Highway 1. The tour provides a glimpse into the nation’s past when lighthouses served a vital role in maritime navigation.

Blackhawk Museum's Wild West Exhibit in the Tri Valley
The Tri Valley’s Blackhawk Automotive and Cultural Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, showcases some of the most exotic cars in the world as well as cultural exhibits from the Old West, China and Africa. The Spirit of the Old West Gallery weaves the story of the American West, depicting the challenges, successes and failures of both Native Americans and American Settlers. Learn about the life of the Plains Indians and the settling of the Western Frontier, from mountain men and settlers to outlaws and lawmen.

American History and a Field of Lights in Paso Robles
Dive into American history at the Estrella Warbird Museum in Paso Robles with over 15,000 square feet full of personal artifacts, military vehicles, missiles, munitions and ever-changing display of unique automobiles. In the evening, cruise down Highway 46 east to Light at Sensorio, a stunning outdoor art exhibit that illuminates the rolling hills of wine country. Sensorio recently added a new Light Tower display, six-foot towers composed of over 17,000 wine glasses light up the night with bright colors.

Explore the Natural and Cultural History of the Palos Verdes Peninsula
Explore the rich natural and cultural history of the Palos Verdes Peninsula with a stay at Terranea Resort and visit to the nearby Point Vicente Interpretive Center. The Center features exhibits on the natural and cultural history of the Peninsula, with a special emphasis on the Pacific gray whale. In addition, Lower Point Vicente is part of the Palos Verdes Nature Preserve. This beautiful park, located adjacent to the Point Vicente Lighthouse, offers recreational and educational opportunities to the public.

Culture-Filled Exploration in Dana Point
Southern California’s Dana Point is excited for the reopening of the Ocean Institute. A cultural and scientific institution, Ocean Institute offers bountiful ways to discover the ocean’s underwater world and California’s fascinating maritime history. With new exhibits, kayak tours around Dana Point Harbor, tide-pool hikes and immersive indoor activities, the Ocean Institute offers something for everyone. Mission San Juan Capistrano is welcoming visitors to enjoy the historic landmark, museum, chapel and gardens. A monument to California’s multicultural history, embracing its Native American, Spanish, Mexican and European heritage, the Mission offers in-person private and audio tours, and virtual guided tours.

Note: As communities re-open after COVID-19-related closures, some parks, businesses and attractions may still be closed or have new protocols in place. Please verify local guidelines and regulations for all destinations and hours and availability of individual businesses before publishing. Check out Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub for guidance on how visitors can travel within California safely.