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Experience Art and Culture in California

California is a dramatic state – and we’re not just talking about its rugged deserts or stunning coastline. The Golden State has had two Hollywood actors as governor (Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger) and it’s been estimated that one out of every 10 workers here is employed in the culture industry, which includes entertainment, visual arts, fashion and publishing. Art and entertainment are simply part the state’s DNA, as well as a driving engine of our economy, accounting for an estimated annual $405 billion in economic output, according to the Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California.

From the first Hollywood film, D.W. Griffith’s 1910 short “In Old California,” to the latest summer blockbuster franchise, the film industry has been the most high-profile element of the arts and culture scene here. And visitors can immerse themselves in a celluloid fantasy, whether it's a studio tour, red-carpeted film festival, or a special event or screening at an Art Deco movie palace. For something truly only-in-L.A., catch a film or concert at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the final resting place of everyone from Rudolph Valentino to Johnny Ramone, located dead center in the middle of Tinseltown.

California is also known for its vigorous theater scene, with Tony Award–winning companies like the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, La Jolla Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Those three theaters alone have ushered dozens of plays to Broadway, including Jersey Boys, The Who’s Tommy and American Idiot. For some unscripted laughs, Los Angeles is home to the comedy-improv troupes The Groundlings and Upright Citizens Brigade, which have launched the careers of numerous major comic talents.

Lovers of classical or contemporary music should also take note: California is home to some of the finest and most important companies and venues in the country. From the Gustavo Dudamel-led Los Angeles Philharmonic at the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall to the buzziest bands playing the storied Fillmore in San Francisco, California’s music scene is right in tune with any traveler.

Art lovers can lose themselves at world-class museums like The Broad contemporary art museum, which opened in downtown Los Angeles in 2015, and the spectacularly renovated San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. San Diego’s crown jewel, Balboa Park, offers a smorgasbord of more than a dozen museums, making it the nation’s biggest urban cultural park. For a more casual experience, plenty of communities offer regularly scheduled art walks through gallery-heavy neighborhoods, like Oakland’s Uptown Art Murmur. Or for a real art plunge, there are scenic towns and artist colonies where creative types and galleries rule, like Carmel-by-the-Sea, Cambria, Mendocino and Laguna Beach, where the annual Pageant of the Masters recreates famous artworks with tableaus of actual people.

Those with a literary bent can pay homage to some notable writers at places such as San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore, co-founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti; the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur; the National Steinbeck Center in John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas; and Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz gets the star treatment, too, with his namesake museum in Santa Rosa.

Architecture aficionados will want to make the pilgrimage to Palm Springs for a tour of the Mid-Century Modern masterpieces located there. But don’t forget to add to the list lavish, fantastical Hearst Castle in San Simeon; the sublime Arts and Crafts Gamble House in Pasadena; the majestic California State Capitol building in Sacramento (which also houses a rich art collection); the weird and wonderful Winchester Mystery House in San Jose; and the state’s string of 21 missions, which tie together California’s Spanish, Mexican and indigenous history.

Year-round there are also any number of festivals and gatherings like the Monterey Jazz Festival, the world’s oldest continuous jazz fest; the back-to-back weekends of the wildly popular Coachella Valley Arts and Music Festival; San Francisco’s Outside Lands music and food extravaganza in Golden Gate Park; Tahoe’s SnowGlobe Music Festival that is equal parts festival and winter expedition; and San Diego’s giddy pop-culture celebration, Comic-Con. Sports fans will find big-time college and pro athletics up and down the state, including the NBA’s latest dynasty, the Golden State Warriors, and a couple of Los Angeles’ newest residents, the NFL’s Rams and Chargers.