Move over, Detroit. Southern California is the automotive capital of the United States and the world. And among many other reasons, Southern California deserves this moniker because of its plethora of world-class automotive museums. They range from life-size Hot Wheels collections to Bugatti and Ferrari exhibits and much more.
iDriveSoCal’s (opinionated) contributor Clinton “The Professor” Quan created a list of his top five favorites. But there’s more for sure. So you can listen to the Professor and I debate his Top-5 and continue reading below for even more Southern California Automotive Museums.
Top Five Southern California Automotive Museums
1. Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin: Non-Profit Benefiting Kids
The Marconi Automotive Museum is the only car museum in Orange County. It’s open Monday through Friday, with some events on the weekends. Besides a yearly open house, this museum hosts fight nights and private events, and it donates profits to children’s charities. The car collection includes several Ferraris, as well as other race cars.
2. Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo: A Special Place For Generations
The Automobile Driving Museum is one of the most unique Southern California museums. It was first located in West Los Angeles. It later moved to the South Bay in El Segundo, near LAX, because it outgrew its former location.
This museum stands out because every Sunday, three different classic cars are brought out of the collection, and car enthusiasts can ride in them. The museum is located in a garage because all of the cars regularly take a turn for those weekend drives. There’s a separate building where this museum hosts Hot Wheels weekend events, which includes real life-size versions of Mattel Hot Wheels cars.
3. Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles: One of the Largest Southern California Automotive Museums
The Petersen Automotive Museum showcases its collection of more than 300 cars in over 60,000 square feet of exhibit space in the heart of Los Angeles. It’s one of the largest car museums in the United States. This museum is well known for its events and for its unique exhibits, such as the classic Japanese car collection or its low rider collection. The exhibits change often, so visitors never get bored. This museum is also developing programs to help attract children toward future jobs in the automotive industry.
4. The Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar: Elegant Cars and More
The Nethercutt Collection is a hidden gem with more than 200 cars on display. This collection has won the Best of Show award at Pebble Beach more often than any other collection.
All of the cars showcased here are Concours d’Elegance caliber. This museum has two sets of buildings. One allows car fans to take self-guided tours, but the other building requires reservations and guided tours, and it’s only open a few days per week. Besides vintage cars, this museum also displays musical instruments and furniture.
5. Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard: The Professor’s Favorite
The Mullin Automotive Museum, which is located in Ventura County, features all French cars in its collection. The exhibits include Bugatti and Wago models, but the museum is only open to the general public two days a month. Car enthusiasts who want special showings on weekdays pay double the price.
The museum is located in what was previously The Vintage Museum, founded by Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler. It’s since been renovated, with a floor plan that allows plenty of space for the cars on display.
Because you cannot leave out a few other Southern California Automotive Museums here’s the list continued. Each with its own niche.
- San Diego Automotive Museum – San Diego, California
- Segerstrom Shelby Event Center – Irvine
- National Hot Rod Association’s Motorsports Museum – Pomona
- Murphy Automotive Museum – Oxnard
- The Motte Historical Car Museum – Menifee
- California Route 66 Museum – Victorville
- Lyon Air Museum – Santa Ana
- Air Force One Pavillion – Simi Valley