Things To Do: Automotive Museums And Collections In California

In case you were unaware, there’s more to see in the automotive world than simply going to local car shows. While it is true that everyone loves a good car show, automotive museums and semi-private collections also have so much to offer enthusiasts. From interactive displays to automotive research libraries, these collections add fuel to an already explosive hobby for younger auto fans. We decided to highlight some of the top auto museums, state by state, starting with the home of high performance, California. Here’s what the golden state has to offer:

Academy of Art University Automobile Museum. Located in San Francisco, on the campus of the Academy of Art University, The Academy of Art University Automobile Museum presents a tantalizing glimpse into the history of the art and design of automobiles. Displaying cars from this expansive collection, which include classics from Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Jaguar, Packard, Duesenberg, and Cadillac, the museum preserves an integral piece of international automotive culture.

The automobile museum preserves and pays homage to these classic fixtures of international automotive innovation, and also provides inspiration and a sense of history to students that attend the Academy. Special guests, student groups, and the general public are now able to observe, admire, and study this rare collection. Forbes estimated the value of the collection at $70 million.


Designed by Bill Mitchell and built by Fleetwood, This Cadillac enjoyed record sales. Considered one of the most modern cars of the time with new “Art Moderne” instrument panels, sealed beam headlights, standard front and rear flashing turn signals, and the optional Hydramatic automatic transmission. Power came from a 346 cubic-inch V8 engine with 150 hp. Only 400 convertible sedans were built in 1941, and these would be the last of their kind. This car is currently in the Academy of Art University Automobile Museum. Photo from

Automobile Driving Museum. Located in El Segundo, the Automobile Driving Museum is one of Southern California’s premier destinations for car enthusiasts where museum visitors experience a wide range of vehicles from years gone by. The Museum is committed to the preservation and maintenance of these cherished age-old automobiles for generations to come. Currently the collection has more than 130 cars.

The rare 1951 Buick LeSabre concept car and 1955 Chrysler Ghia Gilda are two of the exclusive 50 cars in the museum's collection. Photo from

Blackhawk Automotive Museum. Located in Danville, The 70,000 sq.ft. facility houses well over 100 cars and an automotive research library. The venue is open Wednesday through Sunday each week, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.


1940 Lincoln Zephyr on display at the California Automobile Museum. Photo from

The California Automobile Museum is located just a stone’s throw from “Old Sacramento,” and neighbors the up ‘n’ coming Broadway strip. This museum is like nothing you’ve ever seen, as this is a world-class display with more than 150 cars under one roof. It was previously called Towe Auto Museum, and many of the cars are from the famous Bill Harrah’s car collection. You are not likely to find this arrangement of cars anywhere else, as some of the cars are privately owned, museum owned, or hand chosen to be on display. You can check out this gathering daily from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., except when the museum is closed on Tuesdays and some holidays. 

California Route 66 Museum. Located in Victorville, the California Route 66 Museum is an Interactive museum with over 4,500 sq. ft. of floor space and photo opportunities for the visitors to share memories, It’s fun to see such settings as a ’50s diner, the VW Love Bus that is complete with hippy wigs and sunglasses for that perfect shot. You can even jump up onto the 1917 Model-T Ford and any one of the docents would be glad to take a picture of you and your party. They have the first Santa Monica “End of the Trails” booth that is also quite popular with visitors. And for those with a good sense of humor, they have an “outhouse” built just for that photo.

California Route 66 Museum photos from

J.A. Cooley Museum. Located on the corner of Park and El Cajon Boulevards in North Park, San Diego, the display showcases 15 cars built from 1886 through 1933. You’ll also find 25 categories of antiques represented by collections such as model trains, whiskey flasks, spittoons, cuckoo clocks, license plates, beaded purses, phonographs, typewriters, and cameras. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Sundays noon-4:00 p.m. Admission is $5.00.

The Justice Brothers Auto Museum is easily one of our most favorite car collections, and a tribute to the three Justice Brothers. The brothers, famed for their high-performance engine additives, display their private collection of racing machines in a museum located on a section of the famed Route 66. Racing engines, midget sprint cars, vintage Corvettes and Thunderbirds, a Ford GT-40, and automobilia are all on view. Open Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. this is a must-see. Admission is free, but visitors under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.


One of the many cars in the Justice Brothers private collection. Photo from our visit last December. Complete tour can be viewed by clicking here.

Marconi Automotive Museum. Dick Marconi founded the Marconi Automotive Museum & Foundation for Kids in 1994. Located in Tustin, the impressive collection of high performance street cars and race cars are hand chosen by Dick, who has always been a great car enthusiast.

The goal of helping to raise a million dollars annually for various at-risk children’s charities has been achieved by using the car collection as a special event venue, as well as producing annual events on behalf of the Marconi Foundation for Kids. Mr. Marconi donated his vast car collection to the Marconi Foundation for Kids in an ongoing effort to give back. Thus, it continues to be his and the foundation’s goal, to continue doing good work in our community and beyond, in honor of his dreams and goals to help children in need.

The museum is open for tours Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except on days when there is a private event.


Mullin Automotive Museum. Photo from

Mullin Automotive Museum. Located in Oxnard, Peter Mullin established the Mullin Automotive Museum as a tribute to French automotive styling and the decorative arts that influenced the genre. The museum is open to the public on scheduled Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Semi-private visits can be scheduled.

Murphy Auto Museum. The museum is located in Oxnard, with a collection of over 90 beautiful vintage automobiles and Americana housed inside a 30,000 square foot facility. The unique collection spans from 1903 to present day. They are also home to one of the largest H/O scale train layouts, with many scale miles of track. Visitors can enjoy watching passenger and freight trains as they wind their way through cities, towns, and the countryside.

The Murphy Auto Museum is open on Saturdays and Sundays, January through March, from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., and Fridays 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. from April through December, or by appointment for special groups.

This 1931 Bugatti Type 51 coupe is from the classic era collection at the Nethercutt Collection. Photo from

The Nethercutt Collection. Located just north of Los Angeles, in Sylmar, the collection includes over 250 American and European automobiles dating from 1898 to 1997. Each car on display is attentively serviced and maintained to remain as drivable as when the vehicle originally rolled off the showroom floor. On view are various Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance winners, and cars once owned by movie stars, royalty, and other notable personalities.

Opened in 1971, The Nethercutt Collection is a not-for-profit educational institution, and a resource for automobile enthusiasts, historians, students, and scholars. It is open to the public at no charge. Self-guided tours are available from Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Petersen Automotive Museum. Located in Los Angeles, the Petersen Automotive Museum was founded in 1994 by magazine publisher Robert E. Petersen, and his wife Margie. In 2015, the museum underwent an extensive $90 million renovation, where the building’s façade was redesigned by the architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, while designers at The Scenic Route configured interior spaces to accommodate changing exhibits that are intended to encourage repeated visits. The remodeled museum opened to the public on December 7, 2015.

One of the world’s largest automotive museums, the Petersen Automotive Museum is a nonprofit organization specializing in automobile history and related educational programs. The museum has over one-hundred vehicles on display in its twenty-five galleries at any given time. The remaining half of the collection is kept in a “vault,” located on the basement level of the building. Tours of the vault are available on certain days. The museum is open 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Sunday.

From the High Art Of Riding Low exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Photo from

San Diego Automotive Museum. The original idea of creating an automotive museum in Balboa Park came from Briggs Cunningham, a renowned automobile collector and racer. In 1979, the San Diego City Council first considered the issue, and in 1980, they gave unanimous approval to the museum and granted a long term lease for one of the historic buildings in the jewel of San Diego, at Balboa Park.

After spending approximately $1 million renovating and upgrading the building, the San Diego Automotive Museum opened in December of 1988. Since then, millions of local auto enthusiasts and tourists from all over the world have visited this world-class collection. Today, the museum stands as a living tribute to the automobile and what it has meant to our culture. The museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

This 1931 Cadillac is on display in the Cars and Society exhibit at the San Diego Automotive Museum. Photo from

Toyota USA Automobile Museum. Located in Torrance, this collection of Japanese steel examines Toyota’s rich U.S. history that spans more than 55 years. To honor that journey of continued excellence, the museum has created a showcase of Toyota’s most memorable automobiles. These vintage vehicles trace Toyota’s amazing impact on America, starting as an unknown company in 1957, to becoming one of today’s leading automakers.

To learn more about Toyota’s history and see how the museum embodies the spirit of Toyota, make an appointment to visit them.

This 1959 Toyopet Crown Custom four-Door Sedan is on display at the Toyota Automobile Museum. Photo from

Woodland Auto Display. Located in Paso Robles, the Woodland Auto Display is famous for their  primary focus of racing vehicles, with a concentration of NASCAR Sprint, Modified, Super Modified, and Midget race cars. The Woodland Auto Display is located on the grounds of the Estrella Warbird Museumat the Paso Robles Municipal Airport. Opened to the public on July 19, 2009, the collection was originally just under 5,000 square feet of display area. By 2015, it had grown to approximately 17,000 square feet of covered display area. Another 7,000 square feet of restoration shop is located off site.

The display is open from Thursday through Sunday, and Monday holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Most of the vehicles on display have been restored to original condition as when first built. Some of the cars came off the track and required little to no restoration, while some were restored to pristine condition after being rolled, wrecked, worn out, or demolished.

This 1948 Crosley pickup is an example of one of the many cars on display at the Woodland Auto Display. Photo from

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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