California is a big state: 163,696 square miles connected by nearly 400,000 miles of roadways. Given that imposing vastness, it’s easy for even dedicated art lovers to have missed some of the area’s many varied and engaging art experiences. To help fill in the gaps, this list presents eight art spaces off the beaten track that are worth getting in the car and fighting the traffic to visit. Each one offers either a scenic location, historic architecture, or specialized art displays (or a mix of all three) that justify an art pilgrimage. Make sure to check each location’s website for hours and other details before planning your visit.

Art City Studios

The stone yard at Art City Studios (photo John Seed/hyperallergic)

Founded and run by sculptor Paul Lindhard, Art City is an outdoor stone yard and sculpture garden tucked into an industrial area in West Ventura, California. After 37 years in business, Art City is consolidating as a portion of the land it occupies has recently been sold. Still, the remaining yard area displays a dazzling array of monolithic stones and sculptures. For those inclined to carve, you can take home a slab of one of the many stones in inventory including alabaster pipestone, soapstone, limestone, travertine, orange calcite, onyx, or Carrara marble.

Art City Studios (
175 Dubbers Street, Ventura

Brand Library & Art Center

Installation view of Brand 50 (2022), curated by Shannon Currie Holmes, at the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale, California (photo John Seed/hyperallergic)

The striking Moorish exterior of the Brand Library & Art Center — originally the mansion of Glendale pioneer L.C. Coombs — is modeled after the East India Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After an expansion and several renovations, the center in its present form re-opened in 2014. A branch of the City of Glendale’s Library, Arts and Culture Department, the Brand’s 3,200 square-foot gallery space showcases works by established and emerging artists currently working and living in Southern California.

Brand Library and Art Center (
1601 West Mountain Street, Glendale

Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art

“Rhino Car” by David Best dominates the enterance of Gallery 2 at the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art in Napa, California (photo John Seed/hyperallergic)

An art park that is also a preserve, the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art provides verdant settings for outdoor art as well as a group of indoor galleries. A 35-acre lake adjacent to the main gallery is rimmed with sculptures and scenic view spots equipped with inviting chairs.  Founded by winemakers Rene and Veronica di Rosa, the center first opened to the public in 1997. The di Rosa holds a permanent collection of approximately 1,600 works of art by Northern California artists including Robert Arneson, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Nathan Oliveira, and William T. Wiley.

Di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art (
5200 Sonoma Highway, Napa

Forest Lawn Museum

A band of marrionettes by Bob Baker on view at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, California (photo John Seed/hyperallergic)

Open since 1952 on the grounds of Glendale’s enormous Forest Lawn cemetery, the Forest Lawn Museum offers free admission to a permanent collection that includes Adolphe-William Bouguereau’s 1881 Virgin of the Angels, which was restored by the Getty Museum in 2005-6. Currently, the museum is featuring Bob Baker Marionette Theater: 60 Years of Joy & Wonder In its rotating exhibition space through March 19, 2023. The Forest Lawn Museum stands next to the Hall of the Crucifixion-Resurrection, home to one of the largest religious paintings in the Western hemisphere: Jan Styka’s 195 foot wide “Crucifixion.”

Forest Lawn Museum (
1712 S. Glendale Avenue, Glendale

Haggin Museum

Haggin Museum, American art gallery (image courtesy the museum)

The impressive brick home of Stockton’s Haggin Museum, which opened in 1931, holds a remarkable collection of 19th and 20th-century paintings, works by the Golden Age illustrator J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1951), and historical items related to San Joaquin County history. Among its treasures are 12 works by the German-American landscape painter Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) and three precious canvases by Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899), one of the most famous and commercially successful woman artists of the 19th century.

Haggin Museum (
1201 N Pershing Ave, Stockton

Morris Graves Museum of Art

Redwood columns flank the entrance to the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka, California (photo John Seed/hyperallergic)

Housed in a 1902 Classical Revival-style building that was once a Carnegie Library, the Morris Graves Museum of Art was restored by the Humboldt Arts council and rededicated on January 1, 2000. It features the arts and artists of the Pacific Northwest with the highest priority given to the works of its patron, the visionary artist Morris Graves (1910–2001). The Museum also supports a rotating exhibition program featuring group and solo shows of Pacific Northwest artists.

Morris Graves Museum of Art (
636 F. Street, Eureka

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Karnak-style entrance to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (image via Wikipedia)

Founded and maintained by the Rosicrucian Order, this museum, set in an Egyptian Revival park, holds the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the Western United States. It contains a composite replica of an ancient Egyptian rock cut tomb, based on photos and sketches taken by Rosicrucian expeditions to tombs at Beni Hasan. Another exhibition, opened in 2015 and curated by the alchemist Dennis William Hauck, features a journey through the seven stages of the alchemical process and a working alchemy lab.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (
1660 Park Ave, San Jose

Trees of Mystery

A carving of Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe on view at Trees of Mystery (image via Wikpedia)

Trees of Mystery, a park and tourist attraction along US Route 101 near the coastal town of Klamath, is well known for its trails through spectacular old growth trees and its folk art-style carvings of Paul Bunyan. It is also home to an extensive and precious collection of Native American art and artifacts. Assembled by Marylee Thompson Smith and first opened in 1968, the collection — which includes woven baskets, beadwork, and ritual artifacts — can be found at the north end of the Trees of Mystery gift shop and is open to the public for free. 

Trees of Mystery (
15500 US-101, Klamath

John Seed is a professor emeritus of art and art history at Mt. San Jacinto College in Southern California. He is also the author of Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World (2019) and More...