Quirky museums showcase LA’s underground counterculture

With heavy hitters like  the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Getty Center right in USC’s backyard, Los Angeles is undoubtedly a world-class destination for the fine arts. But really, you can only look at so many pleasant post-impressionist paintings before you start to crave something a little quirkier, and a little more offbeat. Here are some peculiar museums to check out on the days that you decide to take the road less traveled.


The current Museum of Neon Art opened in Glendale, in 2016.

Los Angeles is immediately evocative of garish fluorescence, and nowhere is this flashiness more displayed than at the Museum of Neon Art. Exhibiting exclusively electric media, the nonexistent overhead lighting intensifies the brightly lit installations, which emit an otherworldly glow. In addition, novices and experts alike have the chance to take classes taught by established artists familiar with the neon medium, often toting home their own neon sculptures and signs after the sessions. The museum also offers night tours, where participants can board a bus that transports them through the glittering urban jungle of Los Angeles, past the old-fashioned movie marquees of Downtown, the luminous pagodas of  Chinatown, and, of course, the timeless radiance of Hollywood.


Truth is often stranger than fiction, but it’s up to the visitor to distinguish between the two at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, also appropriately monikered the Strangest Museum in America. This modern-day cabinet of curiosities displays artifacts such as the Deprong Mori bat, allegedly able to fly through solid objects due to the ultraviolet rays it transmits, and a horn mounted to the wall that purportedly grew out of the back of a woman’s head, but doesn’t specify which are bona fide and which are mala fide. Founder David Hildebrand Wilson has said that the museum is a “love letter” to the concept of museums, and the objets d’art they are meant to present. Some people walk out with an epiphany; others simply wonder what the hell they just saw, but all agree that it is a worthy experience.


There’s nothing subtle about this museum. Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a giant skull painting, as well as a grim reminder: Death is everywhere. The winding, maze-like interior shepherds people from a room plastered with the personal correspondence and doodles of notorious serial killers, to a miniature mortuary where a clinical step-by-step video plays instructions on how to embalm a corpse, to a full-scale reproduction of the Heaven’s Gate cult members dead in their beds. Plus, the building, which used to be a recording studio, is completely sound-proofed, with the oppressive silence sure to make the hairs on the back of your neck prickle. Warning: featuring extremely graphic photos depicting the remains of murder victims in every gory, glorious detail, this museum is not for the squeamish, fainthearted or emesis-prone.


Just down the street from the Museum of Death is another equally cheerless institution: the Museum of Broken Relationships. Two Croatian artists, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubiši, began adopting keepsakes left over from friends’ breakups, a collection that eventually grew so large that in 2016, a second branch opened up in the heart of Hollywood (the first museum is located in Zagreb, Croatia). Visitors wander through an eclectic selection of objects such as cheerleading outfits, pickle jars, and lipsticked mirrors, each accompanied by a brief explanation of the item’s sentimental value. Strangely, this museum is a popular date destination, so come here if you want to discuss with your significant other which relic representative of your relationship you’d donate in the highly unlikely, entirely hypothetical situation that you separate.