It may not measure a mile, but it’s still a pretty miraculous collection of museums that lines Wilshire Boulevard’s “Miracle Mile.”
I took in a couple of these treasure troves of assembled knowledge on a Laguna Woods Chicago Club day trip, while on previous excursions of our own, my husband and I have visited most of the others.
The Petersen Automotive Museum announces itself at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue with a stunning stainless steel-wrapped ribbon façade backed in neon red.
Founded in 1994 by magazine publisher Robert E. Petersen, the museum originally made its home in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, then it moved into its current building, which formerly housed a series of department stores. In 2015, a total transformation inside and out created four floors of venue space to display more than 100 old and new vehicles of astonishing variety and design.
You don’t have to be an auto aficionado to appreciate the design qualities and overall beauty of the displayed cars. I was especially drawn to the earliest vehicles to hit the road, back when the car was a newfangled contraption, and also to some of the most aerodynamic and sleekest of modern conveyances.
Following the advice of the ticket sellers, we started on the third floor, which delves into the history of the automobile with special attention paid to Southern California’s car culture. Then we worked our way down through the second floor displays on industrial engineering and the ground floor’s emphasis on the artistic side of the industry.
At the time we visited, there was a special exhibit of Andy Warhol’s stylish renderings of a variety of Mercedes-Benz automobiles, commissioned by the car company, as well as his own personal Mercedes in the flesh, or should I say metal, the one he owned, although he was not licensed to drive it.
Also of great interest was a collection of “famous” cars, such as Lightning McQueen from Disney’s Pixar films, the Batmobile from “Batman Returns” and a DeLorean seen in “Back to the Future.”
The basement houses a vault with hundreds of treasured cars that can be viewed for an extra fee. We have not yet taken advantage of that opportunity.
Across the street from the Petersen is the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opened in 2021 after several delays due to the pandemic. It inhabits the former May Company building on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire, renovated and redesigned by architect Renzo Piano.
A spherical extension to the back of the building features two movie theaters used for special events. It also offers a spectacular view of the Hollywood Hills and its well-known sign on a clear day.
Permanent exhibits show off some of the Academy’s iconic items, including Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” Shirley Temple’s tap shoes from “The Little Colonel” and the only remaining shark mold from “Jaws.”
When we visited during the museum’s earliest days, I was thrilled to see an exhibit on the making of “The Wizard of Oz,” my all-time favorite movie. Other visitors may well find exhibits of their favorite movies as well.
Movie-making magic, colorful costuming and the intricacies of technology are all displayed in an array of permanent and temporary exhibits pertaining to the history and current state of filmmaking in Hollywood and beyond.
Moving on down Wilshire Boulevard, we arrived at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, currently repositioning itself into a cutting-edge building that will span the street with an amoeba-like form designed by prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor.
The 1960s-era buildings that previously housed the extensive art collections, touted as the largest in the Western United States, were torn down to make way for the new construction. It is fascinating to observe the building under way, with cranes and towers as far as the eye can see, as it creeps across Wilshire to the other side of the street.
Meanwhile, the Broad and Resnick buildings on the museum’s lower plaza are filled with much to see and savor.
I especially enjoyed the large abstract paintings that formed part of the “Another World: The Transcendental Painting Group” exhibit, new to my knowledge of the art world. The colorful and ethereal designs shown in this gallery by artists centered in Santa Fe in the early to mid-20th century captured my fancy and imagination in wonderful ways. This exhibit runs through June 19.
And the Japanese pavilion, with its fascinating glimpses into the country’s art and culture, is always one of my favorite places to visit and remains happily untouched by current construction since it is perfect just the way it is.
Just past the pavilion sit the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum, displaying fossils collected from the nearby pits reconstructed in their original configurations, with explanations and background material about the animals when they were alive. We left the exploration of this museum and its odorous black pools for another visit as time was running out.
As an add-on to any visit to Museum Row, however, I love to visit the Craft Contemporary Museum, across from the Page Museum. Formerly known as the Craft and Folk Art Museum, it features unusual and thought-provoking exhibits as well as a gift shop that could double as a museum exhibit itself.
If you are needing a meal break in between or after all this museum hopping, a quick jaunt up Fairfax Avenue brings you to the Original Farmer’s Market, where the choice between French, Cajun, Irish, Middle Eastern and other fare boggles the stomach.
After I had a delicious falafel wrap for lunch, my best discovery of the day was a cappuccino in a waffle cup lined with dark chocolate – the perfect punctuation to a day that satisfied all the senses.