Bowers Museum

This small museum in Santa Ana pulls big exhibitions from around the world.

Orange County’s largest museum is known as a center for cultural art, with a small but eclectic array of collections. Among the 120,000 pieces you’ll find diverse and unusual artifacts. There’s an African shield made from animal hide, an initiation mask from the Congo. There’s also a coat worn by a colonel in the American Civil War. Artifacts date from the Neolithic era to the 20th century, representing cultures from the Pacific Islands, Africa and Asia.

Set on picturesque grounds that include a striking Spanish Mission-style building, the facility covers 93,000 square feet (8,640 square meters). A highlight is the Native American Art Collection, the museum’s largest exhibit, with more than 24,000 pieces dating from prehistoric to contemporary times.

The collection of paintings includes more than 2,000 works from celebrated Californian artists of the late 19th to early 20th century. Most notable is the collection of 40 pieces by husband-and-wife artists William and Alberta McCloskey. They toured America together in the late 19th century painting portraits and still lifes. There is also a separate collection of memorabilia from the early days of Orange County.

Bowers Museum hosts a variety of visiting exhibitions, along with related films, guest lecturers, workshops and music performances. Call or visit the museum website for an event schedule and details.

Kidseum, an extension of the museum, is a fun, play-based learning center catered to youngsters. Opening hours for this section vary throughout the year.

The main part of the museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, and entry is free on the first Sunday of the month. If you want to view the featured exhibition on Sundays, you’ll need to join the line for a separate free ticket and then wait again to enter the exhibition space. Only 250 people an hour are allowed in at one time.

Allow at least three hours to tour the museum, and you may want to eat lunch at the on-site Tangata restaurant. It’s a popular venue so a reservation is recommended.

The Bowers Museum is a five-minute drive from downtown Santa Ana. Parking is available for a fee, and the museum is also accessible from downtown by bus.