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Best Local History & Culture in Orange County

By: Cityseeker
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Bowers Museum of Cultural Art

Founded in 1932, this is likely the best all-around museum in Orange County. The complex has particularly come into its own since its re-opening in 1992 with expanded and improved exhibition spaces. Created with funds donated by Charles Bowers, the complex was built in the style of the California Missions, and is adorned with murals honoring that motif. Originally intended by Mr. Bowers to focus on local history, the museum has since enlarged its focus to incorporate artifacts from the cultures of Southeast Asia, Oceania, Mexico and Native America.

Santa Ana, CA, United States
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Balboa Island Museum and Historical Society

To immortalize the memories of the past, the residents of Balboa Island have come together to collect and preserve mementos of the past. A non-profit organization, this museum is open to visitors without any cost. Photographs, stories, objects narrating the history of the island are on display. The exhibits speak volumes about the times when the island was not inhabited by many people and not linked to the city. The history of development of this little island is a little more than a century old, yet is still very interesting.

Newport Beach, CA, United States
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Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center

Housed in the only remaining Carnegie Library building in Anaheim, this museum deals both with the rich cultural history of Anaheim and of the world. The volunteers who work there value educating the younger generation about their fine city, which was founded in the mid-1850s by German winemakers who wanted to sell their product to citizens of Los Angeles. Muzeo also features rotating strange and wonderful exhibits that make this a truly fascinating museum.

Anaheim, CA, United States
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International Surfing Museum

Huntington Beach does indeed live up to its "Surf City" title as the most surfed beach in the west. Appropriately enough, this is a shrine to all those who have mastered the long board. Surfboards, surfing films, surfing music and plenty of memorabilia can be found here. The main attractions, however, are the items related to the great Duke Kahanamoku. This Olympic swimmer popularized surfing back in the 1920s, and both a bronze bust and one of his original hardwood boards can be found in the museum.

Huntington Beach, CA, United States
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Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Opening its doors in 1990, this complex was established to celebrate former President Nixon's accomplishments as a peacemaker and an international statesman. From the humble farmhouse built by his father in 1912, to priceless gifts from heads of state, to the peaceful memorials of the President and Mrs. Nixon, the museum and its beautifully landscaped grounds and gardens trace the long road from Richard Nixon's past. In addition to the 22 permanent galleries, the museum has expanded adding the Katherine B. Loker Center and Annenberg Court. At the center of the 47,000 square-foot expansion is a full-size replica of the elegant White House East Room.

Yorba Linda, CA, United States
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Laguna Art Museum

Laguna Beach has long been a center for art. Creative types tired of the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles flocked here in droves to work their magic along Laguna's pristine shores. The Laguna Art Museum continues this proud heritage with an impressive list of year-round exhibitions and programming. Within these hallowed halls, you'll find classic and contemporary works by artists both fledgling and world renowned. An emphasis is placed on Californians, but the museum's scope is global nonetheless.

Laguna Beach, CA, United States
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Mission San Juan Capistrano

Historic Mission San Juan Capistrano is a California icon. Perhaps most famous for visits from its annual guests of honor, the swallows, the Mission means many things to many people. For Californians, it is a powerful symbol of the state's complicated colonial history. For Catholics, it is a profound religious site, indicative of the Church's own complex heritage. History buffs spend hours reveling in the facility's many exhibits and displays, connecting viscerally with the sights, sounds and feelings of generations long past. For visitors of any background, it is an undeniably gorgeous place to spend an afternoon--replete with striking architectural elements and lovingly cared-for gardens.

San Juan Capistrano, CA, United States
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