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Delightful Southern California Museum Restaurants

By Edited Nov 27, 2016 3 11

Enjoying Art and Food Together

What can be more delightful than spending an afternoon enjoying wonderful museums, followed by an artistically presented meal in the museum restaurant or an equally pleasant restaurant in the nearby community? While most of us think of museums as places to enjoy solely for their art displays, many of them now also offer delicious local cuisine designed to entice their guests into spending a full day enjoying everything their facility has to offer. For those Southern California museums that do not have a restaurant on the premises, most of them are in areas where interesting restaurants can be found nearby.

If you live in Southern California, or you are planning a trip to this popular vacation area, visiting a museum may be on your summer agenda. If so, here is a list of beautiful ones that either contain restaurants on their premises or have lovely ones nearby for your dining pleasure.


J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles

The J. Paul Getty Museum

1200 Getty Center Drive

Los Angeles,California

The J. Paul Getty Museum should be at the top of the list for anyone who wants to enjoy fine art and beautiful views while they are in Los Angeles. This spectacular complex is not only the premier museum in the region, but the view alone from its terraces is enough to make your visit worthwhile. In addition, it is free all year long. The only charge is a modest $15 for parking your car.

The Restaurant at the Getty Center offers fine California – Mediterranean dining along with spectacular views and plenty of time to enjoy the top-notch art collection and frequent special exhibits that are, of course, the primary purpose of the museum’s existence. The restaurant offers lunch daily, as well as dinner on Saturday night and a Sunday brunch.


Bowers Museum

Tangata Restaurant

Bowers Museaum

2002 N. Main Street

Santa Ana,California

For those who plan a trip to Orange County, you have a number of locations where you can enjoy fine art. In particular, the charming community of Laguna Beach has its own museum, as well as numerous art galleries, with a wide variety of restaurants scattered throughout the village.

The premier art museum in Orange County is the Bowers Museum in Santa  Ana. It is located in a Spanish Colonial building, and the restaurant overlooks the charming courtyard. The dining room has large skylights and glass doors, which provide natural light. Patio dining is also available. The restaurant has Southwestern décor, and the cuisine is modern California.


San Diego Museum of Art

The Prado at Balboa Park

The San Diego Museum of Art

1549 El Prado

San Diego, California

Both local residents and tourists to San Diego often enjoy spending a day in Balboa Park. There are a number of wonderful facilities and exhibits in the park, including the San Diego Museum of Art.

The best nearby restaurant is not actually located inside the San Diego Museum of Art. Instead, it is located close by in a National Historic Landmark called the House of Hospitality. This lovely Spanish Moor style building and many of the other buildings in the park were originally designed for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition. Whether you choose to eat inside the cheery yellow dining room, or outside on the terrace, it is the perfect place to dine before or after an afternoon spent enjoying all the exhibits in the surrounding buildings.


Claire Falkenstein - Long Beach Sculptor

Claire’s at the Museum

Long Beach Museum of Art

2300 E. Ocean Boulevard

Long Beach, California

Long Beach has a number of interesting sites to enjoy along its fabulous shoreline. When you get hungry, Claire’s at the Museum is a delightful place to have lunch. The photo above depicts Claire Falkenstein whose gorgeous water sculpture is featured in the center of the restaurant’s outdoor patio. The lovely ocean view lawn between the museum and the restaurant is also the perfect place to enjoy a bridal or baby shower. On Thursday evenings, admission to the Long Beach Museum of Art is free. To celebrate, Claire’s offers a Happy Hour from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. While sipping a glass of wine, guests can enjoy gazing out over the Port of Long Beach and the Queen Mary, as they enjoy a spectacular sunset.

This waterfront restaurant is a relaxing place to enjoy breakfast, lunch or Sunday Brunch. Located on the first floor of the Anderson House, it is near both the Long Beach Museum of Art as well as the Queen Mary, which is permanently docked in Long Beach. The views from the patio dining area are spectacular. On a clear day, you can see Catalina Island.

If you want a change of pace from viewing art collections, take a tour of the “haunted” areas of the Queen Mary. Or, visit the nearby Aquarium of the Pacific, where you can enjoy a variety of fascinating sea life, including sharks, sea horses, and tropical fish.


City of Santa Barbara

Museum Café

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

1130 State Street

Santa Barbara, California

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art has a surprisingly large collection which includes over 27,000 works of art, including more Monet paintings than any other museum on the West Coast.

Located about an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is a charming small city that is well worth the drive. During your visit to the museum, the cozy Museum café serves a variety of coffee and tea drinks, as well as lunch. The menu changes to reflect the current exhibits in the museum.

However, don’t feel as though you are limited by the selection of food in the Museum Café. Santa Barbara is also well known for its variety of restaurants that serve fresh seafood and healthy California cuisine.


Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena

Garden Café

Norton Simon Museum of Art

411W. Colorado Boulevard

Pasadena, California

If you are planning a trip to the lovely hillside community of Pasadena, just east of Los Angeles, you will certainly want to stop by the Norton Simon Museum of Art. The Norton Simon Museum is renowned for its art collection, which includes works by Rembrandt, Degas, Picasso and Van Gogh.

If you get hungry during your visit, the Garden Café at the museum overlooks a tranquil garden that was designed by landscape designer Nancy Goslee and inspired by Monet’s own home in Giverny, France. The restaurant is a relaxing, casual and affordable spot to enjoy a pleasant lunch, after strolling past the American, European, or Asian art collections. Pasadena also offers other charming cafes and restaurants in the area.

Sources: In addition to the author’s visits to many of the above museums, she has also verified some of the details about the museums and their restaurants on the museum websites.

If You are Visting the Getty, You'll Want this Guide

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections (J Paul Getty Museum Publications)
Amazon Price: $19.95 $2.75 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 27, 2016)
This lovely handbook will make your visit to the Getty Museum even more enjoyable.


May 7, 2012 3:39am
Thank you for some very good suggestions about where to 'feed' your stomach and brain in one outing. A good eating place at a museum is a super idea. Thumbs up for your article.
May 7, 2012 9:20am
Thank you, askformore. It makes it more enjoyable to spend time at a museum, when you can enjoy a delicious break during your visit.
May 7, 2012 11:24am
I've yet to visit the Getty, it's on my list. Great article, Deb!
May 8, 2012 6:08pm
hi DD, enjoyed reading your article. ive never been to any of these places but if i have chance to visit one of these, the j.paul getty museum would surely be on top of my list as it really looks interesting! thanks for the info.
May 8, 2012 11:30pm
Fantastic article and the pictures are breathtaking. I am sure many people will be adding these museums to their vacation list. Good job! Thumbs Up!
May 16, 2012 9:51am
Thank you! These are all lovely places for people to visit, whether they are on vacation or live here in Southern California.
May 23, 2012 4:07pm
Wow that's something that I would never have even thought of. Could do that now as I travel about Australia's relics and museums. great pictures too. I think pictures make these article so much more interesting and really show more often than words can. thanks.
May 24, 2012 12:43pm
Thanks for these great ideas. I can't wait to try some of the restaurants you suggest. Getty still is my favorite. Oh the views from the restaurant windows!
Jan 20, 2015 8:12am
The Getty is one of my favorite museum restaurants, too, but it is nice to know that there are other choices, too!
Jan 20, 2015 8:21am
These I would love to visit sometime. I'm sure the food is a work of art as well.
Jan 20, 2015 8:46pm
I think the food is excellent at these restaurants. I hope you do get to visit one of these days.
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