Petersen Automotive Museum: The Complete Guide

Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles

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Don't turn up your nose at the word “automotive” in the Petersen Museum’s name. And whatever you do, don't dismiss it with an arrogant: "I'm not a car person." If you do, you could easily miss an experience you would actually love.

Reviews of the Peterson include phrases seldom used when describing any single place: “artfully arranged,” “car geeks,” “Impeccable curation,” “hot rods," and “architectural award winner.” Car enthusiasts enjoy it, but so do people who love to see beautiful, well-designed objects, people who like the movies, and just about everyone else.

Things to Do at the Petersen Automotive Museum

It will take about three hours to explore the museum's three floors and gawk at the 50 or so cars on regular display. Admission to all of these permanent exhibits are included with a general admission ticket:

  • Cars of Film and Television must be the most-photographed exhibit in the museum and why not? Everyone loves to take photos of movie stars, so it makes sense that people love to take pictures of movie vehicles Some of the ones on display include the original "Back to the Future" DeLorean, Herbie the Love Bug, and the Batmobile.
  • Cars Mechanical Institute is sponsored by Disney and Pixar. It's where you can learn about the mechanical systems that make cars work through interactive exhibits based on Pixar's popular animated films.
  • Alternative Power explores everything from steam and gasoline and electric cars from the early 1900s to modern times.
  • Forza Motorsports Racing is the place to get into a racing simulator and experience the feeling of driving a race a car.

Major, visiting change every three to 12 months and always include artwork that is either inspired by cars or includes vehicles that were influenced by artists or created by them. They also rotate individual vehicles and smaller exhibits more frequently. Check the current exhibits at the Petersen website

Add another two hours to your visit time if you want to see The Vault, where you can get a look at the museum's storage area for more than 250 rare cars, motorcycles, and trucks built over more than a century.

Guided tours are 75 or 120 minutes long. Spaces are limited. You have to buy a general admission ticket and a separate admission for the tour. To avoid disappointment, buy your tickets online ahead of time. But be sure you can make your tour time: The tickets are nonrefundable, and you can’t exchange them. 

Annual Events at the Petersen

The third floor of the Petersen’s parking garage does double duty as an exhibit and event space, hosting cruise-in events on Sunday mornings that include the annual Ferrari cruise-in held in February and a European Car Show in May. 

In March, they also host a Cars & Fashion runway show in partnership with LA Fashion Week.

Visiting the Petersen With Kids

Children age 3 and older need a ticket and kids must be older than 10 to go on a Vault Tour.

Car-crazy kids will love the whole museum, and budding young engineers may especially like the Design Lab and Cars Mechanical Institute.

If you are visiting with small kids, they can run off some excess energy in the play area on the second floor where they can play with cars, design cars on a screen, draw, and build LEGO cars to race.

The Architecture of the Peterson

If you only explore the interior of the Petersen, you'll have a great time, but you'll also miss its unique exterior.

The Petersen’s exterior is wrapped in red, stainless-steel ribbons that form a shape which resembles the hood of a classic car. You may love it or hate, but no matter what you think, you'll find people who agree with you.

Since the building renovation was completed in 2015, it has landed on lists of ugliest buildings in LA. But it also made its way onto the Chicago Atheneum’s 2017 American Architecture Awards who said it transforms the Petersen building into one of the most significant and unforgettable structures in Los Angeles.

Tips for the Visiting Petersen Museum

The Petersen focuses on the classics. If futuristic concept cars are what you want to see, head to the LA Auto Show instead. It's also not so much about racing as it about cars in general and especially beautiful ones.

You can buy your tickets online and skip any lines going in. They are non-refundable and expire one year from date of purchase. But don't wait until the day you want to go. Online ticket sales close in the morning every day.

You can get the current hours at the Petersen website, but don't try to dash in at the last minute. The admission desk, along with some exhibits and experiences close about 30 minutes before the museum’s official closing time. And that half hour isn't enough to make even the quickest of runs through it. Arrive at least two hours before closing to get the most of your visit.

You are going to be on your feet — a lot. In fact, the only vehicle visitors can sit in is a 1910 Ford Model T located on the third floor.

If you were thinking of taking a large or oversized purse or bag of any kind, don't. Security will ask you to store them in their office. Other banned items include monopods, tripods, umbrellas, selfie sticks, and similar items. Backpacks, food, and drink not allowed in The Vault.

You can take photos in the main museum, but no photography or video is allowed in the Vault.

If you get hungry while you're there, you can get a meal at Drago Ristorante which is on the ground floor. They also validate your parking for a small discount.

The parking structure doesn't have elevators. If anyone in your group has a stroller or wheelchair or has limited mobility drop them off on the first floor (P1) level of the garage on the way in.

Essential Information

The museum's street address is 6060 Wilshire Blvd, at the intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax. That's near Museum Row, which is one of the best neighborhoods to visit in LA. Other places to go nearby include the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), the La Brea Tarpits, and the soon-to-be-opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

The Petersen is open most days of the year except for major holidays. Get their current schedule at the Petersen website.

You can drive to the Petersen and park in their lot, which has plenty of spaces and is convenient, but you'll pay as much as an adult admission ticket for it. Street parking is scarce, but if you want to try to find it, bring your most powerful good luck charm and look on 6th Street behind LACMA, where parking is free on the north side of the street.

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