Being a car guy in L.A. is a tough job because you have to keep track of all the cool car things that exist here. It can be overwhelming sometimes, as there’s simply way too much fun going on. Let’s dive in and look at some of the spots here in SoCal that car lovers should love to check out with their families.
From museums to racetracks, art galleries, cars-and-coffee events and hidden design centers, I’ll connect you with places where you can have a blast and see some of the best cars on the planet. So … let’s do this!
The Petersen Automotive Museum in Mid-City is full of amazing and fabulous vehicles including Delahayes and Bugattis, most of which you would not have grown up with but are still neato to see. Like an automotive Louvre, the Petersen boasts all kinds of exhibits and is currently featuring movie cars. I am an automotive designer and they have one of my cars (a Batmobile) on display. Before you go, consider watching “Jurassic Park,” “Batman Begins” and “The Love Bug.”
A little further north, in Oxnard, there’s the Murphy Auto Museum, a relatable nostalgic auto museum featuring the coolest of muscle cars, classics, custom and vintage automobiles. It’s also one of the only museums in the world with a huge array of vintage trailers, including a Holt Travel Trailer that was built in 1927 and immediately stored. No one has seen it for almost 90 years … until now. There’s a vintage trailer show coming up June 29 that will be epic. Kids will love this, as it’s all about camping and travel.
On weekends, ask owner David Neel if he’ll take you for a spin in one of the classic cars, and he’ll probably oblige. Neel has amassed a unique collection of vehicles that are classically restored and always changing, as well as a huge HO-scale train station that kids can enjoy and an automotive art gallery that features work from painters, illustrators, pinstripers, sculptors and photographers. It’s one of the most unique automotive museums in the U.S. Visit on the first Sunday of the month for the Muscles & Mojo morning car show, boasting free coffee, free Hot Wheels cars for the kids and free admission to the museum from 7-9 a.m. Don’t forget to pick up one of the car coloring books I publish while you’re there.
Another amazing museum is the Galpin Premier Collection (galpinpremier.com) across the street from Galpin Motors in North Hills, filled with more than 100 classic cars. Galpin is famous for restoring long-lost cars built by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and George Barris. The wacky, crazy cars put smiles on kids’ faces. You’ll recognize many from movies and will certainly enjoy all the amazing candy colors. Be sure to visit the store for abundant swag and toys.
Then there’s the Batcave – Batmobile Collection, which is part of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. This one’s nuts because it includes all the Batmobiles in one place. Yes, you get to tour the studio, but the “Bats” are what it’s all about. Be sure to watch as many Batman movies as possible before you hit this one.
Last in the museum category is the Metropolitan Pit Stop (metpitstop.com). This hidden gem is on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Valley Village. The super-tiny museum is filled with Nash Metropolitans, and the whole place looks like a diner with cool dioramas and murals. They build cars there and have a great store lined with toys and swag. Right in the center of it all is the Astra-Gnome from the 1956 International Auto Show. Ask the staff to turn it on and pop the canopy, then take a picture of your kids’ faces as their love of cars goes through the roof. (This place is only open weekdays, so plan ahead!)
Notable mentions in this category include the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar and the Valley Relics Museum at the Van Nuys Airport in Lake Balboa. Also, the occasional Hot Wheels Garage events at the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo are not to be missed. Host M.C Ken Vela creates one heck of an event, and the Hot Wheels cars are cool.
Cars-and-Coffee Events & Car Shows
Between the major car shows, the cars-and-coffee events seem to be taking over everywhere. Generally held first thing in the morning, from 7-9 a.m., these micro shows are appearing in virtually every L.A. town. Each one is unique and awesome for kids and pets.
Topping my list of favorites are Donut Derelicts (donutderelicts.com), which takes place every Saturday in the parking lot of Adams Ave. Donuts in Huntington Beach; Sunset GT (sunsetgranturismo.com), which takes place on dedicated Sundays at Sunset Plaza in West Hollywood; and Peninsula Seniors’ Coffee & Cars, held the first Saturday of each month at the Peninsula Shopping Center in Palos Verdes. The kids will go gaga over the hot rods, classics, low riders and more, but be careful of the doughnuts at the Derelicts show or you’ll end up gaining a few pounds.
My own show, Wheels and Waves (fireballtim.com), takes place the third Sunday each month at the Malibu Country Mart and is frequently visited by actors Keanu Reeves, Dick Van Dyke, Tony Dow and Jonathan Banks. You’ll find celebrities, cars, coffee and Hot Wheels, plus plenty of pooches.
You can also Google “cars and coffee” and the name of your town or neighborhood. There might be something right around the corner. Even the Petersen museum has a monthly Breakfast Club Cruise-in on its roof – including bagels.
There are still also many full-fledged car shows to see, including the Ventura Nationals (venturanationals.com) coming up Aug. 31 and Cruisin for a Cure (cruisinforacure.com) Sept. 28 at the OC Fair and Event Center.
Design Centers and Racetracks
In Pasadena, we have the ArtCenter College of Design, where aspiring automotive designers go to learn to create great cars (and where I earned my degree in 1989). When you visit, don’t miss the senior project room or the main gallery. Both are where visions take flight for cars that will be on the road in the next 20-50 years. Your heads will spin and your corpuscles will pop, so take a break and head to lunch in the college’s amazing cafeteria. Don’t forget to check out the student store, packed with incredible design books and unique art supplies. (Note: Bring your big wallet.)
There are a few tracks here in SoCal, including the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, but for my money, I would whisk the kids to Irwindale Speedway. It is a blast to visit and the kids will get to meet the mascot, LugNut Jr. The racing includes figure 8, drifting and 1/8-mile drags. The sounds, smells and sights can be overwhelming even for kids who love cars, so bring a jacket and some earplugs.
L.A. is the car capital of the world and there are worse things than indulging an aficionado’s love of cars – and inspiring budding young car aficionados. I have never met a larger, more positive group of people on the planet than automotive enthusiasts. We love to tell stories and share exciting experiences.
As you explore, keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Having been in L.A. my whole life, I’m still finding more undiscovered automotive gold.
Fireball Tim Lawrence has designed vehicles for more than 400 films and TV shows, including “Batman,” “Knight Rider,” “Jurassic Park” and “Monster Garage.” He also publishes car coloring books for kids, and curates the automotive art gallery at the Murphy Auto Museum.