If your weeks are busy (aren't everyone's?), weekends are a great time to take a step back and take in some of the city's best cultural attractions. From museums to an exotic cat sanctuary, our annual Best of L.A. issue is full of ways to learn something new and have fun too.
Best Hyperlocal History Museum
South Pasadena Historical Museum
The South Pasadena Historical Museum holds a collection of weird artifacts from a city whose first claim to fame was having the nation's biggest ostrich farm — not for eating but for the fashionable feathers. You'll be hard-pressed to find any information about its offerings on the web, which makes a visit to the Meridian Iron Works building, one of the town's first structures, a pleasant surprise. Packed with old photos in adorably ramshackle display cases, the museum is run by a group of volunteers, including Bill, who's there every Saturday to answer any question you may have about the first Raymond Hotel, the creepy black-and-white photos of which easily rival the Overlook in terms of "harbingers of doom" (it definitely went up in flames). Matchbooks, stationery, maps and, of course, pictures of children riding ostriches line every inch of this quaintly cluttered space. If you're lucky, Bill will take out an ostrich egg and let you hold it with all the trust in the world. The museum is undergoing renovations now to get a turn-of-the-century replica kitchen, fix up the outside and make the upstairs area suitable for a larger collection. If you don't think small-town charm exists in L.A., step into this museum and wait to be dazzled. —April Wolfe
Best Museum in a Mall
Museum of African American Art
Bet you didn't think you would find art at the mall. If you doubt that fine art and the Southern California shopping mall experience could go hand-in-hand, head to Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Enter Macy's and travel up to the third floor. Round a few corners and you'll find the Museum of African American Art. Founded in 1976 by Dr. Samella Lewis, an artist and art historian, the museum operates out of a space donated by the department store. At first glance it appears tiny, more comparable in size to a small gallery than a museum. But the museum swells after you travel through hallways that seem almost secret. The crown jewel here is the Palmer C. Hayden collection of paintings. A noted artist of the Harlem Renaissance, Hayden's work explored daily life, religion and culture with an emphasis on the African-American experience. While you can check out his works through the museum's website, you really should see them up close. In addition to a permanent collection, the Museum of African American Art hosts regular exhibitions. —Liz Ohanesian
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Best Little Cathouse in SoCal
Exotic Feline Breeding Compound
Hidden away in a dusty corner of the high desert, the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound, aka the Cat House, is one of our more eccentric animal sanctuaries, functioning as sort of a feline zoo. Inexpensive to visit ($5 to $7), tiny (you can see everything in less than an hour), slightly odd (you share the grounds with wandering peacocks), the EFBC also has a critical mission: It is literally saving some of the world’s rarest wild cats from extinction. Many of these species cannot sustain a genetically diverse population due to declining habitat and poaching; the center provides a quiet place for the 70-plus cats to breed. Luckily for us, humans are allowed to see them up close. Visitors can quietly peer at lithe giants like tigers, jaguars and pumas, along with quirky smaller species such as Pallas’ cats, black-footed cats and fishing cats. You can stand five feet away from the friendly serval, watch the mysterious jaguarundi slither around his enclosure, or even be on hand when a handler feeds hard-boiled peacock eggs to the leopard. For those who are deeply concerned about wildlife conservation, and for people who just like cats, the EFBC continues to serve and fascinate. —Suzy Beal
Best Pimped-Out Museum
Petersen Automotive Museum
If you've been in the vicinity of Wilshire and Fairfax in the past several months, there's little chance the new look of the Petersen Automotive Museum has escaped your attention. Covered in stainless steel ribbons meant to represent speed and movement — and, ostensibly, zebras — the museum's new façade makes clear that this isn't the place you remember from school field trips. An ostentatious $125 million makeover has turned the museum into something that's more than just a place where fans of car porn can go to rev their engines. On the first floor, the "Artistry" floor, ambient music pours out of the speakers and the walls are covered with fractal art, blissful art deco beauties. On the second floor is the comprehensive "Industry" section, where you see how a Maserati goes from concept to road. And on the third floor is the popular "History" section, where Los Angeles' love affair with the automobile is put on display. There's also an exhibit for kids inspired by the Cars movies, a high-end competitive driving experience, a slew of vehicles from movies and TV shows, plus the Vault, an add-on attraction of even more shiny things to ogle. Look out, too, for the motorbikes, hood ornaments, old maps and other ephemera of car culture. The mix of interactive education and showstopping hunks of metal here is as hot as the hot rods in the collection. Frankly, it's worth the drive even if you just want to check out the exterior. —James Bartlett
Best First Year
In a feature we published in advance of the Broad’s grand opening last September, we gave voice to the unease surrounding the free modern art museum, a $140 million monument to a wealthy couple’s priceless collection, like a Great Pyramid minus the mummies. But something about the museum has struck a chord with average Angelenos and visitors alike. Last month, the museum announced 820,000 visitors had entered its doors in its first year (triple pre-opening projections), 62 percent of whom identify as something other than Caucasian; nationally, only 23 percent of art museum patrons are non-Caucasian. In terms of programming, summer ushered in “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” the museum’s inaugural exhibition, which was equal parts thorough and accessible, as well as the Broad’s Nonobject(ive): Summer Happenings, an incredibly well-curated series of nighttime parties with music, performance art and other surprises. —Gwynedd Stuart
Best (and Brightest) Comeback
Museum of Neon Art
There's been a lot of buzz surrounding the Museum of Neon Art's recent reopening — incidentally, there's a lot of buzz inside, too. Originally established in 1981 in a space downtown, MONA bounced around for several years before landing in its new permanent location in Glendale, right across from the Americana at Brand. The placement sort of makes sense. At present, the bulk of the collection on display consists of neon signage advertising long-defunct businesses, some local, others not: Economy Meats, Van de Kamp's bakery and, the centerpiece of the current display, the Brown Derby. It's a glowing, flickering monument to American commerce and a window into a colorful past that we often get to see only in black-and-white images. Besides the main exhibition space, the museum has a large gift shop (I'm kicking myself for not buying the 1988 commemorative calendar, whose dates all jibe with this year's) and a classroom where, for around 500 bucks, neon fanatics can learn to actually bend glass and create their own neon art. —Gwynedd Stuart