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The Best Small (And Sometimes Strange) Museums In Los Angeles

There are the big museums of class field trips and tourist guide books exploring history, art and technology, and those are great. But for our purposes here, we avoided those museums. Instead, we wanted to find the smaller museums, carefully stocked by the passionate curators who have found their niche and can't wait to share it with anyone who swings by. The overzealous collectors, the purveyors of scandalous history, the inspired activists and the quirky experts of misdirection all have a place for you to spend an afternoon learning (or unlearning) about things you have may have never considered before—like the skill behind velvet paintings, or your own impending mortality. Here are our favorite offbeat museums in L.A. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments before.

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Painting in the black light room of the Velveteria (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)

Velveteria

Sometimes, you start collecting something and the next thing you know, you've got thousands of them. That's what happened to Caren and Carl, who now own so many velvet paintings, they've opened up their own gallery in Chinatown. The museum originally opened in 2005 in Portland, but relocated to L.A. just this past winter. While velvet paintings might initially remind you of your favorite neighborhood dive, the 500 or so displayed paintings of their 3000-plus collection do show some impressive artistic skills. There's even a separate room for black-lit velvet paintings and paintings of naked women.

Velveteria, 711 New High St., Chinatown, Thurs.-Sun., 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. $10.

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Wooden bunnies from Mexico at the Bunny Museum (photo by LAist)

The Bunny Museum

Well, you guessed it. The Bunny Museum is just bunnies. It's billed as the ‘hoppiest’ place on Earth, and there are 36,560 bunny-themed objects in the Spanish stucco house. That number tends to multiply like… you know. There are also some actual bunnies that you should bring some veggies to feed. They like fresh broccoli, kale, cilantro and apples; they get a lot of carrots so consider mixing it up. The Museum belongs to Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski, and they live there. The seed of the museum was in a pet name Frazee gave her husband. She called her husband "bunny" and they started exchanging bunnies as gifts to one another. She described her museum to LAist this way: "It is literally just our love story that you are seeing. Within a marriage you should communicate and do something together. So Steve and I do this together. We have fun shopping together for bunnies." Peak times are around Easter and the Chinese year of the Rabbit.

Bunny Museum, 1933 Jefferson Dr., Pasadena. Open every afternoon, by appointment $5 suggested donation, plus a suggested gift of fruits/veggies or the bunnies.

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A magician's decaying dice (Photo by Sgerbic via Wikipedia)

The Museum of Jurassic Technology

You might not get this place, but it's fun. Give yourself a lot of time to wander through its confusing and seemingly disjointed exhibits of whimsy, but don't expect to learn a whole lot of the useful variety. The surprisingly large museum contains a gallery of old wives' tales, the decaying dice of a magician and solves the mystery of what the fox says. Once you get to the top, you can have Russian tea and hang out with tame birds. If it sounds mysterious, it's because it definitely is, and to tell you too much about what you'll encounter would be to spoil it. Once you do go, check out the 1995 book written about the museum and its enigmatic found David Wilson. Get on their mailing list and return for their equally inspired and trippy events. One event, for instance, involved wandering through the rooms and roof area of the second floor while musicians played overlapping live, droney music.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, 9341 Venice Blvd., Culver City. Thursdays, 2-8 p.m., Friday-Sun, noon-6 p.m. $8.

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(Photo by Mark Luethi via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)

Museum of Death

When you walk into the Museum of Death, you'll most likely be greeted by James or Cathee. This husband and wife duo have owned the grisly museum on Hollywood Blvd. since 1995. If you can stomach the gruesome photo they show you upon entrance, they'll take your $15 and let you on a self-guided tour through history's most disturbing crimes. Come face to face with your impending mortality while looking at real Gacy paintings and Nightstalker letters, crime scene photos and artifacts from ritualistic suicides. Recently, the museum acquired Jack Kevorkian's suicide machine, the Thanatron; however, they'll be moving it to their New Orleans location after a Kevorkian exhibit in September. The Museum of Death is at least as interesting as it is unsettling, and when it's all over, maybe you'll get to pet the family beagle or two-headed turtle as a palate cleanser.

Museum of Death, 6301 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Sun-Thurs., 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Friday, 11 a.m., 9 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

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Inside the Wende Museum (Photo by Marie Astrid-Gonzalez via Wikipedia)

Wende Museum

The Wende Museum is dedicated to one thing and that's the Cold War. This free museum is named for the German word for "turning point," which represents the end of communism. Inside, you'll find many Eastern Bloc relics, including Soviet Flags, paintings, films, busts, documents and pieces of the Berlin wall. With a mission of preserving and studying the era, they have a library of over 8000 works. The museum's intention is not to give an American perspective on communism; rather, the museum presents a lot of artifacts that shows how life in Eastern Germany was, including some progressive items like a condom dispensing machine. You can schedule a guided tour of the museum's vault on Fridays.

Wende Museum, 5731 Buckingham Parkway, Suite E, Culver City. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., by appointment only. Fridays, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. without appointment. Tours are available on Fridays at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Free.

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CLUI photo from the Morgan Cowles Archive (via Facebook)

Center for Land Use Interpretation

It's kind of hard to wrap your mind around what CLUI is doing at first. They're intentionally ambiguous, but define their mission as being "dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge about how the nation's lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived." What it seems like CLUI does is an extensive cataloging of an America narrative, from boom to abandonment. They offer offbeat tours like going to see the Salton Sea or visiting the world's biggest Frito Lay Factory, but also have an extensive collection of photos online and on-site exhibits. You might spend hours poking around their archives on the Internet before you even think about visiting the museum and its accompanying bookstore.

The Center for Land Use Interpretation, 9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City. Fri-Sun., noon- 5 p.m., and by appointment. (310) 839-5722.

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The Holyland Exhibition (Photo via Google Maps)

Holyland Exhibition

Some say that Antonia F. Futternutter is the inspiration for Indiana Jones. In the 1920s, Futternutter prayed that he would recover from appendicitis. When he did, he developed an affinity for religion and decided to go to the Holy Land and find the Golden Ark of the Covenant. While he never succeeded in that particular pursuit, he did acquire a huge collection of artifacts from the Middle East, which he later housed in a small museum in Silver Lake. Items are thousands of years old and include jewelry, lamps and a sarcophagus. You should prep two hours when you schedule your appointment as the tour is guided.

Holyland Exhibition, 2215 Lake View Ave., Silver Lake. 7 a.m. - 7 p.m., daily, but by appointment only. Call (323) 664-3162. $2.50, includes refreshments.

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The Tom of Finland Foundation (Photo by Juliet Bennett Ryan/LAist)

The Tom of Finland Foundation

Tom of Finland (real name: Touko Laasksonen) was a gay, Finnish artist who produced a huge portfolio of gay erotica, frequently featuring muscular, mustachioed men in tight jeans and leather jackets (or less) in sexual situations. The Tom of Finland Foundation is a 'living museum' in an old craftsman house in Echo Park. Museum founder Durk Dehner and museum VP Sharp live there, along with a rotating cast of artists and foundation volunteers. Inside, you'll find numerous pieces of erotic art works from Tom and others. Tom of Finland himself used to stay in the house when he was in Los Angeles prior to his death in 1991, and you can still visit his old bedroom is on the top floor. In the backyard, they have a patio and 'Tom's Bar,' where the foundation hosts social fundraising events. We went to a screening where a pleasant group of art and leather lovers munched popcorn, sipped lemonade and watched vintage gay porn while the sun set over Echo Park.

The Tom of Finland Foundation, 1421 Lavata Terrace, Echo Park. By appointment only. Call (213) 250-1685.

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The museum advocates against cruel experimentation on animals (Photo by Juliet Bennett Rylah/LAist)

National Museum of Animals & Society

Opened in 2010, this nonprofit museum founded by animal activist Carolyn Mullin explores the "shared experiences" of humans and animals and to promote compassion for our four-legged and feathered friends. Functioning as both an online and brick-and-mortar museum, NMAS features both in-house and online exhibits like 'My Dog is My Home,' which explores homelessness and pets, 'Uncooped,' which is all about the domesticated chicken, and 'Anti-Vivisection from the Victorian Era to Present Day,' which is a fascinating look at bold women who stood up for animal rights in a time when women's voices were not often heard. The museum hosts animal-themed art shows and events throughout the year, and when we visited, we were told there's going to be a 'crazy cat lady' show and an ivory crush—where activists destroy elephant ivory to remove it from the market—in the future. On August 9, you can check out the reception for a new show called 'Dog Cat Mouse,' which feature artworks of and inspired by those particular creatures. Be sure to say hello to Sophie, the very sweet and friendly museum dog.

National Museum of Animals & Society, 4302 Melrose Ave., East Hollywood. Thurs. - Sun., 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. $5 suggested donation.