You Belong in A Museum! – Three Off-the-Beaten Path SoCal Museums

Pubished in the Jan/Feb 2018 issue of SoCal Life Magazine. Click here to read on Cloudup or read text-only version below:

One thing no one will argue with is that each of us belongs in a museum _
especially in SoCal, where we have so many unique ones at our disposal.
Here are a few less-recognized museums, you may or may not know about,
that you’ll surely want to visit this year.

Stagecoach Inn Museum, Newbury Park (Ventura County)

The Stagecoach Inn Museum. It’s not just furniture and artifacts from 120 years ago that you’ll find here. According to legend, there’s a ghost named Pierre who rambles about the place … even opening a window or two when the living aren’t around. Photo by: Jenni Keast

If you’re looking for a second “happy place” where you can go back in time to idyllic early California, then head on over to the Stagecoach Inn Museum—Conejo Valley’s first historic landmark. A recreation of the original Grand Union Hotel built in 1876, this gem is filled with everything Victorian—including exhibits dedicated to such bygone occupations as 1800s hair art (no blow dry bars here) and laundry day—pioneer woman style (when laundry literally did take all day and lifting an iron could give you a hernia).

“If I had not the combination of six horses, I should have been dead a long time ago … three nights a week, I wash and iron. I do not go to bed until midnight and am often up at [illegible]” – From the letters of Mary Jane Megquier, written during the Gold Rush.  Photo by: Jenni Keast
Not to be overlooked is the Jungleland room—a shrine JunglelandPoster_Fotorto Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” when four-footed film luminaries such as Leo the lion (of MGM Pictures), Mr. Ed (the talking horse), and a chimp named Peggy—a sidekick to both Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) and Ronald Regan—once lived and worked nearby. Included on the museum’s lush 4.9-acre property is a one-room schoolhouse (where kids can ring a bell and play act at “minding their Ps and Qs”), a blacksmith’s shop, a stagecoach exhibit and a Chumash Indian village.


Blacksmith Shop. A whole lot of shoein’ horses and fixin’ wagons happened at the blacksmith’s shop in just about every town in Old West California.  This made the local blacksmith the VIP of his day.  Photo credit: Jenni Keast
Sit up straight and “Mind your Ps and Qs while learnin’ your ABC’s. Yep, that’s how education used to be in the Old West.  Photo by: Jenni Keast

Caveat for couples: If you’re about to tie the knot, the grounds of this museum may be just the spot. Apparently, it’s Ventura County’s “best-kept secret” for wedding venues.

1800s mail-order bride from back east. Alas, this lass has been waiting a long time for her “husband” to show up.  Photo by: Jenni Keast

Stagecoach Inn Museum

Cabazon Dinosaurs, Cabazon (Riverside County)

Of all the dino joints in all the towns in all the world, the Cabazon Dinosaur exhibit and museum may be the only attraction you’ll walk into and immediately know who is large and in charge. Anyone driving from Palm Springs to LA on the I-10 can easily spot the 45-ft, 150-tons-of-fun Dinny the Dinosaur (an Apatosaurus) and the 100-ton Mr. Rex (a Tyrannosaurus Rex). They’re also celebs, having been featured in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Pixar’s Inside Out. They even graced the Tears for Fears Everybody Wants To Rule The World music video.

Cabazon 4
Kings of Kitsch.  Photo: Cabazon Museum

More importantly, mom and dad, these Kings of Kitsch can rule your kids’ attention for a good half hour—or longer, if you have the dinero for the dinos. It’s free of charge to roam outside and take pictures with the dinosaurs and even climb into the belly of the beast (where you’ll climb a long spiral staircase), but it’ll cost you an Apatosaurus arm and a leg to enter the museum. That being said, your kiddos can kill a good two hours inside digging for dino rocks, panning for fossils and checking out all the other dinosaurs—including a few animatronic ones. There’s even a T-Rex you can ride. Yee-haw!

Digging, panning and riding a Rex not your idea of grownup fun? No worries, you can always hit up Wilma and Fred to see if they’ll watch your kids at the museum while you blow all your gas money at the nearby Morongo Casino. Flintstones humor aside, Cabazon Dinosaurs could just be the best tar-pit stop you’ll ever make when you—and your restless youngins—need a break. Your kids will be talking about it for weeks.

Cabazon Dinosaurs

Orange Empire Railway Museum, Perris (San Diego County)

Oh, by gosh, by golly, Christmas is over but not the trolley. And while the train from the Orange Empire Railway Museum that transports passengers from Perris to the North Pole may have stopped running, there are plenty of other trains and trolleys for locomotive lovers to get their jollies over—200 historical railway cars and locomotives to be exact.

Robert Pimental kid 2016
Pint-size Steampunk fan enjoying the The Iron Horse Family Steampunk Carnivale. It just doesn’t get any cuter than this.

Situated on over 90-acres, the non-profit Orange Empire Railway Museum has been preserving Southern California’s railway history since 1956. Here, you and your family can explore the West’s largest collection of railway locomotives, passenger and freight cars, streetcars, interurban electric cars, buildings, and artifacts dating from the 1870s. Another “must-see” is the Fred Harvey Museum, where you can learn all about the Harvey Girls, the women who helped “civilize the American Southwest.”

Iron Horse

Numerous scheduled events throughout the year include The Day Out With Thomas Friendship Tour that provides children of all ages the opportunity to climb aboard and take a ride with famed book characters, Thomas and Percy. For Steampunk style lovers, The Iron Horse Family Steampunk Carnivale pays homage to the Victorian Era, Edwardian science fiction and the Industrial Revolution. A real steam-powered locomotive serves as the perfect backdrop for an eclectic range of activities, including locomotive and vintage trolley rides, steampunk artisans selling their wares (lots of old contraptions mixed with new stuff), costumed entertainment (H.G. Wells twirling a pocket watch?), and loads of children’s activities for your steampunk sprouts who will love playing dress up—Little Lord Fauntleroy style.

Robert Pimentel Iron Horse 2016 (3)
All aboard! It’s not just kids who like to play dress up. Steampunk aficonados (and non) flock to this yearly Iron Horse Family Steampunk Carnivale held at the Orange Empire Railway Museum. Bring your old pocket watch and channel your inner Victorian.

Orange Empire Railway Museum





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