The best car museums can make gearheads feel like kids in a candy store. Some of these museums are located in glitzy and glamorous surroundings, while others are housed in pedestrian structures. However, the 10 best car museums all have something in common. Like most good things in the world, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
10 Best Car Museums in the U.S.
Among our nominations for the 10 best car museums are prodigious collections of automotive technology and more modest sets of cars and car-related memorabilia. Regardless of size, each of these best car museums provides a wide variety of experiences for visitors. Some include much more than automobiles, offering a museum visit that feels more like a joy ride in a fast car than a stroll through a dusty hallway.
America’s Car Museum | Tacoma, Washington
One of the country’s best car museums is America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington. Within its 165,000 square feet of display room, America’s Car Museum has more than 300 cars, trucks, and motorcycles in its collection. The museum offers a dozen galleries filled with exhibits that include a broad spectrum of vehicles ranging from supercars to classics of the British sports car invasion.
As well as housing a superb collection of automobiles, America’s Car Museum regularly hosts special events and exhibits. We also recommend a trip to the nearby LeMay Collections at Marymount, from which America’s Car Museum was seeded. The two museums are 12 miles apart.
Classic Car Collection | Kearney, Nebraska
The Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Nebraska is sequestered inside a nondescript building, but it’s one of our 10 best car museums because it features a pleasingly wide variety of rare, beautiful, and significant automobiles. The museum’s collection ranges from the stylish 1959 Cadillac and 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser to rare muscle and sports cars. Our favorites are some of the car marques that have nearly faded from memory, such as Moon and Metz.
Called the “Gem of the Great Plains,” the Classic Car Collection offers a nostalgic look at automotive culture in America. The museum also displays vintage tools and houses a 1950s gas station. A host of interactive displays help connect visitors with the history of automotive culture, industry, and innovation. Although the Classic Car Collection has over 200 vehicles in its inventory, 60 to 65 cars are on display at any given time.
Gilmore Car Museum | Hickory Corners, Michigan
The Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, claims the crown as North America’s largest automobile museum with more than 400 vehicles on display and over 190,000 square feet of exhibit space. The Gilmore Car Museum’s 90-acre historic campus offers multiple vintage structures, including a restored and fully functional 1941 Silk City Diner, a 1930s Shell service station, and six other on-site partner museums with their own collections.
The Gilmore Car Museum made our list due to its size and the number of cars in the collection. It also got our attention for its high “fun-factor.” Antique cars frequently roam the nearly three miles of paved roads running throughout the grounds. The Model T Driving Experience puts you behind the wheel. Because of its somewhat remote location, on-site camping is available.
The Henry Ford | Dearborn, Michigan
While some will say it’s not a car museum, the Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan is, in our opinion, a top car museum and so much more. It is quite literally a cultural experience. A visit to “The Henry Ford” incorporates the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovations, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour amongst its many attractions.
The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovations is filled with examples of invention and ingenuity, holding a vast collection of historic automobiles, trains, planes, household appliances, and other bits and pieces of American history. Greenfield Village is a trip back in time, with 80 aces of Americana including the Thomas Edison lab, Ford Model T rides, and working farms. The Rouge Factory Tour offers insight into the modern manufacturing methods of the iconic Ford F-150 pickup truck.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum | Indianapolis, Indiana
One of the biggest thrills when visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is standing inside the 2.5-mile oval track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since its opening in 1956 with a few vintage race cars and some Indy 500 race memorabilia, the museum’s collection has grown to more than 55,000 objects. That includes 300 significant vehicles, 150 helmets, 85 pairs of goggles, more than 80 fire suits, 200 works of art, numerous engines and automotive parts, and thousands of photographs and other Indy 500-related items.
Announcing its Basement Collection Tour beginning in 2021, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum now offers a peek at its almost mythical underground automobile storage area. It holds rare and one-of-a-kind auto racing artifacts, historic motorcycles, Indiana-built automobiles, Indy 500 Pace Cars, and historic and modern-era winning Indy cars.
Mullin Automotive Museum | Oxnard, California
The Mullin Automotive Museum is located about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles in the coastal town of Oxnard. It houses a collection of more than 100 automobiles in its 47,000 square feet of exhibit space. The Mullin Automotive Museum collection is primarily focused on 20th-century French automotive styling and technology. It showcases the dramatic and beautiful creations from Bugatti, Delahaye, Hispano-Suiza, and a host of other car builders influenced by the Art Deco movement of the 1920s and 1930s.
One of our favorite exhibits in the Mullin Automotive Museum is the LeMans display on the museum’s upper level. Some of the winningest LeMans race cars of the early 1900s are arrayed in front of a backdrop recreating the LeMans pit area of the day. Visitors will also find fine art and décor of the period, including furniture designed by Bugatti.
National Automobile Museum (Harrah’s Collection) | Reno, Nevada
The National Automobile Museum (Harrah’s Collection) earns a spot on our list of the 10 best car museums. Located in Reno, Nevada, it features more than 200 dazzling classic cars, many of them displayed in authentic street scenes. The museum’s four main galleries are segmented into eras, including the 1890s to 1910s, teens to 1930s, 1930s to 1950s, and 1950s and beyond. A period-correct blacksmith shop, hardware store, and service station highlight three of the galleries.
The collection of cars in the National Automobile Museum ranges from those previously owned by celebrities and movie stars to custom cars like the 1961 Ed Roth Beatnik Bandit Custom Hot Rod. The collection also contains a 1934 Dymaxion, one of the strangest yet most technologically intriguing motor vehicles ever built. Special events and activities are also frequently a part of the National Automobile Museum’s schedule.
NHRA Motorsports Museum | Pomona, California
The NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Motorsports Museum houses a collection of hot rods, customs, race cars, dragsters, and land speed vehicles inside the Art Deco-style exposition building on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Fairplex. The NHRA Motorsports Museum offers 30,000 square feet of exhibition space for its permanent collection of historical cars, as well as the rotating special exhibits of one-of-a-kind vehicles.
The NHRA Motorsports Museum tells the story of American hot rodding. If you time your visit right, you can spend a day gazing at stunningly beautiful hot rods and race cars. The next day, follow up with the NHRA Winternationals or the NHRA Auto Club Finals drag races at the Auto Club Raceway in Pomona. Or check out the Grand National Roadster Show held at the Fairplex.
Petersen Automotive Museum | Los Angeles, California
Parked in the heart of the Los Angeles metro area, the Petersen Automotive Museum is a must-see among the best car museums. The Petersen Automotive Museum features exhibits that regularly rotate through the museum’s galleries and halls in its dramatic architectural structure. Special exhibits have highlighted custom vehicles made for Hollywood sci-fi and fantasy movies, off-road and overland vehicles, and a historical perspective on electric vehicles.
The Petersen Automotive Museum is one of the crown jewels of car collections. However, its hottest ticket is the Vault Tour. The Vault is the legendary storage basement of the museum, and it contains more than 250 vehicles that sometimes see the light of day in the museum exhibits. The guided tour takes visitors across the globe and through 120 years of automotive history.
Revs Institute | Naples, Florida
Revs Institute is much more than a car museum. It’s a working museum and library dedicated to a better understanding and deeper appreciation of automotive history. Located in Naples, Florida, Revs Institute displays the cars of the Miles Collier Collections featuring more than 100 influential automobiles built between 1896 and 1995, a substantial number of which are unique or rare.
Revs Institute is among our best automobile museums because of its extensive competition and sports car collections. In addition to the Miles Collier Collections, Revs Institute also offers educational opportunities and a vast library of historical automotive archives, photographs, and artifacts available to automotive technology and history scholars.
For a look at even more great car museums for gearheads, check out these car museums that offer virtual tours.