Sidewalk Speedsters: The Grown-up World of Children’s Cars at the Petersen Automotive Museum

Take a photo with Lightning McQueen
Take a photo with Lightning McQueen
1/11/18 - By Stephanie Dreyer

Miracle Mile is home to a variety of cultural excursions for the whole family, from storytime at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the Page Museum and more. But there’s no place like the Petersen Automotive Museum for pint-sized car lovers—and the museum's latest, kid-friendly exhibit is more than enough fun to grab the interest of any visitor, car enthusiast or not.


Founded by automotive publishing giant Robert E. Petersen and his wife Margie in 1994 (and recently remodeled), the museum aims to appeal to all ages -- even kids who are years away from getting a drivers license. This mission is reflected in its latest exhibit, The Sidewalk Speedsters—an inside look at the world of children’s cars.

The Motivational Tubing Junior Dragster definitely gets noticed. Photo courtesy of Petersen Automotive Museum

These mini-roadsters were popular in Southern California during the 1930s through the 1950s. The fun and colorful exhibit explores the story behind the cool design, production, and marketing of the mini-cars through dozens of speedsters and other display items. Among the attractions you’ll also find an original Autopia car from Disneyland; go ahead and tell the kids it's the one you rode in when you were their age.

Take a tour of a Maserati assembly line, including the Maserati body and shell.

Beyond the exhibit lies the museum's regular collection, which features an impressive display of motorcycles. Heading next door to the Family Gallery yields racing fun on two Xbox consoles, where little speedsters can test their racing skills. A group racing experience is also available theater style, to get the whole family in on the action.

The rest of the floor explores the design and technology of the automobile. Take a virtual walk on a Maserati assembly line, and then sit in one for a “drive.” Wind around the hall for the historical evolution of Ferrari, complete with several actual Ferraris from historical races.

Play on one of the XBox consoles in the Family Room

This floor is also home to the Cars Mechanical Institute—an automotive playroom with several interactive displays. Kids can investigate the inner workings of an engine and discover the parts of a car’s fuel and electrical systems, as well as the many other inner workings of a vehicle. There's a spot for family photo ops in a mini roadster, and families can also engage in the CARSPAD Experience, taking “tours” on iPads to seek and find objects, or building their own car to race Lightning McQueen. Come face to face with the famed car himself just outside the Institute doors.

RELATED: Museum Guide for LA Familes

Learn the nuts and bolts about a car’s engine on an interactive kiosk in the CARS Mechanical Institute

Each floor of the museum examines a different aspect of the automobile. Journey to the third floor to step back in time and explore the rich history of cars and Americans’ love for them. Kids and grown-ups might get a thrill seeing some of the silver screen’s most famous cars lined up: take a picture with the Dolorian from Back to the Future or the Bat Mobile from The Dark Night, among many others.

The museum’s first floor focuses on the artistry of the automobile, featuring some of the most inventive vehicles ever built. Showcased as pieces of fine art, the intricate design and details of these unusual cars present them as sculptures in their own right.

See the Back to the Future car -- the DeLorean DMC-12.

Touchscreen tablets and monitors are included throughout the museum for hands-on interaction with the exhibits, perfect for engaging young hands and minds.

Before ending your visit, browse the museum store, full of gifts, books, models, clothing, and including the current issues of the popular automotive magazines that started it all. Shop ‘til you drop and receive free parking validation for the day with any store purchase of $75.

A visit to the Petersen may change the way you look at cars. In fact, that’s the museum’s hope—that you’ll leave with an appreciation for the rich stories of American culture reflected through the mighty automobile.

The museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard and open daily 10am to 6pm. Admission is $16 for adults, $13 for seniors (62+) and students (13-17 years), $8 for children 3-12 years, and free for children under 3. Parking is available in a connected lot (currently $13 for the day). Some limited metered street parking is also available.

All photos by author unless otherwise noted

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