If you live in LA, chances are good that you know every nook and cranny of such kid-friendly museums as LACMA, California Science Center, the Discovery Cube, and Kidspace Children's Museum—but you may never have been to the Valley Relics Museum. This museum, housed in two airplane hangars next to the Van Nuys Airport, will send you down Memory Lane and give your kiddos an insight into all things retro-cool—including a whole lot of free pinball!
Alvin and the Chipmunks are larger than life.
To be clear, this museum is dedicated to pop culture, so don't expect your kids to find fun facts they can use for their next history class pop quiz. Created as a love letter to the sometimes glamorous, sometimes gritty San Fernando Valley by founder Tommy Gelinas, the museum is stuffed with salvaged neon signage, BMX bikes, and even a display dedicated to the famous original pound-puppy-turned-movie-star, Benji.
Everyone loves Benji!
After slogging through museums focused on fossils from the distant past, you'll find that Valley Relics is a pointed reminder that a lot has changed in our own lifetimes. And you may even feel old. So, so old.
It's hard not to move through the museum muttering, "I remember that" or pining for a meal from one of the now-defunct restaurants whose signage is on the wall (or remembering a fun night you can't tell the kids about at one of your favorite Valley bars). The neon-colored time warp dredges up an amazing number of memories, even if you didn't grow up in the Valley—and if you're visiting from over the hill, you might be impressed to see how much has happened in SFV's not-so-sleepy 'burbs.
Jack and Ronald, together at last.
While parents will love the nostalgia trip and the memorabilia from celebrities their own parents might have loved—such as TV and movie star Jackie Oakie—kids might get a charge out of the Ronald McDonald costume, the much-larger-than-real-life Alvin and the Chipmunks figures, and the original Jack in the Box drive-thru speaker.
But let's face it, grown-ups are going to be sucked in a little more than kids who don't remember a time before YouTube. When your kid starts dragging you away from examining the Nudie's Rodeo Tailor tribute case, it's time to pull out the museum's secret weapon: the arcade wall!
In addition to all the cool neon salvage, the museum (which is available to rent as a super cool venue for everything from weddings to bar mitzvahs) has an array of retro video games and pinball machines—all working, available to play, and free with museum admission. Better yet, children age 10 and under get free admission. That's a whole lot of rounds of free pinball. And while there isn't as much to interest very little kids, there is more than one big, roomy bathroom, which is always a plus.
Banana seats flying overhead evoke ET for parents, Stranger Things for kids...
Though Valley Relics isn't a huge museum, it's densely packed with mementos and information, so it's easy for grown-ups to get sucked in for an afternoon—and sulky tweens just might become pinball wizards in the process. Consider the challenge of an outing that's just as interesting to parents and kids met and conquered.
The Valley Relics Museum is open Thursday through Saturday 11am-4pm, and Sunday 11am-3pm.
Admission: Adults $10; Seniors $8; Kids 10 & under free
Parking is free.
All photos by the author