Bowers Museum: Amazing History, Community, & 6 Attractions

Updated On: June 15, 2023

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The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, stands as a testament to the power of art and culture in fostering understanding and appreciation among diverse communities. With a rich history spanning over eight decades, the museum has established itself as a beacon of cultural heritage and exploration. 

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The Bowers Museum is a fascinating place full of history and culture.

By examining the museum’s captivating past and the exhibits that have shaped its identity, we gain a deeper understanding of its significance as a bridge between cultures, showcasing the timeless beauty and universal themes that unite us all.

To help you have the best time on your trip to the Bowers Museum, we’ve explored its history, exhibits, and the cultural impact the museum has on the communities it serves.

About the Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum is a renowned cultural institution that serves as a gateway to world cultures. Its mission is to celebrate and promote understanding of human achievements through art and cultural exhibits.

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The Bowers Museum’s goal is to encourage the celebration and understanding of diversity in culture.

The museum’s goal is to inspire visitors to explore and appreciate the diverse heritage of mankind, fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. With its extensive collection of art and artefacts from around the world, the Bowers Museum plays a vital role in promoting cultural understanding.

By showcasing the artistic expressions, traditions, and histories of various civilisations, the museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to engage with different cultures. Through its exhibits, the Bowers Museum aims to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and foster a sense of empathy and respect for cultural diversity.

Where is the Bowers Museum?

The Bowers Museum is situated in the city of Santa Ana, which is located in Orange County, California. Geographically, Santa Ana is positioned in the southern part of the state, approximately 10 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Ana is surrounded by several notable cities and regions. To the north, Anaheim, home to Disneyland Resort and Angel Stadium, is a short distance away. 

Costa Mesa lies to the southwest and is known for its vibrant arts scene, upscale shopping centres like South Coast Plaza, and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. To the south, you’ll find the city of Irvine, a major hub of technology and education.

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The area around the Bowers Museum is called the Civic Center.

The Bowers Museum itself is situated in the heart of Santa Ana, near the downtown area. The museum is conveniently located near the Santa Ana Freeway and is easily accessible by car.

The surrounding area of the museum is known as the “Civic Center,” a cultural district housing several important institutions. This includes the Santa Ana City Hall, Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse, and the Orange County School of the Arts. These institutions contribute to the cultural and educational atmosphere of the area.

History of the Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum was founded in 1936 by Charles Bowers, a wealthy landowner and philanthropist. Originally known as the Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum, it was established as a tribute to Bowers’ late wife, Ada.

Bowers envisioned a cultural institution that would house and exhibit his extensive collection of art and artefacts from around the world. His vision was to create a space where these diverse collections could be displayed, fostering cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

In its early years, the museum operated from a small Mission Revival-style building in Santa Ana’s city centre. Charles Bowers had collected a wide array of artworks and cultural artefacts during his travels, including items from Native American, Asian, African, and Pacific Islander cultures.

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Art and artefacts from many different cultures are displayed at the Bowers Museum.

Over the years, the Bowers Museum experienced several significant milestones and expansions. In the 1960s, the museum underwent a major renovation and expansion, doubling its exhibition space. This allowed for the display of larger and more diverse collections, attracting a growing number of visitors.

In 1986, the museum underwent another expansion with the construction of a new wing known as the Dorothy and Donald Kennedy Wing. This expansion provided additional exhibition space, educational facilities, and a new entrance.

In recent years, the Bowers Museum has continued to evolve and expand. Notable milestones include the opening of the state-of-the-art Norma Kershaw Auditorium in 1994, the completion of the Margaret and Cleo Key Courtyard in 2006, and the construction of the Kidseum, a children’s museum and education centre that opened in 2008.

Additionally, the Bowers Museum has hosted a variety of cultural festivals, lectures, and community events, further enriching its offerings and engaging with the local community.

Key Exhibits Throughout History

The Bowers Museum has hosted numerous exhibitions and events that have shaped its history and reputation. 

One significant exhibition was “The Painted Walls of Mexico” in 1986, which showcased the vibrant mural traditions of Mexico. This exhibition drew international acclaim and established the Bowers Museum as a leading institution promoting Mexican art and culture.

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Rare artefacts from the Terracotta Army drew record-breaking crowds to the Bowers Museum.

Another notable event was the opening of the special exhibition “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor” in 2008. This exhibition featured rare artefacts from the famous Terracotta Army of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. It attracted record-breaking attendance and highlighted the museum’s commitment to presenting world-class exhibitions.

Cultural Impact and Community Engagement

The Bowers Museum plays an integral role in the local community of Santa Ana and the wider Southern California region. It serves as a cultural hub, providing opportunities for residents and visitors to engage with diverse art and cultural experiences.

The museum offers a range of programs and exhibitions that cater to the interests and needs of the community. Its diverse collection and educational initiatives contribute to the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage. 

By providing a space for cultural exploration, the Bowers Museum helps foster a sense of pride and connection to the community’s diverse cultural identities.

The Bowers Museum is committed to educational initiatives and outreach programs that serve the community. These programs aim to enhance understanding, appreciation, and knowledge of art and culture among people of all ages.

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The Bowers Museum collaborates with many institutions around Santa Ana.

The Bowers Museum actively collaborates with other cultural institutions and organisations to expand its impact and reach. These collaborations foster a sense of unity and synergy within the cultural community.

The museum collaborates with local schools, colleges, and universities to develop joint programs and exhibits. This partnership enhances educational opportunities and facilitates research on art and culture. 

The Bowers Museum also engages in collaborations with other museums, both nationally and internationally, to bring unique exhibits to the community and promote cultural exchange.

Furthermore, the museum collaborates with community organisations, such as local arts councils, libraries, and social service organisations, to extend its outreach efforts. These collaborations help create a sense of shared responsibility and collective impact, strengthening the cultural fabric of the community.

The Bowers Museum’s engagement with the community and its collaborations with other institutions contribute to its cultural impact. By providing accessible and inclusive cultural experiences, the museum fosters a greater understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures. 

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There are over 100,000 items in the Bowers Museum’s collection.

It promotes dialogue, empathy, and respect among individuals from different backgrounds, helping to build a more inclusive and culturally enriched community. The Bowers Museum’s cultural impact extends beyond its walls, leaving a lasting impression on the community it serves.

Exhibits at the Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum boasts a diverse collection of art and artefacts that span various cultures and time periods. Its collection comprises over 100,000 objects, showcasing the heritage and artistic achievements of civilisations from around the world. 

The museum’s expansive collection includes artefacts from Native American, African, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Latin American cultures, as well as European decorative arts. The exhibits not only attract visitors from the local community but also draw art enthusiasts, scholars, and tourists from around the world.

 They contribute to the museum’s programming by offering fresh perspectives, introducing new themes, and establishing connections between different cultures. By continuously curating engaging temporary exhibitions, the Bowers Museum remains a dynamic and relevant cultural institution that enriches the experiences of its visitors.

Permanent Collections

Ancient Arts of China

This permanent exhibit showcases a remarkable collection of Chinese art and artefacts. Visitors can explore ancient ceramics, bronzes, jade carvings, and other exquisite artworks that provide insights into China’s rich cultural history. The exhibit highlights the artistic techniques, religious beliefs, and daily life of ancient Chinese civilisations.

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Chinese art and artefacts are on display at the Bowers Museum.

California Legacies: Missions and Ranchos

Focusing on the history of California, this exhibit explores the state’s early Spanish and Mexican periods. It features artefacts, maps, and interactive displays that delve into the era of Spanish missions and Mexican ranchos, offering visitors a glimpse into California’s cultural heritage.

Temporary Exhibits

Temporary exhibits at the Bowers Museum play a crucial role in expanding visitors’ cultural horizons and enhancing their understanding of different societies. 

By presenting unique and thought-provoking exhibitions, the museum creates opportunities for dialogue, encourages cultural appreciation, and fosters a deeper understanding of diverse artistic traditions and historical contexts.

Inside the Walt Disney Archives: 50 Years of Preserving the Magic

This exhibition showcased the extensive archives of the Walt Disney Company, featuring props, costumes, artwork, and memorabilia from beloved Disney films and theme parks. It offered visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the magic of Disney and celebrated the enduring impact of Disney’s creations.

Empress Dowager Cixi: Selections from the Summer Palace

This exhibit will present a rare glimpse into the life and reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, a powerful figure in Chinese history. It will feature artefacts, photographs, and personal items from the Summer Palace in Beijing, shedding light on the opulence and complexities of imperial China.

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Artefacts from the Summer Palace are part of a temporary exhibit at the Bowers Museum.

Attractions and Amenities at the Museum


The Bowers Museum itself is an architectural attraction. The building showcases a blend of Mediterranean Revival and Mission Revival architectural styles, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of Southern California. 

The distinctive facade, grand entrances, and beautiful courtyard create an inviting and aesthetically pleasing environment for visitors.


The museum features spacious galleries and exhibition spaces that house a diverse collection of art and artefacts from around the world. Visitors can explore the various permanent and temporary exhibits, allowing for an immersive and educational experience.

The Kidseum, located adjacent to the Bowers Museum, is a separate facility designed specifically for children. It offers interactive exhibits, art workshops, and educational activities tailored to younger visitors.

Programs & Events

The Bowers Museum hosts a variety of educational programs and events. These include workshops, art classes, lectures, and interactive activities for visitors of all ages. These programs aim to provide deeper insights into the museum’s exhibits, foster cultural appreciation, and engage the community in meaningful ways.

Visitors can participate in hands-on workshops and art classes, allowing them to explore their creativity and learn new skills. The museum invites scholars, experts, and artists to give lectures and presentations on various cultural and artistic topics, enriching visitors’ knowledge and understanding.

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The Norma Kershaw Auditorium hosts lectures, musical performances, film screenings, and more.

The museum also offers programs designed specifically for families and children, including interactive exhibits, storytelling sessions, and art activities, fostering a love for culture and learning from a young age.

The Bowers Museum also features the Norma Kershaw Auditorium, a state-of-the-art facility. It hosts a wide range of cultural events, including lectures, film screenings, musical performances, and theatrical productions. The auditorium provides a venue for engaging discussions, live performances, and enriching educational experiences.

Shopping & Restaurants

The Bowers Museum Store offers a unique shopping experience for visitors. It features a wide selection of art books, exhibition catalogues, unique gifts, jewellery, and home decor inspired by the museum’s collection. Visitors can take home a piece of the museum and continue their cultural exploration.

The Tangata Restaurant is located within the Bowers Museum and offers a delightful dining experience. With its upscale ambience and innovative cuisine, it provides a perfect setting for a meal or a gathering after exploring the exhibits. The restaurant specialises in global cuisine, inspired by the diverse cultures represented at the museum.

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The Bowers Museum offers many workshops and events.

The Bowers Museum is a Fantastic Place to Explore

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, stands as a testament to the power of art, culture, and history in fostering understanding and appreciation among people from all walks of life.

 Through its rich and diverse collection of exhibits, the museum has served as a gateway to global cultures, showcasing the beauty, creativity, and achievements of civilisations throughout history. 

By offering a platform for dialogue, education, and engagement, the Bowers Museum has enriched the lives of visitors, inspiring them to explore and celebrate the shared human experiences that transcend borders and time.
If you’re planning a holiday in California, check out these 16 Wonderful Things to do in Napa Valley.

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