As I mentioned in my last post, I have recently returned home from San Francisco, which is home to one of the more well known car museums in the country, the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, CA. The Blackhawk is a fairly young museum (founded in 1988), but it has grown to a certain degree of prominence because of the vehicles it has displayed and its affiliation with the Smithsonian. The museum is a featured piece on the classic car website Classics.com and has been reviewed before by other websites as well.
Their website is very thorough on the history and vehicles at the museum, so I won't dwell too much on that, but rather focus on my own experience there. The building is tucked away in a mall of sorts, off the main drag in Danville, which is just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. Housed in a good sized, modern building, the vehicles are exhibited in a very plain, matter-of-fact sort of manner. Cars are parked in rows in dark rooms (black walls and ceilings are above black marble floors) with lighting that is OK at times, scattered at other times. The rows are roped off with enough distance that the cars are typically at least three to six feet away from you at any given time, basically far enough that you can't touch them, but also can't get a great look at them either (especially the ones parked against the walls, which is most of the cars there). They also don't allow tripods (but they do allow monopods), so pictures are an iffy proposition without a steady hand, a high ISO, or shadowy flash shots.
As you can tell, I am not a fan of the setting. The area seems more suited to having a dinner party than displaying cars, and indeed the museum prominently hawks the fact that you can have events there. The cars are so far away and closed up (the windows were up on virtually every car, making interior pictures near impossible) that you feel more like you are at an art museum looking at sculptures rather than at a car museum looking at automobiles. Now this is not to say that they vehicles present are not the epitome of automotive sculpture (more on that later), but simply that you could only get one or two (often poor) angles of the car. It was like looking at a multi-faceted diamond that you can only see from straight on. The idea is there, but you really can't get a complete look at the car. You could rarely ever see the interiors (which is a pity) and none of the hoods were raised to display the engines.
With all that said, the collection of cars present, which was good sized but not huge, was phenomenal. The vehicles assembled represent the very finest and best examples produced by their respective marques. The types of vehicles displayed were mostly Grand Classics (1925-1941) and post-WWII European sports-racing cars. Many of the greatest marques are represented, including Duesenberg, Mercedes-Benz, Hispano-Suiza, Bugatti, Isotta-Franchini, Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, and many others. There are cars here that can only be described as one-of-a-kind, epic marvels, and true rolling sculpture. The museum is simply a can't miss because of the vehicular jewelry assembled. Any car guy worth his or her salt cannot miss seeing the cars that are featured. If nothing else, after you have visited, you can say you have seen the cars there in the flesh (albeit a poor, partial view of them, but seen them nonetheless).
Overall, I'd say the museum is really bolstered by what it has, not how it shows them. While less high falutin collections like the aforementioned Lane Motor Museum and the Bruce Weiner Microcar Museum may not be stocked with the kind of prestigious cars that the Blackhawk has, both of them have a much more down to earth feel and the Lane's museum doesn't even have barriers! If you are in the Bay Area, you have to go see the museum simply to see the cars there, but bring a step-stool or something so you can maybe get a look inside of them!
3750 Blackhawk Plaza Cir
Danville, CA 94506