These are 27 of the best museums in the U.S. for art, history, culture, science, and more.
A good museum can open your mind and expand your world, unlocking the door to another culture, a piece of ancient history, or a style of art. And what makes the experience so special is that it can often be found in a building down the street or across the state — you don’t have to travel to Spain or France to see the work of Pablo Picasso, or visit Egypt in order to learn about ancient Egyptian history. Some of the world’s best museums are found right here in the United States.
Although what makes a museum good is highly subjective — some people love art, others would rather immerse themselves in another culture or a time in history — we’ve pulled a mix of renowned institutions, interesting experiences, and lesser-known, quirky museums that often get overlooked. Here are 27 of the best museums in the U.S.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art — New York City, New York
If you’re looking for quantity, there is no better place. Better known as “the Met,” this museum is the largest art museum in the U.S. and the fourth-largest museum in the world. As you might expect, there’s a lot to see — the permanent collection alone contains over two million pieces of work.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History — Washington, D.C.
You can explore the wilds of the natural world — from bugs to dinosaurs — at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which sits right on the National Mall. And it doesn’t hurt that admission is free for everyone and the museum is open 364 days a year.
The Getty — Los Angeles, California
The Getty is known for its art and architecture, but part of the museum’s draw is what lies outside the walls. The center has amazing gardens with views overlooking Los Angeles.
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum — Santa Fe, New Mexico
The entirety of this museum is dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe, an artist who has been called the “mother of American modernism.” This is the place to go to see her iconic paintings of enlarged flowers, as well as her New Mexico landscapes and New York skyscrapers.
The Art Institute of Chicago — Chicago, Illinois
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest museums in the world, and its collection is proof of its longstanding place among the best art museums in the world. In addition to housing a massive collection of art, the museum is set in Chicago’s Grant Park, a few minutes from the equally interesting Crown Fountain.
Wynwood Walls — Miami, Florida
While perhaps lesser-known than some of the other museums on this list, the Wynwood Walls in Miami, Florida is just as interesting — if not more — than a more traditional museum. The walls showcase colorful and thought-provoking street art and graffiti from artists around the globe.
Chihuly Garden and Glass — Seattle, Washington
Set at the base of the Space Needle is this long-standing exhibit, which showcases the spectacular glass art of Dale Chihuly. The wildly colorful glass installations, both in the garden and in the building, enhance and amaze.
National Gallery of Art — Washington, D.C.
This museum has a coveted spot on the National Mall and its own attached sculpture garden, which you won’t want to miss. Inside the museum walls, you’ll find works by artists that range from Leonardo da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer to Gordon Parks and Joan Miró. Plus, admission is always free.
Denver Botanic Gardens — Denver, Colorado
These gardens may be high in the Rocky Mountains, but you’ll find a surprising variety of plants and flowers in this 23-acre park, which has a conservatory, themed gardens, and perhaps most spectacularly, a sunken amphitheater that welcomes live music in the summers.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum — Tucson, Arizona
This museum has it all — a zoo, aquarium, botanical garden, natural history, and art gallery. Oh, and don’t forget the walking paths that traverse 21 acres of Sonoran desert.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis — Indianapolis, Indiana
Believe it or not, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis is the largest children's museum in the world. And its massive size is only eclipsed by the quality and quantity of exhibits and activities it offers — including a dinosphere, a mock space station, and a carousel.
The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum — New York City, New York
Right next to One World Trade Center is this museum and memorial, which pays tribute to those lost in the September 11, 2001 attacks and examines the impact and ongoing effect of the historic event.
Museum of Pop Culture — Seattle, Washington
If you love pop culture, head to Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture, better known as “MoPOP.” The entire museum, which boasts one of the coolest exteriors you’ll ever see, is dedicated to popular culture.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum — Washington, D.C.
This Smithsonian museum boasts the “world’s premier collection of air and space artifacts, stories, and expertise,” meaning there’s no better place for anyone who’s even mildly interested in space and air travel. For the full experience, swing by the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
The Neon Museum — Las Vegas, Nevada
Love it or loathe it, Las Vegas is an important part of modern-day U.S. culture. And The Neon Museum, which features signs from old casinos, is proof of that.
The Andy Warhol Museum — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
There are works by Andy Warhol in museums all over the world, but no collection is as extensive as what you’ll find at The Andy Warhol Museum in the artist’s hometown of Pittsburgh. Inside what is heralded as the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist, you’ll find the beloved works of the pop art icon.
Mmuseumm — New York City, New York
Set in a quiet alley in lower Manhattan is this miniature museum, which is set inside a former elevator shaft. Inside you’ll find random objects, each with a story. If you can’t get enough, head down the alley to Mmuseumm 2 for more.
Pulitzer Arts Foundation — St. Louis, Missouri
The Pulitzer Arts Foundation, better known as “the Pulitzer,” is full of thought-provoking modern art. But it is the building itself that will first catch your eye. The mega-modern structure was designed by Tadao Ando, an acclaimed architect, who designed the building to interact with and complement the art inside.
Museum of Fine Arts Boston — Boston, Massachusetts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is expansive, with more than 100 galleries filled with art. There is, in short, something for everyone. Popular exhibits include Impressionist paintings and Egyptian sculptures.
Exploratorium — San Francisco, California
With a location on Pier 15 in San Francisco, the Exploratorium claims that it “isn't like other museums.” The super hands-on exhibits are designed around science, technology, and the arts, providing informal — and most importantly, fun — learning.
Whitney Museum of American Art — New York City, New York
With fewer crowds than the Met and the MoMa (which are both worth a visit in their own right), the Whitney Museum of American Art is a wonderful place to experience art in peace. Set in the Meatpacking District, "The Whitney" is unique because it focuses almost exclusively on American art and artists, mainly from the 20th and 21st centuries.
Center of Science and Industry — Columbus, Ohio
Better known as COSI, the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus has long been known for its excellence in making science learning fun with over 300 hands-on exhibits. The museum itself has been in operation since 1964 and even has an after-dark event for adult visitors.
National Museum of African American History and Culture — Washington, D.C.
This Smithsonian Institution museum is dedicated to sharing the journey and culture of African American people. The museum, which is set in a stunning building on the National Mall, features exhibits on African American food, language, culture, and art.
The National WWII Museum — New Orleans, Louisiana
This iconic museum shares the stories of World War II and comments on its significance in forever changing the world. The goal of the well-curated exhibits is to ensure that “all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.”
Meow Wolf — Santa Fe, Denver, and Las Vegas
This highly immersive art exhibit includes large-scale art installations that transport visitors into another world. It all started in Santa Fe, but you’ll now find this interactive style of art and entertainment in Denver and Las Vegas.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial — Honolulu, Hawaii
It’s well worth leaving the sandy beaches of Waikiki to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. The memorial site and museums commemorate the events of that fateful day and provide a peek into a key moment in American history.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — Cleveland, Ohio
Set on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland is this museum, which is dedicated to celebrating the musicians and songwriters who have shaped the history of music. Highlights include an exhibit where you can play instruments and photographs that showcase stars and key moments in musical history.
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