Whenever you hear someone snarking about how America has no history, no culture, the land of the mindless blah blah blah, just know this: that person is definitely jealous of us. The fact of the matter is that one of the reasons the United States is always featured on all of the Best Vacation Destination lists is the fact that we are home to some of the coolest and most famous museums in the world. And, although the most conventional, critically acclaimed, famous museums are located in New York, virtually every state has a worthy museum to visit!
To prove this point, our team at RealEstateAgent.com decided to make a list with the Best Museums in the USA, separating them in several categories, and however sure we were of the magnitude of our pool, we were even more impressed by how many cool American museums there are! We have so many, we couldn’t include them all. Let’s check the ones we did!
The “classical” kind of museums, we’ve defined Art Museums as those big art galleries that present visitors with paintings, sculptures etc. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, is easily the most famous museum in America; so much so, people call it by a nickname: The Met. The 4th largest museum in the world, it has over 7 million visitors a year – which makes it #3 in the world – and over 2 million pieces in its permanent collection. The Met is a colossus with works from basically every epoch. You will find Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, plus sculptures and objects that date as far back as 7,500 before Christ!
Also worth mentioning, its neighbor, the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is focused in one specific art movement, the modernism. It’s one of the best museums in the world on this subject. It presents works of architecture, photographies, prints, painting and electronic media. Many people consider it to have the best modern western collection in the world. For an entry-level person on art, we’d say this is an awesome museum, as most of the visitors – regardless of their art knowledge – might recognize paintings like “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh, “ The Dance” by Henri Matisse and “Campbell’s Soup Cans” by Andy Warhol. MoMa has colorful, accessible artwork that will be read as inviting rather than highbrow.
Now, moving out of NYC, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest museums in the country and for that alone deserves a shout out. Founded in 1879, it features iconic American art pieces like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. If you like the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, this is the museum where the three of them play hooky and Cameron freaks out with Georges-Pierre Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Our last of the Best Museums in the USA – Art Museum category is the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Divided into two campuses (The Getty Center and The Getty Villa), aside from a fantastic collection; its architecture is exquisite, and its garden delightful. They were both designed to complement the art and provide a perfect environment for the enjoyment of it. Best of all? Admittance is free! While Los Angeles wasn’t on our Best Cities for Singles list because of the high prices of rent, lack of public transport, violence and other factors, we can’t think of a better date idea than going to the Getty Center to look the city from above and see some beautiful pieces of art while holding hands and smooching. Could we make a “Best Museums in the USA – Smooching” category? The Getty would take the win…
The NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Titusville, Florida started as a small trailer in the 1960’s and over the years became a fully developed science museum that attracted 1.7 million people in 2016 alone. NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex attractions include the Rocket Garden, displaying a number of rockets that put Americans and satellites in space, a replica of the Hubble Space Telescope, bus tours around the spaceport, a simulated ride into space, several aircraft’s and artifacts that are part of the space program history and temporary exhibits; always combining science, math and the history of astronauts and space. The Space Center is only 1 hour away from Orlando: all the more reasons “the city beautiful” is one of the best cities for families; a great idea for one day of fun for the whole family to spend learning and having fun together.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry expands from the space theme and is our pick for a more comprehensive science museum experience. The OMSI is just too much fun. We dare you going with a kid and not leaving with her/him utterly excited about everything in the museum. They have a real submarine in it! You can enter and everything! The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry has three auditoriums, a high-end planetarium, motion simulator attractions so you can travel to places like the space and the bottom of the ocean, a 4-story movie screen, and several exhibition halls focused on science and technology with a hands-on approach. An amazing educational science museum to take children to, while having fun yourself.
Lastly, the Museum of Natural History in New York. Okay, two things needed to be addressed here: first, while it has “history” in its name, this is a science museum, after all, while the study of civilization is a historian job, the approach of the Museum of Natural History (and anyone who dares to go back as they do) is much more science-based. In it, you’ll find perfect life-sized recreation of long-extinct animals and several remains of them. And, second, if you’re thinking “Oh my god! Enough about New York… what a broken record!”; yes, while Washington DC Real Estate Agents will claim DC is the Museum capital of America, and Los Angeles Real Estate Agents also have the potent argument that Los Angeles is the city with the most museums per capita in the world, it is New York City that is home to the most prestigious American museums. New York City has some of the Best Museums in the USA and New York City Real Estate Agents will, deservingly, make that a selling point when dealing with a New York real estate. But we’ll prove to you there are a lot of other awesome American museums elsewhere. Keep reading!
Memphis is home to The National Civil Rights Museum. Built around what was once the Lorraine Motel, site of the assassination of one of America’s most inspiring citizens of the last century, Martin Luther King Jr., this history museum opened in 1991 and has an immersive experience where you can enter the room 306; where Dr. King was staying moments before being shot across the street. It’s both eerie, humbling and important being there, the place where he spent his last moments. The museum has also several non-permanent exhibits, a sign/reminder that the fight for civil rights is still very much alive and in demand.
America is a country essentially made of immigrants, so it’s only natural that we’d include The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration in New Jersey. This history museum sits at what it used to be, from 1892 to 1954, the busiest immigration inspection station in the country. If you’re reading this, chances are some of your family entered the country via Ellis Island: calculations show that over 100 million Americans (40% of the total population) can trace their ancestry back to immigrants that entered the USA through this immigration post converted into history museum. Again, part of what makes it so interesting is standing at a historic spot; the place is set up with artifacts and history lessons for you to get transported back into a certain mindset of people trying to escape war and evil back in their former country. It’s really moving. And you get a nice view to the Statue of Liberty, which is the biggest symbol of immigration; the quest for freedom, embodied by the land of the free: The United States of America.
And to complete a piece of our history, while not as popular and critically acclaimed, we feel the National Museum of the American Indian in New York and Washington DC deserves a spot on the Best Museums in the USA – History Museum category. The National Museum of the American Indian is part of the Smithsonian Institution and together with Native Americans organizations and people is dedicated to telling the history of Native Americans through their arts, clothing, and artifacts. The entire conception of the museum is very unique, trying to convey a sense of organic flow, with curvy walls and surfaces and almost no sharp corners. A very big depart from most European-styled museums. Worth the visit!
Speaking of organic… Open-air Museums are those that try to either blend the art with a natural environment or the natural environment is the art itself. Some famous museums, like the aforementioned Getty Villa, do that with its surroundings, but we’re talking about full-on open-air museums here. And, surprisingly, Miami has got two of them! Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Coral Gables is a huge estate (50 acres) that was once owned by businessman James Deering. You have the regular museum setting inside the main house with antiques, paintings, and distinctive architecture and decoration, all from the 15th to the 19th Century. However, it is outside the house where the magic lies. An enormous Italian Renaissance garden, a pool area and “the barge” – a replica of a big ship made of rock – paint a dream-like vision of another era.
Moving on to a whole ‘nother pole, Miami has also Wynwood, an urban art open-air museum. We could single out Wynwood Walls, where yearly the world’s biggest graffiti/urban artists paint its walls, but the truth is that the whole neighborhood of Wynwood was conceived to become this experience of walking in a big open-air museum. It is Instagram paradise down there, with countless walls and little details that are every year growing in size and pushing Wynwood closer to the title of urban art capital of the world.
Lastly, the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle makes the Best Museums in the USA on the Open-air Museums category. If you need to be picky, this is technically an exhibit and not a museum, but the work from glass sculptor Dale Chihuly blending glass with nature is so amazing, that it needed to be here. The Chihuly Garden and Glass is one of the most visited places in Seattle since 2012 and there are no words to describe how awesome Chihuly’s colorful glass garden is. Visit!
Notable Person Museums
The people behind The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan were very smart conceptualizing this one. While celebrating the work and life of Henry Ford, it also connects itself with several American Innovation’s stories. For instance, on its premises, you’ll find the Rosa Parks bus, which is not a Ford but a General Motors. However, it makes the most of sense, right? Henry Ford popularized production in a way that automobile public transport was made possible and led to a huge moment in the fight for civil rights. A lot of other cool stuff there that, somehow, are connected with the Ford name: the seat where President Lincoln sat at the Ford Theater when he was shot, the Lincoln Continental where president John F Kennedy was assassinated, and exhibits about two of America’s biggest innovators: Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers.
The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West, Florida is an adorable visit. You get to take a look at one of America’s most beloved writers home and way of living. Plus, several cats descendants of Hemingway’s original cats roam around the house or rest while you take a peek at Hemingway’s bedroom.
Finally, a more traditional type of museum, The Dali Museum – in St. Petersburg, Florida – is fully dedicated to the work of Spanish painter Salvador Dali. The building itself is a modern piece of work reminiscing of Dali, but of course, what’s inside is what is worth the visit, with countless Salvador Dali pieces, which makes the Dali Museum the largest museum in the world and the Best Museum in the USA when it comes to Salvador Dali’s paintings.
Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it… these memorial museums are not designed for a light fun visit but are extremely important for our personal growth and cultural understanding/contextualization of it all. The 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York deals with something that it’s still fresh on our minds and hearts. A very emotional place, it has interesting exhibits on several different aspects that surrounded the World Trade Center’s tragedy before and after. For instance: there’s currently a special exhibit called “The comeback season: Sports after 9/11”. Interesting, right?
Also worthy of note, especially with this strange movement of people “denying” it, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC is another hard but important pill to swallow. In it, you explore the personal stories of Americans who responded to the Nazi threat in different ways. The United States Holocaust Memorial is an important resource of historical documents and an active combatant of genocide and prejudice.
Closing the memorial museum’s category, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans is Louisiana’s most visited attraction and was elected in 2017 as the #2 museum in the world by TripAdvisor. In there, you’ll learn about American military and the World War II history through several exhibits of objects, guns, vehicles, photographs, and movies that will inspire and teach you about the hard-learned lessons from a tragic happening that is a war.
Performing Arts Museums
The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, also known as MoPOP, was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000, and it’s one of the largest museums in the world totally dedicated to contemporary pop culture. Just so you understand the type of museum MoPOP is: it currently has a huge Marvel Comics exhibit. Elsewhere in the MoPOP, you’ll find memorabilia like pages from Jimi Hendrix’s diary, the original Halloween’s Michael Meyers mask, a whole gallery dedicated to Seattle’s biggest band Nirvana, and much much more.
Speaking of rock music, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio is not to be missed either. Arguably the most famous museum when it comes to music, the Hall of Fame has an architecture reminiscent of the Louvre the most famous museum in the world – God knows why… – and is the premier place for all things music. Memorabilia spanning from Michael Jackson’s glove to famous rock concert stages props and musical instruments? It’s all there. Plus, from time to time, there are awesome concerts on their main plaza for free.
The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona is a more cultural, less hyped museum, focused on the history of musical instruments. But we still think it’s one of the Best Museums in the USA! You’ll find easily recognizable musical props and instruments just like the ones in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but what’s really cool here is the journey through the countless ethnic musical instruments throughout the world. It’s like you notice that musical instruments translate different cultures to one universal language: music.
We’re classifying novelty museums as those quirky museums that stand out. The World of Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta is a really fun one. In it, you get to taste how different coca-cola is in every country, pose for pictures with old Coca-Cola advertising props and surprisingly cool things from this brand that, in many ways, embodies a lot of the American culture as we know it.
You’ve probably never heard of Meow Wolff, but it’s an amazing new museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On a land owned by George RR Martin (creator of the popular book series “Game of Thrones”), Meow Wolff’s House of Eternal Return is an interactive storytelling installation/museum where people enter a house and instead of “watching” art, they “feel” it, touch it and interact with it. Its enjoyment comes in layers. You can just watch the pretty trippy colors and artwork, or you can try to understand the mystery within the house, as all the artwork inside is actually one big piece of a story that you are invited to crack for yourself. Sounds pretty crazy? Well… it is. You’re going to love it!
And lastly, the Mob Museum in Las Vegas because… yes, it is not MOB as in initials; it’s a whole museum dedicated to the history of criminal activity. How quirky and unique is that?
This was a long one, huh? Well, it goes to show that America has the most varied kinds of museums, right? We even let several famous museums out – like the Guggenheim, The National Air and Space Museum and much more. So, anytime a snotty-nose comes to you with the failed argument that there are no good American museums out there, refer him/her to our Best Museums in the USA list, and, above all, now that you have the 411: visit them!