The Best Museums in America

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From sea to shining sea, the U.S. is packed with outstanding museums that span a bounty of interests, from art and music to history and culture, those with a local focus, and others with a concentration on international events, literature, and more. Here are some of our favorites from across the U.S. that cater to audiences of all kinds.

Field Museum, Chicago

The Field Museum of Chicago is a treasure trove of science, nature, and learning exhibits. This museum examines everything from ancient Egypt to restoring the planet, the evolution and lives of dinosaurs to the ancient Americas, and two halls of gems and jade. Other exhibits include birds, lions, hyenas, fossils, the Galapagos Islands, and DNA discovery. Many films and features are available in 3D, but all events and exhibits do one thing very well: showcase a part of history and focus on the science, evolution, and secrets held within these eras. To find out exactly what will be on display while you’re in Chicago, visit the official Field Museum website.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

From prehistory to contemporary works, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts offers a broad and genuinely astonishing collection from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Paintings, photography, sketches, prints, drawings, and collections of jewelry, musical instruments, and preserved literature make this museum a behemoth, eclectic mélange you won’t want to miss while you’re in Massachusetts. For more information on moving, temporary, and permanent installations, visit the official Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website.

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Smithsonian Institutes, Washington D.C.

The Smithsonian Institutes of Washington, D.C. includes 19 museums and galleries, vibrant gardens galore, and even a zoo. Located right on the National Mall, the D.C. Smithsonian truly offers something for everyone, including art, history, animals, outdoor installations, space travel, African American cultural exhibits, a portrait gallery, a natural history museum, and even a postal museum. While here, you must visit the Smithsonian Castle—a delight to behold for sightseers of any age. Addresses for each Smithsonian feature vary, so check the official Washington, D.C. Smithsonian guide to each different museum, display, garden, and of course, the National Zoo.

Space Center, Houston

If you’ve ever wondered what a trip to the moon would feel like, or you’ve spent hours pondering what life is like aboard a spacecraft, the Space Center in Houston is where you belong. Known also as the Gateway to NASA Johnson Space Center, this is not your everyday museum. With all kinds of amenities like day camps, field trips, Space After Dark exploration, visits to the Space Center University, and other educational features, Space Center Houston has it all. As the official training center and Mission Control for NASA astronauts, the events and exhibits here are truly one-of-a-kind, and not to be missed while you’re in the Houston area. Check the Space Center calendar of events before heading off to Houston to ensure you get to see the space exploration installations you don’t want to miss.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta

Located right in the heart of Downtown Atlanta, the Civil Rights Museum and Center for Civil and Human Rights is a must-see for sightseers of every generation. You’ll explore the reality of oneness through communal music, learn about new social justice movements, and find out about the Negro Leagues Heritage Day. Panel discussions, celebrity speakers, and a fundamental sense of inspiration are the hallmarks of this prodigious site for learning about human rights in the Americas. To learn more about which events will be happening while you’re in Atlanta, visit the official National Center for Civil and Human Rights website.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), New York

Year-round events, an evergreen selection of art installations, glorious architecture, and learning for educators, adults, and visitors with disabilities are just a few offerings that make visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City worthwhile. All kinds of visits to The Met can be arranged, including audio guides, group visits, dining at The Met. For an all-day extravaganza, sightseers can make quick trips between The Met at Fifth Avenue, Met Breuer, and Met Cloisters with ease. Exhibits and installations at The Met are known for covering a broad spectrum of paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings, and more. To find out what will be there when you’re in New York City, check the official Metropolitan Museum of Art website.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Housed since 1959 in Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building on Fifth Avenue, the Guggenheim Museum in New York an internationally renowned art museum. The building is known to be one of the most significant architectural icons of the 20th century, and houses a cultural center, an educational institution, and the heart of an international network of museums. Unlike most institutions dedicated to the visual arts, the Guggenheim does not divide itself into departments devoted to specific mediums or eras. Visitors can experience special exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, lectures by artists and critics, performances and film screenings, and daily tours of the galleries led by museum educators. Visit the official Guggenheim Museum in NYC website to learn more.

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MoPOP, Formerly the Experience Music Project (EMP), Seattle

Pop culture finally gets its day in the sun at MoPOP (formerly the EMP Museum). Group visits, venue rentals, the Culture Kitchen, and exhibits about the greats like David Bowie and Jim Henson round out MoPOP. But it wouldn’t be the grand experiment it is today without installations like the world tours of Jimi Hendrix, the Guitar Gallery, a hall of fantasy and science fiction, and an entire exhibit dedicated to the gaming revolution. MoPOP is truly the perfect spectrum of all things pop culture from the late 1950s to today, and well worth a visit while you’re in Seattle. To learn more about the installations and exhibits calendar, visit the official website of the MoPOP Museum.

California Academy of Science, San Francisco

From daily exhibits to nightlife and sleepover events, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable museum experience of science, nature, and space than the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Exhibits and events showcase everything you’ll find in the wild, including feline nightlife, flying dinosaurs, a look at the deep reefs untouched by the sun, a planetarium showing real comets, and a monolithic look at conservation photography. This is definitely a trip for sightseers of all ages and spending a whole day here is an enlightening event you’ll never forget. To find out what’s playing in the planetarium, which photos are on display, and which wildlife exhibits are available to visit while you’re in San Francisco, visit the official California Academy of Science website before you book your trip.

USS Midway Museum, San Diego

As one of San Diego’s most popular attractions, the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum is truly a sight to behold. Visitors explore what it was like to live, serve, and work aboard the carrier by visiting everything from crew sleeping quarters to the engine room, the carrier’s jail, post office, flight control, flight deck, and much more. Guided audio tours are available, but you’ll get the best true-to-life stories from USS Midway docents, who you’ll meet throughout the vessel. Complete with flight simulations, real-life cockpits you can hop into, and other interactive activities, the USS Midway does not disappoint. For the historian in your group, there’s a research library, as well as a Battle of Midway Experience exhibit. To find out more about the activities and exhibits available while you’re in San Diego, visit the official USS Midway Museum website.

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Nashville

The Country Music Hall of Fame is an American treasure, complete with exhibits about the latest and greatest as well as folk, blues, and country singers and bands you may never have heard of. Learn about America's folk roots, study the eras of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, or catch up on what’s current in country music culture right now. Watch and listen to the sounds of the American soul and learn everything you ever wanted to know about every person ever inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Whether you love country music or not, a visit to this museum is an authentic portrayal of an important part of American history and culture. To learn more about which exhibits will be up and running while you’re in Nashville, check the official Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum website.

Franklin Institute Science Museum, Philadelphia

The Franklin Institute Science Museum has really kicked it up a notch when it comes to science, nature, discovery, space exploration, and even DIY lessons on how to make your own pinhole camera and so much more. Adults are admitted for $20, and this Philly museum stays open from 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. You’ll want to plan at least a half-day here, and to really get the full experience of the Franklin, try to make it to the observatory hours. The sunrise visit begins at 6:12 a.m. You could also schedule a later-in-the-day visit, which would allow you to view the moonrise from the observatory, which begins at 12:11 a.m. Of course, these times will change throughout the year, so be sure to check the official Franklin Institute website before you get to Philadelphia.

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