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11 Museums in the U.S. That You Need to Visit at Least Once

11 Museums in the U.S. That You Need to Visit at Least Once

Usually we think of museums as stuffy places old people go to so they can see stuff their parents used. But they’re not all like that. There are plenty of museums that cater to your interests, which sounds like an over generalization until you realize how many museums there are. For this list, we tried to stick mostly with museums that have a modern twist on the old format, so they’re not all places you go to be quiet and look at Renaissance era portraits. In fact, there’s more than one here that invites you to get up close and personal with the exhibits. Overall, if you were going to spend the afternoon learning, you can’t do much better than these places. Here are 11 museums in the U.S. that you need to visit at least once.

Queens Museum

Queens, New York

The Queens Museum almost always has some kind of rotating art exhibition featuring local Queens artists or New York history, but the main attraction is their panorama of the city of New York. All five boroughs are featured in exhaustive detail and it’s so accurate you can reliably find specific addresses. So long as you know the general layout of your neighborhood and can find it on a map, you can point to your apartment building, house, office, Starbucks, artisanal mayonnaise shop, former mafia diner, or wherever else you can think of. You can easily spend an hour meandering around the suspended walkway, and when you’re done there, check out the globe the giant cockroach flew through in Men in Black. Link

The Museum of Bad Art

Somerville and Brookline, Massachusetts

This is a recommendation only as long as people aren’t being dicks about bad art. It can be hard to decipher the intention behind places like these, but as long as the museum is more about good-natured razzing and not a bunch of rich people making fun of people’s genuine attempts to create, then we’re on board. Even pieces that didn’t quite come out right have value and a museum like this could potentially show aspiring artists that even the greats don’t generate perfection every time they put pen to paper or brush to canvas. Link


Washington, D.C.

You’re not going to see an abundance of oil on canvas or water on colors at the Newseum, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to see some amazing art. It’s a museum devoted to journalism, and since so much of journalistic writing is accompanied by excellent photography, the Newseum naturally holds one of the greatest collections of photography ever assembled. They have a room devoted to Pulitzers, photo essays from pivotal moments in history throughout, and videos to complement everything else. If you manage to get through the museum without fantasizing about being a golden age journalist, you’re a stone cold robot. Link


San Francisco, California

Any of you who grew up in or around Philadelphia probably fondly remember the Please Touch Museum. That’s not on this list, because we’re supposed to be adults and it would be unbecoming of us to be elbowing children out of the way in a children’s museum. But the Exploratorium is roughly the adult equivalent, encouraging scientific exploration and education where the exhibits aren’t behind thick plexiglass. You’re free to wander through the museum and interact with tools, instruments, and experiments you wouldn’t have the opportunity to in your regular life. Unless your regular life is in a laboratory of some sort. But even then, scientists like to cut loose every once in awhile. Link

Hammer Museum

Los Angeles, California

There’s probably not much we can tell you about Hammer that you don’t already know. It’s one of the more famous places to see whatever’s on the cutting edge of modern art, as well as what used to be. There are rotating exhibits, a great collection, and events that complement both. The museum is as good for a casual afternoon as it is for a weekend out, so make sure to take advantage. There’s also not a ton of mainstream stuff, so it’s where you should head if you’re looking to expand your art horizons. Link

Smart Museum of Art

Chicago, Illinois

Before you jump to conclusions about the name of the museum, we should point out that the surname of the guys who founded it was Smart. The museum isn’t being self-congratulatory. Even if going here will make you smarter, mostly thanks to the unique mix of traditional and modern art. The curators of the museum make it a point to feature art and artists that build on each other, which means they use traditional art to try and elevate modern art, while allowing the guests to make their own connections from art history. Often times, common threads will run through exhibits, like their current Revolution Every Day and Radical [Re]Constructions exhibits, both of which take a look at mundane objects from fairly alien viewpoints. There’s also a great exhibit on the South Side of Chicago, a place not many people pay much attention to. Link

Pulitzer Arts Foundation

St. Louis, Missouri

Right angles and poured concrete scream modern art installations, though sometimes that’s not a good thing. That pretension isn’t present in the Pulitzer Arts Foundation though, and it’s why we’re recommending the place. Instead you get an inviting, attractive architectural introduction to the kind of stuff you’ll see inside. There’s also more of a focus on rotating exhibits, with only a few permanent pieces. That means you could go back every few months and see something totally new. Plus walking around the place is strangely relaxing, with a reflecting pool and tons of natural light. The building puts you in a place to enjoy what they’re displaying, which is a real task with some modern art. Link

MIT Museum

Cambridge, Massachusetts

The MIT Museum is a lot like the Exploratorium in that its installations have a much more scientific foundation. There’s still room for artistic expression, but most of it is done in a way that showcases scientific advancement and technological achievement. No where else is this better seen than in their Holography collection. There are more than 2,000 holograms in the collection, making it, as they call it, the most comprehensive collection of holography in the world. There are also rotating exhibitions featuring robotics, sculpture, photography, and what even looks to be VR. Plus, it’s a great way to be technically correct if you start telling people you went to MIT. Link

Rothko Chapel

Houston, Texas

Rothko Chapel is a mix between art museum, memorial, and practicing chapel. Most art you can see on the grounds and in the building come from Mark Rothko, a prolific painter, sculptor, and designer active for the better part of the 20th century. The chapel’s nondenominational to the greatest extent we’ve ever seen, with holy works from any and every religion the staff can get their hands on. You don’t even have to be religious. You could just need a quiet place to meditate. They’re more than happy to provide that. Concerts and special events are a fairly regular occurrence too, with a special emphasis on civil rights and equal representation. Link

National Brewery Museum

Potosi, Wisconsin

Undoubtedly, you’ve been on a dozen brewery tours. With a thousand craft breweries opening every day, at least a hundred of them are by your house and tours and tastings are easy things for when you’re looking for stuff on the weekends. But the National Brewery Museum is a bit different. It offers tastings, and we’d never turn that down, but their main attraction is their large collection of American brewing memorabilia. They have advertisements, cans, bottles, and swag from breweries that don’t exist anymore, as well as beer you can still buy. Their collection views more like an art gallery. It’s colorful, bright, informative, and hosted in the old Potosi Brewing Company building. It’s a little out of the way in Potosi, Wisconsin, but it’s a perfect stop on a cross country road trip. Link

The Mattress Factory

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Mattress Factory is like a mix of everything else on this list. It’s a modern art museum/experimental science lab/learning center all mixed into one. The rotating exhibitions keep things interesting and the permanent installations are the sort of modern art that doesn’t give the whole genre a bad name. They’re genuinely intriguing pieces that will stick with you. Plus they do educational programs and host events, so your options for participation aren’t limited to quiet, contemplative walks through a confusing museum. You can find more involved ways to interact with the exhibits and staff, which is probably the whole point. Link