The US boasts over 35,000 museums across the country – an impressive feat – featuring famous sculptures, artworks, and exhibitions. While you may be spoilt for choice, it can be helpful to narrow things down.
This list takes you on a tour of the best museums in the United States, offering various cultural activities for every taste and budget.
The Best Museums in the United States
We present this list in no particular order, as all of these museums have their own merits. Deciding which ones to visit first depends on where you live and what your particular interests are.
American Museum of Natural History, New York City
Settled in the Upper West Side within Manhattan, this historical gem has been a site of wonder and learning for nearly half a century.
Visitors are inspired daily with over 32 million specimens and artifacts to discover. Ranging from birds to awe-inspiring dinosaurs, these exhibits will provide an unforgettable experience.
Engross yourself in a tour of the museum to explore various facilities. The incredible butterfly sanctuary, and amazing replicated creatures will be sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.
Whether you frequent museums or not, this revered center is worth a visit. Divided into two facilities, this museum welcomes over 8 million visitors annually – more than any other museum in the country.
The America by Air gallery is part of the museum’s extensive permanent collection. In The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age, enjoy the Wright Flyer exhibit. Head to the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall and experience being in the same room as a piece of the moon!
The Art Institute of Chicago
If you find yourself walking in Chicago, be sure to enter this art institute to capture the vibrance of this Windy City’s art scene. At 280,000 square feet, this is one of the largest museums in America, surpassed only by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at 633,100 square feet.
Admire Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper and a portrait of Elizabeth Taylor by Andy Warhol.
Enjoy a delicious meal at the Terzo Piano restaurant which boasts sweeping views of Millennium Park and the Chicago city skyline. And if art’s not your scene, fans of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” can reenact the film’s famous scene among the museum’s iconic halls.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
The epitome of old-world meets new, this incredible center of art is one of America’s finest and should be on every art or history enthusiast’s list. It’s also the largest art museum in the U.S., spanning over 630,000 square feet.
The Met’s storied walls feature over two million works and collections.
Marvel at various exquisite historical pieces, such as the Egyptian temple and ancient Roman sculptures. Well-known names, like Rembrandt and Monet, will be sure to make any art enthusiast swoon.
National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.
Based in the country’s capital, this Smithsonian institution features portraits of famous Americans, past and present, to get history fanatics in their element.
Spend hours roaming the hallways and rooms filled with an abundance of curated pieces in this art-lovers dreamland.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Holding over 4.5 billion years of history and over 35 million specimens and artifacts, this is a special place. With a 3D theatre, nature gardens, and a dinosaur lab, there’s plenty for every kind of visitor to enjoy.
It provides a culmination of nature, science, and culture for a truly unique experience. So whether you fancy fossils, bugs, or the gem and mineral hall; you’re sure to be enthralled.
The National WWII Museum, New Orleans
There’s no better place to learn about the significant ways WWII shaped US culture than in this heaven for history buffs. You’ll board a train car to reach the entrance, creating the sensation that you really are traveling back in time.
Spend the day listening to oral histories and marvel at boats and tanks up close. And for those who want an authentic experience, you’ll have the opportunity to chat with some veteran volunteers who happily share their stories.
The Getty Center, Los Angeles
One of the best museums on the West Coast and a piece of modern art in and of itself. The Getty Center has an undulating structure perfectly complemented by stretches of manicured gardens.
Once arriving via driverless tram, must-see attractions include Van Gogh’s Irises and Rembrandt’s Old Man in Military Costume. There are four pavilions displaying art from the 1400s to today, as well as a large selection of modern artworks in the grounds.
Visitors can stroll the lawns after a day of viewing the expansive collection from European Renaissance art to modernity, as well as the incredible photography displays.
The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Located on the National Mall, this is the perfect spot to escape the bustle of the city for a few hours to recharge and unwind. With over 3,000 works to view, you’re in for a treat.
There’s a fine collection of Impressionist artworks and the stunning Ginevra de’ Benci oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Be sure to pop into the Gallery Shop for the perfect art-inspired gift.
You can also opt to explore the culture garden, where you can admire 21 modern and contemporary sculptures while you roam this oasis in the heart of the city.
Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Dearborn
If you find yourself in the great state of Michigan, on a road trip perhaps, then this indoor-outdoor museum is the perfect addition to your itinerary. Be sure to view Kennedy’s limo, Lincoln’s chair, and the bus where Rosa Parks sat.
Visitors of all ages will be entertained for hours in this hub of innovation.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Fans flock worldwide to climb the famous “Rocky Steps” from the iconic film and pose by the Rocky statue in front of this museum.
There is also a vast collection of art that spans over centuries for visitors to admire. Gaze at paintings of Benjamin Franklin or marvel at contemporary art by the likes of van Gogh, Picasso, and Duchamp.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York City
In the heart of Manhattan and regarded as one of the most influential modern art museums in the world, this is top listed on any visit to the Big Apple.
See van Gogh’s Starry Night and Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo up close or famous Surrealist artists’ work like The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. Patrons often make multiple visits to the MoMA to see its over 200,000 pieces in the halls adorned with rich art history.
Read next: Best Virtual Art Museum Tours | Best Sculpture Parks | Famous Impressionist Paintings | Famous Sculptures
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Whether you’re an art aficionado or not, this Boston museum is bound to impress you. It holds one of the most comprehensive collections in America.
Marvel at the incredible Monet exhibit or soak up the impressive archeology collection which ranges from African, Middle Eastern, Asian and Egyptian cultures. End your excursion with a delectable lunch in the serene outside garden.
National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington D.C.
This Smithsonian Institution museum had an opening in 2003 led by President Barack Obama and makes for a thought-provoking tour while in the capital.
Here you’ll take an emotional journey through time and feel the power of human resilience in the countless exhibits, stories, and displays. Boasting a wealth of knowledge, this museum is both educational and inspiring.
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Any visit to Ohio state should have this free museum at the center of their trip. Get up close to incredible paintings where you can admire every brushstroke in detail.
Check out the Armor Court for a unique look at medieval life or gaze at the African, Islamic, French, and Renaissance tapestries. There’s also one of the best collections of Japanese art outside of Japan.
USS Midway Museum, San Diego
One of the US’s longest-serving aircraft carriers from the 1940’s to the First Gulf War in 1991, the USS Midway now sits comfortably in the San Diego Bay and enchants visitors from far and wide.
This museum houses more than 60 exhibits including a war room, galley, sleeping quarters, and brig. You will also get to tour the 24-plus restored aircraft on the flight deck. This is the perfect outing for the whole family.
The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
Soak up this amazing learning experience that mixes modern curation with ancient history. Look forward to viewing the riveting dinosaur exhibit where you can marvel at the oldest T-Rex, “Sue”, fully assembled.
Tuck into a delicious hot meal in the cafeteria or pack a lunch to enjoy in the picnic area.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
A museum abuzz with kiddies’ laughter, this is an awesome place for youngsters to engage with interactive learning exhibits.
Watch their curiosity blossom at everything – from steam trains and dinosaurs to learning the day-to-day life of an astronaut in the space station.
Each floor appeals to different ages and you’ll likely have a hard time getting your bambinos to leave the exciting outdoor play area.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
One of LA’s top attractions, filled with paintings and exhibits, you will lose track of time in this museum of treasures.
Equipped with an in-depth look at the artist Yoshitomo Nara, LACMA is the place to witness the evolution of Nara’s works. This extensive collection spans over 30 years on a multitude of mediums. There are also some fascinating temporary exhibits which change regularly.
National Museum of the US Air Force, Ohio
The NMUSAF is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. With more than 360 aircraft artifacts on display, this is a paradise for any military, aviation, or history savant. An added bonus, this monumental museum is free!
Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle
This long-term exhibition offers an opportunity to learn all about the glass-blowing industry and promises to be the highlight of your trip to Seattle.
Chihuly has led the avant-garde scene with the development of glass as a fine art medium. This display is a beautiful collection of his work to be admired while strolling through the gardens.
Final Thoughts on the Best US Museums
It’s clear that there’s no shortage of museums to visit in this diverse country. So, whether you’re a lover of art, a history or science buff, or you’re simply eager to learn- you’ve got a plethora of options to explore.
We will be updating this article in future so if you have any suggestions for museums that should definitely be included, let us know why.
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10 thoughts on “21 Best Museums in the United States”
Crystal Bridges in Bentonville Ark deserves to be on list too!
Thanks Cliff, we’ll check it out!
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Great tip, thank you.
The National World War 1 museum in Kansas City, Missouri is a world class museum. It has extensive and ever changing artifact displays and interactive displays. I have been to several of the museum s on this list. The National WW1 museum should definitely be on this list.
Thanks for the recommendation, Jay – we’ll check it out.
Great list! I have 6 to still visit.. One that’s not on your list and was so fascinating, the Alphabet Museum in North Carolina. Tracing languages around the world with visual appeal, a visit to this museum makes it interesting for all ages. Another museum that I loved was Stax Museum in Memphis which chronicles the history of soul music.
You’re doing very well! Thanks for the suggestions which we’ll definitely consider as these museums sound fascinating.
Very interesting article. There are several on this list I hope to see.
I suggest you look at the Barnes museum in Philadelphia .
Very eclectic works displayed according to the collector’s home layout Incredible impressionist pieces.
Thanks for the suggestion Brian, we will do!
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