Museums are invaluable features of our urban landscapes. Beyond their gallery walls and glass boxes, these institutions weave knowledge, creativity, curiosity, and historical wisdom into a cultural tapestry.
The United States boasts some of the world’s greatest of these establishments, each of which curates breathtaking works that people of various ages and lifestyles can appreciate. This fall, take a virtual tour of or a trip to one of these seven storied landmarks.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY)
The Met is consistently ranked among the top museums in the world. In the 150-plus years since it first opened on the perimeter of Central Park, it has amassed an enormous collection of over two million objects spanning 5,000 years of art and history. Here you will find famous Egyptian artifacts, treasured artwork like Washington Crossing the Delaware, and the Costume Institute’s attire collection, which chronicles the evolution of fashion since the fifteenth century. If you visit this fall, make time for exhibits like paintings by the Dutch masters and artifacts marking the birth of human civilization in Africa.
National WWII Museum (New Orleans, LA)
This southern destination famous for its creole cuisine and boisterous street parties also hosts one of the nation’s greatest historical institutions: the National WWII Museum. Its austere structures contain numerous exhibits documenting the countless sacrifices, clashes, and brave strategies that changed the course of history. Sit back and watch Beyond All Boundaries, a 4D film journey through various WWII events, then stroll the galleries dedicated to the Eastern, Western, and home-front theaters of the conflict. While there are other locales that chronicle the war, this New Orleans institution preserves artifacts that express unique stories, offering profiles of specific fallen soldiers and their spirited contributions to the Allied efforts.
The Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC)
This magnificent campus of twenty-one museums and a zoo offers much to admire, making it a favorite for students and erudite adults alike. While the central Smithsonian Castle is currently closed for renovations, its iconic red structure dating back to 1855 remains an excellent starting point for exploring these extensive grounds, which span from the Washington Monument all the way to the US Capitol Building. Science enthusiasts will love the famed National Air and Space Museum, and the Smithsonian’s latest addition, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is an architectural wonder that hosts a heartening collection of cultural artifacts.
Omega Mart (Las Vegas, NV)
One of the newest additions to the legion of great American museums, this quirky and downright bizarre gallery by arts and entertainment company Meow Wolf is a thought-provoking landmark in Sin City. Grab a shopping cart, and stroll the aisles of Omega Mart, an exhibition featuring wall-to-wall installations that represent an outrageous, alien-like American supermarket. This collaboration between local and international artists is enjoyable for all ages as a sheer immersive experience, but its odd lanes and inventory conceal a compelling story for those who choose to seek out its clues. Meow Wolf also has sites in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Denver, Colorado, and Grapevine, Texas—each of which deserves a visit.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, OH)
For those who find museum visits too stodgy for their liking, there’s a Midwest institution dedicated to the thrill of all things music. Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame features world-class music exhibits and preserves a fascinating timeline of this art form’s developments. It even periodically stages live performances by legendary voices. But the museum isn’t solely devoted to toe-tapping entertainment. Rock-and-roll history has often aligned with—and even influenced—the tenor of our nation’s culture and politics, so to explore the museum’s exhibits is to develop a greater understanding of the American people. If you visit this fall, check out the Signature Gallery, which celebrates Hall of Fame inductees throughout the years, and a special exhibit dedicated to the Beatles’ creative journey.
The J. Paul Getty Center (Los Angeles, CA)
If the name Getty instantly brings to mind stock photographs displayed across the internet, then you’re at least partly familiar with the Getty estate’s astonishing legacy. High in the hills above Los Angeles sits another of its cultural touchstones: the J. Paul Getty Museum. This campus features art and cultural artifacts ranging from the Middle Ages to modern day—including works by names like Van Gogh and Monet—alongside structures that perfectly represent fine postmodern architecture. For the best experience, reserve separate guided tours of the museum’s collections and intricately landscaped grounds. Admission is free, so be sure to pay a visit this fall to catch temporary exhibits of graphic design in the Middle Ages, photography by Venezuelan artist Alfredo Boulton, and other amazing acquisitions.
The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
This world-renowned institution holds such famous masterpieces that even the casually interested would likely recognize them. Here you’ll find Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa, and Wood’s American Gothic as well as works by names like O’Keeffe, Rivera, Matisse, and Picasso. The museum hosts a jaw-dropping 300,000 pieces of art from around the world, but its convenient map of “What to See in an Hour” makes it easy to find the most revered works throughout the campus. Should the tour awaken your creative side, stop by the museum’s Ryan Learning Center to participate in a hands-on art-making experience with your loved ones.