Sue, the grand dame of Chicago's Field Museum, is the largest T-Rex skeleton in the world and just one of the many amazing collectibles on show in America’s 17,000 museums. We've put together a list of our favorite museums and galleries – along with some interesting alternatives for those less interested in bones and bugs.
1. Smithsonian Institution museums (Washington, DC) – If America was a quirky grandfather, this would be his attic. An attic that happens to be the world's largest museum complex, housing a globally prestigious research center, a staggering collection of dinosaurs, the 45-carat Hope Diamond, the Wright brothers’ Flyer, the continent’s only Da Vinci painting, and relics that trace American, American Indian and African roots.
If you like this you might like: an alternative DC museum, The International Spy Museum
2. American Museum of Natural History(New York City, NY) – Founded in 1869, this museum houses more than 30 million artifacts, interactive exhibits and loads of taxidermy. It’s most famous for its three large dinosaur halls, an enormous (fake) blue whale that hangs from the ceiling above the Hall of Ocean Life and the elaborate Rose Center for Earth & Space. Just gazing at its facade is mesmerizing, especially at night.
If you like this you might like: the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco
3. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City, NY) With more than five million visitors a year, the Met is New York’s most popular single-site tourist attraction, with one of the richest coffers in the arts world. The Met is a self-contained cultural city-state, with two million individual objects in its collection. Highlights here include Egyptian Art, American Paintings and Sculpture, Arms and Armor, Modern Art, Greek and Roman Art, European Paintings and the gorgeous rooftop, which has spectacular views.
If you like this you might like: the much smaller and more focused Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea
4. Getty Center (Los Angeles, CA) – In the Santa Monica Mountains, the billion-dollar Getty Center presents triple delights: a stellar art collection (Renaissance to David Hockney), the cutting-edge architecture of Richard Meier and the visual splendor of the seasonally changing gardens by Robert Irwin. On clear days, you can add breathtaking views of the city and ocean to the list. Even getting up to the 110-acre ‘campus’ aboard a driverless tram is fun.
If you like this you might like: Paley Center for Media in either New York and Los Angeles
5. Field Museum of Natural History (Chicago, IL) – The mammoth Field Museum houses everything but the kitchen sink – beetles, mummies, gemstones, Bushman the stuffed ape. The collection’s rockstar is Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus rex yet discovered. She even gets her own gift shop. At the Shedd Aquarium, there’s just five inches of Plexiglas between you and two dozen fierce-looking swimmers. Space enthusiasts will get a big bang out of the Adler Planetarium.
If you like this you might like: The Academy of Sciences in Philidelphia
6. MH de Young Fine Arts Museum (San Francisco, CA) – Herzog & de Meuron’s sleek, copper-clad de Young is oxidizing green to blend into Golden Gate Park. But don’t be fooled by the museum’s camouflaged exterior: inside are standout shows that celebrate inspired handiwork, from Andy Warhol’s silkscreened pop-star portraits to Oceanic ceremonial masks.
If you like this you might like: The Bishop Museum in Honolulu
7. Mass MoCa (North Adams, MA) – After the Sprague Electric Company packed up in 1985, more than $31 million was spent to modernize the property into ‘the largest gallery in the United States,’ which now encompasses 222,000 sq feet and over 25 buildings, including art construction areas, performance centers and 19 galleries. One gallery is the size of a football field, giving installation artists the opportunity to take things into a whole new dimension.
If you like this you might like: The World's Smallest Museum ironically located in Superior, Arizona
8. National Civil Rights Museum (Memphis, TN) – Housed in the Lorraine Motel, where the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr was fatally shot on April 4, 1968, this museum chronicles the ongoing struggles for African American freedom and equality in the US. Both Dr King’s cultural contribution and his assassination serve as prisms for looking at the civil rights movement, its precursors and its indelible and continuing impact on American life. The turquoise exterior of the 1950s motel and two preserved interior rooms remain much as they were at the time of King’s death.
If you like this you might like: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio
9. Harvard Museums (Cambridge, MA) – It should come as no surprise that the nation’s oldest (1636) and wealthiest university has amassed incredible collections. The Harvard Art Museum/Arthur M Sackler Museum showcases the artworks, which covers a broad gamut from Picasso to Islamic art. The Harvard Museum of Natural History and the interconnected Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology present outstanding Native American exhibits and an exquisite collection of 4000 hand-blown glass flowers.
If you like this you might like: The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe and the neighboring Museum of Indian Arts & Culture
10. Experience Music Project & Science Fiction Museum (Seattle, WA) – Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project is worth a look for the architecture alone. The Frank Gehry building houses 80,000 music artifacts, including handwritten lyrics by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and a Fender Stratocaster demolished by Jimi Hendrix. Attached to the EMP is the Science Fiction Museum www.sfhomeworld.org, a nerd paradise of costumes, props and models from sci-fi movies and TV shows.
If you like this you might like: Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee