America’s Must-See Museums: 16 Favorites to Put on Your List

Activities, Magazine Features

Museums are orderly sanctuaries that give us a chance to pause and reflect, to step out of the everyday world and delve into history, admire timeless creations of human expression or just get wrapped up in nostalgia. In their galleries we find exhibits that awe, amuse and stretch our imaginations. With computer stations, hands-on activities, videos and giant-screen movies, today’s state-of-the-art museums entertain us as well.

These storehouses of knowledge and stuff, more popular than ever with tour planners, roll out the welcome mat for groups. Highlighted here are museums that will enhance any itinerary.

House of the Seven Gables

Salem, Massachusetts

The House of the Seven Gables, which constitutes its own National Historic Landmark District, was built in 1668 and is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England. The stately Turner-Ingersoll Mansion (with a secret staircase) inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel of the same name. The author’s transplanted birthplace sits just feet away from the estate. Also on the grounds are the 1655 Retire Beckett House, an 18th century granite seawall and seaside gardens. (

Denver Art Museum     

Denver, Colorado

The Denver Art Museum, an architectural landmark in downtown Denver, is one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast. Its more than 70,000 works of art are divided between 10 permanent collections–African, American Indian, Asian, European and American, modern and contemporary, pre-Columbian, photography, Spanish Colonial, textile and Western American art. The world-exclusive exhibition Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century features jewelry, timepieces and decorative objects. (

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal

Cincinnati, Ohio

The Cincinnati Museum Center, one of the top cultural attractions in the Midwest, includes the Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater and Cincinnati Historical Society Library. At the giant-screen theater, the eye-opening movie Jerusalem tells the story of the ancient city by following three young Jerusalemites and their families—Jewish, Christian and Muslim. (

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Winter Park, Florida

Louis Comfort Tiffany was America’s most renowned stained-glass artist at the turn of the 20th century, but few know that his portfolio also includes brilliant works of pottery, jewelry and paintings. Here, groups will see esteemed works such as his chapel interior from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago as well as architectural gems from his Laurelton Hall estate in Long Island. Visitors will also see decorative art pieces from other late 19th and early 20th century American artists. (

National Railroad Museum

Green Bay, Wisconsin

Get up close and personal with some of the most famous trains in history, including Gen. Eisenhower’s World War II command train, a 1924 Pullman sleeping car and the Union Pacific Big Boy, the world’s largest steam locomotive. You can even dine like a rail rider with the hobo box lunches the museum provides as part of some group packages. Train rides on vintage equipment are available from May through October. (

Maine Maritime Museum

Bath, Maine

Explore Maine’s rich maritime heritage at the Maine Maritime Museum, located along the Kennebec River. Hundreds of artifacts tell the state’s seafaring story, including the history of lobstering. An intact turn-of-the-20th-century shipyard and Victorian-era shipyard owner’s home bring the past to life. Watch modern ships come and go from the nearby active waterfront, and see New England’s largest sculpture – a full-size representation of the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built, the Wyoming. Seasonal trolley tours and lighthouse/nature cruises are available. (

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center

Mashantucket, Connecticut

The Mashantucket Pequot Museum seeks to further the public’s knowledge and understanding of the richness and diversity of Native American culture by bringing the history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to life. Visitors learn through fascinating dioramas, interactive computer stations and videos the natural and cultural history of the Eastern Woodland tribes. The building itself is in harmony with its surroundings, embracing the tree line and tunneling below the ground. Outdoors is a recreated Pequot farmstead. (

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Milwaukee Art Museum, with more than 30,000 works of art, features one of the largest collections of works by Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as some of the nation’s best holdings of American decorative arts, German Expressionism and folk, Haitian and modern American art. Art in the 40 galleries is rotated regularly. The building itself, with its iconic sunscreen resembling a ship’s sail, has become a landmark on the Lake Michigan shoreline. (

Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza 

Dallas, Texas

The Sixth Floor Museum building is better known by its old name—the Texas School Book Depository. Here, in the very building from which President John F. Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, 1963, see exhibits relating to the assassination and its legacy. The sixth floor is devoted to a permanent exhibition on the memory of our 35th president, while the seventh hosts temporary exhibits on Kennedy and life in the 1960s. (


Washington, D.C.

The world-class Smithsonian Institution museums are a must-see in Washington, D.C. From the National Air and Space Museum to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian museums showcase priceless artifacts. Tour groups love the exciting educational films in the IMAX theaters and newly renovated Einstein Planetarium. The National Museum of Natural History’s Live Butterfly Pavilion is a great group activity. Dining packages and food vouchers are available for groups in the museums’ restaurants and food courts. (


Washington, D.C.

Experience history through the lens of the news media at this state-of-the-art museum on Pennsylvania Avenue in the Nation’s Capital. The 15 galleries and 15 theaters showcase coverage of pivotal events like the Civil War, civil rights movement, fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11 attacks. Star in your own TV newscast in the Interactive Newsroom and ponder over journalistic dilemmas in the Ethics Center. The rooftop terrace offers the best vistas in Washington. (

Country Music Hall of Fame

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has been showcasing the story of country music since 1967. The museum recently underwent a $100-million renovation that doubled its size and added first-class galleries, special event space and more. With the 800-seat CMA Theater, weekly instrument demonstrations, a collection of over two million artifacts and new exhibits highlighting stars like Miranda Lambert, this museum is a must-visit for all country music fans.


Clinton Presidential Center

Little Rock, Arkansas

The Clinton Presidential Center will bring your group along with Bill Clinton during his ascent to the presidency in 1993. From the campaign trail to the Oval Office, follow his footsteps through countless photos, videos and artifacts that will better your understanding of America’s third youngest president. Take a group tour through the multiple permanent exhibits as well as the temporary exhibit highlighting another American icon, studio glass artist Dale Chihuly. (

Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

Independence, Missouri

At the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, groups are transported back to 1945 when Truman assumed the presidency and follow post-World War II history to the end of the Korean War. Historical objects, plus dozens of interactive and hands-on exhibits, paint a picture of the life and times of Harry and Bess Truman, including their family life. Check out the current exhibit Spies, Lies and Paranoia: Americans in Fear. (

Perez Art Museum Miami

Miami, Florida

The new Perez Art Museum Miami in downtown’s Miami’s Museum Park houses an international collection of modern and contemporary works from the 20th and 21st centuries. Previously known as the Miami Art Museum, it focuses on Miami’s ties to the Caribbean and Latin America. The city of Miami’s community of artists, designers, collectors and an art-engaged public has driven the demand to create this world-class art museum overlooking Biscayne Bay. (

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Austin, Texas

In 1982 the former First Lady joined with actress Helen Hayes to preserve the native flora and fauna of central, southern and western Texas. This 279-acre botanical garden is the result. Part of the University of Texas at Austin, it includes cultivated gardens, wild meadows and verdant woodlands, as well as local examples of architecture and sculpture, an observation tower and a visitors center. The blooming season peaks March through May. (

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Featured Activity

Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium

Situated in the heart of Missouri, the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium captivates visitors with a diverse array of creatures from land and sea. From the intriguing depths of the Sobela Ocean Aquarium, home to over 8,000 marine species, to the expansive grounds showcasing wildlife from across continents, it’s a celebration of nature’s marvels. A must-visit destination for a comprehensive zoological experience.

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