With their rich histories, monumental architecture, and incredible collections, these museums are definitely worth a visit.
There’s much more to the world’s great art museums than just the Louvre and the Prado. In fact, you can skip the jaunt across the Atlantic altogether and set your sights on some world-class art collections right here in the U.S. Even if you’re not planning a trip entirely around art, chances are that if you’re traveling to a major U.S. city (especially New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.), there’s a museum or two that will demand your attention, filled with masterpieces and captivating temporary exhibits. With their rich histories, monumental architecture, and incredible collections, here are our picks for the best art museums in the U.S.
Top Picks for You
WHERE: 221 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, California
The Broad (rhymes with “road”) houses Eli and Edythe Broad’s formerly private collection of more than 2,000 works of modern art from the 1950s to the present day. The building itself is worth viewing; while some describe its architecture as “honeycomblike” or “cheese grater-ish,” the undulating appearance of over 300 skylights is stunning in its uniqueness. Inside features pieces by Jeff Koons, Roy Liechtenstein, Julie Mehretu, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, and the largest collection of Cindy Sherman works on view worldwide. Don’t miss Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room-The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, even though it requires a separate timed reservation which must be reserved online.
INSIDER TIPTickets for Kusama’s Infinity Room are released at 10 a.m. PT on the last Wednesday of every month for the following month, and they go quickly, so set an alarm for the release date if you want to get in.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
WHERE: 1000 5th Ave., New York, New York
The largest art museum in the U.S., the Metropolitan Museum of Art unfolds in an enormous Beaux-Arts building fronting Central Park. There are nine wings on the first floor alone, including the American Wing, Egyptian Art, Greek and Roman Art, Medieval Art, Arms and Armor, Arts of Africa, Oceana, and the Americas, and Modern and Contemporary Art. On the second floor, you’ll find European paintings and sculptures, Asian art, photography, drawings and prints, and musical instruments. After a major renovation by acclaimed design firm Roman and Williams, “the Met” reopened its British Galleries, which display decorative arts, sculpture, and design created between 1500 and 1900.
INSIDER TIPOne trip to the Metropolitan Museum is never enough. Once you’ve seen the masterpieces, check out these 15 unexpected things to see in the Met.
WHERE: 1071 5th Ave., New York, New York
Visitors to the Guggenheim come as much to admire Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic spiral building as they do to see the incredible collection housed inside it. Wright designed the Guggenheim to break with conventional museum architecture, allowing visitors standing in the light-filled rotunda to glimpse the artwork in the galleries above and to leisurely stroll up and down the ramps while admiring the collections.
Solomon R. Guggenheim founded the Guggenheim Foundation in the 1930s to foster an appreciation of modern and contemporary art, and the museum has an impressive collection of paintings by Kandinsky, Klee, Chagall, and Picasso. Plus, it’s well known for its robust calendar of excellent temporary exhibits.
The museum is open late on Saturdays and offers a “Pay What You Wish” admission from 6-8 p.m., but note that tickets must be booked online in advance. Tickets are released on Mondays at noon and sell out quickly.
Museum of Modern Art
WHERE: 11 W. 53rd St., New York, New York
One of the most famous art museums in the U.S., the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in Midtown Manhattan boasts a superb collection of modern and contemporary art. Founded in 1929 as the city’s first museum dedicated solely to modern art, it is home to some of the greatest masterpieces of the twentieth century, including Picasso’s monumental painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. A $450 million expansion in 2019 added 45,000 square feet of space.
INSIDER TIPDon’t miss the outdoor sculpture garden designed by Philip Johnson, which features works by Picasso, Miró, and Giacometti, as well as a Paris subway entrance by Hector Guimard.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
WHERE: 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California
Continuously growing and expanding, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is the largest art museum on the West Coast, containing some 120,000 objects that span ancient history to modern times, which are displayed in a series of buildings spread out over 20 acres. The modern art collection is especially impressive, with works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, Rene Magritte, Wassily Kandinsky, and Franz Kline. Visitors especially love Chris Burden’s Urban Light sculptural installation of restored and painted cast-iron street lamps.
INSIDER TIPAfter visiting the museum, head around the corner to Fanny’s inside the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures for a drink or meal.
The Getty Center
WHERE: 1200 Getty Center Dr., Brentwood, California
The hilltop Getty Center unfolds in a showstopping complex designed by Richard Meier. All of the buildings were constructed with white travertine marble and gleam brightly against the blue California sky and surrounding rolling green hills. The huge museum spans five pavilions connected by a central courtyard, with walkways and gardens snaking all around. The art collection is divided between the buildings by time period, and the Getty’s collection of eighteenth-century French decorative arts is especially renowned.
INSIDER TIP If you like the Getty Center, you might also want to visit the Getty Villa in Malibu, which J. Paul Getty had built to resemble the ancient Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum.
Art Institute of Chicago
WHERE: 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois
The Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879 as a museum and a school for the arts. Its monumental building, with a marble lobby and iconic bronze lions out front, was constructed as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition and has since undergone several expansions, including the new modern wing, designed by Renzo Piano. The comprehensive collection spans history, from ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to contemporary photography. The Impressionist collection is especially extensive, with an entire room dedicated to Monet.
INSIDER TIPTickets must be purchased in advance online. Admission is discounted for Chicago and Illinois residents.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
WHERE: 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, Massachusetts
The Beaux-Arts building of the Museum of Fine Arts contains an impressive collection of American works by Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock. There are plenty of decorative arts, too, including Paul Revere’s silver teapots and tableware. Equally outstanding is its collection of Impressionist works, which counts 37 Monets—one of the largest collections of his paintings outside of France.
If you’ve made it through the MFA and are still craving more art, pop over to the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which displays the eccentric American collector’s incredible compilation of Renaissance works in the house she had built to resemble a Venetian villa.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
WHERE: 1001 Bissonnet St., Houston, Texas
Located in Houston’s Museum District, the huge Museum of Fine Arts spills over 14 acres, with three gallery buildings, a visitor’s center, sculpture garden, and more. The museum has undergone a series of renovations and expansions, including the 2020 addition of a new building dedicated to art made after 1900. The MFAH covers world cultures, including art of the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe and has an ample collection of Renaissance and eighteenth-century paintings. It is also home to the International Center for the Arts of the Americas, a leading research institution focused on twentieth-century Latin American art.
INSIDER TIP Don’t miss the immersive installation by James Turrell that connects two of the buildings.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
WHERE: 26th St. and Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Philadelphia Museum of Art may be instantly recognizable for its appearance in Rocky (there’s even a bronze Rocky statue at the bottom of the steps), but there’s much more to this fun American art museum. The collection covers all major periods and styles, but it’s the modern collection that is especially notable, including the world’s largest collection of works by Marcel Duchamp, as well as some of Cy Twombly’s monumental abstract paintings.
INSIDER TIPGeneral admission tickets also include access to the Rodin Museum and are good for two days.
National Gallery of Art
WHERE: 4th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
Located on the National Mall, the National Gallery of Art was founded in the 1930s by the donations of Andrew Mellon. Other like-minded collectors and philanthropists followed suit, paving the way for the splendid collection housed there today. Highlights include self-portraits by Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and works by European masters Rubens, Raphael, Titian, Vermeer, Ingrès, Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse, and Picasso.
INSIDER TIPThe sculpture garden touts an ice rink in the winter and free jazz concerts in the spring and summer.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
WHERE: 151 3rd St., San Francisco, California
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is the oldest museum devoted to modern and contemporary art on the West Coast. From its inception in 1935, it has championed the most challenging and innovative artists of their times, including Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Louise Bourgeois, Constantin Brancusi, Jasper Johns, Frida Kahlo, and Jackson Pollock. The museum has an extensive collection of twentieth-century art, ranging from Fauvism and Cubism to Pop Art, Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, and photography.
INSIDER TIPFollowing the museum’s major expansion in 2016, it now has 45,000 square feet of art-filled public spaces that can be visited for free.
Detroit Institute of Arts
WHERE: 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Michigan
The Detroit Institute of Arts displays an impressive collection of African-American art, in addition to its holdings of American, European, Asian, African, Native American, and Islamic art. Look out for Diego Rivera’s monumental Detroit Industry frescoes. A massive expansion completed in 2007 added 35,000 square feet to the museum. Established in 2000, the General Motors Center for African-American Art is one of the first curatorial departments committed to African-American art in a prominent museum.
INSIDER TIPDon’t miss Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, which was the first Van Gogh painting to arrive in a U.S. museum collection.
Cleveland Museum of Art
WHERE: 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland, Ohio
Ohio’s major cultural attraction is the Cleveland Museum of Art, founded in 1913. The famous art galleries here are organized chronologically, from ancient Greek and Roman art to present day, and the museum is especially known for its Pre-Columbian, medieval Asian, and European collections. In 1971, Marcel Breuer added a modern wing to the Beaux-Arts building, and a recent renovation by Rafael Viñoly has restored both buildings and tacked on an open atrium.
INSIDER TIPThe museum’s modern and contemporary collection is notable, touting some incredible Rodins, and surrealist works by Dalí, Duchamp, Jean Arp, and Max Ernst.
WHERE: 3 Beekman St., Beacon, New York
The Dia Art Foundation is known for fostering some of the most abstract and conceptual contemporary art in the U.S. Founded in 1974 to help artists realize ambitious projects, Dia operates several sites in New York, the Western U.S., and Germany, including installations like Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room. Dia:Beacon, in the Hudson Valley, occupies a 300,000-square-foot former Nabisco box-printing factory. The permanent collection includes works by Richard Serra, Gerhard Richter, Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, Louise Bourgeois, and Joseph Beuys.
INSIDER TIPFor contemporary art lovers, a trip to Dia:Beacon is considered a pilgrimage. It’s easily reachable via the Metro-North Railroad from New York City.
Rhode Island School of Design Museum
WHERE: 224 Benefit St., Providence, Rhode Island
The Rhode Island School of Design is one of the leading art schools in the country, and its museum boasts one of New England’s best art collections. The Museum of Art at RISD comprises five buildings and houses a fine collection of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, costumes, textiles, Asian art, ancient art, prints, drawings, and photographs. It also showcases works by prominent Rhode Island artists, including eighteenth-century furniture makers Goddard and Townsend and nineteenth-century painter John Noble Barlow.
INSIDER TIPVisitors can also check out student and faculty work on display in the museum and in galleries across campus.
The Frick Collection
WHERE: 945 Madison Ave., New York, New York
Steel magnate Henry Clay Frick snatched up European paintings and had famed architects Carrère and Hastings build a mansion on Fifth Avenue, complete with an indoor garden atrium, to house them. Visiting the magnificent Gilded Age mansion is almost as much of a draw as the artwork inside. The Frick Collection includes major Renaissance works, two monumental paintings by Veronese, four Rembrandts, and three Vermeers. There is also a significant collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French paintings and decorative arts.
While the historic mansion is closed for renovations, the collection is temporarily on view at the Frick Madison in the Marcel Breuer-designed former home of the Whitney on Madison Avenue.
The Whitney Museum of American Art
WHERE: 99 Gansevoort St., New York, New York
Renowned as one of the best art museums in the U.S. for modern and contemporary art, the Whitney is one of New York City’s most dynamic museums. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a sculptor and collector, established the museum when the Metropolitan Museum of Art refused her donation of twentieth-century American art. The Whitney has moved several times over the course of its history, and now occupies a huge building in the Meatpacking District designed by Renzo Piano.
INSIDER TIPA handful of cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops nearby offer 10 or 20% discounts if you show your same-day admission ticket to the Whitney.
De Young Museum
WHERE: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco, California
The de Young Museum was born out of the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. Its original building, constructed for the exposition, essentially served as a cabinet of curiosities, and after the exposition, the objects remained in the new museum. To this day, the de Young Museum houses a formidable collection of international textiles and costumes, as well as art of the Americas, Oceania, and Africa. The original building was replaced in 2005 with a colossal copper building, which is worth seeing in and of itself.
INSIDER TIP Visitors can ascend the museum’s 144-foot-high tower to admire San Francisco views from the observation room, free of charge.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
WHERE: 8th and G Sts. NW, Washington, D.C.
It’s no surprise that the largest collection of American art is located in Washington, D.C. Adjacent to the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum highlights art from the Colonial era through today. The museum includes folk art and crafts, decorative arts, and the largest collection of New Deal art and American Impressionist paintings. Visitors tend to adore the contemporary craft collection, which includes glassworks by Dale Chihuly and John La Farge.
INSIDER TIPThe Luce Center holds scavenger hunts for kids and adults, and at the Lunder Conservation Center, visitors can watch conservators at work in the labs.
WHERE: 200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn, New York
The Brooklyn Museum traces its roots back to 1823, almost fifty years before Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art was born. American architectural firm McKim, Mead & White designed the grand Beaux-Arts building, which houses the museum’s Egyptian collection that’s regularly ranked as one of the best in the world. It also has important collections of Pre-Columbian, Native American, and African art, as well as Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party, a permanent exhibition.
INSIDER TIPIf the weather’s nice, go for a stroll in nearby Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden just after a visit to the museum.
WHERE: 2520 N.W. 2nd Ave., Miami, Florida
This open-air street art museum draws three million visitors per year to see (and take selfies with) larger-than-life murals by internationally renowned artists. Opened in 2009 with murals by Shephard Fairey, Kenny Scharf, and Futura, among others, the Wynwood Walls were not only a catalyst for the gentrification of Miami’s formerly desolate Wynwood neighborhood, but also for the evolution of the medium of street art from vandalism to legitimate art form.
INSIDER TIPThanks to the Walls, Wynwood is now one of Miami’s coolest neighborhoods, so plan to spend a few hours checking out the shops and having a meal or drinks at one of the hip restaurants nearby.
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
WHERE: 87 Marshall St., North Adams, Massachusetts
The largest center for visual and performing contemporary art in the U.S., Mass MoCA draws visitors from all over the country to see its long-term installations by the likes of Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, and Jenny Holzer as well as temporary exhibitions. Occupying a complex of 28 industrial buildings that were once home to the Sprague Electrical Company, the museum opened in 1999 and has been growing steadily ever since. The sheer amount of space lets artists run wild with large-scale installations that would be impossible to realize elsewhere.
Baltimore Museum of Art
WHERE: 10 Art Museum Dr., Baltimore, Maryland
The Neoclassical building designed by John Russell Pope may look like your typical art museum, but inside the Baltimore Art Museum there always seems to be something unexpected going on. Yes, the museum has works by Monet, Matisse, Picasso, and Gaugin, but far more interesting are the newer, more cutting-edge exhibitions sometimes curated by hometown hero and museum trustee John Waters. The museum also has a mission of putting female, Black, queer, and other marginalized artists front and center.
INSIDER TIPDon’t leave without trying the crab cakes at Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen.
WHERE: 1 Cavalry Row, Marfa, Texas
When artist Donald Judd ran out of space in New York City, he found an old army base in Marfa Marfa and transformed it into a place where he and his friends could create large-scale installations. Highlights include Judd’s concrete works, which sit outside on the Chinati Foundation’s grounds, sculptures made from crumpled car parts by John Chamberlain, and immersive light installations by Dan Flavin. The newest installation, Robert Irwin’s untitled (dawn to dusk) is only accessible by guided tour.
INSIDER TIPJudd fans should also plan to visit his residence and studio in downtown Marfa.