The United States is home to museums both strange and historic. Every state has treasures to display, and there is no better way to discover the items of greatest importance to a state’s residents than by touring a local museum.
What oddities and artifacts does each state have to preserve? Some states on this list had a plethora of intriguing options, but we narrowed down the highlights from every single one. To determine which museums were truly deserving of being deemed the “best” in every state, we consulted travel websites, read through reviews of various visitors, and took into consideration the impact and acclaim each museum had to boast.
We wish we could include every incredible museum on this list — the Museum of Ice Cream, for instance, is absolutely worth a visit but didn’t make the cut. The Neon Museum in Las Vegas was narrowly beaten out by another close contender for Nevada’s most entertaining exhibits. However, we are confident that this list contains sights and interactive experiences worth traveling for. Take a tour through the greatest museum hits of the 50 United States, plus Washington, D.C., and discover the best museum in each one.
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Located in Huntsville, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center showcases exactly that — space and rockets. The museum features 1,500 pieces, making it one of the most extensive collections of artifacts in America. View everything from moon rocks to German bombs at this famous attraction.
Everything you ever wanted to know about Alaska can be learned in this museum. According to one reviewer, the Anchorage Museum is “a must-see while in Anchorage.” Between the art exhibits, the history sections, and the science museum inside, there’s truly something for everyone in this large, modern building.
A relatively new establishment, this Phoenix treasure is the largest instrument museum in the world. Over 15,000 musical instruments live within its walls, representing every inhabited continent in culture and musical tradition. The venue hosts concerts, offers interactive experiences, and costs just $20 to enter.
Experience the 30-minute walk-through tour of Walmart’s history at this lighthearted attraction. You’ll learn the small-town origins of the mega-retailer’s big-business success and sample the greatest hits from Walmart’s shelves in-house. As one visitor put it, “Must always go and get a load of salt water taffy. Then walk through and read the amazing stats. Finally, a malt shop at the end. Great experience on the square in Bentonville.”
If you don’t get the chance to visit, tour some of Walmart’s secrets in this slideshow.
Located in Brentwood, this museum attracts nearly 2 million annual visitors to its aesthetically impressive campus. Overlooking a stunning view of Los Angeles, the museum features an array of artwork from various art history eras and regions. You’ll find both Van Gogh’s "Irises" and an extensive photography collection among the cavernous halls.
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At this railside attraction, you’ll have the opportunity to hop aboard a coal-fired, steam-powered locomotive and ride the same route that miners, cowboys, and the early settlers of the Old West took over a hundred years ago. The views along the way are spectacular, overlooking rocky canyons and untouched wilderness. If the scenery itself hasn’t convinced you, perhaps their Polar Express train ride — held only once a year — will. On board, passengers are served hot cocoa and chef-made treats to accompany them on the snowy ride through the wintery forest landscape.
The Yale University Art Gallery is the oldest university art museum in the Western Hemisphere. Its extensive collection attracts not only the university’s students, but also tourists and art enthusiasts nationwide. The gallery emphasizes early Italian painting, African sculpture, and modern art, but it features artwork from a wide range of cultures and periods. While you’re there, be sure to tour Yale’s campus — it’s well worth the walk!
Formerly an industrial site for the DuPont Company, the Hagley museum now preserves and showcases the 235 acres of wooded rolling hills that used to power the plant. The scenery lines along the Brandywine River and is smattered with stone ruins from the black powder industry. If you’re not enthralled by the manufacture of black powder, do not worry — the museum is really more about the gorgeous views than anything else. Embark on a walking tour of the elaborate family home and then hike among the woodsy trails for an enriching experience you’ll remember.
The Dali Museum is an elaborate homage to the eccentric Salvador Dali, Spanish surrealist from Catalonia. The museum catalogs collections of his paintings, sketches, sculptures, and photographs. The building is a sight to see in itself — designed to encompass both the rational and the fantastical, it resembles a simple rectangle from which a free-form geodesic glass bubble explodes. This structure, known as “The Enigma,” stands 75 feet tall at its tallest point and pays homage to the dome adorning Dali’s museum in Spain.
This extensive war museum chronicles the history of the American infantryman from the American Revolution to the present-day operations in Afghanistan. You can engage with combat simulators, stroll down the Memorial Hall of Honor, and pay homage to the myriad of accomplishments the American military can claim. The center hosts military graduations and special events, as well, and won USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best Free Museum in 2016.
Located in the historic Kalihi district of Honolulu, the Bishop Museum has something of interest for every visitor. It houses many royal family heirlooms and has expanded to include millions of other artifacts, documents, and photographs. The museum is dedicated to Hawaiian history and that of other Pacific cultures. “Don’t miss the lava demonstration!” one visitor insisted.
An entire museum dedicated to potatoes — what more could you want from Idaho? The museum exhibits all the detail and history you could crave from the Gem State’s favorite vegetable. It’s located inside of an abandoned train depot in Blackfoot. From the original potato planted in Idaho, to the largest potato crisp made by the Pringle’s Company in Jackson, Tennessee, there’s nothing you won’t know about potatoes by the end of your visit. If you’re still craving more, try one of these 50 potato recipes once you arrive home!
If you’ve even dabbled in learning about art and art history, this museum is a must-see. The Art Institute of Chicago is world-famous for hosting the greatest Impressionist collection outside Paris. It also boasts galleries devoted to the art of ancient Greece, Japan, Africa, and the Americas. They rotate their visiting exhibits each season and have dozens of permanent galleries that make it well worth the trip. While you’re there, try out some of the city’s best food and drink.
Home of the Indy 500, it’s no surprise that Indiana holds one of the most extensive car museums in America. Rivaled only by Michigan’s Ford Museum, the Dream Car Museum has exotics, classics, muscle cars, race cars, movie and TV cars, and memorabilia. It’s free to visit and photos with the impressive and rare automobiles are encouraged. This collection might hold the only vehicles as enjoyable as the 101 best food trucks in America.
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Located in Dubuque, this museum and resort is the place to go if you’re looking for some good family fun. You can take your friends and family on boat rides, view 4-D films in their amphitheater, and get a close-up look at dozens of sea creatures. You can even pet a sting ray!
There’s no place like home — or like the Oz Museum in Kansas. Never have so many Oz-inspired artifacts existed in the same place. A tribute to all things Wizard of Oz, this establishment is a nostalgic run down a yellowbrick road of Oz paraphernalia, including the earliest L. Frank Baum books and Oz board games from Parker Brothers. You’ll find over 2,000 individual artifacts within this museum’s walls.
Located in Louisville’s “Museum Row,” this museum showcases the story of Louisville Slugger baseball bats in both baseball and in American history. Stand beneath the World’s Largest Baseball Bat, peruse the signatures of every Louisville Slugger contract player at the Signature Wall in the foyer, and embark on a tour of the world-famous Louisville Slugger bat factory. Visitors can also enjoy temporary exhibits with more of a pop culture focus, including collaborations with the Norman Rockwell Museum, LEGO, and more.
Formerly known as the D-Day Museum, the National WWII Museum is a Smithsonian classic that details the American contribution to the Second World War. While perhaps not the most colorful thing to do in New Orleans, this historic museum is definitely worth a visit. “Sobering yet invigorating!” one reviewer remarked.
Sitting at the entrance of the primary shipping channel into Portland Harbor, this historic lighthouse makes for remarkable scenery both from afar and up close. It is the oldest lighthouse in the state of Maine and has served as a beacon for centuries.
This Baltimore art museum is more than just your average collection of dusty classics. The American Visionary Art Museum was built to highlight the off-beat, strange, and eclectic works of outsider art, sometimes referred to as “intuitive art,” “raw art,” or “art brut.” This genre of artwork is known for its tendency to display untamed emotion in an off-kilter fashion, making for an experience both jarring and enlightening for the viewer. For an art viewing experience that is truly unlike any other, venture through the unique and strange passageways of this modern building.
The MFA is the fourth largest museum in the United States. Containing more than 450,000 works of art, there are enough halls and exhibits to encompass an entire day of peaceful browsing. The museum has acquired art from legendary Renaissance painters, impressive Impressionists, and many more works you can’t help but recognize. The museum is located near Fenway Park in Boston — making it the perfect pit stop to hang out before attending a big game.
Henry Ford himself may have had a questionable history of anti-Semitism, but this museum is an impressive catalog of American events. This large indoor and outdoor history museum is a National Historic Landmark in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn; inside, you’ll have the chance to view the presidential limousine of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theatre, Thomas Edison’s laboratory, the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop, and the Rosa Parks bus, among other exhibits.
This historic site is dedicated to the birthplace of the music legend Elvis Presley. The museum includes a museum, a chapel, and the Assembly of God church building where the Presley family worshiped. Vernon and Gladys, Elvis’s parents, hit hard times and had to sell the house when Elvis was very young — but the shotgun house still stands today to preserve the memory of The King’s impact on music and America.
This might just be the most interactive museum in the country. It’s a huge playground — literally. Consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, the City Museum is so much more than just a museum. Complete with an Enchanted Cave, giant hamster wheel, skate park, and aquarium, it’s impossible to be bored within its walls.
This entire museum is dedicated to one of Montana’s most fruitful industries — mining. Tour the mine, wear the fun hats complete with forehead flashlights, and stroll through an actual mine yard to get a taste of mining history.
“It is all so interesting, so much to see from the original mines to the reproductions of the whole town,” one enthused visitor remarked.
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Take a stroll through nostalgia in this marvel of architecture dedicated to the cherished history of the western United States. Considered one of Omaha’s most unique treasures, the station is one of the best examples of art deco architecture in the country. It’s now an official National Historic Landmark and showcases relics such as restored train cars, 1940s storefronts, HO model trains, and numerous other artifacts showing the history of the region. Visitors recommend trying the authentic soda fountain and enjoying a phosphate or malt during your stay.
Ever wondered the beginnings and history of organized crime in the United States? Learn mob secrets and tragedies at the Mob Museum, officially titled the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, in downtown Las Vegas. The exhibits detail the Mob’s myriad of illegal activities and even showcase alarming artifacts such as the bloodied wall from the famous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre and an electric chair.
This private, nonprofit science and educational center is a real working weather observatory. It’s designed to measure the unique and often extreme weather conditions on Mount Washington and offers guided tours through its exhibits.
Though it might not sound like much of a thrill, visitors’ experiences reveal the real draw of the place. “The views on a clear day are amazing,” one TripAdvisor reviewer said.
“The first part, where trees are still growing, was so beautiful and colorful,” described another, “then you climb above the tree level and it changes to an Alpine style drive. So beautiful.”
Who knew you could fill an entire museum with pinball machines? The venue is complete with pizza, tables for families to sit and enjoy, and other games like ski ball and air hockey. In other words, it’s every kid’s dream come true. You pay a single fee and receive unlimited playing time on as many machines as you can manage.
Now, this place is a trip. The building is an immersive and eclectic art installation that guides visitors through a wild new form of non-linear storytelling. You have to see it to understand it — through 20,000 square feet of exhibits, visitors choose their own path by walking, climbing, and crawling through an imaginative multiverse of unexpected environments. The experiential journey is based on an overarching premise — something strange happened in a Victorian house that dissolved all reasonable expectations of time and space. Enjoy the odd narrative and take photos at will!
The Big Apple is home to endless exhibits and possibilities, but rarely does a tourist come to the city without considering a trip to the Met. The building attracted 7.06 million visitors in 2016, and for good reason — the building is an epic installation in the midst of Manhattan, a mammoth concrete structure hugging up against Central Park. Inside is a labyrinth of art galleries and gardens including works from almost all cultures and periods of art history. Admission is on a donation basis and the museum is always packed with eager visitors.
Located in the Kill Devil Hills where the Wright Brothers first flew their historic plane in 1903, the spacious field site commemorates the first successful venture into air travel in the United States. Remote from cities and modern life, this pristine location still experiences the gusts of wind coveted by the ambitious pair for their voyage. The location is marked by a large monument and visitor’s center.
Home to the World’s Largest Buffalo, stuffed and put on display outside, this niche museum is an entertaining venue for anyone to visit. It sits beside the Jamestown Frontier Village, where many of the state’s oldest structures have been collected for a historical exhibit, and has a genuine prairie-like charm. The building itself holds artwork, artifacts, and other Native American relics.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is alive with vibrant visitors and passion for music. You’ll find rotating exhibits, films, and a front-row experience highlighting the history of the genre. This pyramidal monument located in the heart of Cleveland is an icon for residents and visitors alike. The building is dedicated to honoring and chronicling the history of rock and roll music, honoring the genre’s most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures who have had some major influence on the development of rock and roll.
Take a trip into the Wild West at this Oklahoma City gem. You’ll browse the world's most extensive collection of American rodeo photographs, barbed wire, saddlery, and early rodeo trophies, along with a significant collection of American Indian artwork.
For those interested in aircraft, this collection is a must-see. The building is stocked with vintage aircraft from sleek supersonic Blackbirds to rickety biplanes. A space shuttle towers over the rest of the aircraft in the cavernous display room, outside of which is an extensive water park. Bring your swimsuits!
This historic destination is dedicated to the Civil War and the impactful delivery of the Gettysburg Address. In the midst of Gettysburg National Military Park, the museum contains relics from battle, documents, and various firearms from the war. You can also peruse the battlefield itself, a scenic complement to this documentation of American history.
National Museum of American Illustration/Yelp
This is the first national museum to be devoted exclusively to American illustration artwork. Inside of a seaside mansion called Vernon Court, the museum's collection contains over 2,000 original works by noted American illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, J. C. Leyendecker, and N.C. Wyeth.
What better way to spend an afternoon in Beaufort than by browsing aisles upon aisles of kazoos? Kazoobie Kazoos is one of the world’s largest distributors of kazoos, and they’ve been kind enough to open their doors to eager collectors and curious out-of-towners. Inside, you’ll find a convivial collection of kazoos, kazoo recordings, and kazoo memorabilia preserved behind glass for your viewing pleasure.
Find caverns of exhibits here featuring some of the most awe-inspiring discoveries in paleontology in the United States. There’s an adorable pygmy elephant exhibit, a gargantuan wooly mammoth collection, and scores of other skeletons. Learn depths of history about the Ice Age and excavation alongside films and audio tour guides. Inside, there are 62 unearthed mammoths and over 85 other species to observe.
Your heart may not be able to go on if you skip this museum on your visit to Tennessee. The two-story museum is shaped like the Titanic itself and is filled with artifacts from the tragic voyage. There is also a Titanic museum in Branston, Missouri, but the Tennessee version is the largest in the world. Guests are guided through the narratives of several individual passengers that just might jerk more tears from your eyes than the James Cameron classic.
The Alamo was founded in the eighteenth century as a Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound but now stands as a museum in the middle of the historic district of San Antonio. Texans and visitors from around the world flock to the abandoned barracks to view one of the most talked-about historic battle sites in America.
You can visit Thanksgiving Point year after year and never get bored. The site lies beneath a looming water tower and offers an interactive farm, cafes, shops, and the Museum of Ancient Life. It even has a golf course and a spa. The ultimate entertainment destination for any Utahan, this multifaceted nonprofit venue needs to appear on your agenda at least once.
Formerly the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln and his wife Mary Harlan Lincoln, Hildene was built by Abraham Lincoln’s son in 1905 after a successful career as chairman of the Pullman Company. Its spacious greenery and gorgeous façade are just the first of many jaw-dropping sights you’ll see on your visit to the mansion. The house is located on a 300-foot promontory overlooking the Battenkill Valley. Inside, Hildene is still furnished almost entirely with Lincoln family furniture, and contains artifacts belonging to the Lincolns’ ancestors.
Monticello was the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson built the residence himself at age 26 after inheriting the land from his father. Today, Monticello stands as an icon of his historic presidency and the burial site of Jefferson at the location’s cemetery. From viewing his artifacts, rooms, slave quarters, and surrounding plantation, visitors can get an up-close view of what it might have been like to be a Jefferson.
This museum, located in Seattle, is unlike any other on Earth. Right by the Space Needle, this enormous and innovative building pays a tribute to pop culture in its many popular and estranged forms. Visitors are invited to test their DJ skills in the on-site Sound Lab, get on stage to perform, and learn behind-the-scenes information about the industry. From Hello Kitty to Nirvana, every aspect of popular culture is covered in this stellar museum.
Tired of the dull annals of government history and stone structures of war memorials? Take a break from the droning tour guides and lengthily captioned monuments to take an interactive tour through the Newseum. It’s an innovative structure dedicated entirely to narrating the parable of free speech in America from the very first press releases to the modern-day media industry. The interactive museum traces the evolution of communication in all forms, including protests, newspapers, radio, and so much more. The Newseum’s motto is “There’s more to every story,” and once you leave here you’ll know they’re right.
If possible, visit this venue on a dark, stormy night after you’ve heard a ghost story. View haunted artifacts at your own risk in these eerie catalogs of paranormal history. The collections are constantly shapeshifting and disappearing as the museum’s reservoir of artifacts evolves. While some naysayers left the museum suspecting none of the items had any actual paranormal history, others leave tinged with a lingering feeling that there were other unseen visitors attending, as well. Could this be the most haunted place in the whole state?
In Appleton Wisconsin, this magical museum has a large collection of original Harry Houdini performance paraphernalia and personal documents, including a selection of his picks, locks, keys, and handcuffs. The history of this museum is as tumultuous as Houdini’s — they once got in major trouble for revealing the secret to the legendary trick “Metamorphosis” and breaking one of Houdini’s most famous spells. Nevertheless, children of all ages are still welcome to take magic lessons and learn of the legend the Houdini family left behind.
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The Buffalo Bill Center is a complex of five museums and a research library in Cody, Wyoming, featuring art and artifacts of the American West. There are individual museums dedicated to firearms, artwork, history, and more. The museums were built to preserve the rugged legacy of Buffalo Bill himself, built directly following his death. From historic manuscripts to dioramas that put your fourth-grade cardboard projects to shame, there’s no shortage of exhibits at this museum complex.
While you’re visiting the country’s best museums, make a stop in one of these other museums with the absolute best cafes.