Travel Themes Part 4: Museums

Museums come in all shapes and sizes. You can find them in large metropolitan settings or alone on a barren island.  Not every museum is worthy of planning an entire itinerary around, but every museum has value.  Webster’s Dictionary states this fact:

Definition of museum

an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value

I enter every museum with curiosity and the hope of learning some tidbit. Granted some museums take a little effort for me to find that tidbit, like the Antique Snowmobile Museum in Eagle River, WI. At the least I learned the passion some have for their “snow machines”. Nevertheless, I am game to checkout most any museum we find. So let’s Go Learn Things……..

Science Museums

I will start with Science Museums because we are science and tech geeks.  I ran into an interesting dilemma a couple of years ago with my adult son. We were visiting Denver and he wanted to see the Robotic special exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It was a very fun interactive exhibit but my son complained that it was not “challenging” enough.  I found this hilarious, he was a 26 year old Engineer, what did he expect??  But I do understand his point.  Most Science and Technology type museums are geared for families with children. In contrast, many of the Science and Nature Museums tend to be kind of dry and stuffy.  How does a Science Museum keep all visitors entertained?  This is a tough target to hit. I believe the best have enough variety to entertain all.

Suggestions:

  • Discovery World in Milwaukee, WI. I admit to a home field bias here, but I do think this is a consistently entertaining and informative Science Museum. Even the building architecture and its harbor location impress.
  • Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL. This is the Science Museum I grew up with and therefore it seems mundane to me.   It is massive, crowded and struggles to stay fresh. But it tops most lists and my family assures me it is great. I think the sheer size of it offers something interesting to every visitor.
  • Smithsonians; National Air and Space Museum and Natural History Museum. You can never go wrong with any of the Smithsonian Museums.  They are classic while continuing to be innovative. If you have never been to D.C., the Smithsonian is not one museum, rather an ever growing collection of spectacular museums. They offer 11 museums on the National Mall and 6 others throughout the D.C. area. Therefore this is a destination I would plan around museums.
  • Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. This Midwest museum is similar to our Discovery World and great for young and old. See my post here.
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Discovery World in Milwaukee, Science Museums of Minnestoa and Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

I have not had the opportunity to visit these three below, but they show up on many “best of” lists and sound amazing.

History/Heritage

History museums are harder to categorize.  They range from the massive Smithsonian Institute to your tiny local historical society.  Unlike the science museums, a small history museum can be as entertaining as a large one. Many historical museums and settings were discussed in the previous post on Historical Destinations. In addition, history can be found in almost all other categories of museums.  Certainly science and art museums also provide insights into the past. For this discussion I will share a few large icons and a few more obscure options.  Be sure to keep your eyes open for hidden gems wherever you travel.

Suggestions

  • Smithsonians; Again the Smithsonian Institute has an extraordinary array of Historical and Heritage Museums.  To mention a few; the African American Museum, American Indian Museum and the American History Museum.
  • United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.
  • The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. This is a great example of a specific industry and how it has changed our world.
  • Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ. The Native American history and art in this museum makes me want to return over and over again. Check out my post on this Southwest treasure.
  • Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc, WI. Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co built many of the WWII submarines used by the U.S. This museum offers a tour through one of the original subs. See my post here.
  • State historical societies
  • State Capitols
  • Immigration Museum in New York Harbor
  • Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. I loved this museum and my husband stood outside waiting for me. What can I say…it was early in our traveling life. It escapes an easy definition though, their website says this:

    From ancient Chinese ceramics to Alexander McQueen evening dresses, take an incredible journey through 5000 years of human creativity.

    It is a museum of art and design and includes historical fashions, furnishings, housewares, decorative arts and performance arts, to mention just a bit of its treasures.

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USS Cobia at Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Art

Few things are more subjective than art appreciation.  I admit, I am ignorant in the art world, which may explain why I often find art museums pretentious. The “symbolism” is usually lost on me.  Obviously art is a visual experience, but I also enjoy learning about the technical process and progression the artist took. So the curation and narration of displays really effects my experience. The larger museums appeal to me because I have a better chance of finding a niche I can appreciate.

Fellow blogger Sage over at Everyday Wanderer has some great tips on how to engage the whole family when visiting art museums here.

Suggestions:

  • The Art Institute of Chicago. I have loved this museum from childhood. It is large and diverse, but most importantly, has a lovely Impressionists Gallery that steals my heart.
  • MoMA Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY. Appreciation of modern art usually escapes me, but this museum was captivating.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY. A behemoth of a museum, everyone can find something they love here.
  • Getty Center of Art in Los Angeles, CA. Art museums buildings are often a piece of art themselves.  The architecture, gardens and overall setting of this museum is breathtaking.
  • Le Louvre in Paris, France. The world says this is a great museum.  I am ashamed to admit we fell asleep on the tour bus and missed this one.
  • Vatican Museums in Vatican City, Italy. I found this to be one of the most opulent and yet approachable art collections I have ever experienced.
  • Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. There is something about portrait galleries that draws me.  I think it is the inherent history that is told through the portraits.
  • National Portrait Gallery in London, UK. Another wonderful portrait gallery.
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MoMA, Getty, Le Louvre and the Vatican.

Nature

Nature museums often fall in with the natural history or science museums.  In this category I am going to share a few specialty options. I am going to leave zoos off of this list.  I am a bad judge of zoos and prefer places more focused on wildlife research and rescue. Because of our connection to the oceans my list leans heavily toward marinelife.  If your interests lean to other types of wildlife, please leave suggestions in the comments below!

  • Museo de la Ballena, Whale Museum in La Paz, Baja Mexico. See my post here.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium, in California. Aquariums have acquired a bad reputation lately and I am very picky about which ones I would recommend.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium is superb! See my post here.
  • Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Fl.  Many places have active turtle rescue centers, this one in South Florida is very informative and interactive.
  • The National Aviary in Pittsburgh, PA. I have never been but looks wonderful.
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Monterey Bay Aquarium photo credit Monterey Bay

Special Interests and Halls of Fame

The topics that Special Interest museums can represent is limitless. You just need to keep your eyes open to anything that piques your interest.  I have several fellow bloggers who base their road trips around the “world’s oddest, largest, smallest, etc”.

Specialties

  • National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. Paducah is a quaint river town that hosts one of the largest Quilt Conventions every year. It is a beautiful museum if you enjoy quilts.
  • Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. I have not visited but it is on my bucket list.
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass Center in Seattle, WA.  We love everything about blown glass.
  • Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, HI. Believe it or not this tiny little museum was quite informative. Although we have very few tsunamis in Wisconsin.
  • Museum of Sex in New York, NY. Yes I have been to this quirky museum! You have to be in the right mood. LOL

Halls of Fame

  • National Freshwater Fishing HoF
  • Snowmobiling HoF
  • Packers HoF
  • Rock and Roll HoF
  • RV/MH HoF
  • National Toy HoF
  • Baseball, Football, Hockey etc.

The list goes on……..

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National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame

Destinations to build a Museum Itinerary around

To wrap this up I have listed four cities I would recommend visiting purely for the museums.

London

New York

Washington D.C.- Everyday Wanderer has a couple of great posts to help plan your visit. Guide to the Smithsonian and Best Places to Stay in DC.

Rome

Please share your museum favorites in the comments below!

Pin it for later

Go learn things, visit a museum

Escape the cold, find a museum

Discover all the Travel Themes

Be sure to check out all the posts in The 12 Days of Travel Themes;
Part 1: Culinary Tourism
Part 2: Fairs and Festivals
Part 3: Historic Destinations
Part 4: Museums
Part 5: Boozy Trips
Part 6: Get Outdoors
Part 7: Agritourism
Part 8: Urban Adventures
Part 9: Scenic Road Trips
Part 10: Literary Travels
Part 11: The Arts
Part 12 : Oddities

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3 thoughts on “Travel Themes Part 4: Museums”

  1. This fellow museum lover LOVES this post! My 12-year-old daughter is already begging me to take her back to both Milwaukee and Chicago, so our next “must see” list is already seeded with some of your science museum suggestions. The United States Holocaust Museum also caught my eye, in part because this period in history interests me and in part because I just visited this museum last spring. It does a good job of bringing some of the many experiences in Europe to a single location in the US to help all who visit learn about this dark period in time and ensure history doesn’t repeat itself. It also provides the American perspective, something that (understandably) is missing from the museums, historic sites, cemeteries, and other destinations in Europe.

  2. This is especially timely with the deep freeze right now! I absolutely love the Science Museum in St Paul. They have the Omni Fest going on right now which is always fantastic! You’ve got me inspired to check out some of the museums nearby that I haven’t visited just yet 🙂

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