Having run this educational travel blog for over TWELVE years now, I frequently get questions about what I think are the best museums in America — especially lesser-known ones which are often overlooked. For the first time, today I’m compiling my museum favorites list all together, for your exploring ease!
Nearly every museum on this list is good for both kids and adults. I have two young children, and have kid-tested many of these spots, but also enjoy each for a solo grown-up wander. You may also notice another theme: I adore places with bright colors. Let’s dig in…
Cool, Fun Museums
What are some of the best lesser-known museums in America? Here's a growing list of cool, fun museums in the USA that are great for both kids and adults.
Chihuly Garden and Glass: Seattle, WA
The Chihuly glass museum in Seattle remains one of my favorite exhibits in the world thanks to its rainbow bright colors and varied shapes. Click through to see why!
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art: Amherst, MA
We all have beloved children's books that we still remember from our youth. Head to Hampshire County, Massachusetts for the fantastic picture book art museum by the author of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" -- replete with a hands-on crafts center!
Bicycle Heaven, Pittsburgh, PA
This is the largest collection of bikes in the world, and it's FREE to visit. See thousands and thousands of vintage bicycles ranging from bikes that are over 100 years old, to rare movie bikes, to BMX classics. I LOVED this spot and highly recommend it.
MASS MoCA: North Adams, MA
You could spend an entire day (maybe several) at the giant modern art museum called MASS MoCA in Western Massachusetts. It has exhibits for all ages, including a room full of huge instruments to play.
Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater: Mill Run, PA
The most famous house in America is the architectural wonder, Fallingwater, by Frank Lloyd Wright. It exceeded my very high expectations with the fascinating way the architect merges the building with the surrounding waterfall, stone, and forest.
Corning Museum of Glass: Finger Lakes, NY
Heard of famous Corning glassware? Indeed, Corning, NY is home to a rich glassmaking history, which is on full display at the stupendous Corning glass museum. The oldest glass on display is from 1500 BCE, while the modern new pieces take the medium to heights I never imagined possible. The building itself is also gorgeous, and there's a kids' wing, along with glassblowing workshops and demonstrations.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: Pittsburgh, PA
Ok stick with me for this multi-layered museum. Phipps is an unbelievable collection of flowers and plants -- but every time you visit, the plants are arranged in a different theme! For example, the month I arrived, the theme was Van Gough paintings. Click through to see what that looks like, and to also see the BUTTERFLY ROOM.
Mystic Seaport Museum: Mystic, CT
Like boats and maritime history? Mystic, Connecticut delivers more than just pizza. The ships on display at Mystic Seaport are truly exceptional, as are the exhibits about shipbuilding, and the role of boating and the sea in American history.
Randyland: Pittsburgh, PA
Picture this: a man named Randy decorated his entire house courtyard with salvaged material and brightly colored paint, and opened it up for the public to wander. You've got to see this one to believe it!
Museum of Fine Arts: Boston, MA
Boston's beloved Museum of Fine Arts (or "MFA") has a world-class permanent collection spanning geography and time, along with a rotating series of new exhibits. The photos in this article display one I'll always remember: "Quilts and Color: The Pilgrim Roy Collection." My big question is: WHERE ARE THOSE QUILTS NOW?!
Portland Museum of Art, Maine
So the photo accompanying this blurb is of food, because frankly, the city of Portland, ME is a museum to fine dining in itself. However, between meals, the Portland Museum of Art is worth a browse for its surprising and lovely collection. See photos of it here.
Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts
What's better than a LIVING museum? Famous Old Sturbridge Village in Central MA is the poster child for how to do this well. OSV recreates New England life in the 1800s in a relaxing natural setting. You can even take a boat ride....
Pitt's Cathedral of Learning: Pittsburgh, PA
This unbelievable 42-story University of Pittsburgh edifice is the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere! Why do I deem it a museum? It boasts over 30 "Nationality Rooms," which are working classrooms that have been decorated with exquisite detail to represent different nations, and are open for touring. Can you guess my favorite?
The Clark Museum: Williamstown, MA
The Clark in Western Massachusetts boasts famous impressionists, plus Degas, Homer, and Sargent. It's a lovely collection, and well worth a visit.
Westmoreland Museum: Greensburg, PA
This American art museum has a heart-warming focus on crafts, as well as Pennsylvania history. It is an extremely welcoming and inclusive space, with yoga mats to stretch out upon while viewing paintings, an engaging and hands-on kids' center, and even a Chihuly chandelier.
Smith College Museum of Art: Northampton, MA
This art museum in Hampshire County, Massachusetts has show-stoppers like Picasso and Monet alongside striking modern art. The town of Northampton is a perfect place to stay and explore as well.
Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art: Ligonier, PA
This petite museum has the most phenomenal collection of glass paperweights around. While this might seem a small thing, you've got to browse these photos to understand why they're so special. The gardens are dreamy, too.
Central Square Murals: Cambridge, MA
Talk about living museums: the growing murals on the outdoor walls of this town just outside of Boston affirm the modern human spirit. Don't miss Graffiti Alley, where every day new artists come and add another layer of paint and design.
St. John the Divine Cathedral: NYC
One of the largest cathedrals in the world, St. John's is 120,000 square feet of purple-lit space, and though it was started in 1982, it's still not fully complete, giving it the nickname "The Unfinished." Though it is a working spiritual space, I deem this building a "museum" because it is chock-full of works of art -- including a Keith Haring triptych -- and is toured by countless visitors each day. Any idea the famous author who is buried there?
Southbridge Optical Museum, Central MA
Talk about under-the-radar little museums! This small but delightful exhibit explores the history of optical work in the Southbridge, MA area. We particularly loved the funny glasses you can take photos with.
The Fred Rogers Center: Latrobe, PA
If you're a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood TV show fan, this museum will bring a giant grin to your face. See the original Daniel Tiger, King Friday, and Lady Elaine puppets, along with the Trolley to the Land of Make Believe -- and Fred Rogers' authentic cardigans, too.
Which Fun Museums are YOUR Favorites?
Cool museums, eh? Which ones from this list stand out the most to you, either because you’ve visited them yourself, or because they boast exhibits and collections that appeal to you? For example, a recent reader suggestion to check out the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA was a great one!
Now, these are just spots in the United States, but if I were to add international destinations for color and art, the ABC Islands would be high on my list for eye candy appeal. Perhaps I’ll compile a global round-up next.
So, which fun U.S. museums aren’t on this list which you’ve loved and think should be added? For my international edition, which museums around the world have enchanted you? Do share!
Like this list? Check out my related pieces: “40 Art Prompts,” “Why is Art Important?” “New England Getaways,” “Famous Buildings,” “Laurel Highlands, PA,” and “What to do in the Berkshires, MA.”
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
Wednesday 4th of August 2021
So many fun museums here! I live in Pittsburgh and haven't been to bicycle heaven yet but it looks so great!
Wednesday 4th of August 2021
Ahh, you’ll love it! And can’t beat the free price.
Jennifer L Brommer
Sunday 1st of August 2021
What a fabulous round-up! After reading this article and seeing your amazing photos, I'm so inspired to get out and explore the many, many places to have yet to go! Thanks for sharing...
Monday 2nd of August 2021
Do it!!! Glad to give positive peer pressure -- hehe.
Friday 23rd of July 2021
You're missing my favourite - the Strong Museum of Play! Stopped on a whim on our road trip and had a blast! Fun and informative and not about toys necessarily, but includes info about how we learn from play. https://www.museumofplay.org/
Saturday 24th of July 2021
Ah, what a great suggestion! I will see if we can make a visit there on our annual drive east from Cleveland. I seem to remember some others had recommended this museum, too.