Get to know the history and people of the United States on your next road trip with visits to the best museums and cultural centers in the country.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City, New York
Perhaps the most famous museum in the country, the Metropolitan Museum of Art houses one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of modern art in the world, including over 200,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I.M. Pei’s postmodern, geometric Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is perhaps the most iconic building in Cleveland. Opened in 1995, the museum is much larger than it looks, with a significant portion underground.
Start your tour by heading down the escalator to the permanent gallery, where a sensory feast awaits visitors with music, videos of live performances, costumes, memorabilia, and instruments from the biggest names in popular music. The gallery tells the story of rock and roll’s evolution, starting by recognizing early influencers in blues, gospel, country, and folk and moving through every decade to the present.
The actual Hall of Fame Gallery is on Level 3, with an exhibit on the year’s inductees and the Power of Rock Experience, a 15-minute compilation of some of the induction ceremony’s musical highlights. Elsewhere in the museum, try your hand at playing some classics, brand your own band logo, and shop in the massive gift shop.
Chickasaw Cultural Center
The Chickasaw Cultural Center’s extensive facility recounts the history and cultural traditions of the Chickasaw people through permanent and temporary exhibits of fine art and artifacts, a re-creation of a traditional village, and interpretive programs. In addition to the indoor displays, the 109-acre (44-hectare) grounds feature gardens, sculptures, and an elevated viewing platform that looks over the traditional village.
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Cooperstown, New York
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was established in 1939 as an homage to America’s favorite pastime. It’s loaded with state-of-the-art displays covering every aspect of the sport, from famous ballparks and women’s baseball, to the World Series, Negro League, and baseball in the Caribbean. Jackie Robinson’s warm-up jacket, Hank Aaron’s locker, Willie Mays’s glove, and Yogi Berra’s catcher’s mitt are among the memorabilia on display.
Art Institute of Chicago
The stunning selection of famous and familiar works in the Art Institute of Chicago include such icons of U.S. art as American Gothic and Nighthawks.
Freer and Sackler Galleries
Part of the Smithsonian Institution, the connected Freer and Sackler Galleries display an impressive array of Asian art.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
Los Angeles, California
Arguably the best museum on the West Coast, the complex of buildings that comprise the LACMA house fine and decorative art and artifacts from around the world.
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel
The pursuit of equality for all continues, and this unforgettable museum traces where we’ve been and what we’ve achieved. The National Civil Rights Museum was built on the Lorraine Motel site, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Exhibits display original letters, audio recordings, photos, and newspaper clippings from events including the Montgomery bus boycott, Brown v. Board of Education, Freedom Summer, and the march from Selma to Montgomery.
It is possible for the observant visitor to the Heard Museum to come away with a rather deep knowledge of the cultures, religions, and histories of the state’s Indigenous peoples. The museum has 10 galleries featuring the art, artifacts, and historical narratives of each of the state’s tribes. The large display on the Hopi is particularly comprehensive and includes Barry Goldwater’s kachina collection. It’s not all static history, though. Several galleries feature contemporary art by Native Americans and others. Sculptures dot the grounds while artists demonstrate their methods to onlookers. If you’re in the market for Native American art (or if you just like looking at it), especially that produced by Hopi and Navajo artists, don’t miss the museum’s store.