20 Of The Best Art Museums In The United States

Going to an art museum is one of the best days out you can have, because they offer such fascinating, enriching experiences.

Not to mention, they’re so educational! You’ll learn loads about the world around you when visiting a museum, and the USA is filled with all kinds of museums for you to visit.

The Best Art Museums In The United States

Whether you’re looking at paintings, statues, or other works of art, every museum in the United States is going to tell you something about the country. The USA certainly has a lot of history to tell, too, so it’s best you start learning now!

In our fascinating guide below, we’ve got a list of 20 must see art museums in the USA.

They span a wide range of states, allowing you to learn about plenty of different locations, and they all have art that will educate you about cultures, history, and so much more. Read on!

1. National Gallery Of Art (Washington, D.C.)

Where Is It? Constitution Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C.

We’re starting our list with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the United State’s capital. As a result, you can expect this to be a pretty important museum, filled with all kinds of rich art and history.

There are three parts to this museum: the East Building, the West Building, and the Sculpture Garden.

The two buildings are connected by an underground passage, and the East Building hosts contemporary and modern art, while the West Building focuses more on the European masters between the medieval period and the late 19th century.

As a result, you’ll be able to see how art has changed over the centuries. In the East Building you’ll see work from artists like Andy Warhol, Jackson Polock, Roy Lichtenstein, and Pabloc Picasso.

Meanwhile, the West Building will show you works from huge, historic names like Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, and Jan Vermeer.

When it comes to the Sculpture Garden, you’ll be able to see sculptures from artists like Roy Lichtenstein (again!), Tony Smith, Hector Guimard, and Marc Chagall, while surrounded by gorgeous plants and architecture.

2. Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.)

Where Is It? 8th & F Streets N.W., Washington, D.C.

Another major museum found in the United States’ capital, this museum has the work of over 7000 different American artists represented.

This is an enormous collection (and one of the biggest on earth), and it’s so wide-ranging that it covers all art movements that the United States has had, as well as all of its regions.

This means that this museum will give you a complete guide to the art history of the USA. This is impressive enough, but when you consider the fact that entry to the museum is also free, this is a must see museum that you simply can’t miss!

Among the collection are American impressionist paintings, works of art from the Gilded Age (1877-1900), photography from all over, art by Latino and African American artists, realist artwork from the former half of the 20th century, and the largest collection of New Deal artwork in the entire world.

As for the 7000 artists on display, we’ll list a few key names that you’ll have heard of: Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and so many more.

If you want a thorough, detailed look at the USA’s extensive history of art, with all its movements and styles, then the Smithsonian American Art Museum is just about the best tour you can get.

3. The Art Institute Of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)

Where Is It? 111 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

If you’ve seen the 1980s classic comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, then you’ll be aware of this famous American museum.

There’s a scene where the three teenagers visit The Art Institute Of Chicago, while skipping school, and spend some time getting lost in the extraordinary paintings and statues on offer there.

It’s a magical scene of a magical place, and this museum is certainly a must see.

Stunningly, the art on display in the museum showcases over 5000 years of history, with work from different cultures all over the world.

Spanning this enormous time period are over 300,000 separate artworks, with pieces of contemporary American art on the more recent side of things, and very old pieces from Japan reflecting earlier history.

Two of the most famous American paintings in the museum are Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Grant Wood’s American Gothic, both of which are iconic works that you’ll surely recognize.

On the other hand, the museum has art from Ancient and Byzantine cultures, as well as art from Asia and Europe, among other places. It isn’t only paintings, either, because they also have prestigious photography, drawings, and textiles.

4. Metropolitan Museum Of Art (New York City, New York)

Where Is It? 1000 5th Avenue, New York City, New York

Often known as “the Met”, this famous American museum has an enormous collection of art on its premises, with over two millions pieces stored in its permanent collection. Contained within this are works from all over the world and all over time.

For example, the Met has work from nearly every European master, art from the classical antiquity period (8th century BC to 5th century AD), pieces from ancient Egypt, Islamic and Byzantine art, and work from Africa, Asia, and more.

Naturally, they also have a large collection of American art, as well as plenty of modern pieces.

To pick a few extremely notable artworks from these collections, we would have to highlight the Amathus sarcophagus, which likely held a Cypriot king in the mid-fifth century BC.

As for the European artwork, the museum has a wealth of famous pieces, such as Madonna and Child by Duccio di Buoninesegna.

Finally, you’ll also be able to see the iconic American painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze.

As you can see, there is a staggering amount of history, art, and culture available to see at the Met, which makes it an essential American museum to visit.

It doesn’t just stop at painting and sculptures, either, because you can also see historical arms, armor, costumes, prints, photographs, and even musical instruments.

5. Detroit Institute Of Arts (Detroit, Michigan)

Where Is It? 5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

Our next must see museum in the USA is this jewel in Detroit, which has existed since 1885 and holds more than 65,000 artworks in its collection.

It hosts big art exhibitions, and even has a massive theater for events. It isn’t just paintings that are enjoyed here, because they also hold lectures, concerts, and book talks.

Perhaps the most famous pieces of art at the museum are works by Vincent van Gogh, especially his enormously well-known piece Self-Portrait with Straw Hat. Besides this, they also have his painting of a postman.

Their paintings span a wide range of cultures and periods, too, with paintings dating as far back as the 1500s, while their exhibitions have covered work from everyone from Yoko Ono to Annie Leibovitz’ photographs of American musicians.

Though these exhibits aren’t here now, there’s likely to always be a fabulous new exhibit happening when you visit.

6. High Museum Of Art (Atlanta, Georgia)

Where Is It? 1280 Peachtree Street N.E., Atlanta, Georgia

Established in 1905, this terrific museum in Atlanta has provided visitors with countless fascinating artworks for over 100 years.

On top of that, they often host public conversations, live performances, festivals, educational programs, and even independent and art films. There’s bound to be plenty to see and do when you visit, making this museum a must!

As for their collection of art, the museum has over 18,000 pieces, which span all kinds of cultures and forms.

They have over 1200 artworks from American artists alone, dating between 1780 and 1980, and the timeframe of the work helps to show visitors the evolution of the unique American point of view.

On top of this, the High Museum of Art also has an impressive collection of African art, as well as work by artists who have African ancestors. The works include masks, textiles, ceramics, sculptures, and much more.

7. Getty Center (Los Angeles, California)

Where Is It? 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California

The famous Getty Center in Los Angeles is famous for many things: its gorgeous hill-top views, fascinating architecture, impressive collection of art, and more.

The art is found in the museum there, and it largely consists of European art from before the 20th century and American and European photographs taken between the 19th and 20th centuries.

For the pre-20th century European art, it comes in all different formats, such as paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, drawings, and illuminated manuscripts.

Examples of the museum’s famous European paintings from this period include Vincent van Gogh’s Irises and the Italian painter Pontormo’s piece Portrait of a Halberdier.

Sculptures are dotted all around the museum, while other works are divided across the galleries on the first and second floors.

The Getty Center and its museum are a must see spot in America. You’ll have plenty to see in the museum alone, but you’ll also be spoiled for choice when it comes to all the activities and sights of the rest of the Center.

8. The Museum Of Modern Art (New York City, New York)

Where Is It? 11 W. 53rd Street, New York City, New York

Popularly known as the MoMA, this is one of the most famous spots in New York City – and for good reason! After all, it’s one of the biggest, most important, and most influential museums of modern artwork in the entire world.

That modern artwork comes in a wide range of formats, to. They have contemporary paintings, drawings, architecture, sculptures, prints, film, photography, and so much more there. They even have artist’s books there, with around 300,000 books and catalogs stored there.

Possibly the most famous artwork collected at the MoMA is Vincent van Gogh’s iconic The Starry Night, which must be among the top handful of most famous paintings in the world.

It’s not their only van Gogh piece, either, and they have other notable paintings by artists like Umberto Boccioni, Henri Rousseau, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and many more.

Additionally, the MoMA has over 25,000 films in its library, including such classics as Vertigo and Citizen Kane, as well as more experimental works by artists like Andy Warhol and Fred Halsted.

9. The Museum Of Fine Arts (Houston, Texas)

Where Is It? 1001 Bissonnet Street, Houston, Texas

If you’re in Texas, you should take a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, whose 70,000-strong art collection covers over 6000 years of history. Even better, the work is from all over the world, representing six continents.

This museum is a must see for the sheer wealth of art and history on show, seeing how different cultures have evolved over time in their artistic tendencies and expression.

The largest parts of their art collection include periods and styles like French Impressionism, American art, Italian Renaissance paintings, pre-Columbian and African gold, and others.

With that being said, the collection is growing in a key number of diversity-based areas too.

For example, they’re getting more works of modern Latin American art, Islamic art, and Asian art. These are helping to represent the under-represented, and they offer a window into cultures that haven’t been shared enough.

10. Los Angeles County Museum Of Art (Los Angeles, California)

Where Is It? 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California

This next must see USA art museum is especially notable for being the biggest art museum in the west of the United States, and it has over 150,000 different pieces of art.

A lot of this collection came from a period of growth in the 1980s, and the collection has works from all over time: from ancient periods to the modern day.

This includes plenty of different cultures, too. The museum has a great range of Asian sculptures, for a start, as well as great paintings from Latin American artists, pre-Columbian pieces, American artworks, Islamic ceramics and other fascinating pieces, and so much more.

The museum is found on Museum Row, which means there are plenty of other fantastic museums you can be enthralled in when visiting the area. It’s even near the famous La Brea Tar Pits!

11. Baltimore Museum Of Art (Baltimore, Maryland)

Where Is It? 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, Maryland

Founded back in 1914, this museum in Baltimore has entertained and educated visitors for over 100 years, with its impressive collection of over 95,000 artistic objects.

Perhaps the most notable part of this collection is the various works by famous French visual artist, Henri Matisse.

How many pieces of his do they have? Well, it’s more than 1000! This museum is a must see for all, but especially if you’re a noted fan of Matisse.

Many of these Matisse paintings are part of the museum’s Cone Collection, which is home to the work of a lot of other extremely famous artists.

For example, there are pieces by Vincent van Gogh (like a lot of the museums on this list!), Pablo Picasso, and Paul Cézanne, which are all part of this 3000-strong sub-collection in the museum.

With that being said, it isn’t all older artwork on display here in Baltimore, because they also have an impressive selection of contemporary art.

Artists from the 21st century, such as Sarah Sze and Josephine Meckseper, are on display in the museum. Of course, plenty of 20th century artists are showcased too, like Roy DeCaraca, Lorna Simpson, and many others.

12. Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Where Is It? 725 Vineland Place, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This astonishing art museum will be hard to miss if you’re in Minneapolis, because it’s got such a brilliant, creative architectural design!

This had its origins back in 1879 as an art center run out of the home of Thomas Barlow Walker, a lumber baron.

However, in 1927 it moved to the iconic building it resides at now, where it’s become one of the most visited modern art museums in all of the United States.

There are all kinds of different types of art available to enjoy at the Walker. For a start, they’ve got lots of visual arts in their collection, which spans formats such as books, paintings, sculptures, costumes, and more. Many of these are from after 1960.

On the other hand, Walker also regularly programs performing arts, with demonstrations of dance, concerts, and poetry.

On top of that, the Walker also has plenty of art to do with the moving image, featuring film art from famous artists such as Derek Jarman, Salvador Dalí, Stan Brakhage, and more.

13. Denver Art Museum (Denver, Colorado)

Where Is It? 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, Colorado

Another museum that’s got an absolutely fantastic architectural design to its building, looking like somewhere between a spaceship and a gathering of triangles, the Denver Art Museum (often abbreviated to DAM) is one of the biggest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast.

Its collection is filled with over 70,000 pieces of art, all of which are diverse and come from all over the world, representing the artistic expression of a wide variety of cultures.

For example, they have a 1000-strong collection of African art, with all kinds of paintings, prints, textiles, sculptures, jewelry, and more.

Similarly, the museum’s Asian collection includes art from key places such as China, India, and Japan, all of which express themselves in different ways.

These works range across time, too, with some being present day and some dating back to the 4th millennium BC.

The museum is also notable for containing the largest collection of Latin American art produced between the 1600s to the 1800s, with over 6000 pieces of art from places like Mexico, South America, Central America, and others.

14. Philadelphia Museum Of Art (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Where Is It? 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Next on our list of must see art museums all across the United States is this gem in Philadelphia, which has existed for 146 years and houses more than 240,000 art objects.

These pieces of art are spread across a variety of annexed buildings around the main building.

For example, though the Perelman Building was only opened in 2007, it already contains an enormous range of art. More specifically, it’s got 30,000 costumes and textiles, along with 150,000 drawings, prints, and photographs.

The museum also has a very impressive series of European art collections, which include works from the Flemish and Italian early-Renaissance period.

Of course, it isn’t just historical works (though they do have European work dating all the way back to medieval times), because the museum has plenty of work from the present as well.

15. The Whitney Museum Of American Art (New York City, New York)

Where Is It? 99 Gansevoort Street, New York City, New York

Another example of an American art museum that is a work of art in itself, with its fantastically angular and box-like architecture, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City is another must see museum for you to visit.

Its collection of art is mainly focused on American artwork from the 20th and 21st century, making this fantastic hub for contemporary art and one that frequently focuses on living artists.

With that being said, they do have art from the late 19th century too, so you can really see how styles adapted going into the previous century.

There are over 25,000 pieces of art to soak up here, covering everything from paintings and drawings to photographs and sculptures.

In addition to this, the museum also hosts Annual and Biennial exhibitions that showcase the work of lesser-known, younger artists, helping to introduce you to the next generation of masters.

16. Museum Of Fine Arts (Boston, Massachusetts)

Where Is It? 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts

When you’re next in Boston, make sure to pay a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. This museum is a must see for countless reasons, one of them being the fact that it’s the 20th biggest art museum in the entire world!

As you can guess, it’s got a pretty enormous collection of art as a result, with over 450,000 different pieces collected there.

Naturally, you’ll see all kinds of different genres, culture, and periods showcased in such a massive collection.

There are plenty of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age, astonishing historical artifacts from Ancient Egypt, American art from the 18th and 19th centuries, paintings from China, impressionist and post-impressionist art from France, and even the biggest (outside of Japan) collection of Japanese art.

And this isn’t even covering the half of it! There is so much to see and learn at the Museum of Fine Arts, making it an essential destination.

17. Cleveland Museum Of Art (Cleveland, Ohio)

Where Is It? 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio

Our next pick is this fantastic museum in Cleveland, Ohio, whose beautiful building is located with a gorgeous view of Lake Erie in front of it.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is home to over 61,000 pieces of art, spanning a diverse range of origins, and it’s a place that’s especially famous for its collections of Egyptian and Asian artwork.

Of course, there’s plenty of other cultures to see, too. They have a moderate, 300-strong collection of American paintings and sculpture pieces.

A lot of this sub-collection focuses on Cleveland’s own artists, making this a museum that’s rich with not only the history of others, but its own history.

Meanwhile, there’s an impressive range of European paintings and sculpture, which span such a range of time (1500-1800) that they encompass many key artistic movements.

For example, they’ve got examples of both the Spanish and Italian Baroque periods, as well as work from the famous Italian Renaissance.

18. San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art (San Francisco, California)

Where Is It? 151 3rd Street, San Francisco, California

San Francisco is a major art scene, so we’ve got to have one of their famous art museums on the list!

As you can imagine, this museum is all about contemporary and modern artwork, and the SFMOMA (as the place is also known) was the first museum on America’s West Coast that was entirely revolved around 20th century art.

In fact, the famous artist Jackson Pollock had his very first show at the SFMOMA, showing that they’re ahead of the game when it comes to discovering new talent who will go on to incredible things.

As a result, it’s always worth visiting this museum, because you may see lesser-known artists that go on to become key figures!

Besides Pollock, the collection has the work of plenty of other famous artists in its collection, such as Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Ansel Adams, Marcel Duchamp, Clyfford Still, and many more.

The museum also organized a Collections Campaign, where they came into possession of sizable amounts of work from key figures. These included Pollock again, but also famous artists like Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning, and others.

19. Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Where Is It? 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This is another great American art museum that’s hard to miss, thanks to its distinctive design and incredible architecture.

It’s located right next to a body of water, which is pretty appropriate because the building resembles something of a massive sailboat, with a “mast” and ropes.

Of course, it doesn’t just house incredible artistry on its outside, but on the inside too, where it has a sizable collection of almost 25,000 artworks. These are spread over four floors, with work dating from the modern day all the way back to the 15th century.

Their European collection dates from that time to the 20th century, with paintings by artists like Jan van Goyen, Gustave Caillebotte, and others.

Meanwhile, the museum doesn’t skimp on the American artworks either, with plenty of 20th century work, especially pieces made after 1960.

Better still, this Wisconsin museum is Wisconsin-proud, with one of the largest collections of works from their famous native modernist artist, Georgia O’Keefe.

20. Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, Washington)

Where Is It? 1300 1st Avenue, Seattle, Washington

We’ve come to our final entry! So far, you’ve seen a whole range of brilliant art museums all across the USA, and the Seattle Art Museum earns its place in that company.

It’s spread over three different buildings, located across Seattle. These are the main museum, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and then the Olympic Sculpture park. Make sure to visit all three to get the best range of artwork!

On the whole, the museum has a collection of around 25,000 artworks. Their sculptures are especially good, with thought-provoking works available across their buildings.

For example, the main museum has a sculpture made of cars, displayed with engrossing light, as well as a coffin in the shape of a vehicle.

If you love modern, interpretive art, then you’ll definitely find your fill at the Seattle Art museum and its three distinct buildings.

Final Thoughts

The USA is packed with fantastic art museums across many of its states, showcasing cultures and histories from around the world. Use our handy guide to help you visit the USA’s best art museums!

Alex Kallen
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