17 of the Best Art Museums in America

Today’s post comes from Hannah Sproul, Resident Artist for Whiskey Tango Globetrot. When she’s not painting murals, you can typically find Hannah climbing or eating Vietnamese food. While Hannah resides at the base of the Sierra Nevada in Reno, she does not enjoy the cold or snow, and spends most of her down time drinking wine while figuring out her next trip to Disney World. You can see her current work, and/or her dogs, at hannahsproul.com or on Instagram at @hanpainteddesigns. Visit Hannah Sproul's blog at drawntodrink.com.

Choosing the best art museums in America is no small task. It's like having to choose the best cupcake flavor of all time. Not easy, right? 

Nonetheless, while many have undertaken the task of choosing the best art museums in America, I hope that this particular list is reflective of more than just how many "Warhols" the museum has, or how Instagram-ready the entrance is. Truly excellent art museums may dazzle, but more importantly they point us both forward and backwards. As such, I hope to highlight art museums in America that manage to do both. See my take below on the best art museums in America.

Note: In order to keep me from getting beat up by Internet art mobs, please note this list is not in order of best to worst, or vice versa.  

The Best Art Museums in America

Frye Museum, Seattle, Washington

Seattle's Frye Museum is the perfect mix of intimacy and grandeur. One of the most unmissable aspects of this museum is the Frye Salon, featuring more than 140 (yes, 140!) paintings in a single room. The Frye Salon is so large that they even hold ongoing yoga classes in it. (You can’t make this stuff up). If you're visiting on certain weekends, then don't miss the museum's free music series, such as Jazz in the City, which takes place bi-monthly.   

[Frye Salon. Photo: Mark Woods] ⠀ #traveltuesday

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The Broad, Los Angeles, California

Opening just a couple years ago, The Broad is one of the hottest new art museums in America. Among the many highlights is the fact that it's one of only five places in America where you can see a Damien Hirst piece in person, which in this case is his Away from the Flock piece. For those unfamiliar with Damien Hirst, he is one of England's foremost living artists, and among my favorites from Europe. Other exceptional exhibits at The Broad include Jeff Koons’ balloons, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room-The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, and a number of Andy Warhol masterpieces. Insider tip: Be sure to follow the museum’s advice and guidelines on reserving a spot for the Infinity Mirrors or the Longing for Eternity. Also: Don’t break her art. She won’t be happy. (If you don't have reserved tickets to The Broad, follow their Twitter account to find out about current standby wait times.)

American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

Few museums are as different every time you go as the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore, which is actually on my top-three list of my favorite museums I've ever visited (I even tried to get married here!). AVAM is unlike any other museum I’ve experienced, and quite simply a visual, physical, and emotional delight. Featuring art from artists of nearly every age and nationality, AVAM may at times have you crawling through exhibits, while at other times standing in an actual bird’s nest on the side of a building. This museum is a must for the artsy and curious alike. Additionally, it hosts the fantastic Kinetic Sculpture Race, an annual race of human-powered amphibious sculptures (yes, really!). If you attend, be sure to meet Fifi.

The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida

I've found that many lists of the best art museums often exclude museums that are dedicated to one person. Truly though, if an exception to this norm should be made, it’s for the Salvador Dali Museum. Hidden away in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Dali Museum affords the opportunity to view countless Dali pieces (including Visions and Dreams and The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory), as well as countless photographs, objects, and other eccentric pieces of this extraordinary artist. Take a virtual tour of the museum for free to get a taste of the collection, and then get here on your next Florida vacation. You'll thank me.

MoMA, New York City, New York

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is where art lovers are either born or melt into a puddle of happiness.  MoMA features an invaluable mix of some of the most important pieces in art history, like Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lilies (both are on the fifth floor). However, since MoMA is one of the 20 most popular art museums in the world, you'll want to follow a few pro tips. Most importantly, I'd recommend visiting on a nice day (not on a rainy day), and not near any major holiday or school break. As far as visiting the museum itself, I'd suggest going to the top of MoMA first, and then working your way down.  

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art is where you will die of happiness in glorious European masterpieces that surround you at every turn. First and foremost, The National Gallery of Art has Degas’ Little Dancer Aged 14, which if you're anything like me, will leave you in awe and wonder. Additionally, it's home to Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, Pollock’s Number 1 1950, (Lavender Mist), Monet’s The Japanese Footbridge, and multiple works of both Jan van Eyck and Johannes Vermeer. As a prior D.C. resident myself, I can easily say this is one of my favorite places to go in Washington, D.C.    

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Philadelphia Museum of Art (from both Ferris Bueller and Rocky) is a lovely respite from all the hustle and bustle of the city that surrounds it. As one of the largest art museums America, home to more than 80 period rooms, the Philadelphia Museum of Art isn't likely to leave you bored, with a little something for everyone. I don’t even know how to pick a favorite piece or collection, but a few standouts include The Large Bathers by Cezanne, Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors (aka The Large Glass) by Marcel Duchamp, and an impressive selection of everything from Renaissance to American to Impressionist art, and much more.  Also, look at the river view of the museum. Yep, you’re welcome.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston is an art lover’s heaven, characterized by numerous rotating collections, such as Escher and Rothko, and a grand total of 16,000 pieces of art. With such a wide selection of art, the Museum of Fine Arts is an excellent example of an art museum that is constantly moving forward with its rotating collections, but also houses permanent pieces that are unlike any others in America. Particularly noteworthy to me about the MFA is the rare and intimate collection of prints from the likes of Gaugin, Degas, Picasso, Goya, and Rembrandt.

Los Angeles County of Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California  

As the largest art museum on the West Coast, LACMA is home to some of the most influential Surrealist pieces of all time. This includes pieces like La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe)  by René Magritte and one of the most beautiful works of Diego Rivera, Día de Flores (Flower Day). LACMA's wide collection of works include some that date back as far as the 1500s! Yet whatever you do, don't visit LACMA without seeing the awe-inspiring light installation, Urban Light, or the whimsical and stunning portrait collection of David Hockney. Without a doubt, you will enjoy every minute of your time here.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Guggenheim Museum’s building is artwork alone. Other unique features include the spacious, spiraling rotunda, which has featured some of the largest art installations in history. Features like the Guggenheim's rotunda and unique exterior make it more than just your classic art museum. A few key pieces to highlight at the Guggenheim are the massive collection of Kandinsky works in the Thannhauser Collection, Picasso's Woman Ironing, and Cézanne's Bibémus. Pro tip: Visit on Saturday from 5 to 7:45 p.m. to pay what you wish for admission (this is cash only with a suggested admission of $10).

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California

Where to even begin? Far more than an art museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum has two gardens, a sketching gallery, a public picnic area, and a grand total of 44,000 pieces of art. To pick a favorite feels like some sort of unofficial art crime, but if I had to name the top things to see, it would absolutely be Jeff Koons’ Play-Doh and Van Gogh’s Irises. But don't be afraid to spend as much time outside the building as you do inside, since the entire museum building and property is a masterpiece itself. 

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, California

A museum truly fitting to the city it resides in, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) is eclectic, wildly unique, and home to art on truly wild proportions, such as Richard Serra's Sequence, which you literally can't miss. Among my favorite bells and whistles of SFMoMA: 170,000 square feet of gallery space, 6 outdoor terraces, and a living plant wall of 19,000 plants. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is bursting at the seams with art, life, and everything in between. Even the restrooms are artistic!

Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, Rhode Island  

Highlighting American and European artwork from the 12th through 20th centuries, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (RISD) showcases Baroque and Renaissance artwork, including the art of such greats like Picasso and Monet. Among RISD's highlights: Costume exhibits, an actual Egyptian mummy, and for those those who are lucky enough to catch it, sketches from Leonardo Da Vinci on display. With more than 100,000 pieces to explore, RISD is a must for any art aficionado or critic that is passing through Rhode Island.  

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia

Truly a jewel of the South, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta is a remarkable artistic experience. Artwork you shouldn't miss includes Monet’s “Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil”, a massive photography collection covering the civil rights movement, and a particular favorite of mine, James Karales’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Home with His Family, 1962 (in Kitchen). Visit on the first Friday of the month for live performances, gallery talks, and drinks, or on the second Sunday for free admission from 1 to 4 p.m.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Founded in 1873, the Art Institute of Chicago stands as one of the oldest museums in the U.S., and is frequently listed as one of the top museums in the world by TripAdvisor. Unique to the Art Institute of Chicago, however, is that it houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings outside of the Louvre. Among its more than 300,000 pieces of art is artwork from Pollock, Hopper, Seurat, de Kooning, and Picasso, just to name a few. Some can't-miss pieces of art to view at the Art Institute of Chicago includes America Windows by Marc Chagall, Stack of Wheat Series by Claude Monet, and Red and Pink Rocks and Teeth by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Neue Galerie, New York, New York

Is an entire museum worth visiting just for one painting? If it's Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold that we're talking about, then absolutely yes. Here at New York City's Neue Galerie, you can see one of Klimt’s most iconic paintings, his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Beyond these iconic works, Neue Galerie is a deeply inspiring artistic celebration of German and Austrian artwork, including drawings, sculptures, and paintings.       

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York

As the largest art museum in the United States, with more than 100,000 active works spanning 6,000 years of history, the Met is worth the visit to New York City. You can see everything from the only complete Egyptian temple in the Western Hemisphere to some of the world's greatest Impressionist artists (Degas, Cezanne, Picasso) to a Vermeer collection that will leave you in tears (or was that just me?).  Word to the wise: Don’t anticipate being able to see it all in a day. I tried doing the Metropolitan Museum of Art in one day and I barely saw all that I wanted. If you do have just one day, however, I'd recommend picking a few favorites and starting with them, before working your way around as much of the Met as possible. The locations of some of my favorites include the Vermeer collection in Gallery 632, the Van Gogh collection in Gallery 825, and The Temple of Dendur in Gallery 131.