6 Stateside Museums Worth Traveling To

When I am solo traveling I prioritize slow morning and relaxing activities. I like to take my time and wander the destination and one of my absolute favorite things to do is checking out local museums. I’ve had the privilege of visiting some of the world’s most remarkable museums. Museums allow me to immerse myself into the depths of history, culture, art and experience remarkable creativity from artist around the world. Here are 6 museums that I believe are truly worth traveling for, each offering a unique and enriching experience that will leave a lasting impression on your travels.

1. Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture – Washington, D.C.

My visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., was deeply moving to say the least which had profound impact on me. Starting off, the exterior of the building which was inspired by Yoruba Art sets the tone for what’s to come. The architecture was designed by David Adjaye, a Ghanaian-British architect who has designed many notable buildings around the world .  Opened in 2016, the museum is dedicated to documenting the African American experience spanning from history dating back to the slave trade to current time of the culture.

Walking through the exhibits, I was filled with so much emotion learning about the intricacies of the slave trade told from the perception of natives from Africa. I am born and raised in California, so I did not have the privilege to learn much about my history aside from what is taught in public schools.

Strolling through the museum is like walking through a book that you can not put down. Located in the beginning of the your walk through history, you are able to view reconstructed slave cabin from South Carolina showing a heart rendering glimpse into the harsh realities of the past.  The galleries are filled with artifacts such as Harriet Tubman’s shawl,  Nat Turner’s Bible, a dedicated room of silence honoring the life of Emit Till. Honorable mention as a Nipsey Hussle supporter, you can also view his iconic gold chain with his diamond encrusted Malcom X pendant. The inclusion of modern leaders like Nipsey Hussle serves to bridge the past with the present, showing the ongoing impact of African American culture on contemporary society.

As you walk through the timeline of history you are able to learn about victories within film, politics, law, music, and sports that have been accomplished over 150 years that have propelled the history of African Americans forward. This museum is not just a collection of just artifacts but a powerful narrative of resilience and hope.

2. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture – Harlem, New York City

In the heart of Harlem, lies a cultural gem –  the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  Founded in 1925 originally operating as the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, a division of the New York Public Library, the center is home to over 11 million items, including rare books, photographs, manuscripts, and art collected by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874–1938) a Puerto Rican American historian, writer, curator, and activist. He dedicated his life to collecting history of Black history and the African diaspora to “preserve the historical records of the race, arouse race consciousness and race pride, inspire art students and give information to everyone about the Negro.”

During my visit, I spent over 5 hours diving into the extensive collections of microfilms, books and even joined a group of Howard student receiving a thought-provoking lecture on African diasporic cultures. On the first floor of the building, you will walk over a breathtaking cosmogram that pays homage to Langston Hughes poem ” The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and beneath his legendary poem lays portion of Hughes ashes.

The sense of community and pride was inevitable, reinforcing the centers importance as a cultural institution that fosters dialogue, understanding, and appreciation of Black and African diaspora stories. By bridging the gap of education to life through public programs and exhibitions, the Schomburg Center serves as an imperative resource for both scholars and the broader community, inspiring a deeper understanding of the complexities and contributions of Black history and culture.

3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – New York City

Okay, I have a confession. I sort of fan-girled when attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. “Gossip Girl” was one of my favorite TV shows as teen, and I couldn’t wait to take a picture on the iconic steps, imagining I was hanging with Blair and Serena. I am just saying, iykyk.

Globally known for its extraordinary exhibits and the annual fundraising event—the MET Gala—the museum is not just a celebration of haute couture; it’s a blend of art, culture, and individual expression.  As I made my way through the grand halls of the MET, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the creativity that filled the space.

The museum’s exhibits are a true representation that creativity has no bounds. Each gallery offers a window into different eras, cultures, and artistic movements, providing deep insights into the rich history of fashion and cultural significance. The MET’s thematic exhibitions are meticulously curated, offering visitors a journey through time and style. The Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases over 5,000 years of art from around the world, proving that art is about self-expression, identity, and connection—a universal language that transcends boundaries and brings people together.

4. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago is perfect for lovers of modern and contemporary art. As someone deeply appreciates contemporary art, I was thrilled to explore the museum’s collection, which features works by iconic artists such as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Arthur Jafa and Jeff Koons. Each piece challenged my perceptions and invited me to see the world from a new perspective.

The museum frequently hosts cutting-edge exhibitions and performances that tackle contemporary issues and spark meaningful conversations. One of the highlights of my visit was an interactive exhibit that explored themes of identity and social justice, encouraging visitors to engage with the art on a deeply personal level. This commitment to addressing relevant societal issues through art makes MCA Chicago not just a museum, but a space for dialogue and reflection.

The architectural design of the building itself, created by Josef Paul Kleihues, is a work of art. The striking staircase, which spirals through the center of the building, immediately caught my eye. It not only serves as a functional element but also as a central piece of the museum’s aesthetic experience. The spacious galleries, with their minimalist design, provide the perfect backdrop for the vibrant and often provocative artworks on display. The MCA offers an experience that is both intellectually stimulating and visually stunning. It is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to explore the vibrant world of contemporary art.

5. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) – La Jolla, California

Located in the coastal town of La Jolla, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, making it a breathtaking destination for art lovers. I am a native to San Diego, so I am able to visit this museum when I want to act as a tourist in my own city. Views of the ocean and fine art, count me in every time!

MCASD focuses on contemporary art from the 1950s to the present, with a special emphasis on works from California and the Latinx community. This regional focus provides a unique perspective on contemporary art, highlighting the diverse cultural influences that shape the artistic landscape of the region. One of the standout pieces I encountered was a mural by Chicano artist Judy Baca, whose work vividly captures the struggles and triumphs of the Latinx community in California.

MCASD also places a strong emphasis on community engagement and education. The museum offers a variety of programs, including artist talks, workshops, and family activities, making it a welcoming space for visitors of all ages. The combination of art, breathtaking views, and a commitment to cultural diversity makes MCASD a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the dynamic world of contemporary art. MCASD offers an unique journey through the creative spirit of California.

6. Lowell Observatory – Flagstaff, Arizona

Are you fascinated by astronomy? The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, is a must-visit for you! Established in 1894, it’s one of the oldest observatories in the United States and a National Historic Landmark. During my visit I was able to participate in the stargazing program, where I had the opportunity to look through  powerful telescopes and observe constellations and planets. Standing under Arizona’s protected skies, with the Milky Way stretching out above, was an experience I will never forget. In addition to learning about the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 was particularly awe-inspiring, as we stood where history was made.

Fun fact about Flagstaff that made the experience so memorable is the cities dedication to protecting the night sky. Flagstaff was the first International Dark Sky City, a designation awarded by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in 2001. This commitment to minimizing light pollution ensures that the skies above remain perfect for stargazing and maintain the natural beauty of the night sky. This emphasis on preserving the natural darkness of the night sky enhances the observatory’s programs and makes it a prime location for astronomical research and education.

The observatory regularly hosts educational programs, public viewings, and lectures, providing insights into both the history of astronomy and current scientific discoveries. It’s a place where the past and future of astronomy meet, making it an unforgettable destination for anyone with a curiosity about the universe. Lowell Observatory not just a journey through space and time, but also a reminder of our responsibility to protect the night sky for future generations.

Through my travels, I have been able to appreciate that museums are more than just repositories of art and history—they are gateways to understanding diverse cultures, exploring new ideas, and connecting with the past and present in meaningful ways. Each museum on this list offers a unique journey into the appreciation of art.  Whether you are an art enthusiast, a history buff, or a curious traveler, these museums provide enriching experiences that will leave a lasting impression and inspire you long after your visit. So, the next time you find yourself wandering through a new city, take the time to explore its museums—you never know what extraordinary treasures you might discover.