Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Pappajohn Sculpture Park by Jason Mrachina (CC BY-NC-ND)

Cool Under-the-Radar Destinations for Art Lovers

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The Cleveland Museum of Art
Erik Drost / Flickr

Art Off the Beaten Path

When asked to name the best art institutions in America, there are some museums that just roll off peoples’ tongues: The Met. The MoMA. The Getty. All of the Smithsonian museums. But there are plenty of art museums that fly under the radar, too, offering collections that highlight exceptional outdoor art, pop culture, glassworks, and more. For an art excursion that’s a little off the beaten path, check out these under-the-radar destinations for art lovers (and don’t forget to exit through the gift shop!).


Related: Must-Visit Food Museums Across America


The Chinati Foundation
informedmindstravel / Flickr

The Chinati Foundation

Marfa, Texas


Marfa may have experienced a revival in tourism in the last few years, but its art scene still remains unknown to many. Its crowning jewel: The Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum composed of multiple buildings and outdoor installations featuring artwork from Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin, Donald Judd, and others. Bask in Flavin’s large-scale fluorescent light work, part of the museum’s permanent collection, or marvel at John Chamberlain’s 24 sculptures made of painted and chromium-plated steel, located in the museum’s John Chamberlain Building in downtown Marfa.


Related: Circus World and Other Weird Museums Across America and Beyond

Whitney Western Art Museum
Wikimedia Commons

Whitney Western Art Museum

Cody, Wyoming


No, not that Whitney. The Whitney Western Art Museum is a long way from New York City’s more well-known Whitney Museum of Modern Art, and is dedicated to artwork depicting the American West from the early 19th century to today. Visitors can peruse more than 300 paintings and sculptures organized by themes. The best part? Your ticket to the Whitney includes entrance to four additional museums that are part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West: the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Natural History Museum.


Related: 18 Towns Where You Can Still Experience the Wild West

Museum of Glass
Wikimedia Commons

Museum of Glass

Tacoma, Washington


Using glass as its medium, this museum dazzles visitors with 20th and 21st century artwork. The Museum of Glass, which opened in Tacoma in 2002, draws in over 100,000 guests each year with its permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as live glassmaking demonstrations. Be sure to check out Fluent Steps by Martin Blank, a work that features 754 hand-sculpted pieces of glass spanning the museum’s 210-foot-long Main Plaza reflecting pool. 


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Pappajohn Sculpture Park
Pappajohn Sculpture Park by Jason Mrachina (CC BY-NC-ND)

Pappajohn Sculpture Park

Des Moines, Iowa


Part of the Des Moines Art Center, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park sprawls across a 4.4-acre green space, highlighting sculptures from more than two dozen celebrated artists. Open from sunrise to midnight, the park is home to artwork from Keith Haring, Yoshitomo Nara, Ai Weiwei, Jaume Plensa, and others. Entrance to the park is free, and guided tours are offered April through October. 


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum by King of Hearts (CC BY-SA)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Boston 


Most art lovers flock to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (an excellent museum!), but for something more under the radar, consider the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. A fervent art lover, Gardner worked with New England architect Willard T. Sears to design the museum, which opened in 1903 with Gardner’s extensive collection of tapestries, paintings, furniture, rare books, and more. Today, it remains a vibrant destination in the heart of the city, sporting a lush courtyard and hosting music, theater, and dance performances. The museum has received more press lately with the release of Netflix’s miniseries, “This Is a Robbery,” which tells the story of the infamous art heist that took place at the Gardner on March 18, 1990. 


Related: Famous Crime Scenes You Can Visit Across America


Museum of Pop Culture
Museum of Pop Culture by Buiobuione (CC BY-SA)

Museum of Pop Culture

Seattle 


If it’s dominated the zeitgeist at some point, you’ll likely find it at the Museum of Pop Culture, a museum dedicated to the movies, music, television shows, and even indie games that have made an impact. Stroll through an exhibit detailing Nirvana’s success at bringing punk to the masses, or a horror film showcase featuring dozens of props and costumes from films like “Friday the 13th,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Pet Sematary.” The museum also offers sensory-friendly programs, which offers lowered sound and lighting in galleries, as well as access to the building when it’s closed to the general public. 


Related: Bucket-List Destinations for Music Lovers


Greenville County Museum of Art
Greenville County Museum of Art by Ser Amantio di Nicolao (CC BY-SA)

Greenville County Museum of Art

Greenville, South Carolina


If you love Andrew Wyeth, the Greenville County Museum of Art should be a must-visit on your list. The South Carolina museum is home to the world’s largest public collection of watercolors by the American artist, as well as works by Jasper Johns, Georgia O’Keeffe, Helen Maria Turner, and others. Expect to find collections of American art from 1726 pastel portraits to contemporary artwork, and be sure to pop in on a Sunday afternoon, when the museum offers gallery talks, lectures, hands-on demonstrations, and more free programs.


The Z Lot
©TripAdvisor

The Z Lot

Detroit 


Artwork in a parking garage? Sure, why not. Detroit’s The Z Lot, a multi-level parking garage with more than 1,275 spaces, has become more than just a place to park your car. Covered in artwork from local and international artists, it’s now a destination where visitors can view brightly painted walls filled with street art. Park your car, stroll through the garage’s “galleries,” then check out the surrounding theater district filled with restaurants, shops, and bars. 


MASS MoCa
MASS MoCa by Petahcoynestudio (CC BY-SA)

MASS MoCA

North Adams, Massachusetts


Head to the small but vibrant town of North Adams in the Berkshires, where MASS MoCA showcases groundbreaking contemporary artwork in an indoor/outdoor setting. Find stunning pieces from James Turrell, Jenny Holzer, Sol LeWitt, Sarah Crowner, and more artists, along with year-round live events that include music festivals, dance parties, and documentary screenings. Be sure to stop by Bright Ideas Brewing, MASS MoCA’s on-site brewery, for a post-visit beer.


Museum of Graffiti
Terence Faircloth / Flickr

Museum of Graffiti

Miami 


Graffiti fans will delight in the Museum of Graffiti, located in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. The museum tells the story of graffiti’s history, along with the artists that helped define the genre and the current movers and shakers decorating our streets; past exhibits have included work by Lady Pink, LA2, and Gustavo Oviedo. After you’re done getting a graffiti primer at the museum, head next door to the Wynwood Walls, another graffiti-focused exhibit.


Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Wikimedia Commons

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Grand Rapids, Michigan


Open since 1995, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park merges nature and art with both indoor and outdoor sculpture gardens and galleries. Visitors can find more than 200 sculptures in the museum’s permanent collection, including works from Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin, while temporary exhibitions feature Henry Moore, Ai Weiwei, Anthony Caro, and Richard Hunt. Of course, this is a garden too, and the horticulture displays are just as impressive. Walk through the ​​Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory, the Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House, the Earl and Donnalee Holton Victorian Garden Parlor, and other floral exhibitions. 


Meow Wolf
Meow Wolf by Grendelkhan (CC BY-SA)

Meow Wolf

Santa Fe, New Mexico


Visiting Meow Wolf is a little bit like falling down the rabbit hole. First formed in 2008 by Santa Fe artists as a DIY collective, Meow Wolf encourages visitors to interact with the exhibits, which tell a story using neon sculptures, transformative portals, digital artwork, and film. There are Meow Wolf museums in Las Vegas and Denver as well, but Santa Fe is where it all started.


Studio BE
Studio BE by Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC)

Studio BE

New Orleans 


Located in the Bywater district of New Orleans, Studio BE serves as a cultural hub for local artists and residents. The warehouse features murals and paintings that touch on the political and social movements affecting New Orleans, with rotating exhibitions from artists like Brandan Bmike Odums and group exhibitions from the Studio BE Collective. Group tours are available. 


Related: Cheap and Free Things to Do in New Orleans


Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art by Kevin Dooley (CC BY)

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Bentonville, Arkansas


Though the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is at least a few hours from any major city, its architecture alone is worth the visit. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the free museum sits on a 120-acre park surrounded by the Ozark forest, and boasts 5 miles of walking and sculpture trails, two spring-fed ponds, and indoor/outdoor galleries. Rotating exhibitions feature works from artists like Julie Alpert, Yayoi Kusama, and Rashid Johnson.

The Dalí Museum
Wikimedia Commons

The Dalí Museum

St. Petersburg, Florida


There are two major museums dedicated to the artist Salvador Dalí: the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain, where Dalí was born, and the Salvador Dalí Museum in Florida. Who knew? At the St. Petersburg museum, Dalí’s life story lives on through objects and portraits, while his paintings and prints are displayed in the museum’s permanent collection. Dalí’s work is joined by rotating exhibits that feature other artists like Picasso, as well as contemporary commentaries such as “Dreams of Dalí in Virtual Reality.” 


Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park
Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park by Brandon Olafsson (CC BY-SA)

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

Skokie, Illinois


Once a dusty eyesore, Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park debuted in 1988 with a sculpture exhibition, park, benches, pathways, and other features. Today it boasts more than 60 sculptures from both American and international artists, including Michael Grucza’s “Shapeshifter” and Bill Cooper’s “A Matter of Time.” Find works made out of steel, concrete, aluminum, bronze, and other materials, all spread out over two miles of beautiful land.


The Cleveland Museum of Art
Erik Drost / Flickr

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland 


Opened in 1916 “for the benefit of all the people forever,” the Cleveland Museum of Art lives up to its promise by offering free entry for art lovers who pass through its doors. So what will you find beyond its stately columns? “Currents and Constellations: Black Art in Focus,” which highlights works by Sanford Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Richard Hunt, and other Black artists; “Stories in Japanese Art;” and “Interpretation of Materiality: Gold,” with other collections spanning centuries and various media. 


Telfair Museums
Telfair Museums by Bubba73 (CC BY-SA)

Telfair Museums

Savannah, Georgia


Though art aficionados may know Savannah for the Savannah College of Art and Design and its accompanying museum, the SCAD Museum of Art, the Telfair Museums are just as enthralling. Telfair is composed of three distinct museums: the Jepson Center, which houses the Kirk Varnedoe Collection along with works by Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenberg; the Telfair Academy, which focuses on 19th- and 20th-century American and European art; and the Owens–Thomas House & Slave Quarters, a historical property that includes American and European objects dating from 1750 to 1830. Bring your kids or grandkids on Free Family Days, when the Jepson Center offers educational activities for all ages. 


Related: Amazing Places to Learn About Black History


Ogunquit Museum of American Art
Ogunquit Museum of American Art by John Phelan (CC BY-SA)

Ogunquit Museum of American Art

Ogunquit, Maine


At the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, guests can enjoy views of the Atlantic Ocean while strolling around a 3-acre sculpture park featuring 18 small gardens. Inside, OMAA’s permanent collection of 3,000 works include American Modernism artists like Edward Betts and Charles Woodbury, along with artist Peggy Bacon, sculptor Carl Walters, and others. Keep tabs on the museum’s events calendar — the picturesque institution often hosts lectures, garden parties, and readings.


Shangri La Museum
Shangri La Museum by Colin W (CC BY-SA)

Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design

Honolulu 

Part of the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design is a must-visit for anyone wanting to learn about art and design in the Islamic world. Opened in 2002 as the only American museum dedicated exclusively to Islamic art, the destination features breathtaking murals, an Islamic art gallery, sculptures, and more. Reservations are required to visit the museum, and tours are offered Thursday through Saturday.


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