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Museum Road Trip Across America (with apologies to Alaska and Hawaii)

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As July 4th rolls around we’re looking for the best ways the celebrate America! Break out the hotdogs and beer, and start playing Whitney Houston’s (RIP) National Anthem on repeat, because this blog is full of American-grade FREEDOM!!! 

Here are the best museums of the continental United States as picked with extreme prejudice by me. 

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We’ll start on the East Coast and move West like the settlers, though hopefully without coming down with dysentery or breaking a wagon wheel. It just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t start in our Nation’s Capital. 

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There may be some confusion at first since the Smithsonian sign is everywhere, but the National Gallery of Art, the biggest art museum on the National Mall, is not affiliated with them. 

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It has the only Leonardo da Vinci portrait in the Americas. *oooh, ahhhh*

The other must see art museums on the list are all part of the Smithsonian Institution containing 19 museums, 9 research centers, and various affiliates around the world … can you tell I used to be one of their interns?

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Shown here (clockwise from top) are the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Museum of African Art, and the combined buildings of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.

Hop on a plane, train, or automobile to New York City, the cultural center of Modern and Contemporary Art. Here’s where Marina AbramovićAndy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Jean-Michel Basquiat all made themselves famous. 

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Any artist worth their salt wants to show their work in these museums: Whitney Museum of American ArtSolomon R. Guggenheim MuseumMuseum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Let’s just say if your work is in any of these museums you have full bragging rights until forever. Hitting all four on your Museum Road Trip Across America™ earns you a gold star and pat on the back. 

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Welcome to Chicago where they have very strong opinions on basketball, pizza, music festivals, and murderous women. The #1 museum is obvious: the Art Institute of Chicago. If it’s good enough for Ferris Bueller it’s good enough for you.

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However, just across the street in Grant Park sits some of the most instagramed public artworks ever put on display so you should probably check that out too. 

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I would recommend flying to Austin, Texas. The amount of butt sweat you’ll accumulate driving across Texan desert would make any passenger vomit. Austin has a burgeoning arts and culture scene as evidenced by the explosive popularity of SXSW and its thriving museums. Check out the Harry Ransom Center for a beautiful collection of paintings and rare books, just ignore the massive oil rig systems on the horizon.

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Next up is another desert state: Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here’s where the amazing Georgia O'Keeffe spent most of her life and where the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum was eventually founded and houses a whopping 1,149 paintings, drawing, and sculptures by O’Keeffe. 

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Here is Jesse Pinkman’s very insightful analysis of O’Keeffe’s paintings for you Breaking Bad fans:

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A short hop over to Los Angeles and you’re finally on the Best Coast. I won’t get into the details of NorCal vs. SoCal because we’re all winners when LA and SF are friends in the arts scene. 

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In the land of sunshine and traffic jams be sure to visit the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles.

To go fast take I-5, to enjoy the ocean view take US-101 on your way to San Francisco, Sartle and my hometown.

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The big museums here are Asian Art Museum, de Young Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (currently closed), and Legion of Honor.

Enjoy your trip and this brief celebration of America’s greatest treasures!

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By: Lauren

Lauren Dare

Sr. Editor