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7 Can't-Miss Museums Across America Worth Visiting This Summer

Soak up art, history and culture at underrated institutions across the country.

U.S. News & World Report

7 Can't-Miss Museums Across America Worth Visiting This Summer

Art lovers can avoid crowds and enjoy impressive collections at these often-overlooked museums.(Getty Images)

The summertime, when the kids are out of school, is a great time to visit America's top museums. Sure, places like New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the District of Columbia's Smithsonian museums top most "can't-miss" lists. But if you want to venture off the beaten track – and dodge the crowds – here are seven lesser-known, yet equally impressive museums across America. From Philadelphia to Phoenix, these art havens are filled with captivating works, stimulating exhibits and intriguing histories.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Boston

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is often called one of America's finest art museums, with works by Botticelli, Raphael, Titian and her friends John Singer Sargent and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. An early 20th-century patron of the arts and a world traveler, Isabella Gardner designed her lavish home and museum like a 15th-century Venetian palace. In fact, in 1990, two thieves stole 13 artworks, including three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, one Manet and five Degas drawings. Despite an active ongoing investigation, plus a $500 million reward, they have not been recovered. And when you visit today, you'll notice their frames hang empty.

Neue Galerie
New York City

The Neue Galerie's star attraction is Gustav Klimt's glittering portrait made famous in the 2015 Helen Mirren film "Woman in Gold" and the recent book "The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer" by Anne-Marie O'Connor. This gold leaf portrait had been looted by Nazis from the Viennese Jewish family, and later sparked a 60-year court battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And ultimately, bringing the piece to this museum cost $135 million, which at the time, was the highest sum ever paid for a painting. Cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder bought the artwork as the centerpiece for his Neue Galerie that showcases early 20th-century Austrian and German art and design. The museum is also a must for fans of Expressionism and Bauhaus genres and Viennese coffee culture, thanks to its two Vienna-inspired cafes. You'll find the 1913 Beaux Arts townhouse, once home to Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III, located on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park.

The Barnes
Philadelphia

The Barnes Foundation features one of America's best collections of post-Impressionism and early modern paintings, with works by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse and Modigliani surrounded by American decorative arts and Asian and Mediterranean antiquities. Dr. Albert Barnes' multibillion-dollar collection, after a decade of bitter court cases, moved in 2012 from his gallery in suburban Merion, Pennsylvania, to its new home located along "Philadelphia's Champs-Élysées," or the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, that's lined with most of the city's finest museums.

Dumbarton Oaks
Washington, District of Columbia

This historic Federal-style 1801 mansion and surrounding gardens in the heart of Georgetown features extraordinary collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian works. The Pre-Columbian Pavilion was designed by renowned architect Philip Johnson. And the lush gardens were created by Beatrix Jones Farrand, the original designer of the White House Rose Garden. The Renaissance-style Music Room, filled with European fine art, also doubles as an impressive setting for intimate concerts and talks. In fact, it was the site of the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks Conference where the representatives of the United States, Great Britain, Soviet Union and China proposed the structure of what became the United Nations. Dumbarton Oaks, created as "a home of the Humanities," is now part of Harvard University.

Kimbell Art Museum
Fort Worth, Texas

The Kimbell is widely known as America's best small museum for compelling reasons. Among the many masterpieces lining its walls, the Kimbell contains one of Michelangelo's two paintings that still exist, "The Torment of St. Anthony," and one of Caravaggio's few paintings, "The Cardsharps," which is perhaps his most famous work. "The Cardsharps" also had been stolen and needed a court case to determine rightful ownership. It had been missing for most of the 20th century. Other noteworthy paintings on display include works by Franz Hals, Gainsborough, Turner, Monet and Picasso. Sculptures range from Bernini to an 8th-century Maya stone panel.

The Menil Collection
Houston

The 30-year-old Menil Collection is best known for its surrealism works by Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy, who created earrings for its co-founder, Dominique de Menil. The Schlumberger oil drilling heiress and her husband John de Menil emigrated in 1941 from war-torn Paris to Houston, where they began a world-class collection that also includes Byzantine icons and ancient art and artifacts. Dominique de Menil worked closely with Renzo Piano to design the award-winning Menil Collection building that opened in 1987, and its Cy Twombly Gallery that opened in 1995. The famed architect also designed the Renzo Piano Pavilion that opened in 2013 at Fort Worth's Kimbell Museum, and a wing that opened in 2012 at Boston's Gardner Museum. During your visit, you can't miss checking out a nearby part of the Menil Collection – the octagonal brick Rothko Chapel with 14 canvases by Mark Rothko.

Heard Museum
Phoenix

The Heard Museum is one of the country's oldest Native American museums. In 1929, Dwight and Maie Heard founded the museum and dedicated it "to the sensitive and accurate portrayal of American Indian cultures and their art." Don't skip checking out Navajo weavings, Zuni and Navajo jewelry and an entire gallery of elaborately carved Hopi kachina or katsina dolls. The museum's roughly 40,000 items span from Pre-Columbian ancestral artifacts to contemporary fine art, pottery, baskets and beadwork. Best of all, visitors of all ages can weave with beads on a loom and also create Apache burden baskets, Yaqui paper flowers and other crafts.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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