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Most popular museums in America

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Phil Roeder // Flickr

Most popular museums in America

“The only way to understand painting is to go and look at it. 
And if out of a million visitors there is even one to whom art means something, that is enough to justify museums.”
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

It is inspiring that the words of a French painter born in the 1800s ring true today. Museums, whether they house art, science, history, or ideas, hold keys to our past and future. Museums are wonderful places for a variety of reasons, allowing us to open our minds to explore history, culture, art, and science. They are also powerful economic engines fueling America with over 726,000 jobs and contributing $50 billion to the U.S. economy annually. Museums are great places to bring the family, go on a first date, take a classroom full of curious minds, or escape for an afternoon.

Circle back to your childhood and remember the first time you went to visit a museum. Whether it was with your family or your classroom, you probably felt a sense of delight learning something new about the world around you or igniting a spark of creativity to paint, discover, imagine, or explore.

Stacker compiled a list of the top 20 museums in America using the 2018 Theme Index and Museum Index: The Global Attractions Attendance Report from AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). Museums are ranked by their total attendance in 2018, and the attendance for 2017, percent change, and whether admission is free or not is included as well.

The United States is brimming with fabulous museums where you can see some of the world’s most iconic paintings (think van Gogh’s “A Starry Night”), behold the “Star-Spangled Banner,” see Nat Turner’s bible, and check out a dinosaur skeleton. Our look at the most popular museums in America gave us a chance to peer inside 20 national treasures to show you exhibits and artifacts that millions marvel at each year.

It was refreshing to learn that people take time away from their phones to increase the bandwidth of their knowledge and visit museums. The American Alliance of Museums reports that there are approximately 850 million visits each year to American museums. People visit museums more than they attend all major league sporting events and theme parks.

Take a few minutes from your hectic day and click through our slideshow to find a museum that sparks your interest. Go out and join the millions of people who visit museums each year. You never know what you might discover. 

You may also like: 30 beautiful structures from the mind of Frank Lloyd Wright

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TheDailyNathan // Wikimedia Commons

#20. California Academy of Sciences

- Location: San Francisco, CA
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,295,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,362,000
- One-year attendance change: -4.9%
- Admission free or paid: paid

With a mission to explore, explain, and sustain life, it is no wonder the California Academy of Sciences is one of the most popular museums in the nation. Smack in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park you will discover an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and a natural history museum. One stand-out exhibit is the “Philippine Coral Reef” exhibit in the Steinhart Aquarium—the biggest and deepest indoor reef on the planet. 

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sporst // Flickr

#19. Denver Museum of Nature & Science

- Location: Denver, CO
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,415,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,273,000
- One-year attendance change: 11.2%
- Admission free or paid: paid

Who wouldn’t fall in love with the vision of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science—to envision an empowered community that loves, understands, and protects our natural world? They really love science here as one of the museum’s permanent exhibits, “The Discovery Zone,” helps build a strong foundation of science skills in young children as they enjoy exhibits, programs, and activities focusing on science process skills.

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Boston Museum of Science

#18. Museum of Science

- Location: Boston, MA
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,458,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,400,000
- One-year attendance change: 4.1%
- Admission free or paid: paid

For over 180 years Boston’s Museum of Science has been a beacon of pride in New England which celebrates the museum’s current mission to play a leading role in transforming the nation’s relationship with science and technology. The museum features a changing schedule of temporary exhibits, IMAX films, and planetarium shows, as well as over 700 interactive permanent exhibits, plus live presentations. The museum recently announced a collaboration with Cosmic Picture to develop a new, Original OMNI® film celebrating New England.

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Pixabay

#16. Udvar-Hazy Center (tie)

- Location: Washington D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,500,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,600,000
- One-year attendance change: -6.3%
- Admission free or paid: free

Udvar-hazy Center is the perfect place for people who love objects in aviation and space history to land. A companion to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., the museum features two large hangars that display thousands of aviation and space artifacts. Along with learning about human space flight, you can discover how things fly at the museum.

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Thomas Barrat // Shutterstock

#16. Museum of Science and Industry (tie)

- Location: Chicago, IL
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,500,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,490,000
- One-year attendance change: 0.7%
- Admission free or paid: paid

The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago—the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere—has celebrated 86 years of “inspiring the inventive genius” in its over 180 million guests. The museum takes a leadership role in science education, half a million students and teachers engage in its science education programs every year.

 

 

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Jelson25 // Wikimedia Commons

#15. The J. Paul Getty Center

- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,509,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,452,000
- One-year attendance change: 3.9%
- Admission free or paid: free

Its mission statement illuminates the spirit of its namesake, businessman, and art collector J. Paul Getty: “The J. Paul Getty Museum seeks to inspire curiosity about, and enjoyment and understanding of the visual arts by collecting, conserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of outstanding quality and historical importance.” The museum houses a treasure chest of collections including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, manuscripts, drawings, sculptures, and decorative arts dating back to 1900. You will also find photographs from around the world.

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Fritz Geller-Grimm // Wikimedia Commons

#14. Field Museum of Natural History

- Location: Chicago, IL
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,525,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,800,000
- One-year attendance change: -15.3%
- Admission free or paid: paid

Since opening in 1894, the Field Museum of Natural History's collection has increased to almost 40 million specimens and artifacts. Did you know that less than 1% of its collection is actually on display as the objects and specimens remain behind-the-scenes to fuel scientific research and conservation programs? Over 150 scientists and researchers travel around the world in search of discoveries of what life was like millions of years ago. 

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Phil Roeder // Flickr

#13. The Art Institute of Chicago

- Location: Chicago, IL
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,622,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,610,000
- One-year attendance change: 0.7%
- Admission free or paid: paid

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the largest and oldest museums in the country. Housing over 300,000 works of art, it is famous for its extensive collections of 19th-century French paintings and 20th-century sculpture and painting. Monet’s “Water Lilies,” van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” and Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” are just three of the thousands of iconic works on display.

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Carol M. Highsmith // Wikimedia Commons

#12. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

- Location: Washington D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 1,650,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,700,000
- One-year attendance change: -2.9%
- Admission free or paid: paid

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the United States' living memorial to the Holocaust. Last year to mark the museum’s 25th anniversary, it opened a new exhibit entitled “Amercians and the Holocaust” that explores Americans responses to Nazism. The museum strives to educate new generations about the history of the holocaust and its current relevance. 

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Glyn Lowe Photoworks // Flickr

#11. Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

- Location: Washington, D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 2,300,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 1,300,000
- One-year attendance change: 76.9%
- Admission free or paid: free

This Smithsonian treasure houses the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum to give visitors a peerless collection of iconic art. Enjoy the works of celebrated artists including Andy Warhol, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer, and over 7,000 artists. 

 

 

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agsftw // Wikimedia Commons

#10. Houston Museum of Natural Science

- Location: Houston, TX
- Museum attendance in 2018: 2,313,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 2,295,000
- One-year attendance change: 0.8%
- Admission free or paid: free

Along with a collection of mineral specimens, space-station models, a dinosaur skeleton, a planetarium, IMAX theater, and a six-story butterfly center, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has some pretty cool permanent exhibitions including “Fabergé: The Art of Presentation,” Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, and Frensley/Graham Hall of African Wildlife. 

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Ted Eytan // Flickr

#9. National Museum of African American History and Culture

- Location: Washington D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 2,400,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 2,400,000
- One-year attendance change: 0.0%
- Admission free or paid: free

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian Museum is the sole national museum dedicated solely to the documentation of African-American culture, history, and life. Artifacts you can find at the Museum include Nat Turner’s bible, sneakers worn by Dr. J, and a photograph of Kappa Alpha Psi members.  Collections include artifacts from the American West, civil rights, education, LGBTQ+, and segregation. 

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Steve Jurvetson // Flickr

#8. California Science Center

- Location: Los Angeles, CA
- Museum attendance in 2018: 2,520,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 2,106,000
- One-year attendance change: 19.7%
- Admission free or paid: paid

California Science Center is a wonderful museum that combines exhibits with an on-site Science Center School and a professional program for teachers. Four major exhibit areas include: “World of Life,” “Creative World,” “Ecosystems,” and “Space Shuttle Endeavor.” The museum is a great place to learn about stars and telescopes.

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Anton_Ivanov // Shutterstock

#7. The Museum of Modern Art

- Location: New York, NY
- Museum attendance in 2018: 2,774,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 2,750,000
- One-year attendance change: 0.9%
- Admission free or paid: paid

Almost 200,000 works are part of the Museum of Modern Art's (MoMA) evolving collection. If you can’t make it to Midtown, New York City, you can view 81,000 works online. Iconic paintings on view at the museum include Vincent van Gogh’s “A Starry Night,” Paul Cezanne’s “Still Life With Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl, and Oranges,” and Henri Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy.”

 

 

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Ron Cogswell // Flickr

#6. National Museum of American History

- Location: Washington D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 3,800,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 3,800,000
- One-year attendance change: 0.0%
- Admission free or paid: free

Looking to learn about American history? Explore over 1.8 million objects and over three shelf-miles of archival collections at the National Museum of American History. Iconic pieces of American history you will find at the museum include Abraham Lincoln's top hat, the original “Star Spangled Banner,” and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from the “Wizard of Oz.” 

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soomness // Flickr

#5. National Gallery of Art

- Location: Washington D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 4,404,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 5,232,000
- One-year attendance change: -15.8%
- Admission free or paid: free

The National Gallery of Art, one of the Smithsonian’s gems and a gift from Andrew W. Mellon, is brimming with some of the world’s greatest paintings. Iconic works you won’t want to miss include van Gogh’s “Self Portrait” and “Roses,” Picasso’s “Le Gourmet,” and Renoir’s “Pont Neuf, Paris.” One of its finest treasures is the Leonardo da Vinci painting, “Ginevra de’Benci,” the sole da Vinci in the entire Western Hemisphere.

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Ingfbruno // Wikimedia Commons

#4. National Museum of Natural History

- Location: Washington D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 4,800,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 6,000,000
- One-year attendance change: -20.0%
- Admission free or paid: free

A visit to the National Museum of Natural History is brimming with fun for the whole family to explore natural wonders like dinosaur skeletons, gems, minerals, insects, and a live coral reef. The museum’s collection boasts over 125 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts. Be sure to check out Martha, the last-known passenger pigeon.

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Smart Destinations // Flickr

#3. American Museum of Natural History

- Location: New York, NY
- Museum attendance in 2018: 5,000,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 5,000,000
- One-year attendance change: 0.0%
- Admission free or paid: paid

Be sure to wear good walking shoes to navigate the four floors of wonder at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Explore exhibits where you can learn about outer space, mammals, dinosaurs, and biodiversity.  Permanent halls feature “Birds of the World,” “New York City Birds,” “North American Birds,” and “Reptiles and Amphibians.”

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Pedro Szekely // Flickr

#2. National Air and Space Museum

- Location: Washington D.C.
- Museum attendance in 2018: 6,200,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 7,000,000
- One-year attendance change: -11.4%
- Admission free or paid: free

Spread your wings and take a trip to the National Air and Space Museum, one of the popular wings of the Smithsonian Institute. Be sure to visit “How Things Fly,” where you can experience flight in a medley of fashions. The museum contains the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the universe including the 1903 Wright Flyer.

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Maurizio del Mattei // Shutterstock

#1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

- Location: New York, NY
- Museum attendance in 2018: 7,360,000
- Museum attendance in 2017: 7,000,000
- One-year attendance change: 5.1%
- Admission free or paid: paid

Over 7 million people visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the #1 most popular museum in the United States last year. Where else on the planet can you span 6,000 years, look inside an Egyptian tomb, see five of Vermeer’s surviving paintings, check out 17 works of van Gogh, and pop into rooms nearby to see iconic works from 19th- and early 20th-century painters including Picasso, Cézanne Monet, and Degas? 

You may also like: 30 beautiful structures from the mind of Frank Lloyd Wright

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