Essential Guide to Finding the Perfect Museum for Your Summer Getaway

Cover of Footnotes from the Most Fascinating Museums

Whether home or away, a museum is the perfect place to escape on a hot summer day. Not only do museums provide a sanctuary from heat, humidity, and thunderstorms, but more importantly, they offer a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

Museums are able to transport visitors to a different time and place.

A Museum for Everything and Everyone

There are more than 38,000 museums in North America alone, writes New Yorker cartoonist Bob Eckstein in his new book Footnotes from the Most Fascinating Museums: Stories and Memorable Moments from People Who Love Museums. 

“…Now there is a museum for everything and everyone,” he writes. Along with well-known institutions, Eckstein singles out lesser-known ones, including the Museum of Motherhood in St. Petersburg, Florida, the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York, the Spam Museum in Columbus, Ohio, and the National Lighthouse Museum in Staten Island, New York.

“If I were to keep up a pace of visiting up to three museums a day, which I frequently did, it would still take over thirty-one years to visit them all,” he writes.

Instead, Eckstein, an ardent museum lover, whittled his list down to 75 fascinating museums representing different regions in North America. They include museums specializing in art, natural history, academia, science, and more.

Along with descriptions of each museum, the 173-page book offers short descriptions of what you might expect to find there, brief stories from curators and museum workers, and Eckstein’s original, whimsical illustrations of the museum or a piece of art in the collection. 

Get Inspired

Museums are places to inspire
Museums are places to inspire (Adobe Stock)

When you pick up the book, you can’t help but be inspired to include one or more of these museums on your summer schedule. It might be a museum you’ve already visited many times before and discover something in the book you’ve missed. Or, you might be headed on vacation, and a niche museum at your destination piques your curiosity.

Eckstein encourages visitors to pay attention to the architecture and design of these institutions as well as the richness of their holdings.

Ten Things I Learned From Reading The Book

With every turn of the page, a new-to-me curiosity was waiting to be discovered:

  • Forget the slot machines. Among the impressive vehicles displayed at The Hollywood Car Collection in Las Vegas, Nevada, are Liberace’s car collection and Batmobiles from the Batman TV show and movies.
  • The Peabody Essex in Salem, Massachusetts, established in 1799, is America’s oldest operating museum.
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere, with over two million works.

  • The Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Washington, has a sculpture park along the Seattle waterfront.
  • You can view sculptor Alexander Calder’s largest mobile at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

  • The Museum of Bad Art in Boston, Massachusetts (yes, there is one) celebrates art that would be shown nowhere else, including a painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Housework. 

  • The Mob Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, housed in a former Federal Courthouse, has played an important role in the city’s revival.

  • The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, shares space with 140 acres of hiking trails.

  • Vincent van Gogh’s Irises is one of the most popular artworks at The Getty Center in Los Angeles, California.

  • A psychologist who has traveled to concentration camps, ghettoes, tenements, and Holocaust Museums in Europe says that the Tenement Museum in New York is the first she has visited that portrays Jews who are not being exiled or sent to death.

Why You Will Want This Book

Footnotes from the Most Fascinating Museums (Princeton Architectural Press, 2024) is an intriguing book that showcases the breadth and importance of museums—big and small—to art and culture. These educational institutions (many of them free, even if only on certain days) encourage visitors of every age and walk of life to reflect on the past and the future.

When I looked through the book, I initially felt like ripping out the pages of exquisite illustrations and framing them. Instead, I’ll leave the book on my coffee table for others to enjoy as much as I did.

A recent New York Times article noted that many small museums have been forced to close their doors. In New York alone, these include the Center for Italian Modern Art, Fotografiska New York, and the Ruben Museum of Art. After the pandemic, many never fully recovered their funding or attendance levels.

Why did this talented writer and illustrator choose to write about this subject? “I read about how many museums suffered during the pandemic, and I thought a book that celebrates them would raise awareness,” he says.

About Bob Eckstein: Born in New York, Eckstein is an award-winning illustrator, writer, and cartoonist for the New Yorker, New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Smithsonian Magazine, Atlas Obscura, and more.

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