Ask the grumpies: Favorite kinds of museums?

Leah asks:

Do you like visiting museums? If yes, what is your preferred type? History, art, science, local, or another type?

#1:  As a parent, my favorite kind of museum these days are large children’s museums that aren’t insanely crowded that can wear the kids out.  But I also like history and science.  Sometimes local.  Recently my kids went to the Houdini museum in NYC and declared it their favorite museum ever (even moreso than the insane children’s museum in St. Louis).  I like *some* art museums, and mostly the kinds with exhibits full of things that aren’t just paintings, though I also love a good Dutch masters collection.  My favorite art museum is The Art Institute of Chicago.  My second favorite is the Prado (love me some Hieronymus Bosch).  I think the Metropolitan Museum of Art is too … random?  It’s full of stuff but the individual rooms don’t seem as well curated as in Chicago, where each room tells a story.  But with a few exceptions I don’t tend to seek out art museums like I do historical museums or, to a lesser extent, natural science.

In terms of history, I like the Oriental Institute and both Gettys.  I used to love the DeYoung museum, but I haven’t been in SF when it was open in over 30 years, so I don’t know if I still like it since it’s moved.  (The SF Science museum is still just as cool as it was when I was a kid, and they’ve waaaay upgraded the earthquake exhibit which was my favorite then.)  Local museums can be pretty cool as well, and we’ve taken the kids to a few historical towns where they have volunteers dressed up in historical costumes demonstrating historical things.  I think my favorite localish museum is a textile museum in I think Lowell, Massachusetts, though there’s also a tiny small-town museum about a distant branch of my family who were much more colorful than my direct ancestors.

All of the Smithsonians are amazing.

13 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Favorite kinds of museums?”

  1. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    My favorite is the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I love the Olde Tyme Dutch paintings!

    • Debbie M Says:

      My favorite is also in Amsterdam, but it’s the Van Gogh museum. I don’t even like his work. At all. But: everything is in chronological order with stories about his very interesting (though sad) life. Plus, they have things like an actual vase he painted on display right next to the painting. It’s super well done.

      When I travel, I just try to see which museums are best reviewed. (The Louvre is so awesome that even the outside can fill a whole day.) And then I prioritize things where I have no clue. Like the insectarium and the Southern Food Museum in New Orleans. All else equal, I probably like science museums best (when everything isn’t broken) and large historical properties where they show you how things were done and let you taste odd things.

      I know people with goals to visit every presidential museum, and I have been to the one in my city (LBJ’s). Really any museum can be interesting and fun if it’s well done and/or if you’re with someone who’s really into it. Except torture museums; I hate those.

      The Smithsonian is on my very short list of places I want to visit. (Normally I just accompany other people on trips they want to go to and I really love doing that.)

  2. Mary Says:

    Favorite museums:

    Cluny in Paris — amazing medieval art (including the unicorn tapestries) and sculpture and the building includes a huge Roman bath.

    Museo arqueológico national in Madrid: extraordinary collection of objects representing the different historical cultures of Spain. Don’t miss the life-size underground replica of the prehistoric cave paintings of Altamira (the original site is closed to tourists) Bonus: the museum has free entry hours (check before going) and is relatively undiscovered by tourists, who are all at the Prado

    Gallo-Roman museum, Lyon, France: the building itself is impressive, and the site includes a huge, well-preserved Roman amphitheater that’s used for concerts in the summer.

    As you can probably guess, I love historical-type museums

  3. M Says:

    I guess I tend to like unique museums. I think my favorite of all time was the science fiction museum in Seattle, which was next to the Experience Music Project (also great, because I love music). And I’m not even a total sci-fi buff, though do appreciate the genre. Also the News-eum (or something like that) in Washington DC. I like smaller really specific museums too, maybe because I feel like I don’t have the attention span to manage huge museums. So a small curated museum or even installation, that only takes say an hour or so to get through, is enjoyable to me. They could be about almost anything, really.

    Possibly the coolest place I HAVE EVER BEEN is the City Museum in St Louis. It’s not really a museum, or at least not in a traditional sense, but I guess it’s kind of like a collection of sculptural art and weird artifacts. But it’s also like the biggest and coolest warehoused-sized playground you have ever been to. It’s kind of like being dumped into Wonderland. Find a couple of kids in the 6-12 age range (even if they’re not yours), and make the trip to St. Louis just to go here (or I guess you can go without kids, but it’s a cool thing to do together). That this place even exists makes me very happy and restores my faith in humanity. (Hahaha… I just read a review about how this place was “so unsafe” etc, etc. I have the opposite perspective – I love the fact that people are allowed to explore in a cool space WITHOUT excessive security or rules… and it seems that most people at least feel the same. It obviously can’t be that unsafe or there would be some majorly bad press… so I guess it’s probably best for parents who would let their kids play on teeter totters and climb trees and hop across rocks across a running stream, etc…)

  4. bogart Says:

    Well. I love the chocolate museum in Cologne, Germany. Smallish art museums particularly if they have a focus on, well, stuff I like (a number of impressionists is a good possibility, but not the only one). Good kid museums (there’s a great one in Richmond). The Smithsonian spread. The tenement museum in NYC.

    I like small, funky local museums (the Cotton museum in Bishopsville, SC for example) as interesting both for the history they highlight and often, a commentary on local community in how and what they present.

    Unrelated: I have a question I’d like to pose of Grumpy Nation. How do we submit such?

  5. teresa Says:

    I like history museums or small focused museums where I can learn something about wherever I am. The National Museum of Iceland and the museum about the Easter Uprising under the General Post Office in Dublin are my top two. I also like natural history museums or anywhere you can see partially excavated areas of old cities. Art museums I like better if I know something about a specific artist or work…otherwise I get overwhelmed.
    I’m also a sucker for random local aquariums and botanic gardens.

  6. Allison Says:

    In Bruges, there’s a ‘Frites’ (French fry) museum AND a chocolate museum. And, although I’ve never been, a beer museum. What’s not to like?

  7. Ally Says:

    I haven’t gotten many places overseas yet, but my favorite domestic museum is the Ringling in Sarasota. It’s a great location for a family visit if you all have different likes, because one entrance fee gets you into 1) the Circus Museum 2) Ca’ d’Zan (the house – which is kind of a mini-Biltmore) and 3) the art museum. (Also the art museum is free on Mondays because that was one of the requirements when everything was left to the state of FL – the Ringlings thought everyone should have access to see art.) My favorite is the art museum and the house, but I admit the circus museum is way more interesting than I would have thought it would be!

  8. First Gen American Says:

    We definitely like hands on science museums the best. We got kicked out of the buffalo science museum because it was the end of the day and I had to drag my kids out of there. Many of your local museums will have a reciprocal program so you can get into out of town places for free if you have a local membership. You get to support your local museum and often the cost of a family membership is cheaper than the admission fee in a bigger city place. It’s well worth the money if you can drive to a lot of big cities from your home base or are planning a vacation to a big city. I live in the northeast so there are tons of spots I can drive to.

    Our town museum is part of the ASTC program. We make a game of figuring out which places we can get into for free when we are traveling. I still think the Tesla electricity demo at the museum of science in Boston is a must see show for anyone visiting the city. In NYC the kids said yes to the Intrepid aircraft carrier museum but no to the museum of mathematics. I do think it limits us a bit because we usually opt for the free museums over the paid options. We did go to the spy museum in DC and that was extra and worth it. We haven’t spent much vacation time in big midwestern cities so I can’t comment on those spots.

    When we travel to different countries we also like hitting the zoos and aquariums so we can learn about the local wildlife in the area.

    We seem to be outgrowing that part of life a bit and are back to the kind of adventure travel we used to do pre-kids. The kids would much prefer to go on a ski or beach vacation than visit NYC again…although we are going to NYC Comicon for the first time in a couple of weeks so that should be interesting. I hate crowds so I don’t know how bad it will be in that regard but figured it’ll be a fun thing to check off the kid experience bucket list and go at least once.

    Fun question.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I’ve never thought of deliberately getting a season pass at a local museum partly to eliminate or lower admission prices during my travels. But I do have a membership in my local wildlife center which has given me and a friend free or reduced admission to botanical gardens elsewhere. And once I was visiting New Orleans in August for some reason and I read that they were having “museum month” where a bunch of museums got together and if you had a membership in one, the others would let you in free, and we picked the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (which was interesting and also had lectures and demos) because they advertised a tourist-friendly option.


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