Few institutions stamp the cultural identity of a nation, region, or city like museums.
Whether they are venerable sites such as the Art Institute of Chicago, whimsical venues like the Kazoo Museum in South Carolina, or contemplative places like the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, museums are sources of civic pride.
13. Illinois: The Art Institute of Chicago
> Where: Chicago
> Admission: $25 general, $19 for senior citizens, students, and teens; free for children under 14.
> Annual attendance: 1.62 million
> Known for: Rodin, Medieval and Renaissance art, architecture and design.
Museums celebrate mankind’s achievements, acknowledge shameful episodes like slavery and genocide, and look ahead to the future with exhibits on space exploration. A visit to a museum is among the earliest memories children have of family excursions — and among the most cherished. Many adults who bring their kids to iconic institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York City that they frequented as children are revisiting fond memories of gazing on the various exhibits like prehistoric mammals and, of course, dinosaurs.
Many of the traditional museums on our list such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston are located in the Northeast. Going west, many of the institutions have forged their own identity by celebrating the local culture. Among these places are the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Iowa, Idaho Potato Museum, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Wyoming.
To select the best museum in each state, 24/7 Wall St. sifted through rankings of these institutions by various sources, considered the top museums from a listing for each state, observed annual attendance figures, and weighed visitor comments. Admission cost is based on general admission. Many of these institutions are free.