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No matter how bustling it may be, a city can feel pretty hollow if it’s short on the creative amenities that give it a soul. For many places, this can mean having a variety of top-tier dining options, or enough establishments that make it easy to have a memorable night out on the town. But it’s often a city’s relationship with art that can set it apart as a truly unique destination. And whether it’s world-class museums or a vibrant street art scene, sometimes that’s all the excuse you need to plan a trip. Read on to see which U.S. cities are the best bets for art lovers.
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Many people consider Georgia’s largest city to be one of the hottest culinary and musical destinations in the South. And according to experts, it’s also an unsung haven for all types of artwork.
“Atlanta might not be conventionally considered a center for art, but you’ll realize within hours of your first visit that it is a city where art is all around you,” says Kathleen Fletcher, art therapist and CEO of Kitty Baby Love. “The city is a hub for the performing arts, boasts the High Museum of Art, and as a center of the civil rights movement, is the spiritual home of much of the art coming out of the African American community. But perhaps best of all is the city’s street art, which can be found dotted around the city in some expected—and unexpected—places, showcasing the extraordinary creative talents of local artists and international big-hitters alike.”
Boston is well-known for its historical sites and local personality, but it turns out the Hub is also a hub of impressive art collections from around the world.
“The Museum of Fine Arts boasts one of the world’s most comprehensive collections, including the largest number of Monets outside France,” travel expert Leslie Carbone of Sancerres at Sunset tells Best Life. “The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s collection ranges from ancient Roman artifacts to rare books. In 1990, it was the site of one of the most infamous, unsolved art heists in history, when thieves stole 13 priceless works, including several Rembrandts; the Museum displays four of the pieces’ empty frames in hopes of their return. And the Boston Public Garden, the oldest public botanical garden in America, is home to several statues; the most prominent represents George Washington on horseback.”
Philadelphia puts passion into everything it does, and its local art scene is no exception. Visitors to the City of Brotherly Love will soon realize they’re surrounded by vibrant creativity, from iconic public sculptures to storied collections of classical works.
“I was so pleasantly surprised when I visited that you can see such cool street art and mosaics like at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on South Street, as well as the art on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and a whole list of galleries,” says travel expert Becca Siegel from Halfhalftravel.com. “I don’t think Philadelphia should be overlooked as an art destination in this decade!”
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While larger cities may be the first that come to mind when thinking about impressive art collections, other destinations fly below the radar. This includes Cincinnati, Ohio, where world-class museums and a vibrant local scene are more than worth exploring.
“There are a few highlights, including the Taft Museum, housed in a more than 200-year-old restored building is home to a remarkable collection of fine and decorative art including works by Rembrandt, Goya, and more,” Pam Howard, owner and author of Our Adventure is Everywhere, tells Best Life.
“Located in Eden Park, you’ll find the Cincinnati Museum of Art. With over 67,000 items in their collection, there is always a new and interesting exhibit or gallery to explore,” Howard adds. “And finally, the Contemporary Arts Center is right downtown, which showcases unique and often interactive modern art.”
And it’s not just the museums that are worth visiting. “Art is also found everywhere throughout the city, including in the beautiful murals and restored buildings that make up downtown Cincinnati,” Howard says.
New York may be a thriving metropolis fueled by commerce, but the biggest city in the U.S. gets its edge and allure from the endless well of creativity it supports. Besides a flourishing music scene and plenty of Broadway and Off-Broadway—and even Off-Off-Broadway—theater, Gotham is home to established artists and up-and-coming talents that generate a one-of-a-kind environment. However, even hitting the city’s most well-known sites is reason enough to book a trip.
“The Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] is the biggest art museum in America, with more than 2 million works in its collection,” Carbone says. “Then add the [Museum of Modern Art] MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Frick, and all the other countless gems, and you’re pretty much in an art lover’s paradise, where you can see ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Met and Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the MoMA in the same day.”
Sometimes the best art comes from unexpected places. And according to experts, one thriving scene in Michigan is not to be missed.
“Fondly described as ‘America’s Berlin,’ Detroit boasts an impressive portfolio for architecture, galleries, and music, making it a magnet for art lovers worldwide,” says Xanthe Steer, travel blogger and owner of Places Unpacked. “The lower rent prices remove a key barrier that young artists face, rejecting the requirement for privilege and stripping it back to raw talent. The result is a diverse variety of artistry, from the smallest quirky cafe exhibitions to larger commercially recognized establishments. Artists thrive at all levels here, and visitors can enjoy samples from the freshest new creatives to the icons all in one place. Come here for a diverse range of artistry, fresh talent, and innovative, forward-thinking exhibitions.”
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Even though Portland, Maine, may already have its work cut out for it by constantly having to distinguish itself from that other Portland, it’s had a burgeoning reputation in its own right for years. And besides the unparalleled culinary explosion it’s experienced, it’s also quickly earning another major point of pride.
“On a visit to Portland this spring, I learned about it being a major art town,” says Nneya Richards, travel expert and author of ‘N A Perfect World. “It recently won Best Bus Stop in the U.S. for a piece designed by jewelry designer and multidisciplinary artist, Ebenezer Akakpo. Akakpo emigrated from Ghana to attend the Maine College of Art and Design. This collection, Portland’s symphony, the Portland Museum of Art, and even murals at beloved local cafe Coffee By Design attract talent here from all over the world.”
If you’re looking for an easy way to dive into the city’s artistic community, Richards also recommends Creative Portland’s First Friday Art Walk each month.
People travel from all over to visit Asheville, eager to experience its famous natural surroundings and burgeoning brewery scene. But the laid-back mountain town is also a thriving artists’ colony that’s home to a seriously creative community.
“The River Arts District in Asheville, North Carolina is an art lover’s paradise,” says Erin Moreland, travel blogger at Super Simple Salty Life. “Over 200 artists work in this region and create everything from watercolor and oil paintings to pottery, photography, metal, glass, and more. The studios are situated in historic buildings stretched along one mile running adjacent to the French Broad River. Most days, artists can be found demonstrating their craft, and some even offer classes.”
While it may take more work to discover the art scene in certain cities, you’ll never be lost when it comes to Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital is home to collections of art that are as vast as they are accessible.
“You can’t beat the Smithsonian: it’s vast, and there’s no charge to explore its many museums,” Carbone tells Best Life. “The National Gallery of Art houses the works of artists from Leonardo da Vinci to Winslow Homer. The Freer-Sackler features Asian art. And the Hirshhorn offers modern and contemporary pieces while also hosting free jazz concerts on summer Fridays in its Sculpture Garden.”
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Despite the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, it can be easy to forget that Los Angeles has much more going for it than the film industry. The city is home to a who’s-who of cutting-edge artists while also boasting impressive collections at its world-famous museums.
“Not only does Los Angeles have an incredible array of museums and galleries like The Getty, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Broad, Hammer Museum, The Huntington Library Art Museum, The Annenberg Space for Photography, and La Luz De Jesus Gallery, but the L.A. street art scene is one of the best in the world,” says Jenn Lloyd, travel writer and author of Sick Girl Travels.
This is why it can pay to hit the pavement during your visit. “Downtown Los Angeles alone attracts street artists from around the world. Artists like WRDSMTH, David Flores, Tristan Eaton, Shepard Fairey, Vhils, Kim West, Mr. Cartoon, Banksy, El Mac, Christina Angelina, Herakut, and others have created stunning mural works around the Arts District area of Los Angeles,” Lloyd notes.