Cool museums in/near New England
March 8, 2022 9:35 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend's birthday is coming up and I'm trying to plan something fun. Help me figure this out.

My boyfriend really likes museums. Art museums, historical houses, you name it. We have recently moved to an area of Upstate New York that is very close to Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont. Are there any cool museums within a 2-6 hour drive from us that might be cool to visit? Or places with events that would be fun to catch?

We have already been to the Norman Rockwell museum (twice), Mark Twain's house, and Mass MOCA. We used to live in the Hudson Valley and have done Vanderbilt Mansion and FDR's house, Dia: Beacon, and the Woodstock Museum. Are there any other interesting places in Upstate New York or anywhere in New England that you know of that we could visit and stay overnight? I think we could even manage Philly without too much fuss.

Museums in NYC need not apply. We both worked in Manhattan for over a decade. We've seen it all.

Ideas welcome! I've been a New Yorker for 20 years but we're kind of more New Englanders now and I'm not sure what's out there.
posted by nayantara to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm assuming you just forgot to mention it, but just in case you haven't been, Storm King is pretty neato.
posted by Grither at 9:40 AM on March 8, 2022 [8 favorites]

The International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland is one of the greatest bad museums on earth, if you’re into that sort of thing.
posted by bowbeacon at 9:43 AM on March 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
posted by tman99 at 9:45 AM on March 8, 2022 [7 favorites]

The deCordova museum and sculpture garden
posted by niicholas at 9:52 AM on March 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

Edward Tufte's sculpture collection at Hogpen Hill Farms.
posted by away for regrooving at 9:53 AM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Corning Museum of Glass is pretty amazing, and also has glass-related things to do while you're there.
posted by Mchelly at 9:54 AM on March 8, 2022 [12 favorites]

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown Mass is an easy drive, and the Bennington Museum in VT is just ten miles away, so you do easily do both in a day.
posted by leaper at 9:57 AM on March 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

The RISD Museum in Providence, RI, has a really eclectic collection of art. My teen-agers find it "weird" but I love its breadth and quirkiness.

Across town, if you know someone, you can get into Johnson & Wales University Culinary Arts Museum -- or probably if you just ask. :7)

Closer to you, The American Heritage Museum at the Collings Foundation holds tons of cool stuff, and is a new museum to showcase the miltary-themed items (warbirds, tanks, etc.) in the Foundation's sprawling, Smaug-like hoard. You can even pay to drive a tank!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:57 AM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

I found the George Eastman House in Rochester memorable.
posted by 10ch at 10:00 AM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

Bonus - other witchy museums and history.
posted by MadMadam at 10:01 AM on March 8, 2022 [5 favorites]

Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farms
posted by minervous at 10:12 AM on March 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

You might want to check out some of the properties managed by The Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts conservation organization. There are several out in western Mass - Naumkeag in Stockbridge stands out, and closer to Boston are the deCordova sculpture park (Lincoln) and the Crane Estate (Ipswich). You can stay at the Inn at the Crane Estate, and it's about an hour into Boston from there for further museum-going (the Gardner, as mentioned above, is definitely unique). There are several other historical homes in the greater Boston area (some managed by the Trustees) that are available to visit and focus on US colonial/post-colonial history and Transcendentalism (we're close to Walden Pond, after all).
posted by backseatpilot at 10:13 AM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Edith Wharton's mansion in Lenox, MA is interesting. It was being restored when we visited there a few years ago.
posted by briank at 10:16 AM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

The University of Connecticut is one of only two universities in the country that has a puppetry Masters' program, and a few years back they also opened a small museum of puppetry on their main campus in Eastern CT.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on March 8, 2022

The Corning Museum of Glass as mentioned above is really excellent. Gorgeous art, beautiful historical artifacts, plus science, and live demonstrations. The town it's in has some good little restaurants, too.
posted by wintersweet at 10:44 AM on March 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Oleana (Frederic Church) and Thomas Cole house both near Taconic State Parkway are premier sites for the Hudson River school of painting. Town of Hudson NY is a neat nearby town. I love the sculptor St. Gauden's house so much in Southern New Hampshire just up the road a piece from Western MA. Eric Carle Museum in Amherst MA is worth a stop. Both Smith College Museum and Amherst College Museum have some interesting shows going on regularly. The Augusta Savage Gallery at UMASS just had a show on photographer, Jill Freedman.

And, yes, Storm King is not to be missed.
posted by Elsie at 10:47 AM on March 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Magazzino, a museum devoted to contemporary Italian art, is one I've been very interested in seeing. (Cold Spring, NY)

The Clark was the first I thought of--highly worthwhile

Olana, Frederic Church's home, is outside of Hudson and has stunning views, quirky custom home design things, and art

Poet's Walk in Red Hook, NY is not a museum per se, but is a scenic area intentionally landscaped to be a series of outdoor "rooms" that shape the view, including over the Rhinebeck bridge--absolutely worth a stop if you're doing any of the Hudson Valley or Catskills area
posted by CiaoMela at 10:51 AM on March 8, 2022

Both close to you and worth a trip: Hancock Shaker Village (note: doesn't fully open until mid-April) and Art OMI, a terrific and playful sculpture/architecture park.

Also, if the premise of a historical pig iron furnace gets you stoked, the Eric Sloane Museum in Kent, CT, may be of interest. (Not worth a trip unless you're already in the area or an enthusiastic fan of antique hand tools and Eric Sloane (I am! A Reverence for Wood is phenomenal!), as the museum is quite small and specific. Also it's not open until May.)
posted by miles per flower at 11:46 AM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, especially if ahead of your visit you listen to Season 1 of the Last Seen podcast by WBUR, which details the unsolved 1990 heist at the museum.
posted by rube goldberg at 12:18 PM on March 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm going to say it yet again because it's that awesome, Corning Museum of Glass. IIRC the ticket pricing encourages you to make it a two-day visit, which I'd recommend because it's basically two museums and a lot for one day. Also if you do the glass workshops, you have to let your objects cool overnight and come back to pick them up. If you need housewares for your new home, the gift shop and nearby factory outlet store are pretty great too :D
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:39 PM on March 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Edward Gorey House

The mansion where they filmed Ghostbusters and Knives Out (sadly not open to the public, but you can visit the surrounding state park)

Heritage Gardens and Museums
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:42 PM on March 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding several things: Smith College Museum of Art, Storm King, Hancock Shaker Village.

You didn't say whether you like science museums as well, but if you do: Dinosaur State Park, in CT along I-91, south of Hartford. Has a cool indoor display of the footprints, plus some exhibits, and then a walking trail.

Also not exactly a museum, but very fun: Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in South Deerfield, MA. If you wear the right kind of scent, you will absolutely get butterflies all over you, if that's your thing! :) SO nice in the cold, cold winters to go to the tropical warmth.

Springfield has the five Springfield Museums. The local history one is cool (lots of examples of things made here), and the Dr Seuss museum is really unique. While in Springfield, there's also the Basketball Hall of Fame, if you like that.
posted by lysimache at 1:41 PM on March 8, 2022

Eric Carle Museum in Amherst is awesome, as is Emily Dickinson's house, also in Amherst. The cape has the Edward Gorey Museum and the Sandwich Glass Museum. New Bedford has the whaling museum, and Mystic CT has a cool seaport museum. The discovery museum in Bridgeport CT is also awesome. I'm not sure about covid restrictions for any of these, so definitely research that before you go to any of them. Enjoy!
posted by carlypennylane at 1:52 PM on March 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Tons of great suggestions here. I'll add Manitoga, The Russell Wright Design Center. It's not a whole day trip, but I found it surprisingly fascinating. In addition to touring the house and any special collections on view, there are some hiking trails on the grounds that are nice.
posted by luzdeluna at 2:07 PM on March 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Peabody Essex- they have the museum and also some relocated period-furnished historic houses nearby.
posted by Shark Hat at 2:10 PM on March 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's closed for the season, but the Umbrella Cover Museum is endearing, and it's on Peaks Island, part of the city of Portland, and a wonderful place to visit. In Maine, don't miss the Farnsworth Museum. listing of museums in Maine. The weather starts getting better in May.
posted by theora55 at 3:15 PM on March 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Corning Museum of Glass is an excellent answer to this. But here are a few other things worth the trip in Southern New England:
  • Mystic Seaport is the largest maritime museum in the US. It recreates a 19th-century seafaring village (ships at the dock that you can tour, blacksmith's shop, printer, rope-walk, etc.); there are also museum exhibits as well. Nearby are also the Mystic Aquarium, the USS Submarine Force Museum (including the USS Nautilus, which is moored and which you can tour), and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, a large museum about the history of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe.
  • If you're interested in historic houses and Gilded Age excess you should check out the "summer cottages" of Newport, RI, most notably The Breakers, the summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Might be fun to compare & contrast with Vanderbilt Mansion. Newport is a cute town as well, and the Cliff Walk is a good time on a sunny day.
  • Not too far from Newport is New Bedford and the New Bedford Whaling Museum. There are also several other historic sites nearby related to whaling history. If you're a Moby Dick fan, you might find this worth the trip.

posted by Johnny Assay at 7:31 PM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

Literally came in here to say "Corning Museum of Glass" but the Baseball Hall of Fame too obvious? There is a (quite nice IMO) baseball museum attached; it isn't just the big room with plaques.

Cooperstown also has an art museum and an agricultural museum. Both open for the season April 1.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:53 PM on March 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

I also want to put in a plug for the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in Vermont (a little under 4 hours by car from the Albany NY area), which is just a delightfully weird place with a really big stuffed moose.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:02 PM on March 8, 2022

STRAWBERY BANKE MUSEUM, specifically The Boatshop (nautical history), but the whole museum sounds neat. If I ever get up there it's second on my list after Storm King.
posted by unearthed at 11:06 PM on March 8, 2022

If you're ever near the NH seacoast, the Woodman Museum in Dover is housed in several period buildings, including a colonial-era garrison built in the late 1600s. The museum is chock-full of colonial-era objects, natural history artifacts, and much more.
posted by horsegnut at 5:07 AM on March 9, 2022

Seconding Storm King, the International Cryptozoology Museum, the Farnsworth, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. I remember the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca as being good but my memory is hazy.

If you're going to head south to Philadelphia, the Mutter Museum (medical oddities), the Barnes Foundation (art, mostly modern European), the Museum of the American Revolution, and the National Constitution Center come to mind.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:18 AM on March 9, 2022

Oh, yes, the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia was very good indeed!

If you do visit it, couple that with hiking the full 11-mile loop at Valley Forge.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:24 AM on March 9, 2022

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