1. Washington, DC: Capital of culture from A to Z
Holy Smithsonian! From Air and Space to the National Zoo, the District’s beloved consortium of 19 (mostly free) museums and galleries is the world’s largest, cleverly clustered around the bucolic National Mall. That can get overwhelming if you consider that the National Gallery of Art and the Lincoln Memorial are a stone’s throw away. If more compact outings appeal, Dupont Circle’s incredible Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, is a must. And DC’s music, dance, and theater offerings range from honorable Kennedy Center arts to the Round House Theater’s avant-garde productions. Clearly, our capital city isn’t just heaven for history and garden buffs. And you can always tour that storied white structure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
2. Texas-sized cultural offerings in Dallas
“The Big D” boasts oodles of culture—from the cutting-edge Nasher Sculpture Center to the formidable Dallas Museum of Art, located in the Dallas Arts District, along with the Dallas Symphony, the Dallas Opera, and international dance consortium TITAS. More independent galleries, theaters, and boutiques line the streets of the burgeoning Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff. Dallas also boasts the George W. Bush Presidential Library, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and a Smithsonian outpost: the Frontiers of Flight aviation museum. Sister city Fort Worth is having a huge moment after buzzing quietly under the radar for years. The dynamic Kimbell Museum has long been a highly regarded institution, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is picking up serious steam just down the street.
3. Asheville, NC, is bohemian chic with a Blue Ridge backdrop
A darling of in-the-know Southerners for years, this hopping hippie city is now mecca for artisans and entrepreneurs of all stripes. It happens to be a hiker’s paradise, with bluegrass in the air and more brewpubs per capita than any other US city, but Asheville’s offerings run far deeper. Check out the River Arts District’s incredible crafts scene—there are over 200 artists working in mediums ranging from paint to wax! Downtown’s extensive draws include the Asheville Museum of Art, the aSHEville Museum for women’s culture, the Colburn Earth Science Museum, the Asheville Symphony, the Asheville Contemporary Dance Theater, and a dizzying array of eclectic music venues. If you start to fear that the town’s gotten too serious, visit the Asheville Pinball Museum and/or the Asheville Drum Circle.
4. Arizona artistry in the Valley of the Sun
Creative souls have flocked to the Arizona desert for decades, but the city of Phoenix has grown into a modern vortex of cultural attractions in its own right. The restaurants are top notch, and the spas are nearly as legendary as the majestic scenery. But now this sprawling Southwestern city is home to attractions—from its signature small artists’ studios and galleries to the Penske Racing Museum and Butterfly Wonderland, the country’s largest butterfly conservatory. In addition to the 210,000-square-foot Mesa Arts Center, there’s the Heard Museum, which focuses on Native American and Hispanic culture; the Musical Instruments Museum; the state-of-the-art Arizona Science Center, which houses a five-story IMAX® theater; and the Challenger Space Center of Arizona.
5. Philly’s arts run deep
It’s easy to see why Philadelphia ranks atop every legit list of arts-and-culture destinations. The birthplace of our nation offers an unparalleled breadth of museums—from the firmly entrenched Philadelphia Museum of Art, with roots dating back to 1876, to the much-lauded Barnes Foundation, which opened its doors in the same neighborhood in 2015. Philly’s ode to Rodin boasts holdings exceeded only by the one in Paris, but its remarkable treasures aren’t limited to four walls. The wildly innovative Mural Arts Program spans 3,600 works and is considered the world’s largest outdoor art gallery experience. Avant-garde programming abounds at famous performing arts venues across town, and Independence Hall stands tall along the Historic Mile for those seeking a dose of tradition.
6. Participate in Portland’s creativity and craft
It’s no surprise that the Pacific Northwest’s free-spirited gem is steeped in super-cool film, music, theater, and art happenings. Portland’s trademark—indie everything—touches all dimensions of the culture here. Niche music and film festivals are housed in eclectic event venues, including “Brew ’n’ View” theaters—a testament to the power of the city’s beloved hops-based beverage. The Disjecta Contemporary Art Center not only hosts the Portland Biennial but is also building a substantial reputation for its innovative programming—from visual art installations to musical experimentations and collaborations with bands like The Shins. Fans of handmade wares will find a haven at the Museum of Contemporary Craft or, for that matter, at any number of DIY art galleries lining the streets.
7. Jazz it up in Jacksonville, FL
Miami may make the most noise, but Jacksonville lays claim to events like the second biggest jazz festival in the US. In fact, this large swath of the Sunshine State is home to an impressive array of cultural happenings. The best of Broadway arrives via Florida State University’s Artist Series, and the Alhambra Theater produces the nation’s longest-running dinner theater. The distinctive Cummer Museum & Gardens sits pretty along the banks of the St. John’s River, and MOCA, Jacksonville’s contemporary art museum, maintains a massive permanent collection. The Museum of Science and History is known for its cutting-edge planetarium, and emerging artists and galleries are strewn throughout the downtown area. Downtown is also the site of Jacksonville’s monthly Art Walk series featuring festive pop-up galleries and even more live music.