Most curious travelers spend lots of time in museums. With good reason too: museums preserve the best specimens of history, place, art and science. Let me introduce you to some of my favorite museums—they’re all praiseworthy, although not universally celebrated.
Starting in eastern Canada, in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, don’t miss the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Although the Scottish-born immigrant is celebrated in the U.S. for his invention of the telephone, he actually claimed Canada as his homeland. In this museum, you’ll learn that his genius for invention extended far beyond just the telephone.
The beautiful modern museum facility has several stations displaying his most creative works, including a replica of the 1909 Silver Dart airplane hanging from the ceiling and a replica of a futuristic-looking hydrofoil that set the world’s speed record in 1919.
In Philadelphia, I recommend a long visit to the Barnes Foundation. The Barnes fine art collection is one of the world’s top-rated collections of impressionist and early-modern masterpieces. If you ever took a class in art history or art appreciation, you will recognize the names: Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and Gauguin. They’re all there. The original works.
The public is only able to view this outstanding collection as a result of some questionable, and arguably unethical, legal decisions that paved the way. Before you go, you should see the 2009 film, The Art of the Steal, which is all about the storied history of this excellent art collection.
In Oklahoma City, you might try the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. I grew up on a diet of cowboy movies and TV programs, so I went out of my way to visit this place and I was glad I did. I was surprised at how great this huge, state-of-the-art museum was. I was particularly fascinated with the treatment and respect of their Native American artifacts—some of the best I’ve ever seen.
The facility compares favorably to similar museums like the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming and the Autry National Center—formerly the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum—in Griffith Park. If you have any interest in the Early West, these are also worth a visit.
By the way, while you’re in Oklahoma, be sure to visit the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore. Another prize winner for sure. In addition to an impressive array of artifacts, there is a theater that shows Will Rogers’ movies, and themed exhibits with film clips of his interviews, performances and speeches.
I’ll wrap up my brief survey of interesting museums with a relatively new one in San Francisco at the Presidio—it’s truly in a class by itself—the Walt Disney Family Museum. As you might expect, the mere fact that it has the Disney name on it, means it’s spectacular.
You begin on the third floor and work your way down to the first floor. The museum is about Walt Disney, the man. It starts with photos and stories of his ancestors and his youth. Fortunately, because of his early interest in moving pictures, there are film clips of many early experiences that the typical family of his era would not have. His life-story evolves as you proceed, concluding with poignant tributes following his death at age 65.
A great companion to a museum visit would be the 4-hour PBS documentary about Walt Disney. Watch for a rerun.
Serious travelers know some museums can be a little disappointing, but there are real gems out there too. These are some of my favorites.