Get out of the House

Get out of the House: Museum Day & Ticket Giveaway

by Grace Bonney

Last week’s first post for my new Get out of the House column was dedicated to a rather ambitious and adventurous topic: Winter Camping. While I personally love the stillness and peace (and excuse to eat large amounts of S’mores) that come with gearing up and enjoying cold-weather hiking, I know it’s not for everyone. So this week I thought I’d tackle something a little simpler and warmer: Museum Days!

Almost anywhere you live, there’s a gallery or museum near you. So what if it’s not the Met? (BTW, this history of their badges is very cool.) Some of the best museums are the ones that cater to local eccentricities, personal collections and celebrations of the weird and wonderful. So today I thought I’d focus on ideas for getting out of the house, staying warm and being inspired by a trip to your local museum. I’ll share links for finding great (and unexpected) museums near you, tips for what to do and what to bring (the full shopping list is after the jump!) and how to expand your trip into a full museum day with friends or a solo trip. Happy museum-going! xo, grace

*In the spirit of really committing to getting out of the house, I’d love to buy museum tickets for you and a friend! Just leave a comment in the comment section below about what museum you’d like to visit in your town and why. I’ll pick my favorite comment next Wednesday and pay for your tickets to the museum!

The full post continues after the jump . . .


As much as I love design, I’m not actually a huge fan of most big museums. They tend to feel impersonal and cold, so I’m always trying to find great small museums to visit. Whether you’re looking for something large and all-encompassing or just want to find something quirky and cool in your area, here are some great places to start.

My Top 10 Favorite Museums:


Where to Find Museums Near You:


Image via Metropolitan Museum of Art


Aside from the obvious viewing of interesting/beautiful/obscure/strange objects and art, a museum day, for me anyway, is about tying in related activities that create one big fun package. Here’s an example:

Artist Afternoon:

  • Pick a museum and theme (e.g., the Met, Impressionists).
  • Plan a meal option based on that choice. (For the Impressionists, how about a French bistro brunch?)
  • Bring activities to match. (For the Impressionists, you could bring portable watercolor kits and a notepad to use inside the museum.)
  • Based on your findings at the museum, plan an extra activity. (Inspired by Monet’s Water Lilies, you could check out a local garden or plant nursery to see what inspired those paintings.)
  • Document your day with photos and put them in a scrapbook, using digital frame borders so it feels like a tiny museum.


Two tips our whole team agrees on: Choose one exhibition to focus on at bigger museums. When a museum is SO big, it’s easy to glaze over and get overwhelmed by all the art. So pick one area (e.g., Egyptian art) and really take your time and focus on it. Next, try to go on a weekday morning if you can. The traffic is slower, and you have a better chance of getting time and space to stop, photograph and draw if you want to.

A student tip from Max: If you go to the museum’s information desk and bring your student ID, you can often get a discount or a free ticket, even if it isn’t advertised. It never hurts to ask!

Image via Terrier & Lobster


I love to bring a few things with me to museums because I get bored easily. Really easily. You’ll of course want to check your specific museum’s list of do’s and don’ts for their policies on everything, but in general, I like to bring:

  • A lightweight bag, shoes and a sweater: Even the lightest bags and accessories feel like they weigh a ton after walking around all day. Lighten the load, and your feet (and shoulders) will thank you later in the day.
  • Drawing tools and paper: I love being able to sit down and right notes or sketch out pictures and ideas inspired by what I’m seeing.
  • Portable watercolors: I’m not much of an artist, but I love to put down simple color palettes that are inspired by the paintings I see. Sometimes cameras don’t get the color balance right, and it’s nice to jot down something on your own.
  • Camera: Not all museums allow photography, so please follow any rules listed at the museum.
  • Museum apps: These days, many museums have cool free apps that you can download on your phone to use while you walk around. Check your local museum to see what they offer.
  • A small treat budget: I’ll allocate a small amount ($20) to spend on a memento to bring home. I cheesily love little mementos from museums, even if it’s something fun like Astronaut Ice Cream.


Image above: 1. Camera Strap, $85 | 2. Dupatta Nara Scarf, $188 | 3. Watercolor Postcards with Kit, $18 | 4. Travel Watercolor Set, $22 | 5. Watercolor Postcards, $3.99 | 6. Moleskine Sketchbook, $11.17 | 7 . Watercolor Brush Set, $14.99 | 8. General’s Charcoal Pencils (72-pack), $60.25 | 9. Bookhou Tote, $88 | 10. Oil Pastels, $6.95


Every museum has different policies when it comes to photography, touching, proximity to artwork, etc., so please be sure to check those guidelines before you arrive.

Here are some other good karma suggestions to keep in mind that will help everyone at the museum enjoy their time:

  • Take your time and move on. Everyone wants a chance to see a particular painting, so try not to stand in front of something too long before giving someone else a chance to look. You can always set up away from the artwork at a different angle if you want to draw it, or circle back around again for another look.
  • Keep voices and headphones at a reasonable level. In general, it seems like most people want to have a peaceful experience in museums. So yelling, loud laughing and blasting music or audio tours on headphones aren’t very helpful.
  • Keep an eye on small children. I think all children should have the chance to enjoy museums, but it’s a big help if parents can hold their hands or keep a close eye on them. I’ll never forget getting bumped into a sculpture at the MET by a little kid who was running around like crazy. His parents just shrugged it off, and I got a stern word from the museum guard. (A lot of museums have amazing museum educators that specialize in showing children artwork. Take advantage of those programs if they’re in your area; they’re fantastic.)
  • Take cellphone calls outside. Enough said.
  • If you’re moving in a large group, try to break up into small subgroups so you’re not blocking doorways and other people’s viewing experience.

Suggested For You


  • I am planning on going to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta with my husband. We will drive in from Jacksonvile, Fl. and spend the day with Frida and Diego. If you saw my office, you would understand why this trip is important to me. My students always ask me who “he” is, and I have a chance to tell them about Frida’s passion for life despite her pain. Since I teach Angela Carter’s works, her essay of Frida is a good place to start. There is also the the picture of Amy Winehouse as Frida and the many fashion layouts inspired by Frida. I wish I could take a student or two with me.

  • As a museum employee at two art museums, it wonderful to see encouragement to visit you local museum. However its bit misleading when mentioning mediums other than pencil which is only allowed in art museums. You won’t be able to use any watercolors in an art museum but feel to sketch with pencil.

    • A.M.

      I’m afraid that’s not true. As I mentioned before there are many museums across the country that allow watercolors. You may need to ask for times/galleries that allow it (many art museums have days of the week when artists are allowed to come before or after hours to draw), but it’s definitely not against the rules everywhere.


  • I’d love to see the special Mark Rothko exhibit at the art museum here in Columbus, OH. The museum teamed up with our theatre company, which is putting on the play “Red” about Rothko’s life. I’m going to the play tomorrow night, so the art exhibit would be the perfect follow up!

  • Oh this is going to sound so generic but I’d really love to visit the MoMA in NYC. I’ve only gone for events, at night when the museum is half closed and would really love to spend an entire day there and really soak it all in!

  • I live in Portland and go to the Portland Art Museum regularly. So, because of Grace’s suggestion, I’d love to give the Museum of Contemporary Craft a try!

  • As a retiree in Manhattan, I have had the privelege of going to museums and galleries all over the city and surrounding areas. And I’m enclosing a link to the Smithsonian National Museum Day, which happens every spring. Many museums all over the country participate for free entry. You only need to sign up and print out the forms. The 2013 hasn’t been set up yet, but here is the link ===> http://www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/ticket/

    Happy museum going, wherever you are! Oh, and I would love two tickets for the Tretyakov Museum in Russia…lol!

  • I am going to second the other Twin Cities commenters on the Science Museum of Minnesota, it is definitely a great museum and one of the more expensive ones to visit. I always learn something new at the Science Museum!

  • This is such a fun thread, I love to see where everyone’s from. SO many entries for the Minnesota Museum of Science! That sounds really cool.

    I second the “be nice to Gallery Attendants” comment left by GA. Some people’s jobs are more difficult than you think.

    One more thing – if anyone is in Pittsburgh, go to the Mattress Factory Museum in the North Side, it’s the only installation museum in the country and it’s AWESOME

  • I’ve actually been meaning to get to the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. There is a Georges Roualt exhibition as well as some prints about constellations and an installation of art based on natural objects!

  • If I could visit a museum it would definitely be the Indianapolis Children’s Museum with my boyfriend. I have not gotten to go yet even though I go to school an hour away, and as I will be starting my masters in museum studies next year I want to go to every museum that I can! It’s the world’s largest children’s museum with enormous dinosaurs and a whole exhibit about underwater archaeology, it would be an amazing place to visit.

  • This is a great article (bonus for the giveaway!). There are so many museums across the country on my list… but I’d have to say #1 is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Between the exhibits, the rooftop and the partnership it has with the Cloisters it has been on my list of spots to visit for the 6 years I’ve lived in NYC and I just haven’t gotten there yet.

  • I have always wanted to go to Wright’s -Fallingwater down in PA, but since I reside in NYC, it is a very far excursion! However, a close second would be Johnson’s-Glass House. I hope they won’t throw stones at me for saying that. It is much closer, and I think it would be just as much fun as my first choice. Also, I understand that there are many homes around that area worth seeing, although not museums. My idea of paradise all the way around. Here’s hoping you hit me up with tickets.

  • I live in NYC, and I would really love to take my boyfriend to the Natural History Museum to see the exhibit on “Our Global Kitchen:Food, Nature, Culture.” Food — cooking, sharing, eating — is such a shared human experience, and it’s one of my favorite ways to spend time with people. I’ve been writing a bit about this topic on my blog, and I would love to learn more about how food intersects with culture and history in other parts of the world.

  • I have always wanted to go to the Winchester Mystery House. It’s in San Jose, an hour south of me. The idea of it is super creepy, but also I have read about the beautiful woodwork and stained glass. I love museums that are sort of biographical- a little view into one person’s life.

  • The Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane, WA is where I have wanted to go since I moved to the Inland Northwest 8 1/2 years ago. This is my year of getting off the couch, new adventures and a start of new life.

  • What a well-timed post for me. I’m going to the Boston MFA tomorrow, the first time in 2013. I went 4 or 5 times last year and though the main collection is rather static, the changing exhibits are dynamic, modern and sometimes even mind-blowing. I am lucky to have museums near me like the Isabella Gardner Museum, as interesting for its collection as for the building itself. What gorgeous architecture! But if given my choice, I’d try someplace new – the Harvard Museum of Natural History. It’s an experience I have planned for this year, but I’d love it to be sponsored by my favorite site!

  • I would love to go to MOMA in San Francisco. Of course, since I live in Hawaii, this would require me getting on a plane, staying in San Francisco, eating fantastic food, etc. So yes, I would love to go to MOMA in San Francisco! (Planning to go to SF anyway)

  • I love the newest museum in the USA…Crystal Bridges in Bentonville Arkansas. It is American art and the collection is crazy good.

  • Oooh, museums. My mom and I are planning a trip to NYC soon and our entire itinerary is filled with museums and places to eat! We will be visiting the “classics” of course, but I think I’m most excited to visit the Neue Galeria. While the collection might be a bit more limited in scope, I think it’ll be a really interesting visit–especially the decorative arts (since they sometimes seem a little under-respresented in museums). Plus, I’ve heard their cafes have pretty good eats!

  • I’d love to go to the SF MOMA! I just moved up to the Bay a few months ago and have been wanting to go so badly! I’d love to bring a friend too! I loved getting lost in the art and history in museums. I feel like it would be the best introduction to my new home!

  • I am not sure I can beat out the commenter who wants to go to the Museum of Math – I mean, who wouldn’t LEAP at the chance to be one of the first at that new museum.

    I love museums and go as often as I can. I love making notes and lists of favorite pieces. Afterward, I indulge in a coffee or tea at the overpriced café and savor what I’ve seen and felt. Then, a quick exit through the gift shop is required to add to my postcard collection.

    Recent favorite was the Edward Hopper show at the Grand Palais in Paris. It was such a treat to see his entire life’s work laid out like that.

    I’d like to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit here a the Denver Art Museum. She’s one of the most inspiring artists ever.

  • I would love to visit the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC with my art teacher friend — we made it to the gift shop once right before closing, and it was amazing. (I hope that’s not the best part!)

  • my sons have been dying to visit the met and look at the antiquities. as young teenagers, i love their interest in history and want to encourage it. we are definitely going this spring!

  • this is awesome.. although, carrying watercolor with you to a museum is tricky, as you’ll need water and paper towels and a blank strip of paper to test the color palette. I’m not sure of how the museum feels about that. usually they just let people sketch.

  • My favorite book forever as a kid was “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Although I grew up in the Bay Area in the 70s, and Francie grew up in Brooklyn early in the century, I so identified with her experience: Irish American, child of immigrants, economic hardship, complicated–but loving–family relationships. So of course I have always, always wanted to visit the Tenement Museum. I assumed as a kid that it embodies the “Tree Grows in Brooklyn” experience; like walking through it would be like walking through my favorite book. I have since given the book to my daughter, who loves it as much as I do, which goes to show you that a good book is a good book, no matter what your experience. Anyway…that’s the museum I dream of visiting. Thanks for including the Tenement Museum in your list, and thanks for this great post!

  • Living close enough to NYC I feel foolish having not seen every museum in the city and it’s surrounds. Recently I was made aware of the Tenement Museum and that will be my next stop. After reading Pete Hamill’s book “Forever” years ago I have been fascinated with the history of NYC but I don’t know the city well enough to just launch out on my own discovery tour! A destination helps focus my visit…and this museum will definitely help me understand more of times, the people and their lives and how they shaped the future.

  • I’ve never been to the Musical Instrument Museum (called MIM, such a cool nickname) but I’ve been dreaming of going. They have a great reputation, people who visit always say “You HAVE to go!”. I love music and it’s history and know I will love the interactive exhibits this museum is famous for. Great post, I am going to review the museums here to see if there are any others I’ve missed.

  • I would really love to take my partner to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. They are doing a big exhibit on food and culture right now, and he is a cook– so it would be perfect. I had wanted to take him there for his birthday but I was a bit too broke.

  • I’ve been really wanting to go to the Tenement Museum in NYC with my boyfriend Eli. Eli is Jewish and his mother is originally from New York. While she did not grow up in the Lower East Side, the LES remains to her (and him) such an emblem of Jewish-American history and struggle. I am Puerto Rican and the LES is also an emblem of Puerto Rican history and the struggles my forebears went through in search of opportunities and a better way of life for the following generations. If we won tickets to the Tenement Museum, the trip would turn into a day of celebrating and honoring both of our cultures and histories. After the tour, we would get a meal at one of the delicious Puerto Rican restaurants that remain in the area, followed by dried fruit and treats from Russ & Daughters, plus a portion of their delicious whitefish and smoked salmon salad to-go, to have on toast (rye, of course) for breakfast the rest of the week. It’s not often that Jewish and Puerto Rican culture meet, but this would be one of those cases (as in our relationship) where they complement each other in meaningful ways.

  • My “local” museum is OMA in Central Florida & I try to visit at least once a year. I think I’m a little behind in that goal. Thank you for the reminder. We also have a folk museum in the area that I need to visit soon.

  • I would love to visit the San Diego Museum of Man’s Instruments of Torture Exhibition. It is supposed to be a thought provoking exhibit with pieces visiting from a museum in Italy. Going along with the theme of the exhibit, it provides examples of aspects of the US post 9/11.

    Most people who go to museums (myself included in many cases) go to say they went rather than going to learn and be enriched. My boyfriend and I are trying to slowly change that through a company we’re starting. I’m pinning your post to share because it’s a great for anyone going to a museum. Keep up the good work!

  • YIkes, this is tough! We live in DC, so I’ve been wanting to check out the National Buildling Museum for a while, though I’ve also been wanting to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Arlington.

  • I love all my local museums! The one I am currently really wanting to visit is the California Science Center because the Space Shuttle is there! I never wanted to be an astronaut, but for some reason the shuttle FASCINATES me! When it flew here and then was driven through the streets I couldn’t stop looking at all the coverage…it is just so amazing to think that it was once zooming around in space!

  • I love the Portland Art Museum here in Portland, OR. I would take MAX from the medical building where my ex-husband was sleeping through his chemo infusion and lose myself in the beauty and quiet of the space. That museum was the best medicine for me during a difficult time.

  • The Sarasota Museum of Art. We’ve just moved, and are yearning for an artistic connection to our new home city. Walking in a museum, taking time to really LOOK and FEEL and get a sense of what artifacts are unique to your place and time, makes me feel grounded. I am searching for art, and would love to get to the museum!!!

  • Umm I don’t know what museum would let you bring watercolors into the galleries?!! Our museum is pencil on paper only around the art, for good reason!

    • AHG

      I’ve seen people (not in any special group) using them in galleries and museums in NYC, SF and DC. I don’t think it’s prohibited everywhere, you just need to ask and find if places offer special times/rooms to paint in.

      For example, this is the Brooklyn Museum’s policy: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/faq.php

      You just need to ask for permission or a permit sometimes :)


  • I love this concept! Great job!
    But FYI despite what they lead you to believe you DO NOT have to pay to go to the Met. Their fee is “recommended,” but it is in their founding charter that they cannot require anyone to pay admission. Though it is nice to pay the full amount, don’t let it stop you if you can’t afford it.

  • If you live anywhere in the midwest you must make a road trip to visit St. Louis’s City Museum. We make the 5 hour drive at least once a year. The City Museum is an eclectic experience, reminiscent of a sideshow or steam-punk amusement park, hands-on, like no other museum. Crafted by eccentric artists, the museum is built from reclaimed materials, like airplanes & school buses. Its wacky, interactive, inspiring and one of a kind. Includes multi-story slides, caves, climbing tunnels, mini train, tiny circus, odd aquariums, bar and ice cream parlor, etc.


  • There are many museums I’d love to see, all over the world, but close to home, I’d like go to the Tacoma Art Museum. Currently, I believe they have a Warhol exhibit, but it’s always an interesting place to visit, I support the local community & I don’t have to travel very far to get there, so it’s perfect, all the way around!

  • You’ve inspired me !!! We used to live in dc and spent countless days in all the treasures there. It was always an adventure…bringing the girls to the open sketching days at the Corcoran, discovering something new to eat at the Native American museum, the silent sadness of the holocaust memorial…..so much. And now we live in the land of chain restaurants and castles of entertainment not culture….but you made me realize I just need to look a little closer, and a bit harder to find the essence of the story here. So yes, we need ” to get out” and do just that….not sure what we will find but that’s the adventure for sure …. with appreciation.

  • If anyone is in Boston, please come visit Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. We have an enormous art collection showcased in a 15th century Venetian inspired palace with a 4-story indoor courtyard. The collection never changes and it takes you into the world of Mrs. Gardner’s travels, friendships with artists and writers, and her own style of collage mixing furniture with paintings, fabrics, and objects.

  • Ooooh, I love the Natural History Museum or the Frick, but I’d probably choose the Guggenheim because I’ve never visited there before.

  • I would love to bring my 4-year-old daughter to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, because it’s small enough that she won’t be overwhelmed, but full of such beautiful and varied art that she’ll still be impressed. Plus I think she’d be amazed that it was once somebody’s house!

  • How about the Getty Museum in LA …. so we can see the Special Installation at the Getty Center Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter | February 16–March 31
    We will buy plane tickets from Colorado!

  • Would love to visit the Tenement Museum. I live in NYC and have wanted to go there so many times, but so far have only done some major browsing in their bookstore.

  • My husband & I would love to visit the fernbank museum in Atlanta. We recently got married and as every one told us the first year of marriage is tough. We are always working and saving money to start our new life together which I appreciate but we rarely have a date night (or day) any more. It would be amazing to go see the new exhibits at the fernbank with my husband and have a relaxing date with him.

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