Whenever I travel with my family, we make sure to visit one or two museums. Whether it’s small, historic homes in colonial-era towns or grand testaments to architecture housing some of the finest art in the world, museums are as much part of how we travel as are dining, lodging or the weather.
Apparently, we are not alone in being fans of museums. According to the American Alliance of Museums, U.S. museums contributed $50 billion to the economy and generated approximately 850 million visitors in 2019. FYI: The three most-visited museums in the United States that year were the National Air & Space Museum in D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Museum of Natural History in D.C.
Whether you’re looking for a day trip or a weekend getaway this fall, here are four recommendations for museum-inspired travel all within a day’s drive (or less) of Lancaster County.
Taubman Museum of Art
- Address: 110 Salem Ave. SE, Roanoke, VA
- Drive: 331 miles, 5.25 hours
- Web: taubmanmuseum.org
- On the way, stop here: Spelunker’s Burgers & Frozen Custard (116 South St., Front Royal, VA). We always (and I mean always) stop for a Cavern Burger on a trip through western Virginia. Front Royal is a good stopping point heading to or from Lancaster County.
Tucked away in plain sight in downtown Roanoke, the Taubman Museum of Art (recognized by its 77-foot glass peak atrium) is one of the finest small-city museums on the East Coast. This collection of American art is interspersed with fantastic traveling curations of world art. From tech-couture fashion to the photography of Ansel Adams, the museum’s changing exhibits highlight the best of the subjects they represent. During our visit we experienced the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation’s POP Power: From Warhol to Koons exhibit and were delighted to be up close and personal with work from Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Takashi Murakami and Keith Haring.
The Taubman’s permanent collection showcases art from realist Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins, portraitist John Singer Sargent, mixed-media artist Purvis Young, sculptor Petah Coyne and composer turned visual artist John Cage. The museum is easy to visit in one day, leaving time for the many other activities around Virginia’s Blue Ridge region.
World of Little League Museum
- Address: 525 U.S.-15, South Williamsport, PA
- Drive: 121 miles, 2.5 hours
- Web: littleleague.org/world-of-little-league
- On the way, stop here: Red Rabbit Drive-In (60 Benvenue Rd., Duncannon, PA). This American icon for burgers, ice cream and nostalgia is either closed or super busy; park if you can find a spot and enjoy the curbside service!
The word “world” is essential when describing the World of Little League Museum. Visitors cannot help but realize baseball is an international language, where strikes and balls mean the same thing from Salunga to Singapore. The museum, located within walking distance from the Little League World Series’ Howard J. Lamade Stadium, underwent a massive re-envisioning prior to 2020 and plans to reopen this fall.
The walk through Little League baseball history is highly interactive and keeps the attention of visitors of all ages. Traditionalists will love seeing Babe Ruth’s uniform from his 1934 tour of Japan and kids will love keeping up with interactive exhibits showcasing infield and baserunning skills.
The museum is self-guided and takes an hour or two depending on the level of participation and interest. Tours can be scheduled for groups of 20 or more fans.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
- Address: 200 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd., Richmond, VA
- Drive: 230 miles, 5 hours
- Web: vmfa.museum
- On the way, stop here: Occoquan, VA (10 miles south of I-495 Capital Beltway on I-95). This 18th-century riverside mill town is a step back in time and is filled with historic buildings housing more than 100 art galleries, shops and restaurants.
American writer Peter De Vries once said, “Murals in restaurants are on a par with the food in museums.” Unfortunately, De Vries was gone from the world before he had a chance to visit modern-day Richmond, with its collection of impressive and inspiring murals and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This world-caliber museum’s collection spans fine art through the centuries, from pre-dynastic Egyptian sculpture to modern photography of historic importance. The layout is a bit of a maze but we found helpful guides stationed throughout the wings, concourses and levels.
My personal highlight was seeing Salvador Dali’s The God of the Bay of Roses; I would have spent the entire day in awe of this masterpiece but the collection of French Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture, the largest public collection of Fabergé and Russian decorative arts in an American museum, and European Baroque and Renaissance paintings beckoned us to continue. As a bonus, the museum is home to Amuse, where we could relax with some cocktails, beers and impressive fine dining and discuss what we had just experienced.
- Address: 2008-2010 Delancey Pl., Philadelphia, PA
- Drive: 80 miles, 2 hours
- Web: rosenbach.org
- Afterward, stop here: Locust Rendezvous (1415 Locust St., Philadelphia). Grab a post-museum drink at this welcoming “no theme required” neighborhood watering hole, which attracts an eclectic mix of theatergoers, students, suits, construction workers and restaurant industry types.
Unless you know what you are looking for, this bibliophile’s dream museum near Rittenhouse Square would otherwise go unnoticed. Inside, the rowhome museum houses the collections of brothers Philip and Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach. The collections include rare books, manuscripts, furniture, paintings and sculpture. Standouts – in my opinion – among the thousands of priceless items include notes and outlines for Bram Stoker’s Dracula; a rare first edition of Don Quixote and documents in Miguel de Cervantes’ hand; and the largest surviving portions of the manuscripts for Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby. On a personal note, the museum has first-edition copies of novels by Thomas Hardy, which like many other classic items, are on display by appointment only and are freely accessed for research.
June 16 is Bloomsday, the day fans around the world celebrate James Joyce’s Ulysses. Since it holds a rare, handwritten manuscript of the epic, The Rosenbach celebrates every year with a festival normally held on Delancey Place.