Childhood vacations are events that can have a huge impact on our lives, leaving us with memories that will last a lifetime. While activities such as beach holidays and visits to amusement parks are always great fun for kids and adults alike, vacations are a fantastic opportunity to show your children something new that they can’t get back at home.
By visiting cultural attractions such as museums, art galleries, battlefields, and historic sites with your children, you can give them the opportunity to explore new exciting topics and find something that could spark their interest for years to come.
The great thing about cultural attractions is that there are so many to choose from, and each city has its own unique culture to explore. You can also incorporate just one or two cultural attractions into a larger vacation, keeping things fun but allowing your kids to explore potential interests and expand their minds in the process.
When planning a cultural trip, it’s important to consider what interest your child already has. Are they creative with an artistic streak? Do they love getting lost in history? Or do science and space blow their mind? You should also consider whether the cultural attraction is age-appropriate. There are many kid-friendly museums in New York and other major cities, though picking can be more sparse in smaller locations.
The Top 50 US Cities for Culture
To help identify the best places in the United States for a cultural vacation, we’ve looked at a range of factors in 100 US cities, from the number of museums and art galleries to the number of culture-related Instagram posts. We’ve compiled this data into a single culture score to reveal the best cultural destinations in the country.
1. Palm Springs, California
Cultural Score: 9.27
Palm Springs is the top US city for culture, having earned a score of 9.27 in our study. This artistic enclave in California’s Sonoran Desert is a popular resort destination, famous for its stylish hotels, hot springs, and spas, as well as the large number of celebrities that make a home there.
While Palm Springs did not come top in any one category, the city performed well across the board, boasting a large number of cultural attractions for its relative size. The city also had the sixth-highest rate of culture-related Instagram posts per 1,000 people at 1322.26.
2. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Cultural Score: 8.99
Santa Fe is the second-best city in the US for culture, receiving a score of 8.99. The state capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe, is one of the most unique cities in the country, boasting distinctive Pueblo-style architecture and attracting artists from far and wide. One of the most prominent cultural attractions in the city, of which there are many, is the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, dedicated to the famous 20th-century American artist who drew much inspiration from the surrounding area.
Santa Fe scored particularly well when it came to the number of museums and galleries compared to its population, with a rate almost four times higher than any other city at 209.77 per 100,000 people. The city scored well for most other factors, with high numbers of religious sites, historic sites, and theatres for its size, as well as the third-highest number of culture-related Instagram posts per 1,000 people at 1800.21.
3. Annapolis, Maryland
Cultural Score: 8.43
The third best city for culture in the US is Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland. Annapolis is the first East-coast entry in our list and, as one of the oldest cities in the country, is packed with history for visitors to explore. The beautiful architecture of the historic district is popular among tourists, and the city boasts one of the country’s top waterfronts.
Annapolis scored well in most categories in our study but excelled when it came to historic sites and theatres per 1,000 people, topping both categories with rates of 22.12 and 19.66, respectively.
4. San Francisco, California
Cultural Score: 8.37
San Francisco placed fourth overall in our study of US cultural cities with a score of 8.37. This iconic West-coast location is famous for sloping streets that are a recognizable feature in many movies and movies.
Aside from being a common location in American cinema, San Francisco is famous for being an extremely liberal and bohemian city, attracting many artistic types from across the country. The city is also home to famous landmarks such as the prison island of Alcatraz and the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco had the highest US search volume for local museums and galleries, showing that people in the area are particularly interested in cultural and historical pastimes. The city also scored particularly well for monuments and statues, with the tenth-highest number per head at 7.61 per 100,000 people.
5. New Orleans, Louisiana
Cultural Score: 8.24
New Orleans is the fifth-best city for culture in the US, having earned a culture score of 8.24. This Southern city is hugely popular among tourists, particularly for Mardis Gras, during which New Orleans becomes alive with almost non-stop partying and celebrations. Aside from the joys of carnival, New Orleans is famous for its beautiful colonial architecture, signature Creole cuisine, and many museums and art galleries, including the excellent New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).
New Orleans scored the second-best for monuments and statues out of all 100 cities in our study, with 22.55 per 100,000 people. Visiting historical monuments and statues is a great way of incorporating history and culture into a day of exploring any city, requiring much less time and attention from your kids. Some of the most popular statues and monuments in New Orleans are the Hurrican Katrina Monument, the golden statue of Joan of Arc, and the Monument to the Immigrant, which overlooks the Mississippi River.
6. Charleston, South Carolina
Cultural Score: 8.02
Charleston, the largest city in South Carolina, had the sixth-highest culture score of 8.02. Charleston was named after the King Charles II of England and has a long history dating back to 1670, the year it was founded. The city played an important role in the American Civil War, attracting many historical tourists each year.
Charleston performed best in the historical sites category, with the second-highest score of 18.47 sites per 100,000 people. Possibly the most prominent historical site in the city is Fort Sumter, a sea fort built on an artificial island that guards the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Fort Sumter was the site of the first battle of the American Civil War in April 1861 and is now open to the public and maintained by the National Parks Authority.
7. Portland, Maine
Cultural Score: 7.98
Portland is the most populous city in Maine and the seventh-best cultural hotspot in the country, with a culture score of 7.98. Portland is a popular city among artists, partly because of the high number of art schools and residents in the area and in Maine in general. The city is home to a number of highly-regarded art galleries, including the Portland Museum of Art and the Elizabeth Leach Gallery, which specializes in contemporary art.
While Portland is well known for its artistic community, the city scored best for the number of nearby parks and gardens, with the highest score of 26.35 per 100,000 people. Parks and gardens can be an excellent way of including another element that could spark your child’s interest, especially those with interesting design features and exotic plants. Some popular Portland parks and gardens include the Hoyt Arboretum, the Lan Su Chinese Garden, and the Leach Botanical Garden.
8. Boston, Massachusetts
Cultural Score: 7.89
Boston, the largest city and state capital of Massachusetts, is the eighth-best city in the US for culture, with an overall score of 7.89. Boston played a leading role in the American War of Independence, with the Boston Tea Party lighting the spark of revolution and the nearby battles of Lexington and Concord being the first conflicts of the war.
Boston scored well across the board but wasn’t the highest scorer in any one category. The city is home to a thriving art scene, with the Institute of Contemporary Art being the most prominent local arts institution. The city also boasts impressive colonial architecture and many sites of historical significance, such as the Bunker Hill Monument, Faneuil Hall, and the Freedom Trail, which connects many such sites in a walking tour of Boston’s revolutionary history.
9. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Cultural Score: 7.66
Pittsburgh is the ninth-best city for culture in the US, with a culture score of 7.66. Pittsburgh is well known for its industrial past, earning it the nickname “Steel City”, as well as for the 446 bridges that dot the city.
Also known as the “City of Bridges”, Pittsburgh is home to many museums, galleries, and cultural attractions. These include the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, among which you can find museums dedicated to art, natural history, and science, as well as the Andy Warhol Museum, which is dedicated to works produced by the world-famous Pittsburgh native.
10. Washington, D.C.
Cultural Score: 7.49
In tenth place, with a culture score of 7.49, is Washington D.C. The nation’s capital is the tenth-best cultural city in the country and is home to a huge number of museums and monuments, many of which specifically focus on the history of the United States. Sites such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial are all must-see sights for American history enthusiasts.
If you’re visiting Washington as a family, there are plenty of museums and cultural attractions to cater to a wide range of interests. The White House and the Capitol Building are both highly popular among tourists, while the Smithsonian Museum complex includes the National Space and Air Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Zoo, to name but a few.
We wanted to identify the best cities in the US for culture, with a family vacation in mind. We created a list of 100 US cities, using articles from sites such as The Culture Trip and American Sky as inspiration, as well as including all 50 state capitals and the most populated cities in the country.
For each city, we visited the “Things to do” page on Tripadvisor and filtered to the relevant categories, recording the total number of results. These results were then compared to population data acquired from the United States Census Bureau website, using the most recent figures for 2021. A rate per 100,000 people for each of these categories was calculated.
We also used Google Keyword Planner to collect US search data showing the total number of searches for museums and art galleries for each city in 2022. The keywords used were structured as [City Name] & “museums” and “art galleries”. This data revealed the US cities in which most people were looking to find museums and art galleries to visit.
The final factor we considered was the number of culture-related posts there were on Instagram for each city. As we could not hope to account for all culture-related hashtags, we selected 8 hashtags that would cover the topics of art, museums, and culture. The total number of posts for all 8 hashtags in each city was compared to the population data to calculate the number of posts per 1,000 people.
All these factors were then combined into a single, equally-weighted score out of 10, revealing the best cities for culture in the US.