In culture-rich Minnesota, it's quite the challenge to narrow down a list of the 10 best museums in the state. World-famous venues like the Russian Art Museum in Minneapolis, the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, and the Marine Art Museum in Winona are a few fascinating museums that didn't make the list, further illustrating how difficult it is to choose just 10.
From modern masterpieces, to towering Tyrannosaurus, to man-made marvels, the 10 best museums in Minnesota have much to offer everyone.
The state's most complete art museum is the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Renowned for its Chinese collection, MIA offers a perspective on the breadth of art from prehistoric carvings to the latest in contemporary media. The museum's vast holdings include works by Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Magritte, Picasso and many others. Touring collections and special exhibitions are often in residence at the museum. If you're an art lover visiting the Twin Cities, MIA is not to be missed.
A couple hours north and west of Duluth, just south of Ely and within the boundaries of Minnesota's newest state park, the Soudan Underground Mine is a testament to human determination, particularly when it comes to extracting natural resources. A tour of the mine, one of the deepest in the country, reveals not only the history of iron ore mining in Minnesota but also some of the cutting-edge physics research being done today, almost half a mile beneath the Earth's surface. The University of Minnesota, along with the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a handful of other organizations, runs a high energy physics lab. Tours of the mine and the labs are available for those who want to scratch their history and science itches at the same time.
Tucked into a bend in the Mississippi, the Science Museum of Minnesota is a riverfront homage to science that will wow adults and children, alike. With permanent installations that range from weather experiments to full-scale dinosaur skeletons to a trading post, where you can swap your own artifacts with others. A river-view mini-golf course offers summer entertainment, while the Omnitheater boasts a thrilling, large-scale film experience year-round. Touring exhibits, such as artifacts from the Titanic, NASA space expeditions and the Star Wars films regularly make their way through this museum.
Located on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus, the Bell Museum of Natural History is as much an historic relic, itself, as it is a museum. Filled with taxidermy dioramas representing the state's flora and fauna, the Bell is the kind of museum that your parents and grandparents grew up with. Even so, the Bell offers hands-on experiences and interactive opportunities with naturalists and interpreters that bring its collections to life. The experience of seeing a museum that belongs in an exhibit on the history of museums makes visiting the Bell even more fun. But go there now! On Dec. 31, the museum is closing and reopening on the St. Paul campus in 2018.
Once a working beacon and now a museum operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior is, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States. Visitors to the site can tour the light keeper's house, other outbuildings and climb the steps of the lighthouse itself. On certain days of the year, including an annual commemoration of the sinking of lake boat Edmund Fitzgerald, the beacon is lit. The lighthouse site also offers an interpretive center and is surrounded by one of the North Shore's most scenic state parks.
The Walker Art Center and its adjacent Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, is a world-renowned museum of modern and contemporary art. The Walker is home to a rich collection of modern art that encompasses not only a retrospective of 20th and 21st century artists but often showcases new art in real-time by featuring performance pieces and video installations. Visitors to Minneapolis will likely recognize Oldenburg's outsized sculpture, Spoonbridge and Cherry, which has become an iconic symbol of the Minneapolis skyline, in the Walker's sculpture garden.
The Canal Park area of Duluth is a garden of delights for lovers of water and transportation. Home to one of the country's largest counter-weighted lift bridges, Canal Park and its museums showcase the engineering marvels that make the Great Lakes commercially viable. From a skyscraper-length, decommissioned lake boat that used to haul iron ore on the Great Lakes, the William A. Irvin to the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, a joint effort of the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the museums in the Canal Park area offer a complete picture of the transportation and industry on the Great Lakes. A daily schedule of ship arrivals and departures is displayed on screens at the visitor center. The Lake Superior Rail Museum, which houses full-sized locomotives, and the Great Lakes Aquarium are also located within easy walking distance of Canal Park. These attractions round out the full view of Duluth's industrial history, offering perspectives on the railways that brought goods to the harbor and on the nature of Lake Superior, itself.
For history buffs and those wishing to explore the depths of Minnesota's rich past, there is no better place than the Minnesota History Center in downtown St. Paul. The Center boasts a deep collection of artifacts and displays that detail life in Minnesota, not just from past to present, but also from culture to culture. The museum's library offers archival documents that include primary sources on historic events, as well as well-known Minnesotans like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Special exhibits on subjects ranging from local sports history to Minnesota's "Greatest Generation" cycle through the center on a consistent basis.
Two facilities in Ely, gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, are dedicated to protecting and educating the public about Minnesota's top natural predators. The International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center offer interactive exhibits, programs and activities, as well as resident bears and wolves that live in carefully constructed habitats adjacent to the facilities. Through outreach and education these centers help to ensure the public knows how important wolves and bears are to Minnesota's ecosystems.
Named for the founder of Minnesota-based biomed giant, Medtronic, the Bakken Museum, explores the exceedingly practical but immensely fun world of electricity and magnetism. The former mansion is located on Lake Calhoun's southwest shore in Minneapolis and features hands-on exhibits that demonstrate the power of static electricity and the uses, big and small, of electromagnetism in the world today. Earl Bakken, the museum's founder and namesake, notably invented the first wearable pacemaker powered solely by a battery, so his expertise in the subject matter is pretty solid.