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A museum guide to iconic exhibits

Most museums strive to have collections wide enough to please a variety of audiences as well as new exhibits to keep old visitors coming back. But sometimes a signature permanent exhibit is so good that it’s worth the price of admission all on its own.

Here are five famed exhibits for your group to enjoy as you visit America’s museums.


Egyptian Art Department

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art rambles down New York’s Fifth Avenue for six blocks, and the Egyptian art draws you in before you even enter the museum as the first-century B.C. Temple of Dendur peeks out from floor-to-ceiling windows.

The museum ran its own archaeological expeditions in Egypt for 35 years, beginning in 1906, and nearly half the pieces come from those original explorations. Nearly every piece in the 26,000-item collection is on view in 39 rooms that explore Egyptian culture from prehistoric times through Roman rule.

Through June 8, a special exhibit focuses on “Cleopatra’s Needle,” on display in Central Park behind the museum, and the meaning of obelisks in Egyptian culture. Guided tours, with one museum lecturer for 30 guests, must be booked no less than two weeks in advance.

Home: Native People in the Southwest

Heard Museum


Since 1929, the Heard Museum has served as one of the world’s foremost institutions on Native American culture and art. While cultural history exhibits typically teach visitors how a certain group lives, this exhibit takes that notion to a more emotional place, exploring how the meaning of home relates to culture.

Over the five years spent creating the exhibit, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with native peoples in Arizona and New Mexico to discover everything, from the activities and foods to the smells, associated with home.

Segments from more than 50 of the interviews play on touch screens as part of the exhibit; they include demonstrations of native crafts such as carving and jewelrymaking.

Groups can take tours focused on the exhibit and can arrange to have lunch at the conclusion of the tour. All bookings require at least two weeks notice.

Granger Hall of Gems

Field Museum


Rooted in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the gems at the Field Museum in Chicago, including world-famous stones like the cantaloupe-size Chalmers Topaz, were long arranged according to economic significance.

Since 2009, the gems have opened their secrets to visitors through a new didactic setup that takes a scientific as well as cultural approach, like a gem genealogical tree.

Gems with the same or similar chemical structure are grouped to show how tiny natural variations produce widely different gems. Sapphires come in yellow or green, but never red, because red sapphires are rubies.

The museum has created many of the settings on display in the exhibit, and visitors can purchase their own copies in the gift shop. The Field Museum offers “field to table” seated or box lunches for groups.

Getty Villa

J. Paul Getty Museum

Malibu, California

J. Paul Getty’s years of business travel in Europe so enamored him with ancient marble statuary that he went on to build a classical antiquity collection that quickly outgrew his main museum.

Perched in the hills of Los Angeles, in a location not unlike the Roman villa on the Bay of Naples that it emulates, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Getty Villa focuses on the art of ancient Greece and Rome, primarily sculpture, such as marbles from the Athenian Parthenon.

Getty appreciated objects with a history, so many pieces in the collection have greater historical significance. The “Mazarin Venus” was instrumental in the Renaissance study of ancient art.

Groups of 15 or more must reserve at least four weeks in advance. Lunch in the Getty Villa Café or as a picnic in the outdoor classical theater may be arranged in advance.

Presidential Gallery

Booth Western Art Museum

Cartersville, Georgia

Affiliated with the Smithsonian, the 120,000-square-foot Booth Western Art Museum is the largest Western art institution in the United States, but one of its best-known features is more national in scope.

The Presidential Gallery explores the human sides of the 43 men who have led our country through wars, peace, industrialization and cultural revolutions. Each president is immortalized in a portrait, many by photographer Yousuf Karsh, whose work also graces the walls of the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Signed letters by each president are curated to show the personality of each figure as he was with his closest acquaintances, from family members to political friends and foes.

Group rates include a private docent and must be booked in advance.

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.