Professional Learning

A Must-Read Guide for Artistic Summer Vacations

Summer is a great time to refresh, renew, and relax. For a lot of us, that is accomplished with 2 things: art and travel. We decided to ask a few art teachers from around the country the best places to visit if you’re in their areas. However, we’re not talking about the  MoMA or the Art Institute here.

We’re looking for unique, creative places that you may not know about but that are still worth the drive. Whether you’re traveling to the West, Midwest, South, or East Coast, we’ve got you covered.

Read on for the AOEU’s Guide to Artistic Summer Vacations.

summer vacation

Southern California

Don Masse (@shinebrite71), Shine Brite Zamorano blog

One of the places the family and I love out here is Queen Califia’s Circle up in Escondido. It’s an outdoor sculpture area created by Niki de Saint Phalle. Wonderful multimedia mosaics cover every surface in the circle, and there are so many textures and colors to get caught up in. Due to vandalism and poor city maintenance, the hours have been limited. So, if you are interested in going, make sure to plan ahead to see if it’s open to the public.


After visiting the Circle, head on over to Lux Art Institute in Encinitas. Lux is a museum that hosts artist residencies throughout the year. Visitors get to see an artist’s work AND have the opportunity to engage with that artist as they work in the studio. It’s a wonderful chance to see the creative process of an artist.

One of the other local treats is the architecture and setting of the Salk Institute at UCSD. The buildings were designed by Louis I. Kahn in the 1960s, with interesting modern architecture overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I love the angles, lines, and materials of the buildings. There are great shadows for photos in the morning or late afternoon, too. If you are ever there for the spring equinox, the sun sets at a very cool architectural feature.

While you are up at UCSD, they have an amazing permanent collection of sculptures around the campus, including Tim Hawkinson’s giant stone bear and Do Ho Suh’s suspended house. The Geisel Library (named after Dr. Seuss) is also a treat for the eyes. One more building to see while there is at the bottom of the cliffs where the Pacific meets Cali. You can access the beach by parking off Salk Canyon Road and walking down a steep, winding paved path. Skateboarders can often be seen going down the hill here. It’s pretty cool. When you get down to the beach, head south and you’ll see an elevated round building at the water’s edge. It’s called Bell’s Pavilion. You can’t go inside, but it is a pretty rad building to check out up close, especially in the late afternoon sun. Bring a blanket, pack a lunch, and watch the locals ride some waves.

Denver, Colorado

Andrea Slusarski (@miss_SLU), The Nerdy Art Teacher Blog

If you happen to be visiting Denver during the first weekend of the month, you’re in luck. The Sante Fe Arts District and the RiNo Arts District are open for First Fridays and have tons of art, craft beer, and Colorado culture all over. Then on Saturdays, the Denver Art Museum has free admission for everyone! In fact, it is also free for anyone under 18 at all times. It’s honestly the best collection of Western American Art I’ve ever seen.


Denver has a bunch of little art museums as well like the Clyfford Still and Kirkland Museum. The Cherry Creek Arts Festival during the beginning of July is also a fun weekend hit.

Other than that, bring a sketchbook and go outside. It’s where Colorado is the best! There are so many day hikes around Denver that are great for drawing and connecting with nature.

Madison, Wisconsin

Amanda Heyn, Editor, The Art of Ed

Madison has two absolutely beautiful art museums that are free to the public. (Yes, FREE!)


The Chazen Museum of Art

Besides having one my favorite logos of all time, the Chazen is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. Recently doubled in size through a generous donation, The Chazen is a comprehensive look at art throughout the ages. From ancient Indian sculptures to Andy Warhol, the Chazen has it all. Start here and wander all the way down State Street to the next spot on the list, stopping at fantastic shops, restaurants, and a few galleries along the way.

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

The MMoCA is a beautiful space that spans three floors connected by an enchanting glass staircase. When visiting, don’t forget about the lesser-known Rooftop Sculpture Garden, including the Rooftop Cinema which runs select dates in June. While you’re there, you can also wander into the adjacent Overture Center for the Arts, which has three smaller galleries to explore as well. Hit up the gift shop for unexpected finds by local artists as well as a great selection of art books for children and adults. Across the street, Anthology and Little Luxuries also offer inspiring artistic finds.

Off the beaten path, try Olbrich Botanical Gardens which features one of four traditional Thai pavilions outside of Thailand. Or, head to the Madison Children’s Museum to see the work of countless Wisconsin artists. Finally, if you’re up for an adventure, try Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron. Wisconsin is home to a huge collection of outsider art, with the crowning jewel being this wildly creative sculpture park located 45 minutes outside of Madison. Visiting is a bit of a “trip” in more ways than one. Be sure to check the hours before you embark!


Nashville, Tennessee

Ted Edinger (@ArtWithMrE), Art with Mr. E Blog

The Parthenon is a must see in “The Athens of the South.”  The full-scale replica of the original houses amazing sculptures, a beautiful permanent collection, and a great space for traveling shows. It is situated in the middle of Centennial Park, which is the site of many outdoor craft fairs, plays, and other cultural activities.


The Frist Center has been an art powerhouse since it opened in 2001. The former post office has featured breathtaking exhibitions, partnered with schools throughout the Middle TN area and beyond and provides quality art opportunities for young people!  In the heart of Nashville, it is a must see for anyone visiting our city.

Newark, New Jersey

Rachel Wintemberg, The Helpful Art Teacher blog

Interested in a large museum filled with 80 galleries and a beautiful gift shop, surrounded by fun restaurants in the arts district of a bustling college town, just a short train ride away from New York City? Go to Penn Station, hop on the Midtown Direct and get off at Newark Broad Street. Just a five-minute walk away is the Newark Museum, the largest art museum in New Jersey. This cosmopolitan neighborhood is bustling with bistros, coffee shops and university students from nearby Rutgers and NJIT. In the summer, weekly Jazz concerts play in the garden.

Collections of Note

The Asian collection: The Newark Museum has many exquisite Asian works of art, including the most comprehensive collection of Tibetan artifacts in the Western Hemisphere. Its centerpiece is the hand-painted Tibetan Altar which was consecrated by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.

The Ballantine House: This is an 1885 Victorian Mansion with period rooms.

American Art: This collection spans the entire history of American Art, from the Hudson River School (including Bierstadt, Moran and Church) to such pillars of modernism as Joseph Stella’s “Voice of the City of New York Interpreted,” a giant 5 panel mural of the Brooklyn Bridge.


African Art: In addition to a diverse collection of art and artifacts from the continent of Africa, the museum is also home to the nation’s first permanent African contemporary art gallery.

Just About Everywhere Else

Holly Bess Kincaid (@ArtLadyHBK), Capitol of Creativity Blog

Pittsburgh, PA: A visit to Pittsburgh will engage your artistic heart with a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, Carnegie Art Museum and the Mattress Factory Contemporary Art Center.

Texas: Houston is a great city to visit with artistic interests. Beyond the wonderful collections at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts you can visit the Art Car Museum, home to art on wheels! The Jung Center and the Menil Collection also offer inspiration and great exhibit spaces.

Virginia: Virginia is for lovers (of art)! From the early American historic presidential homes, historic sites, vineyards and the great scenic views along Skyline & BlueRidge Parkway, everyone is sure to find a way to rejuvenate their spirit. An artistic adventure could begin at the Torpedo Factory, an art studios & gallery space in Old Alexandria.

Florida: The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, for sure.

So no matter where you might be headed this summer, take some time to look at the arts centers, museums, galleries, parks and exhibits that may be nearby. It’s a great way to reconnect with the artistic part of what we do. It can also serve as inspiration for your own art! Your teaching will be sure to follow.

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What are the artistic places that inspire you?

What places from your city should be added to the list?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Timothy Bogatz

Tim Bogatz is AOEU’s Content & PD Event Manager and a former AOEU Writer and high school art educator. He focuses on creativity development, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills in the art room.

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