Cultural Cool: Regional Museums Make Great Summer Day Trips
New England summers can get hot, really hot. Though the movie theater and the local swimming hole are always welcome alternatives to the heat, you could visit some of the region’s unique museums, most within an hour or two of the Merrimack Valley. In addition to finding relief from the sun, you’ll refresh your spirit and breathe in some nice AC — American Culture (and cultures beyond!). Our must-see list ranges from the classic, yet family-friendly, Fitchburg Art Museum to the wildly fun Higgins Armory Museum, where you can learn all about the art of knightly swordplay. By the time you’ve toured all of these museums, you’ll feel (and be) a lot cooler.
Emily Dickinson Museum
Death might have “kindly stopped” for Emily, but her legacy’s alive on the enchanting grounds of the Homestead, where the famous poet was born and lived much of her life. Visitors can tour the entire 3-acre complex. Walk the sites at your leisure accompanied by the $6 audio tour, “Grounds of Memory,” or choose from one of the guided tours that range from $8 to $10 for adults, with discounted rates for students, youths and seniors. Children under 6 are free. The Tour Center is always free.
The town of Concord has played a special role in our nation’s history, inspiring the likes of Henry David Thoreau and serving as the birthplace of the Revolutionary War. You might find yourself asking, “Why Concord?” The museum has a gallery devoted to answering that exact question. Adult admission is $10, seniors and students age 18+ with a valid ID visit for $8, children over 5 are $5. Children 5 and under and active military with valid ID are free.
Fitchburg Art Museum
North-central Massachusetts’ “most treasured cultural institution” is a place where you can enjoy and mingle with world cultures and art history in a comfortable, accessible setting. It’s family-friendly and offers a sizable art collection that spans 5,000 years and crosses cultures from America to Egypt, all displayed throughout four stunning buildings, including the awe-inspiring “Cross Barn,” built in 1883. Tours, lectures and classes are offered. The museum is open Wednesday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $9, seniors age 62+ visit for $5, and children under 12 are free.
Once the site of a utopian experiment organized by Bronson Alcott (father of “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott), today’s Fruitlands offers visitors a picturesque landscape full of walking trails and the opportunity to view collections ranging from Hudson River School paintings to Native American and Shaker artifacts. This summer, experience “Amongst the Birches,” an exhibit of works by Marie Spaeth (1870-1937), co-curated with the Boston Art Club. The museum also hosts summer concerts with the Concord Band, Thursday evenings through July. Admission to the museum is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors age 60+ and $5 for children 5 to 13. Children under 5 are free. Visiting hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; weekends and holidays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Tip: This museum is partially outdoors, so wear good walking shoes. Leashed dogs are allowed to enjoy the trails.
The MIT Museum
It’s easy to let your mind get a little soft during the summer, but a trip to the MIT Museum will reinvigorate your creativity with interactive exhibitions that showcase the world of science and technology, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s past and present contributions to the field. The museum is open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended July and August hours to 7 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is $8.50 for adults and $4 for seniors, youths 5 to 17 and students. Children under 5 are free.
Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm
Now more than ever, our spirits long for us to silence our smart phones and return to a simpler time, if only for a day. The Remick Museum Farm House offers a glimpse back at the world of the country doctor, charged with caring for entire communities from his own home — often the medical caregiver for generations of families. From exhibits and guided tours to farm animals and walking trails, Remick is a unique educational experience that will soothe your soul. Summer hours through Labor Day are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $3, and free for children 4 and under.
USS Salem and United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum
Summer is full of patriotic celebration and pride, which makes it a perfect time to learn about our military history. Aboard the USS Salem, you’ll feel the power of the only preserved U.S. Naval heavy cruiser, now docked at the same place it was built in Quincy at the former Fore River Shipyard. The ship, which was commissioned in 1949 and served for 10 years, is home to the U.S. Naval Shipbuilding Museum, where you can look back through the history of shipbuilding and naval duty, and pay your respects by visiting memorial rooms. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. Admission is $8 for adults, and $6 for seniors and children ages 4 to 12. Children 3 and under are free. The USS Salem is not currently wheelchair accessible.
Tip: For a firsthand Navy cruiser adventure, consider the museum’s overnight experience, offered for both groups and individuals.