Weekend getaways aren’t just made for shopping sprees and boozy brunches. They can be spent soaking up culture, too. While New York City boasts some of the best museums in the country, it’s fun to explore another city’s quirky arts scene.
So on your next quick trip out of town, plan a visit to a unique museum in one of these Northeast and New England cities just a short drive away.
American Visionary Art Museum
Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum celebrates the work of self-taught artists and is home to a permanent exhibit of one of Charm City’s little known folk art traditions — painted screens. The art has adorned the screen doors of row houses on the city’s eastside since 1913, and the “Painted Screens” display in the museum’s Jim Rouse Visionary Center includes a replica row home and accompanying documentary. Through Aug. 30, 2015, visitors can also marvel at the museum’s original exhibition, “The Visionary Experience: Saint Francis to Finster,” featuring the work of celebrated self-tutored artist and Baptist minister, Rev. Howard Finster. $15.95 adults, $13.95 seniors, $9.95 student/child, free for children 6 and under; 800 Key Hwy., Baltimore, Maryland, 410-244-1900, avam.org
International Spy Museum
James Bond fans will geek out at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., which contains the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever seen by the public, as well as clever interactive spy experiences. The “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains” exhibition commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 007 films and displays more than 100 creative objects and gadgets from the films. It also addresses the connection between the Bond films and real-world events and spy tactics. $21.95 adults, $15.95 seniors, $14.95 youths (7-11), free for children 6 and under; 800 F St. NW, Washington, D.C., 202-393-7798, spymuseum. org
Not for the faint at heart, the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia is America’s premier museum of medical history. The museum’s mission is to help the general public gain an appreciation for the human body and learn the origin and treatment of disease. Macabre collections of well-preserved anatomical specimens, models and medical instruments are housed in a formal 19th century “cabinet museum” setting, and the Mutter Museum is only one of two places in the world where you can see pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain — preserved in glass slides in the main Museum Gallery. $15 adults, $13 seniors, $10 youth (6-17), free for children 5 and under; 19 S. 22nd St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 215-560-8564, mutter museum.org
New England Maple Museum
The history of maple sugaring is brought to life at this Pittsford, Vermont, museum, in more than 100 feet of murals created by painter Grace Brigham. The museum has the most complete collection of sugaring artifacts in existence — including an ancient block of wood with a sap collecting gash made by Native Americans — and guests get to sample grades of pure Vermont maple syrup in the tasting room. Plus, the gift shop carries the best maple syrup Vermont has to offer. So get the pancake and waffle batter ready. $5 adults, $1 children, free for children under 6; 4578 U.S. 7, Pittsford, Vermont, 802-483-9414, maplemuseum.com
Museum of Bad Art
The 600 or so pieces in the permanent collection of this community-based museum are so bad they’re good. Between 50 to 70 works are exhibited at a time, each accompanied by a written interpretation, at two Boston-area locations — the Somerville Theatre and the offices of Brookline Access Television. Bizarre works include the creepy, bold color portrait “Mama and Babe” and the Picasso-esque oil painting “The Better to See You With, My Dear.” To take a piece of bad art home with you, the Brookline gallery sells official MOBA merchandise. Free (donations welcome); Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Massachusetts; BATV, 46 Tappan St., top floor, Brookline, Massachusetts, 781-444-6757, museumof badart.org