It's true: Culture can be found outside of Boston, you just have to be willing to travel further afield. Museums rich in history, art and intrigue thrive in Concord, Salem, Worcester, even the Berkshires. Bypass the MFA and the ICA for now, hop in the car or ride the rails and make a day of it—it doesn't take longer than two hours to get anywhere in Massachusetts. Plus, it's springtime, and there is no better season to enjoy the Bay State's blooming back roads.
Distance from Boston: 36 miles
Off-the-radar but no less stunning Fruitlands Museum was a utopian retreat in its heyday for American trancendentalists like Emerson, Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott and, originally, her father Bronson Alcott. Today, it is largely an outdoor museum featuring four distinct attractions: The Fruitlands Farmhouse, the Shaker Museum holding extensive Harvard Shaker documents, the Native American Gallery showing artifacts and cultural history, and the Art Gallery with its collection of 19th century portraiture and Hudson River landscape paintings. Ongoing (main season opens April 16).
Get there: Commuter Rail or car. 102 Prospect Hill Road, Harvard, Mass., 978.456.3924
Distance from Boston: 19 miles
Just steps from where the American Revolution began, Concord Museum mounts new exhibition "The Shot Heard Round the World: April 19, 1775," which features an hour-by-hour account of the day that saw the first battles of the war. Examine 50 authentic objects related to the engagements, including William Diamond’s drum that summoned the Lexington militia and Paul Revere’s lantern. Of the exhibition, curator David Wood says, “We hope not just to assemble these relics, but to reexamine them for the evidence they may contain.” April 18-Sept. 21.
Get there: Commuter Rail or car. 53 Cambridge Turnpike, Concord, Mass., 978.369.9763
Distance from Boston: 128 miles
Visit "The House of Mirth" author's turn-of-the-century, classical revival home (now museum) The Mount to see "A Beautiful Construction: Edith Wharton at The Mount." The expansive ongoing exhibition delves into the decade she spent living in the Berkshires, a period of time when she transformed from young unknown writer to literary legend. Beginning in May, the exhibition also features a special element of 40 sketches of varied subject matter, from flowers and dogs to self-portraits, drawn by Wharton and assembled into a book. May 3-Oct. 31.
Get there: Car. 2 Plunkett St., Lenox, Mass., 413.551.5111
Peabody Essex Museum
Distance from Boston: 22 miles
It's a seacoast town on the East Coast that serves up this major study of West Coast mid-century modern design, organized by Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Peabody Essex Museum presents "California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way," 250 varied, innovative objects created by Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra, Greta Magnusson Grossman, and others that demonstrate the iconic aesthetic of California designers during the economic boom during and following World War II and how it transformed the industry. March 29-July 6.
Museum of Russian Icons
Distance from Boston: 46 miles
A quaint 150-year-old mill building on Clinton's town common may seem an odd receptacle for six centuries-worth of Russian culture, but the Museum of Russian Icons is one unique stop. See a fascinating collection that is the largest of its kind in the U.S. and one of the largest private collections held outside of its homeland. On now, "The Tsars’ Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Russian Decorative Arts under the Romanovs" showcases dinnerware, glassware and other items used by the royal Romanov family, dating back to Peter the Great and detailing such things as style, politics and social change. March 27-May 24.
Get there: Car. 203 Union St., Clinton, Mass., 978.598.5000
Worcester Art Museum
Distance from Boston: 44 miles
When Higgins Armory Museum, a beloved institution with an impressive collection, shut its doors for good on Dec. 31, Worcester Art Museum acquired its stash of 2,000 pieces of incredible arms and armor from the Far East, Central Africa, the Islamic world, ancient Greece and Rome, and Europe. First-ever exhibition "Knights!" focuses on selections from Medieval and Renaissance Europe, places them into five specific themes from "Courtly Pursuits" to "Triumphal Arch," and examines their historical context. Complementing certain pieces is contemporary documentary photography from Dominic Bracco, Carlos Ortiz and Louie Palu that captures real images of today's conflict regions. March 29-ongoing.
Get there: Commuter Rail or car. 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., 508.799.4406