Get Your FREE Ultimate Weekend Packing Cheat Sheet!

The Ava Gardner Museum PullOverAndLetMeOut
Picture of Anna Marie

Anna Marie

The Ava Gardner Museum – Hollywood glamour in a small southern town

Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina is dedicated to sharing the fascinating story of the Hollywood legend.
A woman sipping coffee outside
Hi, I’m Anna Marie. I’m a wife, mother, Irish dancer, and pug mom living in North Carolina. I also love to travel. Come along for the ride! If you see something you like, don’t be afraid to say, ‘Pull over and let me out.’

The Ava Gardner Museum is a hidden gem in Smithfield, North Carolina, dedicated to Hollywood legend, Ava Gardner. It’s always a pleasure visiting small-town museums. In fact, they fascinate me. The staff is typically there because they love sharing information with visitors and they’re passionate about what they do. Ava Gardner Museum is one such place. Located a short distance off of I-95, this piece of Hollywood in the Tarheel State is brimming with memorabilia and is a film buff’s delight waiting to be discovered.

Where is Ava Gardner from?

Ava’s rags-to-riches story could be right out of a Hollywood script. While visiting her older sister in New York City, her brother-in-law, a professional photographer, hung a portrait he took of her in his shop window. That photograph led to her discovery and launched Ava Gardner’s Hollywood career.

The museum tour starts with a 17-minute video. The video is a comprehensive overview of Ava Gardner’s life. Filled with interviews and film clips detailing her humble beginnings, it tells the tale of her discovery, romances, career, and final years. The film is a wonderful synopsis of the story of a small-town girl from Smithfield who became a Hollywood legend.

What you'll find at the Ava Gardner Museum

Whether you’re a long-time Ava Gardner fan, a classic film buff, or if this is the first time you’ve been introduced to the Tinseltown legend, you’ll come away with a greater understanding of who Gardner was.

From the moment you walk in the door you’re softly serenaded by crooner Frank Sinatra. Sinatra and Gardner were married from 1951 to 1957 and Ava considered Old Blue Eyes to be the “love of her life.”

Sinatra was her third husband and their romance filled the pages of gossip columnists such as Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

Gardner is even credited with getting Sinatra his big break by lobbying for him to play the part he won the Oscar for in “From Here to Eternity.”

Sign outside the Ava Gardner Museum
Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina
A photo on a museum wall of a young Ava Gardner
Ava was discovered as a result of this portrait taken by her brother in law.

Movie memorabilia and more!

The museum is replete with memorabilia and artifacts belonging to the star of the silver screen.

The self-guided tour travels the timeline of Gardner’s life. Displays include photographs, scrapbooks, movie posters, and many of Gardner’s exquisite gowns and costumes from her movies as well as her awards.

I was transfixed looking at her gowns. Not because they’re beautiful, which they are, but because she had an 18-inch waist!  With her dainty figure and stunning beauty, it’s no wonder her first husband, Mickey Rooney, described her as the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

Additionally, there are collections of personal items such as china, jewelry, fine art, and artifacts that belonged to Sinatra.

Also housed in the museum is a collection of portraits by Dutch artist, Bert Pfeiffer. Although he never met Gardner, she was a favorite subject and he painted her portrait repeatedly.

Newspaper photograph of Frank Sinatra with Ava Gardner
Gardner called Sinatra “the love of her life.”
A jeweled cape in a glass case at Ava Gardner Museum
The museum features many of Gardner’s gowns and costumes.
PullOver Pro Tip picture

The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield encourages visitors to “discover the many charms of Ava’s hometown” with a sample itinerary

Explore Downtown Smithfield

a photo collage with 8 photos of Smithfield NC
The Museum is one of several interesting stops along the walking tour of downtown.

Smithfield is rich in history, and exploration is encouraged at the Ava Gardner Museum. On a recent return visit, we took a walking tour of the historic downtown.

A self-guided walking tour that can be printed off from the city website provides an excellent look into this Neuse River waterfront community. Start with the Heritage Center, and then continue along. You’ll want to be sure to check the hours of operation before your visit. We discovered they are closed on Saturday, so I was glad I had printed a map.

The tour includes listings for nineteen historic sites and is a relatively simple stroll that gives insights into several important elements of the town’s history, such as its founding and its role during the Civil War. On the river bank there is an impressive old oak tree where you will want to push the button to hear the tree tell its story. We learned more about Smithfield thanks to Oakie the Talking Oak Tree, which was a delightful surprise. I felt pleased that I am the type to “push the button.” 🙂

In addition to the historic sites and buildings, the streets are dotted with quaint boutiques, antiques shops, and a number of eateries offering everything from a quick cup of coffee, to a pastry, or a delicious meal. We especially enjoyed browsing the antiques at The Twisted Willow on Third Street and I had a wonderful chicken salad sandwich at Gotham’s Deli on Market Street.

Ava's Smithfield roots

Smithfield is a charming town with a Mayberry quality and it’s apparent there’s a great pride for their hometown girl.

Gardner never forgot her North Carolina roots and upon her death in London in 1990, she was returned home to be laid to rest. She’s buried alongside her parents and siblings about a mile from the museum at Sunset Memorial Park.

One of 30 portraits by Dutch artist Bert Pfeiffer in the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield.

Parting thoughts

As far as museums go, this one is informative, designed well, and a fitting tribute to the star. If you find yourself driving the I-95 corridor in North Carolina – by all means, take exit-95 and spend an hour at the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield. And if you have the opportunity, stretch your legs and extend your stay to explore the historic downtown of Smithfield, North Carolina.

Ava Gardner Museum
325 E. Market Street
Smithfield, NC

Listen on the go!

0:00 / 0:00
The Ava Gardner Museum – Hollywood glamour in a small southern town

Pin this for later!

Ava Gardner Museum collage for pinterest

► Plan Your Trip to Smithfield, North Carolina Now!

It makes it simple to plan your trip and to give back with each trip. We've pre-filled the destination from the article and if there are multiple places mentioned in the article, we've put the one that is best used as your base to see all of the places mentioned.
Just select I'M STAYING and enter the travel dates and hit SEARCH. It automatically uses the first place in the article. For a multi-day trip, if you stay near that location, you should be able to use it as your base. If available, you'll also see B&Bs, condos, apartments and private homes in the results.
Can I change the destination? Yes, it is super simple. Just click on the pencil and enter the name of any place mentioned in the story. Or you can enter any address or even the name of a company if you are mixing business and pleasure.
Just click I'M DRIVING and you can see how long it will take, get driving directions and even rent a car if you need one.
Yes, we guarantee the best published rates on hotels. No more spending hours looking for the best price. Click on the link for BEST RATE 110% GUARANTEE for details.

On hotel bookings, this is up to the hotel chain. Once you make your booking and have received your confirmation, call your hotel loyalty customer service number and give them the hotel confirmation number (this is different from the Trip ID).  Ask them to enter your number in the record. Or you can ask at the hotel when you check in.

On car rental or air bookings, the system will prompt you for your number and it will be in your booking with the travel provider.

Yes, we realize that while the charity we have selected may not resonate with everyone.

If you want to sign up for your own tool, either as an individual, a company or a non-profit, click on the link below to register for your own tool. It is free and it only takes minutes.

Share your experiences  

Hey pinners, save this for pinning after your trip

After you get back from your trip, please use these images to post to social media or post your own photos.  Please tag us on your post #pulloverandletmeout
You can also use the social sharing links on the SmartTrip tool.

More stories you'll enjoy reading!

Cover photo two pints of Guinness

What You Need to Know Before You Order That Pint of Guinness

Few beverages are as closely linked to a location as Guinness is to Ireland. Rich in heritage, the creamy dark stout is a daily staple at pubs and bars across Ireland and the world. Travel along with Pull Over and Let Me Out to the Emerald Isle and learn what you need to know before you order that pint of Guinness.

Read More »

Let’s Get Social!
Click below and join the conversation on social media

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

FREE Access to Exclusive Travel Tips and Deals

Get the latest travel news, tips & information from!

Save on Membership with


don't leave empty-handed

Get your FREE Ultimate Weekend Packing Cheat Sheet

Happy Travels