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The 15 Most Unusual Museums You Should Consider Visiting

The 15 most unusual museums you should consider visiting header

By Melissa Hart on December 15, 2021 in Travel

The word museum conjures up images of gilt-framed paintings, marble sculptures, and scientific or historical displays that run the risk of boring young visitors to tears. However, with a little research — regardless of where you are in the country — you can visit fascinating institutions devoted to unusual objects such as antique medical equipment, 1950s pinball machines, and code-cracking devices used by World War II spies.

For travelers interested in visiting museums that move beyond the traditional and into the weird, a funky museum filled with unexpected items provides the perfect day trip. In this article, we’ll explain why you want to consider visiting smaller, less popular museums when you’re on the road. You don’t have to love canned meat to enjoy an unforgettable afternoon at the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota. Whether you like your hot dogs plain or with all the fixings, you’ll never forget your trip to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. Sit back and let’s explore 15 quirky museums. Many offer online exhibits as well, allowing you to visit in your pajamas from the comfort of your couch.

The Benefits of Visiting Unusual Museums

Small, local businesses run many of the country’s smaller museums. Take, for example, the Aurora Ice Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska. For $15, you can visit the 25-degree Fahrenheit building and check out gorgeous ice sculptures. The money goes toward the upkeep of Chena Hot Springs Resort, which boasts a wide variety of lodging options, seasonal gatherings, and, of course, the hot springs.

Unusual museums provide memories you’re not going to get when you stand in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. At the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., you can learn to crack codes and spy on other spies around you. At Philadelphia’s Insectarium and Butterfly Garden, you can hold a tarantula and attend a cockroach race.

Unusual, Family-Friendly Museums

Intrigued by the possibilities for adventure? Here’s our list of must-visit museums.

The Coral Castle Museum

This museum in Miami, Florida, celebrates a stone sculpture garden created by Edward Leedskalnin from 1923 to 1951. Leedskalnin carved more than 1,000 tons of coral rock into tables, benches, armchairs, and dramatic geometric designs. Tour the castle using audio stands with narration in four languages. Take a guided tour, and learn about the nine-ton gate, the rocking chairs, and a stone Polaris telescope. On the first Saturday of every month, attend Psychic Saturday at the museum and get your fortune told and your palm read. At the gift store, shop for books, stuffed toys, replicas of the Coral Castle, and apparel.

The Kazoo Factory

This museum in Beaufort, South Carolina, houses one of the largest collections of kazoos on public display. See record albums devoted to kazoo music and a 24-karat gold kazoo. Take a tour of U.S. history along with the history of the kazoo and listen to a demonstration of the instrument. See how kazoos are made on a fun and family-friendly guided factory tour. Choose between 14 different colors of bodies and caps and make your own kazoo with industrial tools and a custom-made resonator. The gift shop includes kazoos in all sorts of colors, including electric kazoos and kazoos with amplifiers. You can also buy whimsical T-shirts and other fun instruments.

International UFO Museum and Research Center

This nonprofit museum and research center in Roswell, New Mexico, hosts a collection of items relating to the famous 1947 Roswell incident. According to the military, a U.S. Army Air Forces balloon crashed at a Roswell ranch. However, the incident prompted theories that the accident involved a flying saucer. At the museum, you can view exhibits exploring UFO sightings, crop circles, ancient astronauts, Area 51, and the Roswell Incident itself. The Research Center Library includes more than 7,000 books and 30,000-plus magazines and pamphlets, as well as more than 1,500 DVDs related to UFOs. The gift shop offers alien-themed objects, from zipper pulls and water bottles to comic books and retro “alien autopsy” magnets.

Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum

At this mechanical museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan, visitors can play vintage coin-operated machines, pinball, and video games. Win tickets while you play classic Skee-Ball and choose from a wealth of retro prizes. Ride the carousel, and check out the movie posters, neon signs, model airplanes, and other colorful items lining the walls and ceiling. The café offers corn dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, and slushies along with free Wi-Fi. The gift shop includes souvenirs, T-shirts, and unusual candies. Birthday party packages are available.

The Matchstick Marvels Tourist Center

This tourist center in Gladbrook, Iowa, showcases dozens of Pat Acton’s wooden matchstick sculptures. For more than 44 years, he’s used millions of matchsticks to build models on display in museums worldwide. At the tourist center, see his large-scale models of the space shuttle Challenger, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the United States Capitol, the U.S.S. Iowa Battleship, a brontosaurus, a bald eagle, and the Wright Brothers’ Flyer. Study his pre-model plans and drawings, as well as the tools he uses during construction. Watch a documentary showing Acton at work, enjoy concession-stand snacks, then visit the Gladbrook Historical Museum upstairs.

Mini Time Museum of Miniatures

This museum of miniatures in Tucson, Arizona, displays 500-plus antique and contemporary dollhouses and roomboxes, little boxes that hold a single room-scale display for miniatures. See rotating exhibits, as well as items from the permanent collection, including a carriage house antique store, a weaving studio, a colonial room, and the “Silver Queen Collection,” a treasure trove of silver. The gift shop offers books, toys, souvenirs, work by local artists, and artisan and fine scale miniatures. In December, visit the museum’s “Wee Winter Wonderland,” which features miniatures depicting holiday celebrations worldwide and across eras.

National Museum of Funeral History

This museum in Houston, Texas, includes the largest collection of historical funeral service items in the U.S. Visitors will learn about the history of embalming, cremation, coffins, caskets, and hearses. Exhibits include information on Japanese funerals, New Orleans jazz funerals, fantasy coffins from Ghana, and Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. See a 9/11 and Fallen Heroes exhibit and learn about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the life and death of the popes. The quirky gift shop offers items including funeral-related books and DVDS, Undertaker’s Root Beer, and clothing and mugs that read, “Any day above ground is a good one.”

National Museum of Mathematics

This museum of mathematics in New York, New York, offers highly interactive activities and exhibits, as well as classes and games. Paint on a digital canvas to create complex patterns representing symmetry and animate stereographic images by changing light angles. See breaking news about math, spin in a chair to create a curved surface formed from straight lines and ride a square-wheeled tricycle. Attend a math-related art show in the museum’s gallery or participate in a children’s humorous story hour all about math. Shop for unusual puzzles and optical illusion games at the gift store.

National Mustard Museum

This museum in Middleton, Wyoming, displays more than 6,000 mustards from all U.S. states and 70-plus countries. View vintage mustard advertisements and jars, including the Gibbons collection of antique mustard pots. View the “Canada is the World’s Mustard” exhibit exploring the world’s largest exporter of mustard seed and catch a show in the Mustardpiece Theater with titles including Mustard: The Spice of Nations. The Mrs. Mustard’s Kitchen exhibit explains how to incorporate more mustard into your diet, and a tasting room allows visitors to sample hundreds of mustards and other condiments. The museum’s gift shop sells an enormous variety of mustard, as well as collectible clothing and mugs and bottles of Dr. Singha’s Mustard Rub.

Neon Museum

This museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, offers 2.25 acres including the “Neon Boneyard” with 250-plus signs, several of which have been restored. Make an appointment to visit the research library and archives and view photos, original blueprints and sign renderings, and sign-related objects including postcards and casino chips. The Visitors’ Center occupies the historical La Concha Motel lobby, famed for its mid-century modern design. The North Gallery’s “Brilliant!” is a light projection exhibit which uses imagery and sound to make signs come to life. Check the website for public tours, special exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, family programs, and creative workshops.

PEZ Visitor Center

This museum in Orange, Connecticut, allows visitors to marvel at the world’s largest PEZ dispenser and watch employees process and package the iconic candy invented in 1927. Take a self-guided in-person tour of the 4,000 square foot colorful museum or go on a virtual tour online. View PEZ memorabilia, play PEZ trivia, study the interactive historical timeline, and see the PEZ motorcycle. Each month, visitors can play a different interactive game and take home a PEZ lanyard. The gift store offers dozens of different PEZ single and gift-pack dispensers from Harry Potter to Santa Claus, along with T-shirts, baby bibs, and other clothing.

Silverball Museum

This museum, which has two locations in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and Delray Beach, Florida, features hundreds of classic pinball machines and retro arcade games dating back to the 1930s. Play all your favorites, including Nintendo, Atari, Space Mission from 1976, and Street Fighter II from 1992. Take a break at the on-site restaurant featuring appetizers, hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, and root beer floats. Check calendars for live music and karaoke nights. At the gift shop, pick up a Silverball logo hat, retro-style LED lamp, or an all-day-pass gift certificate.

SPAM Museum

This museum in Austin, Minnesota, presents exhibits related to the iconic pre-cooked meat in a can. Learn about the history of the Hormel company, how and where SPAM was invented, and how it’s been featured in pop culture over decades. The gift store offers an extensive line of products and clothing items with the SPAM logo. Highlights include cycling jerseys, neon clocks, skateboards, a banjo made from a SPAM can, and, of course, variety packs of the food itself. Can’t get to Minnesota? Sign up for a live virtual tour of the museum.

Spy Museum

This museum in Washington, D.C., catapults visitors into an immersive exploration of spies throughout history while teaching expert tips and tricks such as how to read body language, facial expressions, and small details in your surroundings. Study a collection of inventions used to steal secrets and visit the gift shop where you can purchase spy-related books, spy kits, fake mustaches, and The CIA Lockpicking Manual.

TABASCO® Factory Tour and Museum

This museum on Avery Island, Louisiana, invites you to take a self-guided tour of the museum where you’ll learn about the history and creation of the famous pepper sauce. Explore the greenhouse and the barrel warehouse, located on 170 acres in the semitropical Jungle Gardens. Visit Avery Island Conservation and the botanical garden and bird sanctuary. See the salt mine diorama and dine on authentic Cajun dishes in TABASCO® Restaurant 1868! The gift shop offers clothing, kids’ items, cooking utensils, and personalized TABASCO® items. A tasting area allows you to sample various sauces, as well as TABASCO® flavored ice cream.

Conclusion

Crave even more strange and surprising museums? Type the name of the city you’ll be visiting into your favorite search engine, along with the words “unusual museum,” and see what pops up. Happy exploring!

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Melissa Hart is a consultant for Say Insurance. She's the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Novels to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens and the award-winning middle grade novel Avenging the Owl. She's contributing editor at The Writer Magazine and a Creative Writing instructor for the MFA in Creative Writing program at Southern New Hampshire University.

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