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15 of the Most Unusual Museums in the United States

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If you’re thinking about going to a museum, what is the first thought that comes to mind? Is it a classical art museum filled with works by Italian masters? Perhaps a historical museum with life-like recreations of dramatic events?

Maybe a world-class science center packed with educational interactive exhibits? While those types of museums most certainly have their place, our curious and sometimes macabre minds occasionally want something a little more…out there.

And when I go traveling or on vacation, there’s nothing I like better than discovering zany, bizarre, and downright freaky collections of odd stuff under one roof.

Thankfully, the United States is chock-full of such locations. From unusual roadside attractions to morbid exhibits. From hilarious oddities to quirky curiosities. From head-scratching artifacts to shrunken heads.

If you want a fun story, consider visiting one of these unusual US museums the next time you explore the country. Welcome to the land of the free, home of the weird – and it’s glorious.

Unusual Museums in the US to Visit

1. Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum

Toilet Seat Museum Exhibit
juliegomoll / Flickr

Have you ever wanted one of those novelty toilet seats? Maybe that one that looks like it’s covered in barbed wire? You might find inspiration if you head down to Alamo Heights in Texas.

Museum curator, artist, and collector Barney Smith died in 2019 at 98. A former plumber, toilet seat art was his life’s passion, and he loved to share this unique medium with the world. His museum features over 1,000 uniquely decorated toilet seats hanging on the wall like trophies.

Formerly displayed in Barney’s home, the museum is now part of a large outdoor beer garden open during business hours. Check the website for more details, and be sure to stop in if you give a crap.

2. The National Mustard Museum

National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon? I wondered how many times the staff of the National Mustard Museum has had to deal with that classic line, so I asked them. The answer was “quite a lot,” particularly from visitors from the Midwest.

This is no surprise, considering the quirky attraction is one of Madison, Wisconsin’s best things to do. Located in Middleton, a short drive from the state capital, you’ll find the world’s largest mustard and mustard-related memorabilia collection in the basement.

The museum doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I found it a laugh-out-loud experience. The fact that they use every opportunity to lampoon ketchup is particularly hilarious. Visit the museum website for more details.

3. Tinkertown Museum

Tinkertown Museum in Sandia Park, New Mexico
Jim Legans, Jr from Albuquerque, New Mexico / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Over twenty rooms filled with wood carvings might not seem like an unusual museum at first, until you learn that all the creations came from just one artist. Located in Sandia Park, New Mexico, the Tinkertown Museum is the result of Ross Ward’s life’s work.

Artist Ross began the collection as a hobby in 1962, and over the next four decades, carved so many pieces that they filled 22 rooms. As the collection grew, so did its fame, and Tinkertown attracts thousands of curious visitors annually.

Although Ross passed in 2003, his family keeps his legacy alive, and the Tinkertown Museum stands as a testament to his labor of love. It’s open from April to November, so be sure to call in and see one of the most unique museums in America.

4. The National Museum of Funeral History

National Museum of Funeral History in National Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas
National Museum of Funeral History / Facebook

How we take our final journey on this earth varies depending on our country, culture, and beliefs. Since 1992, the National Museum of Funeral History has explored these practices with a permanent collection of exhibits.

At the National Museum of Funeral History, you will find the largest collection of historical funeral service items in the US, from embalming to hearses, caskets to cremation, and everything in between. The museum in Houston, Texas, boasts 30,500 square feet of funeral-related exhibits.

The funeral practices of other cultures and countries are also highlighted, including Día de Muertos, fantasy coffins from Ghana, and a history of embalming. Open seven days a week, the museum is an eye-opening experience of what happens after we shut our eyes for the last time.

5. Leila’s Hair Museum

Leilas Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri
Missouri Division of Tourism / Flickr

Anyone who suffers from trichophobia (fear of hair) will probably want to give this one a miss. Leila’s Hair Museum is the only one in the world dedicated to the unique practice of hair art.

The museum showcases thousands of wreaths, jewelry, and artifacts made out of hair. Retired cosmetology teacher Leila Cohoon has collected and curated these unusual pieces since the 1950s. Popularized by the Victorians, hair art has been around since the 1400s.

Leila’s Hair Museum resides in Independence, Missouri, and is open by appointment only. Contact the museum directly if you plan to visit. And for more hair-related attractions, visit the famous Chez Galip Hair Museum in Cappadocia, Turkey.

6. The Mütter Museum

The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Mütter Museum / Facebook

As part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the Mütter Museum is one of those classic “things in glass jars” institutions. As educational as it is sometimes macabre, it’s the best medical history museum in the United States.

The museum has thousands of anatomical and pathological specimens, as well as wax models and medical apparatus and equipment. Wet specimens include hearts, tumors, cysts, intestines, and more.

There’s even human skin on display. This must be what Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s home looks like.

Certainly not for the squeamish, the Mütter Museum is, nonetheless, a fascinating insight into the history of global medicine. Open Wednesday to Monday; booking a ticket in advance is recommended.

7. The Museum of Bad Art

Now, here’s something I can get behind. Perhaps they’ll showcase some of the daubs I have in the garage? The Museum of Bad Art celebrates the kind of work you will never see at the Louvre, and the Louvre is the poorer for it.

Housed in a Boston basement, the MOBA is dedicated to displaying works that would be appreciated in “no other forum.” The term “so bad it’s good” has never been more applicable as you search the collection for anything remotely decent.

The museum was established in 1993 when founder Scott Wilson recovered a terrible painting from the trash. It’s open late seven days a week, and you can go here for more of the best things to do in Boston when you’re exploring Bean Town.

8. The Minnesota Spam Museum

Statue and building of Spam Museum in Minnesota
Steve Cukrov – stock.adobe.com

Not to be confused with unsolicited text messages and emails, SPAM is a brand of processed meat made (in)famous after its use during World War II. Specially Processed American Meat has been sold in over 40 countries across six continents. Not bad since its humble beginnings in Austin, Minnesota.

The SPAM Museum features exhibits on the history of canned meat and how it is made and marketed. Love it or hate it, there’s little doubt of SPAM’s popularity/notoriety, as the museum attracts around 10,000 visitors a year.

One of Minnesota’s best places to visit is the SPAM Museum, which is free and open seven days a week. And if you’ve ever wanted a SPAM-branded souvenir, the on-site gift shop has you covered.

9. International UFO Museum

International UFO Museum Building
tochichi / Flickr, CC 2.0

Where else would the International UFO Museum be other than the UFO sighting capital of the world? Roswell, New Mexico, is a hub for those who believe, and this collection is a Mecca for anyone interested in alien life.

Dedicated to studying unidentified flying objects (UFOs), The museum exhibits the history of UFO sightings, stories, government response, and other strange happenings. Its main focus is the 1947 incident when an unidentified object allegedly crashed near Roswell.

It also incorporates a research center and gift shop, so fans of all things UFO will be in their element. Housed in a former movie theater, the International UFO Museum is open daily, and it’s an experience that’s out of this world.

10. International Cryptozoology Museum

Exhibit at International Cryptozoology Museum
The Mütter Museum / Facebook

For those who don’t know, cryptozoology is the study of animals that don’t exist. Or do they? Fans of Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Mothman, and the Loch Ness Monster will argue otherwise.

At the International Cryptozoology Museum, you’ll find a collection of genuine artifacts and exhibits relating to studying and searching for these mythical creatures. Founded in 2003, the museum moved to downtown Portland, Maine, in 2016, and makes for a great day trip from Boston.

It’s the only museum of its kind in the world and is open seven days a week for you to explore the mystery of the unknown. One thing is for sure: the on-site gift shop is 100% real, and it would be a grave mistake not to purchase an unusual souvenir.

11. The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

New Orleans is probably one of the weirdest, strangest, and creepiest places I have ever been. If you want a single destination with the most unusual museums in the US, look no further. One of the most popular attractions is the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum.

The museum is dedicated to the history of pharmacies and pharmacists in the United States. It was founded in 1992. Exhibits include a recreated apothecary, an early American drugstore, and a nineteenth-century soda fountain.

Interactive displays allow visitors to experience what it was like to be a pharmacist or patient in different eras. In a city with so many weird and wonderful attractions, the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum is well worth a visit.

See Related: The Most Haunted Places in New Orleans

12. The Idaho Potato Museum

Idaho Potato Museum Building

Have you ever visited an entire museum dedicated to potatoes? Well, now you can. The Idaho Potato Museum is found in the town of Blackfoot, a region that claims to be the potato capital of the world. (China, Poland, and Germany might have something to say about that.)

Either way, Idaho is legendary for its potatoes, and this versatile vegetable is celebrated here. Housed in a former train depot, the Potato Museum explores the history and cultivation of the potato and boasts the world’s largest collection of potato mashers.

If you’re fiending to be fed, the on-site café serves – you’ve guessed it – potato-based dishes. Be sure you order the bakers at least two hours in advance. There isn’t any potato ice cream for dessert, but give the potato cupcake a try – made with potato flour.

13. The Neon Museum

Outdoor Display at Neon Museum
Gilda / Flickr, CC 2.0

With over 150 neon signs, the Neon Museum is dedicated to preserving the signage in Las Vegas, Nevada. Once owned and used by local businesses, these signs are considered culturally and historically significant to the region.

Founded in 1996, the Neon Museum rescues and restores these iconic signs, many of which are from the Las Vegas strip. They were salvaged from the Young Electric Sign Company’s ‘neon boneyard,’ now on display for locals and visitors.

The best time to visit the museum is when the sun goes down, but tickets regularly sell out, so booking in advance is essential. Check out our article on where to stay in Las Vegas for the best accommodation options in Sin City.

14. The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Aludden1 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Just what you always wanted to visit – a museum dedicated to salt and pepper shakers. Where have we been without it?! The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum is a loving tribute to one of the most commonly used kitchen items.

Located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the museum has more than 20,000 shakers on display, obtained from around the world. There are shakers in the shape of Coca-Cola bottles and Volkswagen Beetles.

Shakers in the form of US presidents. Shakers in the form of animals. Shakers in the form of…shakers. Open seven days, the small admission charge goes towards any salt and pepper shaker purchase in the gift shop. Now, that’s something not to be sneezed at.

15. The Museum of Death

The Museum of Death  in New Orleans, Louisiana
Stuart Jameson / ViaTravelers

Death is a part of life, and as much as it’s often a taboo subject, as a society, we’re naturally obsessed with it. It has fascinated me from a young age, and when on a recent visit to New Orleans, I was overjoyed to discover the city was home to the Museum of Death.

Originally opening in Los Angeles, California, this is the Museum of Death’s second location. Inside, you’ll find a weird, wonderful, and often macabre collection of exhibits and artifacts relating to the end of life. The subject of serial killers is particularly well covered.

There are also body bags, autopsy apparatus, and even a suicide machine. It’s almost needless to say that some of this stuff is not for the faint-hearted, so be sure you have a strong constitution before buying a ticket.

FAQs

What’s the weirdest museum in the United States?

The answer to that question is a matter of taste and opinion, but I think the Toilet Seat Art Museum has to be up there.

Which city has the most unusual museums in the US?

Somewhere like New York will likely have the most off-beat museums, but I think New Orleans isn’t too far behind in size-to-weird-museum ratio.

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  1. Kate @ Babaganosh.org says:

    What a fun list! The museum of bad art, the funeral museum and the apothecary museum sound interesting.

    The hair museum would make me feel a little sick I think. When we were in New Orleans visiting the 1850 house they told us that back then people used to make hair wreaths and hair art out of dead people’s hair, and we saw a couple of the pieces hanging up on the wall. I don’t know why but the thought of having to make crafts out of dead people’s hair made me feel a little sick inside. Although I do have to admit that the flowers and shapes they are able to make out of hair are very impressive!

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