The United States is home to some of the most prestigious museums in the world — the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, just to name a few — but when it comes to the niche and the quirky, the nation also has some unusual exhibits. From sculptures made of hair to miniature figurines, America’s museums house some seriously eclectic collections revolving around a wide gamut of interests and themes. Here are 14 of the strangest museums across the country to check out the next time you’re in town.
Museum of Bad Art (Somerville, Massachusetts)
The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Somerville, Massachusetts, is dedicated to showcasing the “worst art ever created.” Here, you’ll be able to view collections with tongue-in-cheek names like “Dopplehangers” (portraits that may or may not depict famous people), “Unlikely Landscapes” (head-scratching cityscapes, landscapes, and still lifes), and “Poor Traits” (works of art that depict humans doing not-so-classy things).
Founded in 1993 in the basement of a private home in Boston, the MOBA quickly gained enough popularity to open up a permanent gallery in the basement of a historic movie theater in Somerville. There are approximately 700 pieces in the permanent collection but only about 25 works are displayed at a time. Admission is also free.
Potato Museum (Blackfoot, Idaho)
Idaho grows nearly one-third of all potatoes in the U.S., so it only makes sense that the state has its own museum dedicated to the tubers. At the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho, visitors can learn about the fascinating history of the potato, see potato-related artifacts, watch films about potatoes, and even buy potato-themed souvenirs at the gift shop (these range from T-shirts to playing cards to recipe books). But most importantly, don’t forget to grab a fresh-baked potato from the café on your way out.
Devil’s Rope and Route 66 Museum (McLean, Texas)
If you’re ever traveling along the “Main Street of America” in McLean, Texas, don’t miss stopping at the Devil’s Rope and Route 66 Museum. Inside, you’ll be able to learn everything you ever wanted to know about barbed wire. Often associated with prisons, tattoos, and tall walls, barbed wire is actually more varied than might initially appear to the naked eye. According to the museum, there are more than 450 existing patents for barbed wire. The museum houses over 2,000 different kinds and includes an impressive showcase of historical documents, antique tools, and memorabilia.
National Mustard Museum (Middleton, Wisconsin)
In 1986, a man named Barry Levenson was wandering through the supermarket late one night after his beloved Boston Red Sox lost the World Series. In the condiment section, various types of mustard caught his eye. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he just had to collect them all — or at least, that’s how the origin story is told on the museum’s website. Soon after, he quit his job as assistant attorney general to open the first-ever mustard museum.
The National Mustard Museum, located in the city of Middleton, Wisconsin, is home to over 6,090 different kinds of mustard from around the world. You can learn about the history of mustard, see mustard-themed artifacts, and even taste dozens of different mustards. What a shame that the Hot Dog Museum is all the way in Ohio. Admission to this unique exhibit is completely free.
International Banana Museum (Mecca, California)
Located in Mecca, California, the International Banana Museum is just as kitschy and quirky as you might expect — filled with more than 25,000 banana-themed memorabilia. With admission priced at only $1 for both adults and children, the museum invites visitors of all ages to take a gander at the world’s many banana oddities, including life-size sculptures, jewelry, T-shirts, and even a record player.
The museum claims to hold the Guinness World Record for containing the most banana-related items. Naturally, the museum also makes and sells a house-made banana ice cream — a delicious treat for those who are likely on their way to or from nearby Palm Springs.
International UFO Museum and Research Center (Roswell, New Mexico)
Originally built in 1947 to preserve information about an unexplained incident that occurred in Roswell, New Mexico, the International UFO Museum and Research Center has since expanded to be a comprehensive holding ground for documents and research about unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and other “unexplained phenomena.” Admission to the museum, which features archival film, an extensive library of UFO materials, and a gift shop with tons of alien knick-knacks, is just $5. The museum also hosts events for the annual UFOfest held in Roswell.
Neon Museum (Las Vegas, Nevada)
If the potato museum is in Idaho, it only makes sense that a museum about neon would be in Las Vegas. Founded in 1996, the Neon Museum is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and studying the history of signage in Las Vegas. From retired signs pulled from some of the city’s most beloved, historic hotels to rescued, unrestored signs flown in from across the country, the museum is both a major preservation effort and an ideal modern-day photo shoot location. Most of the museum is outdoors, and visitors can view hundreds of historic neon signs as they walk through 2.25 acres nicknamed the “Neon Boneyard.”
Leila’s Hair Museum (Independence, Missouri)
You might think that a museum about hair would depict the history of hair by showcasing styles and artifacts from the past. However, at Leila’s Hair Museum in Independence, Missouri, you’d be mistaken. You won’t find any historic hairdryers here. Leila’s Hair Museum, owned by former hairdresser Leila Cohoon, displays art made from real human hair.
The collection includes hundreds of wreaths, portraits, and jewelry made from authentic homosapien tresses. Visitors can even see the famous locks of historic figures like Abraham Lincoln and Marilyn Monroe. “When I look at hair, I see more than hair,” Cohoon once told Roadside America. “My museum is filled with other people’s families. It tells a story.”
Museum of Miniature Houses and Other Collectibles (Carmel, Indiana)
If you want to see fine art but would rather view it through a magnifying glass, you should visit the Museum of Miniature Houses and Other Collectibles in Carmel, Indiana. This unique museum not only features intricate miniature houses, but detailed figurines on a smaller scale. Most miniatures have been shrunk down to a 1:12 scale, but every minute detail remains. You can visit historic sites, period-appropriate homes, and even fictional scenes from a bird’s eye view.
Museum of the Weird (Austin, Texas)
Austin, Texas, is perhaps best known as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and these days, the city has become synonymous with tech startups and food trucks. But another aspect of the city is its weird side. Namely, the Museum of the Weird, located in Austin’s notorious “Dirty Sixth” district.
When it comes to objects on display, the museum believes that the stranger, the better. Some of the items on display include shrunken heads, a two-headed lamb, and wax figurines from classic horror movies.
SPAM Museum (Austin, Minnesota)
If you’ve ever wondered what exactly goes into SPAM, the beloved canned, pre-cooked meat, the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota, has all the answers — and then some. The impressive museum, otherwise known by its self-proclaimed acronym MOMA (Museum of Meat-Themed Awesomeness — not the famous modern art museum in New York!), gives visitors a look into SPAM’s interesting history, including its role in World War II and its influence on everything from Monty Python’s musical Spamalot to girl band the Hormel Girls, who toured the country to promote the pork product. Volunteers known as “SPAMbassadors” give visitors free tours of the exhibit at least twice weekly.
Hammer Museum (Haines, Alaska)
Tourists visiting Haines, Alaska, would be remiss not to pay a visit to the Hammer Museum, the world’s first museum dedicated to preserving the essential tool. The museum has over 2,000 hammers on display spread across four rooms, ranging from rock hammers used in prehistoric times to more specialized hammers used for candy smashing and cracking open crab shells. There are approximately 8,000 hammers in storage, making the museum home to the world’s largest hammer collection.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)
Could you pass the salt? At the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, there are more than 20,000 salt and pepper shakers on display — a collection that has grown significantly over the past few decades. Started in 2001 by an archaeologist and her family, the museum showcases shakers dating back to ancient times and representing numerous time periods and eras, ranging from the 1500s to present day.
Mmuseumm (New York, New York)
The Mmuseumm (pronounced “museum”) is a miniature museum built into a former freight elevator in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York. The space can only fit three visitors at a time and features a rotating collection of everyday objects that are often overlooked by larger, more formal institutions.
Past exhibitions have included “Homemade Weapons of Defense” and “Paper Works Found in Copying Machines.” Past objects have been as varied as the shoe thrown at President George W. Bush at the Minister’s Palace in Baghdad and a plastic glove from Paradise Valley, Montana.