From death and roller skating to ventriloquism dummies and UFOs, there are hundreds of niche museums — museums that focus on one, usually obscure, subject — to visit throughout the United States.
Of course, not all niche museums are created equal. Unlike prestigious museums such as the Louvre or the Met, what makes a niche museum unique and must-see isn’t the number of masterpieces or wealthy donors. Rather, a must-see niche museum is one which lovingly displays a passion for those things that, well, aren’t so universally loved.
Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum
Alamo Heights, Texas
Take a trip to the Toilet Seat Art Museum, located in a suburb of San Antonio. You’ll find the garage of a man in his 90s, opened up to the public for free. Lining the walls are a series of artistic masterpieces — toilet seats decorated with everything from paint to belt buckles to old license plates.
Bigfoot Discovery Museum
Just have an open mind — that’s all founder Michael Rugg asks when you visit his Bigfoot Discovery Museum in California. Rugg has collected data on Bigfoot for more than 60 years. He has hours of video footage and audiotape, plus a map detailing the creature’s nearly 200 sightings on display. Rugg attempts to convince you of the same thing about which he himself is convinced: that Bigfoot (alias: Sasquatch) is alive and well in Northern California.
Cable Car Museum
San Francisco, California
This tiny but must-see niche museum takes the San Francisco cable car experience to a whole new level. The Cable Car Museum is nestled in a cramped building on the corner of Mason and Washington Streets, but don’t let that deter you. Once inside, you’ll find lots of historic photos, a fascinating short film, and the inner workings of the entire cable system.
Chaffee Barbershop Museum
Fort Smith, Arkansas
The Chaffee Barbershop Museum might just be the definition of niche museum. Located on the original grounds of Arkansas’s Fort Smith, the Barbershop Museum commemorates the spot where Elvis Presley received his first Army buzz cut. The museum has been restored and now looks exactly as it did on the fateful day. Elvis artifacts and other related materials are displayed throughout.
Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum
Barbed wire is a thing to be honored at Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum in McLean, Texas. Visitors to this unique niche museum will learn all about the importance of barbed wire to men throughout history — from the earliest American pioneers to farmers and others who currently depend upon it to keep livestock safe. Especially interesting exhibits include a rundown of the 450 different barbed wire patents, a summary of barbed wire during warfare, and pieces from private collections.
Erotic Heritage Museum
Las Vegas, Nevada
Founded by a preacher and a pornographer who sought to create a “sex-positive exhibition space,” the Erotic Heritage Museum is a surprisingly classy and fascinating niche museum located in — where else? — Las Vegas. The 24,000-square foot museum includes a number of displays celebrating human sex and love. Current and past exhibits include Evolution of Human Sexuality, Sex in the Third Reich, and Sex in Space, among many others.
The Hammer Museum
The Hammer Museum in Haines, Alaska honors man’s first tool with nearly 2,000 hammers. The hammers come from all over the world and throughout history, from Egyptian times to the present. It’s one of the most popular attractions in town, and for good reason. One need not even be particularly fond of hammers to enjoy the glimpse the museum offers into human life and ingenuity.
The Hobo Museum
You may not even realize that you’re interested in hobos and the vagabond lifestyle until you make a trip to the must-see Hobo Museum in Iowa. This fascinating museum, which is housed in a former theater, is full of memorabilia from famous drifters like Hard Rock Kid, Frisco Jack, and Connecticut Slim. Photos, arts and crafts, and videos complement the memorabilia and go a long way in describing the surprising lifestyle of this unique group.
Idaho Potato Museum
An entire museum to honor the various types of potatoes? Sure, why not. Make one trip to the Idaho Potato Museum and you’ll leave knowing just about all you’d ever need to know about potatoes, baked potatoes, au gratin potatoes, French fries, and fried potatoes. There’s even a giant potato signed by celebrity guests.
International Banana Museum
The International Banana Museum calls itself the “most aPEELing destination on the planet.” We agree that it’s definitely a must-see niche museum in which one can really go bananas. This delightfully random museum houses more than 20,000 banana-related items, making it the biggest collection of any one fruit type anywhere. Besides browsing at the fun exhibits, visitors can stop by the museum shop for banana splits, frozen bananas, or the museum’s famous banana milk shake.
International Cryptozoology Museum
Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman, giant beavers — everything you’ve ever wanted to know, and even some questions you’ve probably never even thought to ask — can be discovered at the International Cryptozoology Museum in Maine. The museum claims to house “rare, one-of-a-kind scientific, zoological specimens.” The various exhibits do make for a blast of a time exploring. When you’re done reading about the various sightings and traditions surrounding each unique animal, be sure to stop in the gift shop for some souvenirs that are just as fun and unique as the exhibits.
International UFO Museum
Roswell, New Mexico
This unique niche museum is pretty famous in its own right. While some visitors believe more than others, the International UFO Museum in Roswell is definitely a must-see. Walk through the museum, ogle at the life-size alien displays, and read through the various personal accounts. You you may leave with more questions about Roswell in July 1947 than you came in with.
Matchstick Marvels Tourist Center
Named the 2007 Iowa Tourism Attraction of the Year, the Matchstick Marvels Tourist Center is a pretty impressive niche museum. The museum houses the matchstick work of Patric Acton. It includes large-scale replicas of the Millennium Falcon (910,000 matchsticks), Notre Dame Cathedral (298,000 matchsticks), and the Space Shuttle Challenger (200,000 matchsticks), among many others.
Mill City Museum
One need not be too concerned with the history of flour to find the Mill City Museum totally fascinating. Housed in what was once the most productive flour mill in the world, this unique museum details the history of flour in Minnesota through engrossing and family-friendly exhibits. These include lots of film clips, a man-sized box of Bisquick and an elevator ride up the Flour Tower to a viewing platform.
Moist Towelette Museum
Tucked into an office at Michigan State University is the Moist Towelette Museum. The museum’s curator is planetarium employee John French. He has an impressive collection of unopened moist towelettes from all over the world — from Hard Rock Cafe towelettes from Kuala Lumpur to a Lufthansa refreshment towel, to a Medi-Pak obstetrical towelette. For those who can’t make it to Michigan, French updates his website with a fun virtual museum.
Museum of Bad Art
Dedham, Somerville, and Brookline, Massachusetts
Massachussetts’s Museum of Bad Art has been listed on TravelNerd’s Top 10 Weirdest Museums. However, it also makes The Times of London’s list of the 50 Greatest Museums in the World. Weird or great, there’s no denying the Museum of Bad Art is a must-see niche museum. The museum has three galleries throughout the state, each of which houses a collection of art “too bad to be ignored.” Clever collection categories include “Blue People,” “Poor Traits,” and “Here the Symbols Crash.”
Museum of Death
Los Angeles, California
This creepy museum is surprisingly fascinating. It’s owned by James Healy and Cathee Schultz. The Museum of Death consists of a self-guided tour through the world’s largest collection of artwork by serial killers, serial killer memorabilia, Marilyn Monroe’s morgue photos, Liberace’s taxidermied cat, and the actual head of a 19th-century French serial killer. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Museum of Miniature Houses
The Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana consists of mini dollhouses, wedding gowns, and around 600 other miniature things. As visitors walk through and marvel at the impressively tiny replicas, they can also read fun facts about the art of scale miniatures.
The Mütter Museum
Anatomy and medical history are the main topics of interest at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. The museum houses hundreds of skulls, pathological specimens, pieces of antique medical equipment, wax models, and lots of other medical oddities. It even claims to be one of only two museums in the world with a part of Albert Einstein’s brain.
National Museum of Funeral History
One thing is for sure: you’ll likely feel an incredible peace or an incredible terror upon leaving the wonderfully macabre National Museum of Funeral History in Houston. It was founded nearly three decades ago by funeral director Robert Waltrip. The museum has a number of interesting collections including 19th-century mourning clothes, animal-shaped fantasy caskets from Ghana, pope funeral trappings, and memorabilia from a variety of celebrity funerals.
National Museum of Roller Skating
Sports-themed museums are almost always fascinating, and the National Museum of Roller Skating is really no exception. The museum, which is free to visit, has exhibits dedicated to figure skating, hockey, speed skating, roller derby, and inline skating. It also has an impressive collection of costumes, video footage, and books. The gems of the museums, however, are certainly the skates themselves, some of which date back 200 years.
National Mustard Museum
Yellow mustard, dijon mustard, powdered mustard, honey mustard. . . . At the risk of sounding like Forrest’s friend Bubba, we couldn’t resist the addition of the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin to our list of the must-see niche museums. This delightfully wacky museum was founded by a Boston Red Sox fan who, after mourning his team’s 1986 World Series loss, decided to find solace at the grocery store where he heard the mustard talk to him. Today, that man runs “one of Wisconsin’s most popular attractions.” Visitors can come and ogle nearly 6,000 mustards from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.
The Neon Museum
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas’s unique Neon Museum is where all of those Vegas Strip lights go to die. Tickets to this must-see niche museum are cheaper during the day, but we suggest shelling out the extra $7 to visit at night. Those lights that still work are plugged in and light the place up. Walking through the Neon Museum is like walking back in time through Sin City history. The collection includes more than 200 old signs, 11 of which have been completely restored.
New Orleans Pharmacy Museum
New Orleans, Louisiana
Would a list of unique must-see niche museums be complete without a New Orleans-located museum? Definitely not. The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum houses dozens of spine-chilling old medical and blood-letting tools from the 1800s. Spend a few minutes walking through this place and your next hospital visit won’t seem nearly so bad.
Oasis Bordello Museum
Wallace, Idaho is — for the most part — a charming town full of pretty landscapes and a ton of odes to the region’s Wild West past. It’s also home to the Oasis Bordello Museum, perhaps the country’s most famous museum focusing on the bawdier parts of American West history. The Oasis Bordello officially closed in 1988, after an FBI raid. Today, the museum looks exactly as it did in the moments the women fled. Wander around this genuine time capsule and see dirty dishes left in the sink, bedrooms with lingerie draped over furniture, and even a jaw-dropping menu of services.
Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is chock-full of delightfully random sights, one of which is the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum. The museum consists of more than 80,000 salt and pepper shakers and pepper mills covering more than 50 years of history. Interestingly, the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum also has a sister museum with even more shakers located in Guadalest, Spain.
This world-famous museum commemorating Hormel’s classic canned food product just underwent a massive renovation. It’s more delightful than ever. Believe it or not, the museum is quite fascinating, with interactive displays, lots of video, old advertisements, a section dedicated to SPAM’s role during World War II, and various hands-on activities for visitors of all ages.
Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum
Head to Wisconsin’s Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum for all things that spin and twirl: yo-yos, gyroscopes, tops, toupies, trottoles, kreisels, and more — it’s all here. Besides the stunning collection of antique toys, there are more than 40 hands-on games to play and enjoy. And almost just as fun is the museum gift shop, where visitors can pick up just about any type of twirling toy imaginable.
Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum
The interesting, whimsical, and downright odd of Colonial-era medicine is all preserved at the unique Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. The 18th-century pharmacy has been carefully preserved to look just as it did throughout its history. It finally closed in 1933. It includes an awesome display of everything from herbal botanicals and antique medical equipment, to handblown-glass jars filled with things like dragon’s breath and unicorn root.
Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum
Fort Mitchell, Kentucky
There may be a reason why Kentucky’s Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum is the only one of its kind in the world. Still, it’s definitely a niche museum that’s worth visiting. It was founded in 1910 by amateur ventriloquist William Shakespeare Berger. Over the following decades, the museum has collected all kinds of ventriloquism memorabilia from more than 20 countries, including a dummy once owned by Edgar Bergen, Candice Bergen’s father.