Photo courtesy of City Museum
It's time to rethink the definition of "museum"
If you think museums are stuffy or boring, you haven’t visited these. And, oh, you should.
Start with City Museum in St. Louis, above, for the most fun, joyful and hands-on experience, no matter how old (or young) you are. This 10-story, 600,000-foot former shoe company warehouse has been transformed into a wild and wacky wonderland that will forever change the way you think of museums.
There are slides and crawlspaces and treehouses and dinosaur bones and, yes, that’s an actual school bus hanging off the edge of the roof. And, yes, those are real airplanes.
And, yes, there are lots more surprising museums around the country that will keep you entertained and educated. Here are 10 of them.
Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Museum of 3D Illusions | San Francisco, California
What makes this innovative museum in San Francisco so special is that you get to become part of the world-class art and leave with amazing photos in which you are the star. With more than 40 different 3D illusions, you can become a professional surfer, survive an earthquake on a cable car and take a magic carpet ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Make sure your phone is charged so you can experiment with different angles and learn about perspective. And don’t worry if you’re by yourself; tripods are available for you to set up your shot. Or you can opt for the VIP experience which gives you your own personal photographer.
Photo courtesy of ESSE Purse Museum
ESSE Purse Museum | Little Rock, Arkansas
This gem of a museum features hundreds of stunning purses but, deep down, it really tells the story of 20th century women’s history. Categorized by decade, the purses reflect the lives of the women who carried them and the period in which they lived, making your visit unexpectedly poignant and, often, nostalgic.
"My Life As A Purse," above, by artist Sally Prangley, perfectly exemplifies the significance of handbags in women’s lives. You can find it in the well-curated collection in the Museum’s store, where you may walk out with enough purchases to start a museum of your own.
Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Mob Museum | Las Vegas, Nevada
Step into the world of "The Irishman," "The Godfather" and "The Sopranos," and meet the real-life characters of organized crime at the Mob Museum. This interactive museum lets you walk through the dark history of the men (and women) who made a living through robbery, extortion counterfeiting and murder – and the law enforcement officials who took them down.
You’ll see a piece of the actual wall (complete with bullet holes) where members of George "Bugs" Moran’s bootlegging gang were lined up and shot during the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. And you can even try your hand at solving crimes through forensic activities.
Because you’re likely to need a drink after all this, head downstairs to The Underground, where you’ll find the Speakeasy serving Prohibition-era craft cocktails and the Distillery creating its own moonshine.
Photo courtesy of Leah Klein
The Telephone Museum | Waltham, Massachusetts
"If you tend to rebel when museums say, "Don’t touch," The Telephone Museum is for you. Their motto is "Keep Calm and Take Stuff Apart," and they even provide an area dedicated to doing just that.
You can check out more than 750 phones from 1876 through today, including one of the first ones made by Alexander Graham Bell as well as one of the first dial phones. The museum offers tours and workshops, but you may have the most fun just watching kids born in the cell phone era try to operate a rotary phone and jump when they hear a dial tone.
Photo courtesy of Indiana Medical History Museum
Indiana Medical History Museum | Indianapolis, Indiana
Not for the faint of heart, this museum is the oldest surviving pathology facility in the nation. Located on the grounds of the former Indiana Hospital for the Insane, it’s remained unchanged since it abruptly shut down 50 years ago, leaving chemicals in vials, brains in jars and a jaw-dropping variety of items swallowed by patients.
You’ll tour laboratories, autopsy rooms, a medical library and an anatomical museum – all within the same walls where patients were treated for hysteria, schizophrenia and epilepsy during the early 20th century. It will give you a new appreciation for all the advances in medicine since then – and make you glad you were born when you were.
Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
Museum of Ice Cream | San Francisco, California
I scream, you scream, we all scream for the Museum of Ice Cream! What started out as a pop-up has become so popular, it’s now a San Francisco (and New York, Los Angeles and Miami) fixture.
Here’s the scoop: With 10 interactive exhibits, this pastel-colored playground lets you immerse yourself in everything ice cream, including a gigantic sprinkle pool. Best of all, you get lots of samples – for research purposes, of course.
Photo courtesy of The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures
The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures | Tucson, Arizona
Size matters at this breathtaking museum, where smaller is better. Their extensive collection of fine-scale artifacts includes more than 500 antique and contemporary dollhouses and room boxes which are stunning in their craftsmanship and even more impressive because of their tininess.
Special exhibitions highlight the breadth and diversity of the art of miniatures, and you’ll want to take time to explore the painstaking attention to detail in each one. These little pieces will bring you giant enjoyment.
Photo courtesy of Idaho Tourism
Idaho Potato Museum | Blackfoot, Idaho
Whether you say potato or potahto, you will have a blast at this museum dedicated to Idaho’s famous crop. You’ll get to see the world’s largest potato chip crisp and learn fun facts like the average American eats 124 pounds of potatoes per year while the average German eats twice as many.
Stop into the café for a snack – baked potatoes, French fries, potato cupcakes, potato bread, potato salad. But be sure to order online ahead of time because baked potatoes take two hours to prepare, and you’ll want them ready when you finish your mouthwatering tour.
Photo courtesy of Center for Puppetry Arts
Worlds of Puppetry Museum | Atlanta, Georgia
How do you get to "Sesame Street?" Just take a trip to Atlanta, where you can visit Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang at the Worlds of Puppetry Museum. Take a tour of the Jim Henson Gallery, which houses a huge collection of his iconic characters and related memorabilia.
And check out the Global Gallery, all of which will give you a behind-the-scenes look at thousands of puppets and artifacts. Because the museum is part of the Center for Puppetry Arts, you can also watch live shows and movies, attend workshops and create your own puppets.
Just buy a ticket and decide for yourself; there are no strings attached.
Photo courtesy of Visit Albuquerque
American International Rattlesnake Museum | Albuquerque, New Mexico
In the Chinese New Year, 2020 is the Year of the Rat but, here, it’s always the Year of the Snake. This museum boasts the world’s largest collection of different species of live rattlesnakes, making it a must for some and a "no way" for others.
If you can shed your fear, you’ll learn some fascinating (and reassuring) information, including the fact that rattlesnakes are actually shy and will do whatever they can to avoid human contact. You’ll also get to see a Gila monster. And, if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir, you can even buy shed rattlesnake fangs and skin in the gift shop.