Hidden Gem Museums

Explore the Peculiar and Eccentric at These 13 U.S. Hidden Gem Museums

With more than 30,000 museums spread across the United States, visitors can find museums for just about anything, including history, science, space, and archaeological options. Yet, among the masses, a few stand out from the crowds. Some are peculiar, odd, or eccentric, with exhibits that inspire, educate, or even intimidate guests.

You might find these hidden gem museums in the heart of major metro areas or off the beaten path. But every curiosity is covered and many of the exhibits at these curious museums need to be seen up close to be believed and truly appreciated.

The Mütter Museum-Pennsylvania
The Mütter Museum | photo via trouble_a_bruin

The Mütter Museum

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is a fascinating mashup of medical oddities and anatomical exhibits. Think skeletons, vintage medical equipment, and jars filled with things like the plague bacteria or a visiting display of Albert Einstein’s brain samples.

This collection started in 1787, but it would be almost 200 years before the museum was open to the public. While the museum could be macabre, it errs on the side of science. From a collection of 1800s human skulls to nearly 2,400 objects removed from human throats, every display is about the progress of medical science.

Look for special opportunities, like the Illustrating Medicine display that is only open on weekends or the special private tours after hours.

The Neon Museum-Nevada
The Neon Museum | photo via fraukorthose

The Neon Museum

Las Vegas, Nevada

What was once a local secret is now a sell-out attraction in Las Vegas. The Neon Museum is a shining tribute to Vegas of bygone eras.

The visit starts by walking into the visitor’s center — the former lobby of the LaConcha Motel. The design was a groundbreaking moment in African American history in Las Vegas, and huge efforts went into keeping the shell-shaped lobby intact, even after the hotel closed in early 2004 after a 43-year run. When the Neon Museum was planned, the LaConcha lobby finally had a permanent home.

Inside the museum, visitors walk through the neon signs that once graced the Strip and Fremont Street. With a collection of 250 and growing, there’s a story for every sign, and this Las Vegas guided tour is one of the most electric. Just be sure to book tickets well in advance.

The Museum of Bad Art-Massachusetts
The Museum of Bad Art | photo via marybmumps

The Museum of Bad Art

Boston (Dorchester), Massachusetts

Known as MOBA, this art museum is nothing you’d expect of an art museum. First, it’s housed in a brewery in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. Second, it is focused on art that “wouldn’t be appreciated anywhere else.”

Even within this odd art niche, there are rules. First, an artist cannot intentionally try to make a piece of work “bad.” Second, all works are found in the trash or at random sales spots like an online marketplace. A few are even re-gifts from amused friends of the artist.

The explanations of the artwork really fall into the written art category, including a painting of JFK that the Curator-in-Chief calls the “most repugnant image of one of the most photographic leaders that the world has ever known.”

NOTE: The only location of MOBA as of 2024 is 1250 Massachusetts, Boston, MA, 02125. All other locations are closed.

The National Mustard Museum

Middleton, Wisconsin

You’ll become a connoisseur of condiments after going on this “expedijon” outside of Madison, Wisconsin.

The seasoned collection covers all 50 states and 70 additional countries among 6,000 jars of mustard varieties. More than 100 samples are available daily. The museum doubles as a gift shop and gourmet food store.

Some of the flavors might make you cringe, but even selections like cranberry mustard, cognac mustard, and bleu cheese pecan balsamic mustard are award winners. Explore the recipe options with suggestions like mustard brownies.

Have a sore back? Get some mustard rub. Need to impress at the next dinner party? Dr. Pete’s Prailine Mustard Glaze is perfect. Limited space on the charcuterie board? Dill pickle mustard covers two continents in one jar.

Plan a visit for the first Saturday in August to experience National Mustard Day.

The American Visionary Art Museum-Maryland
The American Visionary Art Museum | photo via autumn723

The American Visionary Art Museum

Baltimore, Maryland

Every bit of this Baltimore museum marketing makes it seem so fancy, with phrases like “champions self-taught and intuitive artists” and “revels foremost in the creative act itself.”

But what’s really behind the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is more existential — a place where artists literally let their imaginations run wild with no art curriculum or guidelines. Gut feelings and intuition guide these artists to create pieces that dazzle in the Bling Universe of artwork.

A large focus of the work shows how creative minds transcend mental health challenges and physical limitations. The work is as inspiring as it is endearing.

The Winchester Mystery House-San Jose, California
The Winchester Mystery House | photo via cancan1959

The Winchester Mystery House

San Jose, California

I could not testify in court that 100% of what you see here is true, but that’s part of the allure of “Mystery House,” eh?

What we do know is that Sarah Remington, a widow and heiress to the Remington Repeating Arms Company, started building a house in 1885. Only death would stop her unscripted additions and haphazard placements of doors, windows, stairs, and rooms.

Even Stephen King bought into the legendary house history, stating that Red Rose was inspired by the psychic who (allegedly) told Remington, “As long as you’re not done building the house, you’ll stay alive.”

What remains today is a massive home that is the muse for Disney’s Haunted Mansion, filled with 10,000 windows, 2,000 doors, two basements, and 160 rooms. Hour-long guided tours with access to the Victorian garden make this one of the most unique stops in the San Francisco Bay Area, and that’s saying something!

The Museum of the Weird-Texas
The Museum of the Weird | photo via theenvee

The Museum of the Weird

Austin, Texas

In a city known for its weirdness, the Museum of the Weird really takes the “Keep Austin Weird” motto seriously. Half sideshow and half wax museum, this is where you go to see two-headed whatevers, cyclops pigs, and the friendliest-looking Bigfoot ever.

The museum is behind the Lucky Lizard Gift Shop, with more Keep Austin Weird memorabilia.

To enjoy the Museum of the Weird, you’ll need to like horror movies and legendary creatures while having a great sense of humor and low expectations of what a “museum” really is. However, you can’t beat how unique this place is, even if the Pharoh Mummy follows you home in your dreams.

The Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum

Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

As the only one of its kind in the world, the 1,100 varieties of puppets at the Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum are now in an expanded space near Cincinnati.

The collection dates back to the 19th century, with a few that definitely won’t fit modern-day social standards. However, each one has a story and a space in history, with photos and a research library with information about each one.

What’s even more fun about visiting a museum with thousands of plastic eyes staring at you? The fact that it’s open by reservation only means you get to have the museum all to yourself. Heads up — you aren’t allowed to touch the puppets.

Infinity Room in the House on the Rock - Spring Green, Wisconsin
House on the Rock, Spring Green WI | photo via libby_slinkard / Instagram

The House on the Rock

Spring Green, Wisconsin

Even among the unique museums of the United States, it’s rare to find a place where one season greets you with holiday songs and another starts with the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse waiting for you to walk through the Devil’s Throat. That’s just one reason the House on the Rock in Wisconsin rocks.

This museum of oddities and attached resort is perched atop a stack of rocks, with an Infinity Room that challenges your spatial awareness and fear of heights.

Recently showcased in a series adaption of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, the popularity of this precarious piece of architecture is soaring.

When trying to explain what the museum really is, the best explanation may be — imagine if Rob Zombie and Tim Burton had a baby museum housing the most terrifying the world’s largest carousel.

At the same time, there’s tranquility found in the two gardens and nostalgia on the Streets of Yesterday. Just be prepared — the museum escalates quickly from serene to surreal.

The City Museum-Missouri
The City Museum | photo via nicolleorne

The City Museum

St. Louis, Missouri

The City Museum in St. Louis is like a whimsical wonderland crafted from recycled materials. This museum reminds me of a Burning Man layout in the Midwest but also with the World’s Largest Pencil.

It’s not your typical museum—it’s an interactive playground for all ages. The City Museum mixes art, architecture, and adventure with surprises around every corner. You also get more than a lesson in recycling and living green – mythical creatures await in the hidden passageways and treehouse passageways strangely resemble a ride through the colon.

You can climb through tunnels made from old airplanes, slide down a 10-story spiral slide, and explore hidden steel caves. If it sounds like a three-ring circus, don’t worry, they’ve got one of those too!

There’s never a dull moment at this one-of-a-kind museum that turns ordinary objects into extraordinary experiences.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology-California
The Museum of Jurassic Technology | photo via andrespardey

The Museum of Jurassic Technology

Culver City, California

I could probably write “Gibblty Gobbity Boopsiddy Woop” and it would make more sense than what follows, but here goes nothing.

You start by walking into a building that feels like a scene from the Liam Neeson movie Taken.

If you’ve ever wondered if dice can rot or if a drugged giant stink ant is impaling itself on trees in West Central Africa, find out here. When you’re finally through the maze of dimly lit rooms and unconnected oddities, tea and cookies are available on the roof while you ponder what you just experienced.

SPOILER ALERT: You will not come to any reasonable conclusion.

Most importantly, despite the Culver City address, this has 100% nothing to do with Jurassic Park, dinosaurs, or Steven Speilberg. Even Smithsonian Magazine couldn’t get the found to nail down what the name means.

The Center for PostNatural History

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Any dog owner seems to grasp the concept of their furry friend evolving from wolves. We rarely give too much thought about how humans made that happen. That is the watered-down premise of the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh.

While the small, two-room museum won’t impress you with its size, you’ll leave with a mind full of questions. You’ll also find one of the newest exhibits showcasing a Wooly Mammoth hair, claiming it could be due for a 21st-century comeback.

At its essence, this museum brings biotech, nature, and culture into question, looking at unique situations where humans modify plants or animals for a specific purpose. The exhibits here don’t fit in zoos or natural history museums, making the PostNatural History Museum one of a kind.

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum-Tennessee
The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum | photo via annagracem.jpg

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

In the shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains, there’s a whole lot of shaking going on at this unique museum of Appalachia. What started as a need for a peppermill turned into a hobby that is now the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum — a collection 35 years in the making.

More than 20,000 sets of shakers are on display. Yes, the spicy history of the shakers is detailed, but it’s as much an art form when you see the unique ways shakers stand out. The placements offer a colorful rainbow of ASMR coordination, hitting every hue on the spectrum.

A visit to this museum is a great addition to the end of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Plus, it’s one of the best museums ranked by Smoky Mountain Wanderings.

Explore Unique US Hidden Gem Museums For Yourself

Whether you’re drawn to history, the fascinating world of the macabre, or the quirkiness of shrines to salt and pepper shakers and mustard, the nation’s hidden gem museums all have something unique that makes them worth visiting.

The end of this list is just the beginning of your adventure. You can find unique museums in every U.S. state. These creative collections are generally easier on the budget and make great conversations for road trips between your destinations.