Puebla Museum

19 Unsung Museums to Stretch Your Mind

From 2,500-year-old jade to a giant Etch A Sketch, the finds in these often-overlooked attractions will enthrall the history buff, culture lover, and kid in all of us.

Feast your eyes

International Museum of the Baroque

Puebla, Mexico

The stark-white, curved architecture (pictured above), set in one of the best-preserved baroque cities in the Americas, is a masterpiece in its own right. Inside, immerse yourself in the ornate style that defined 17th- and 18th-century art, theater, music, and literature.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Stand at the corner of past and present

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Cincinnati

Through stories of abolitionists, artifacts that include a 19th-century slave pen, and frequent talks, this museum untangles an ugly part of the country’s history as it traces slavery from its origins in America to its forms today.

Levine Museum of the New South

Charlotte, North Carolina 

Exhibits like Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers delve into life in the Carolina Piedmont after the Civil War, while the community-created K(NO)W Justice K(NO)W Peace provides insight into history as it continues to unfold.

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum

See your kids aglow in wonder

The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum

Springfield, Massachusetts

Among the Wump of Gump and Truffula Trees, hands-on exhibits spur creativity and detail the early life of hometown hero Theodor Geisel.

The Strong National Museum of Play

Rochester, New York

This interactive hot spot is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Don’t miss the giant Etch A Sketch, which doubles as a photo booth.

Sterling Hill Mining Museum

Ogdensburg, New Jersey

Take an underground stroll through a labyrinth of fluorescent tunnels. Exhibits feature touchable displays, and you can collect your own minerals to take home.

Storm King Art Center

Roam a little

Storm King Art Center

New Windsor, New York

This bucolic sculpture park in the lower Hudson Valley houses a 100-piece collection across 500 acres. Swing by in the summer for sunset yoga or a moonlit walking tour.

Bainbridge Island Museum of Art

Bainbridge Island, Washington

A 30-minute ferry from Seattle brings you to this light-filled, LEED Gold-certified home to local contemporary works. For more serenity, head to the rooftop garden.

Neon Museum

Las Vegas

Sin City signage glows once again at this outdoor treasury of glitz, affectionately dubbed the neon boneyard, which contains 200-plus signs and can be viewed only with a reservation. Pro tip: Book a night tour.

American Writers Museum

Find inspiration

American Visionary Art Museum

Baltimore

You won’t spy any Monets here. Instead, browse 4,000 pieces—including the 55-foot “Giant Whirligig”—created by self-taught artists from around the globe.

American Writers Museum

Chicago

Study the nation’s most famous scribes, and then show off your own chops by crafting a line for the story of the day. Be sure to check the calendar for talks given by contemporary authors like Gillian Flynn.

Woody Guthrie Center

Tulsa, Oklahoma 

Learn the story behind “This Land Is Your Land,” and then pay homage to the acclaimed folk musician by penning a song at the lyric-writing station.

Musical Instrument Museum

Step into other worlds

Briscoe Western Art Museum

San Antonio

Highlights at this River Walk gem include spirited bronze sculptures, a replica Wells Fargo & Co. stagecoach, and the sword of Mexican General Santa Anna.

Musical Instrument Museum

Phoenix

Each exhibit room transports you to a different geographical region. Ever wanted to strum a Burmese harp or bang a giant gong? Here’s a chance to find your inner musician.

Allen Christian’s House of Balls

Minneapolis

From pianos and plumbing parts to the namesake bowling balls, found objects are transformed into unconventional sculptures. If he’s home, you’re welcome to watch the artist at work.

Dive into a specialty

The Jade Museum

San Jose, Costa Rica

Viewing artifacts dating to 500 B.C., dig into the region’s complex economic and cultural relationship with the eponymous semiprecious stone.

National Postal Museum

Washington, D.C.

Design your own stamp, see mail postmarked from the moon, and learn about Owney, the mutt mascot for the bygone Railway Mail Service.

International Cryptozoology Museum

Portland, Maine

Featuring more than 10,000 items, this quirky collection focuses on Bigfoot, Nessie, and other legendary creatures.

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

New Orleans

The former apothecary houses 19th-century medicine bottles, leech jars, and voodoo potions. It’s also said to be one of the city’s haunted locales.


Photography by CORALIMAGES/istock (Museum of the Baroque), Mark Murray (Dr. Seuss), Jerry L. Thompson (Storm King), Bob Wolgemuth (American Writers Museum); Courtesy of National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and Musical Instrument Museum

Originally Published February 2018