Over 35,000 museums are located in the United States but travel articles consistently cover the same 50 or so. I have visited many fascinating museums in countless small towns across the United States and want to recognize them.
Along with my personal recommendations, I received dozens of suggestions from travel writer friends, tourist offices, PR representatives, and museums themselves.
In addition to highlighting relatively unknown museums, I also will include only museums located outside of major US cities. None of these museums are located in the 25 largest US cities.
This article covers museums in southeastern US, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Carolina. I know there are wonderful museums in the other states but I need your help finding them. Please suggest fascinating museums to visit in North Carolina and Tennessee—or any of the states for which I have entries. Thank you!
The following fascinating small town museums in Southeastern US are listed alphabetically by state, city, and museum name. Hours of operation or prices are not included, so please check the provided website link for further details.
GulfQuest in Mobile is a 90,000 square foot museum designed to look as if it were a ship headed into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. With over 90 exhibits, GulfQuest is the first museum dedicated to the Gulf Coast’s rich maritime traditions and only the second interactive maritime museum in the United States.
Esse Purse Museum in Little Rock is one of only three purse museums in the world.
Grant County Museum in Sheridan features the Richard G. Harrison Military Vehicle Collection, one of the largest private collections of antique military vehicles in the country. In addition to the history and genealogy library, history museum, and military vehicle collection, the Grant County museum has 10 original historic structures in Heritage Square—the oldest is the McCool House built in the 1870s.
[ Also see: Surprising Military Museum Visit ]
Wick Theatre & Costume Museum in Boca Raton houses an astounding exhibit of the finest costumes ever brought to the Broadway stage by the most honored and respected designers in the history of the American Musical Theatre. The incredible venue houses a collection of original costumes from more than 50 Broadway productions and revivals with an estimated value of more than 20 million dollars.
Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate. MOAS has a hands-on children’s museum, planetarium, fascinating visible storage area, and magnificent onsite 90 acre preserve. Its new West Wing features a 13 foot giant sloth skeleton, Cuban Foundation Museum, and African artifacts exhibit. The Root family wing has the largest collection of Coca Cola items outside of Georgia (the Root family made its fortune after winning the patent for the original Coca Cola bottle). The CiCi and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art has the most extensive collection of Florida art in the world.
Silverball Museum in Delray Beach features more than 150 video games and pinball machines dating as far back as the 1930s. Located on the second level, its restaurant serves classic favorites that are sure to warm the heart, like funnel cakes, hot dogs, tomato pies, and Jersey Shore fries. Pulled Pork sliders, Lobster rolls, crab cakes, and more are also available, as are more than 40 beers on tap, and an impressive wine list. The best part about it is that all the games are set for free plays, which means unlimited plays are included in your admission.
Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach is dedicated to preserving, discovering, collecting, and sharing African-American influence on Florida. From history to heritage, it offers exhibits, lectures, and more.
Surfing Museum in Delray Beach strives to document, preserve, and display the history of surfing in the State of Florida, with an emphasis on Palm Beach County. The Museum offers an extensive documentation of surfing in the eastern United States, historic surf board displays, an M.E. Gruber photo collection, special events, and more. Now in West Palm Beach.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach is tucked behind sea grapes and dunes, located along the turquoise blues of the Atlantic Ocean. Focused on ocean and sea turtle conservation, the center began in 1983 as the Children’s Museum in Juno Beach when founder Eleanor Fletcher noticed an abundance of sea turtle nests. Now, the organization runs a sea turtle monitoring program, operates an on-site hospital rehabilitating sick or injured sea turtles, and offers more than 30 public and educational programs. Guests can experience up-close encounters with sea turtles in the 15 viewing tanks, and learn about Florida coastal ecosystems with interactive exhibits and aquariums.
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum in Jupiter invites visitors to climb atop the landmark 1860 lighthouse, meander through a waterfront history Museum located in a restored WWII Navy Building, or stroll along brick walkways as they discover historic pioneer homes. The Museum also offers unique event programs such as “Hike Through History” and “Twilight Yoga at the Light.”
Manatee Lagoon in Riviera Beach is a new, free educational attraction, which has a dedicated area for viewing sea cows (the iconic Florida manatee) up close. The 16,000-square-foot center features engaging, hands-on exhibits for visitors to learn all about these endangered and unique creatures, as well as the natural wonders of the surrounding Lake Worth Lagoon. On cold winter days, the facility’s observation deck will be the ideal spot to view manatee herds basking in the warm-water outflows from Florida Power & Light Company’s adjacent Riviera Beach Next Generation Clean Energy Center.
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island is the only United States museum solely devoted to shells and the mollusks that make them. The natural history museum exhibits beautiful shells from around the globe. Its world-renowned malacologist and two marine biologists are joined by highly educated guides to offer a wealth of knowledge, surprising facts and rare insights into the lesser-known complexities of shells.
Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, the state capital, is a great place to learn about the culture and people of Florida. The museum is filled with awesome artifacts and interactive displays highlighting key time periods in Florida’s history. At MFH, kids (and adults) are encouraged to pick things up, push buttons, and twist and turn things. All of these visualizations and activities are a great way to learn and, more importantly, to remember what you learned. [ submitted by: Vicky Sosa of Buddy the Traveling Monkey ]
Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame in Wellington celebrates the sport of polo and American polo history. With exhibits such as The Mallet, Best Playing Ponies, and The History of Polo, visitors don’t have to be equestrians to enjoy this museum.
Ragtops in West Palm Beach is an unique antique automobile dealership and museum. From the 1941 Cadillac Convertible sedan (one of the only 400 ever built) to 1950 classics with great paint schemes waiting to be admired, as well as newer classics from the 60’s and 70’s, this venue is a haven for car aficionados.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum in Winter Park has the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany glass in the world.
Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate, houses the largest permanent exhibition of Western art and also touring exhibits of Ansel Adams, Saturday Evening Post Cover Art, and photography from National Geographic, to name a few. The President Gallery includes a portrait and hand-signed personal letter from every U.S. President.
Old Car City USA in Cartersville is billed as the world’s largest known classic car junkyard and has evolved into 34 acres and six miles of rusty gold finding new appeal in the photographer’s lens. Other oddities onsite include the owner’s extensive Styrofoam cup art displays, folk art paintings, and Elvis Presley’s last automobile.
Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville is a super, kid-friendly museum showcasing the Weinman Mineral Gallery, gigantic dinosaurs, early marvels of transportation, and replicas of today’s space exploration. Hands-on activities include gem panning, fossil digs, and thrilling planetarium shows.
Emery Center, formerly Emery Street School, in Dalton promotes awareness of African American culture and heritage. The museum is full of rich history of the culture and heritage in Dalton and nationwide. The building includes three floors covered with historical contributions of local blacks and those from across the nation. The museum also includes the historical contributions of some whites and people of other cultures. It has also become a destination to celebrate Black History Month.
Tunnel Hill Heritage Center Museum in Dalton is the starting place when visiting the Tunnel Hill Heritage Park. See how the American Civil War left its mark on Tunnel Hill following the Battle of Chickamauga and the planning of the Atlanta Campaign. Discover the steps to restoring one of the South’s oldest railroad tunnels. Reminisce on the historic Great Locomotive Chase that roared through the W&A tunnel.
Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro combines the real history of the Civil War’s Atlanta Campaign and the 1864 Battle of Jonesboro along with both Hollywood’s and Margaret Mitchell’s versions of Gone With the Wind. See Civil War artifacts, items from the 1939 Atlanta movie premiere, and reproductions of Scarlett’s most famous dresses.
Heritage Park Veterans Museum in McDonough is where soldiers’ stories come to life. The museum has more than 20,000 pieces in its collection, including one of the only three Bensen X-25A Gyrocopters ever manufactured. Veterans volunteer as tour guides and are dedicated to telling not just the history of the artifacts, but the story behind the soldiers who owned, wore, drove, or shot each piece in the collection. The museum also has the only “Wall of Honor” of its kind not located on a military base.
Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville was home to the state capitol of Georgia during the Civil War. In fact, Milledgeville is the only city in the U.S., with the exception of Washington D.C., actually designed to be a capital city. Built as the Executive Mansion, the Old Governor’s Mansion was home to the governors of Georgia from 1838 to 1868. It was occupied by General Sherman during his March to the Sea. It now serves as an historic house museum. The Mansion is one of the most perfect examples of Greek Revival architecture in Georgia and recently opened its doors to the public after a three year historic restoration.
Telfair Academy in Savannah is USA’s eighth oldest art museum, first US museum founded by a woman, and the oldest art museum in the US south. The building itself is a work of art but the collection highlight (at least for me) is the iconic Bird Girl statue from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
See also our guide to Romantic Things to Do in Savannah
21c Museum Hotel Lexington is an 88-room hotel, contemporary art museum, restaurant, and cultural center all in one. Woven into the fabric of downtown Lexington, 21c transformed the historic 103-year-old First National Bank Building into the city’s first true luxury boutique hotel.
TABASCO Museum and Factory Tour is a historical journey through the creation of the iconic hot sauce, including a museum and 10 stop factory tour. Also on the TABASCO property enjoy the restaurant (with sample bottles of every flavor), a bamboo forest, and much more.
INFINITY Science Center in Pearlington vision is to be THE focal point for Earth and Space Sciences education and dialogue in the Gulf Coast area between New Orleans and Pensacola. Some popular highlights include carnivorous plants section, Deep Ocean Explorer simulation, hurricane wind tunnel, and the Apollo Saturn V rocket (most powerful engine ever created). INFINITY serves as the official visitor center for Stennis Space Center (where all NASA rockets and components are tested before deployment).
Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs primarily focuses on the creations of 20th century artist Walter Anderson but WAMA also recognizes his brothers, Peter Anderson (of nearby Shearwater Pottery) and James McConnell Anderson. Walter Anderson believed, “In order to realize the beauty of man we must realize his relation to nature.” McCool Travel tip: be sure to visit the adjoining Ocean Springs Community Center to see Walter Anderson’s eric murals interpreting Coastal Mississippi and US Gulf Coast life and history.
Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in Greenville displays records, artifacts, photographs, film, and other items of interest associated with the historic life and baseball career of Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the most beloved and publicized ballplayers of all time. The museum is located in the house where Joe Jackson lived and died and an amazing book collection (donated by enthusiasts from across America) related to baseball and its role in American culture is housed in Joe’s former trophy room. The house number is 356, a reminder that Joe’s lifetime batting average was .356, the third highest in baseball history after Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby.
Please provide your suggested fascinating museums in southeastern US in the comments. I might cover them on a future road trip. Thank you.