This article covers small town museums in western US, including Alaska, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
There are over 35,000 museums in the United States but travel articles consistently cover the same 50 or so. I have been to many fascinating museums in countless small towns across the United States and believe lesser visited museums should be recognized and visited.
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.
The following fascinating small town museums in Western 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.
Fascinating Small Town Museums in Western US
Hammer Museum, in Haines, is just what it sounds like, a museum dedicated to preserving the history of hammers. A collection of nearly 2,000 hammers on display at the museum with more than 7,000 total items takes visitors on a journey through the history behind man’s first tool.
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, in Anchorage, strives to connect people, expand perspectives and encourage global dialogue about the North and its distinct environment. The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center houses an exhibition of 600 rare Alaska Native artifacts from the Smithsonian Institution.
The exhibit is designed so visitors can easily compare and contrast different Alaska Native cultural groups. In the Discovery Center, visitors can explore earth, life, and physical science through 80 hands-on exhibits.
Greenville Cy Hall Memorial Museum, in Greenville, housed in a restored historical building which once was a warehouse, features a timeline of history about Indian Valley with photographs by decade beginning in 1850. It has a current exhibit about Maidu Families of Indian Valley to celebrate the heritage, legacy, traditions, and lifetimes that walked this beautiful valley long before Europeans moved here.
International Surfing Museum, in Huntington Beach, visitors can explore the destination’s surf heritage, or just immerse in Huntington Beach’s laid-back surfing attitude. Newly installed outside the museum at 42 feet long is the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS Largest Surfboard.
The International Surfing Museum is a must for surf buffs thanks to such sacred relics as a surfboard used by Duke Kahanamoku, a cornerstone from the 1914 Huntington Beach Pier, a guitar owned by surf instrumental king Dick Dale, and the Rolex camera used by Bruce Brown to film The Endless Summer.
Irvine Museum, in Irvine, is the only museum in the state dedicated to the preservation and display of California art of the Impressionist Period (1890-1930).
Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum, in Mt. Shasta, illuminates the past, present, and future of the Mt Shasta Area. New exhibits are installed every year in the main part of the museum. A recent visitor commented, “My boys spent the better part of an hour in the train simulation area. They were in FULL BLOWN imagination world, deep, deep, deep into a scenario of driving that train. I am grateful to you for providing such a hands-on exhibit.”
Oakland Museum of California, in Oakland, has more than 1.9 million objects—including seminal art works, historical artifacts, ethnographic objects, natural specimens, and photographs—celebrating many facets of California. Their programs explore and reveal the factors that shape California character and identity, from its extraordinary natural landscapes, to successive waves of migration, to its unique culture of creativity and innovation. It has a current featured exhibition about marijuana… the first exhibit of its kind.
Bolt’s Antique Tool Museum, in Oroville, is recognized by the Smithsonian as the largest documented collection known to exist. Over 12,000 of the most important man-made products on earth. With tools, man can do anything—without tools, we are just another animal.
International Banana Museum, in Palm Springs, has 20,000 banana-related items: banana lamps, monkey bowl, photo-op banana statue, and scratch and sniff stickers on your way out. Linger for a banana split! Your visit to Palm Springs isn’t complete without a visit to the place that holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest collection dedicated to a single fruit—bananas.
California Agriculture Museum, in Woodland, exhibits the world’s largest collection of antique agricultural equipment produced prior to 1931.
Reiff’s Antique Gas Station Automotive Museum, in Woodland, is dedicated to retro 1950’s nostalgia.
Baldpate Inn Key Museum, in Estes Park, is home to more than 20,000 keys from around the world, including the Pentagon, Westminster Abbey, and even Frankenstein’s Castle. The museum is named after the mystery novel, “Seven Keys to Baldpate,” by Earl Derr Biggers.
Just like the book, the hotel handed out keys to guests—until the price of metal became too expensive during World War I. Loyal guests decided to change the tradition and instead began bringing the hotel a key each time they visited, resulting in the world’s largest key collection.
Tinkertown Museum, in Albuquerque, is a folk art museum created in 1962, constructed using more than 50,000 glass bottles and other recyclable materials. The museum showcases a variety of trinkets including a 1880s miniature animated western town, three-ring circus and much more.
American International Rattlesnake Museum, in Albuquerque, is an animal conservation museum revealing the hundreds of ways that rattlesnakes and other “less desirable” animals, such as tarantulas and snapping turtles, have influenced our lives. Examples are given through artifacts, memorabilia, and the largest collection of different species of live rattlesnakes in the world.
Museum of Osteology, in Oklahoma City, is the first museum in the United States dedicated to skeletons. It has more than 300 skeletons and 400 skulls from all corners of the world, as well as a hands-on Explorer’s Corner.
McCool Travel note: World of Speed permanently closed in 2020.
World of Speed, in Wilsonville, is one of the premier motorsport museums in the country, featuring over 100 cars covering multiple aspects of motorsport including NASCAR, Indy Car, drag racing, land speed racing, sports cars, and motorcycles, telling the stories of motorsport heroes, many of whom got their start right here in the Northwest.
National Presidential Wax Museum, in Keystone, features over 100 life-sized wax sculptures of some of the most iconic figures in American history and historic artifacts, including President Bill Clinton’s own red, white, and blue saxophone (courtesy of the National Music Museum), Florida’s controversial ballot boxes from the 2000 presidential election, and more.
American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum, in Amarillo, showcases the colorful history and modern activities of the world’s most popular breed of horse and the people who have played a major role in its history. Changing, one-of-a-kind exhibits are on display year-round. AQHA maintains the world’s largest equine breed registry and membership organization.
Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, in Amarillo, includes the Flexible Bus from the movie RV, the first Itasca motor home ever built, the oldest Fleetwood in existence, the oldest known Airstream, and many other RV’s from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. Step back in time, reminisce, and enjoy the progression of the RV industry from its inception till now.
>>> Please also read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Things to Do in Amarillo.
National Videogame Museum, in Frisco, is the place to learn about the videogame industry’s rich history, where it’s heading next, and how we can all be a part of it. A place where we can meet and expand our vast community of creative and competitive minds. A place that exudes FUN in a permanent home where on any given day we can play the games of yesterday, today AND tomorrow.
American Wind Power Center (aka Windmill Museum), in Lubbock, is home to more than 170 rare and fully restored windmills spread out on 28 acres of rolling hills. Inside you’ll find a G-scale train exhibit, windmills, dozens of miniature houses and an impressive collection of grist stones from the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. They have the oldest self-governing windmill, first steel windmill, and a replica of the first windmill brought to the New World in 1621.
Buddy Holly Center, in Lubbock, has dual missions—preserving, collecting and promoting the legacy of Buddy Holly and the music of Lubbock and West Texas, as well as providing exhibits on Contemporary Visual Arts and Music, for the purpose of educating and entertaining the public. The museums features Buddy Holly memorabilia and two wings (currently Women in Rock and Roll photographs and National Park photographs). The Buddy Holly statue is at the West Texas Walk of Fame, across the street from the museum.
Lubbock Lake National Historic Landmark, in Lubbock, is an archaeological and natural history preserve, exhibiting a virtually complete cultural sequence from the Clovis Period to Historic times (making this location unique because most archaeological sites have only one or two cultural levels). Uncovered relics show human activity at this site over 10,000 years ago. In addition to the museum building, visit the active dig site along the trail system, where you might catch a brilliant Texas big sky sunset.
National Ranching Heritage Center, in Lubbock, depicts the life of North American ranchers. This 16-acre site houses 48 authentic structures dating back to the 1700s. Popular annual events include Candlelight at the Ranch each December and Ranch Days held every April, where spectators can watch and learn about lifestyles during ranching days.
Silent Wings Museum, in Lubbock, preserves and promotes the history of the World War II military glider program. Transport yourself into the era of swing music and patriotism and experience World War II as told by the glider pilots who lived it. View a rare, restored WACO CG-4A, mainstay of the U.S. glider force that flew in every major invasion of the Second World War.
>>> Please also read the McCool Travel article: 8 Great Things to Do in Lubbock.
Dr Pepper Museum, in Waco, is one of the more curious museums in the Lone Star State. Like most carbonated beverages, it traces its roots back to a pharmacist who created the medicinal 23-flavor brew…and the rest is history. The museum documents the beverages history through memorabilia, but it also serves an educational purpose. Located on the third floor is the Free Enterprise Institute, which teaches local students about economics, marketing, and business. [ submitted by: Laura Longwell, Travel Addicts ]
Southern Utah Museum of Art, in Cedar City, is an 18,000 square foot museum with five adaptable gallery spaces, a classroom, and a collection and conservation studio where visitors can observe the museum staff working to ensure the protection of art in the museum. On the campus of Southern Utah University, SUMA itself is a work of art, a permanent sculpture that houses an art museum. Inspired by the sandstone formations of southern Utah, SUMA’s canyon-like roof and large patio create a beautiful gathering place for the community that provides shade to protect the art inside.
Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, in Cheyenne, showcases the rich history of the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and western celebration, and also features some of the most intriguing western artifacts in the region, including one of the most extensive collections of carriages that chronicle America’s expansion to the West.
Cowgirls of the West Museum, in Cheyenne, is dedicated to preserving the heritage and important role women played in taming and settling the Wild West. Visitors will find a diverse collection of historical western memorabilia and Cowgirl volunteers are always on hand to help tell the stories of the women who helped shape the American West.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, is an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and is a collection of five museums, together telling the story of Yellowstone and the American West. Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, and Cody Firearms Museum each are impressive stand alone destinations. Together, spanning over seven acres of exhibit space, the center allows visitors two days with paid admission and you might need it!
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