The Weirdest and Most Wonderful Museums in the West
The most specific, dedicated museums in the region showcasing everything from historic wooden boats and hammers to vintage washing machines and…bananas
There’s no doubt that the West is brimming with culture, including some of the country’s (and world’s) best museums. The spots that follow might not be considered “best,” but they’re certainly the quirkiest, most whimsical odes to a vast array of topics, from bananas and spuds to vintage arcade games and historic neon signs. Here, our favorite weird and wonderful museums across the West.
Buffalo Mill Museum, Golden, CO
Flickr / Darren and Brad
Learn about the life and legend of William F. Cody (a.k.a. Buffalo Bill), then pay your respects at his final resting place. There are other tributes to ol’ Bill around the country, but Golden has his grave—as well as a pretty thorough exhibit detailing not only the particulars of Cody’s life, but of his Wild West Shows, the indigenous people he employed, Annie Oakley’s rise to fame, and more. See original tickets, costumes, and other artifacts, as well as a plethora of well-preserved photographs and some (admittedly hokey) interactive moments meant for kids (ride Bill’s horse!).
Look for: A framed lock of Cody’s golden-white hair; he was called Pahaska by the Sioux, which means “long hair.”
Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, Burlingame, CA
Flickr / Ingrid Taylar
This whimsical roadside attraction is in fact three museums in one. See every Pez dispenser ever manufactured (including the world’s largest, and dispensers signed by celebrities) at the Museum of Pez Memorabilia; then check out the Classic Toy Museum, which houses childhood favorites such as original Mr. Potato Heads, Easy-Bake Ovens, and the earliest LEGOs, Barbie Dolls and comic books. Save the best for last—the Museum of Banned Toys—which displays an Atomic Energy Lab from the ’50s, the original, deadly Lawn Darts and more. The compound offers other charming vintage exhibits as well, if you’re interested in ray guns and a history of TV remotes.
Look for: The VIP, after-hours night tour (6:30pm-9pm) including a candy tasting, collectible take-home dispenser, and guided tour (plus 15% off in the gift shop, if you need another dispenser).
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA
Getty Images / aimintan
The Center for Wooden Boats is a beautiful museum and learning center housed in a gorgeous wooden building right on the water (of course). In addition to exhibits that honor Northwest maritime heritage and historic small crafts, the Center also boasts a living fleet of historic boats. Prioritizing hands-on learning, the Center offers boat rentals, classes and workshops, field trips, lectures, and more.
Look for: The CastOFF! Sunday Public Sail, free and open to everyone on a first-come, first-served basis. If you want a spot in a boat (sprit boats, steamboats, electric boats, schooners, ketches, yawls, and yachts are on offer) arrive early and get in line; sign-up begins at 10am.
Hammer Museum, Haines, AK
Getty Images / Ruben Ramos
Never have we seen such a cheeky museum dedicated to something as blunt and boring as…the hammer. But, the hammer isn’t boring at all, in fact! Not when it’s presented like this, inside an adorable cabin in the picturesque town of Haines. Not to be confused with the progressive Hammer Museum in Los Angeles—which has nothing to do with actual hammers—this Hammer Museum houses 2,000 tools, from 2 inches to 20 feet, and tells the fascinating, and often funny, story both of the instrument and the human ingenuity behind it. Did you know there’s a specific ancient hammer meant for crafting the perfect cube of sugar to win a woman’s hand? We thought not.
Look for: The visitor ledger, where the wit continues with comments like “Best hammer museum so far!” and “It made our hearts pound!”
Idaho Potato Museum, Blackfoot, ID
Flickr / amanderson2
The Idaho Potato Museum takes the humble tater to new heights (literally, there’s a giant baked potato sculpture out front) with exhibits on the agricultural and commercial history of the starchy veg, as well as fun interactive stations such as Mr. Potato Head races and Potato Lab science room, plus some curious potato artifacts such as the world’s largest potato chip (a Pringle from 1991).
Look for: The Potato Station Café next door, where you can taste Idaho’s pride baked, fried, in bread and cupcake form, and even dipped in chocolate.