Family

Museums Kids Love: Culture Meets Quirky Family Fun

Photo courtesy of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum
Photo courtesy of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum
Despite what your children might think, the highlight of a day full of culture doesn’t have to be that trip to the museum food court. Museums—especially the smaller, independently ones—can be quirky, unpredictable, and fun. Here are 5 of wackiest, most kid-friendly museums across the country. Just be sure to bring your sense of humor.

PEZ Museum
This Burlingame, CA, museum pays homage to everybody’s favorite candy: PEZ, and the plastic dispensers that made the sweets famous. The museum is quite literally bursting with candy memorabilia. The front room is a shop from which owner Gary Doss sells more than 200 varieties of PEZ dispensers from all over the world. The back room is a museum, where a $3 admission gets you a 10-minute tour of PEZ history from World War I to present. Doss’s collection includes a copy of every one of the PEZ dispenser styles ever made (more than 700 in all). There’s also a 7-foot-tall snowman dispenser—recognized by Guinness as the world’s largest dispenser of PEZ.

Devil’s Rope Museum
Yes, some people really collect barbed wire. And yes, a bunch of them got together in 1991 to launch a museum in McLean, TX, devoted to immortalizing the object of their obsessions. Today, the place (which invokes a common nickname for barbed wire) displays hundreds of specimens of barbed wire and examines the role it played in shaping America’s Wild West. One of the most popular exhibits catalogs the different kinds of barbed wire used by the US military. Other exhibits feature tools and devices used in fence construction (you can’t have barbed wire without a fence), as well as handicrafts made from barbed wire (as hokey as it sounds, the cowboy hat is very impressive).

Museum of Bad Art
With the slogan, “Art too bad to be ignored,” this is not a place where you’ll find Renoir, Picasso or Basquiat. Instead, the MBA is the world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms. “Artwork” is divided into 3 categories: portraiture, landscapes and “unseen forces.” Formerly housed in a private home, the main museum now resides in the basement of a community theater in Dedham, MA (across the hall from the men’s room, mind you). Though the collection comprises more than 400 pieces, no more than 40 are on display at a time. An outpost is located in another theater basement in nearby Somerville.

Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum
Most kids love video games, which means most kids will go ga-ga (but not Lady Gaga) for Marvin’s. This museum and fun emporium in Farmington Hills, MI, features more than 200 coin-operated games from the last century, and all of the games are operational. Historic games include everything from gypsy fortune tellers (like the one in the movie, “Big”) to miniature carousels (which you can ride). More current games include “Dance, Dance Revolution,” Pac-Man and others. The man behind it all is collector Marvin Yogada, who also has accumulated a treasure-trove of oddities over the years, including more than 40 antique fans and an electric chair once used to execute 30 inmates at Sing-Sing Prison in New York State.

International UFO Museum and Research Center
Since 1947, when a supposedly alien spacecraft crashed in the New Mexico desert, Roswell, NM, has become the poster child for extra-terrestrial life on Earth. How fitting, then, that this museum dedicated to the history of UFOs and UFO encounters would be based there. Among other zany exhibits, the museum contains a film of the “official” autopsy of alien bodies after a supposed 1947 crash. The joint also offers up information (some might even call it “evidence”) of crop circles and alien abductions over time. The museum doesn’t proselytize, but instead encourages visitors to ask questions in an “X-Files” sort of way. If you get hungry, there’s a UFO-themed restaurant across the street.

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