We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis.
Atwater: Castle Air Museum displays military aircraft from World War I to the present day, including a fine collection of World War II bombers.
Blythe: At the Hauser Geode Beds near here you can dig up geodes that hold beautiful crystal formations inside.
Burlingame: There’s a museum for everything, and the Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia proves it with its collection of Pez candy dispensers.
Calico: Calico has been called the Old West’s most authentic restored ghost town. Calico was born in 1881 when one of the largest silver strikes in California history was made here. Today the town is administered by San Bernardino County and has costumed gunfighters, historic buildings and tourist shops.
Chino: The Yanks Air Museum displays nearly 50 historic aircraft.
Chiriaco Summit: General Patton trained his armored troops here before they embarked for Africa during World War II. The General Patton Museum has displays on the famed military leader and the role of his armored forces in the war.
Culver City: The Museum of Jurassic Technology is an eclectic collection of exhibits that include carved fruit stones, a horn that grew out of a woman’s head, cultural items and other bizarre items.
Danville: The Blackhawk Automotive Museum displays nearly 100 antique, classic and special interest cars,.
Eureka: The Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum displays artifacts from the nautical history of the northern California coast.
Felton: Do you believe in Bigfoot? Exhibits at the Bigfoot Discovery Project Museum in Felton works to prove the existence of Sasquatch.
Folsom: At the Folsom Prison Museum you can learn about life in the “Big House” and see the cells where some of the nation’s most desperate convicts were held, inclufing the nooses used to execute some of them.
Glen Ellen: Jack London State Historic Park is a memorial to writer and adventurer Jack London, who made his home at the site from 1905 until his death in 1916. The park contains the cottage residence where he wrote books while he oversaw various agricultural enterprises. A trail leads to Jack London’s grave.
Goleta: The South Coast Railroad Museum, housed in the 1901 Victorian Goleta Depot, preserves the old Southern Pacific depot and tells the story of the impact railroads had on rural society.
Jenner: Fort Ross State Historic Park preserves historic Fort Ross, a thriving Russian-American Company settlement from 1812 to 1841. Fort Ross was a successfully functioning multi-cultural settlement for some thirty years. Settlers included Russians, Native Alaskans, Californians, and Creoles.
Laguna Beach: At the Pacific Marine Mammal Center sick and injured seals, sea lions, dolphins, and whales are rehabilitated for eventual release back into the wild. Interpreters explain the animals’ natural history and the rehabilitation process used to help send them back to their lives in the wild.
Mount Hamilton: The historic Lick Observatory has the second largest refractor telescope in the world. Visitors can see exhibits in the main building, built in 1888, and view the 120 inch reflector from the Visitors Gallery.
Oceanside: The California Surf Museum exhibits displays of surfing equipment and photographs. Every six months it introduces a new feature exhibit highlighting one of the pioneering legends of the surfing world.
Pacific Palisades: The former ranch of cowboy philosopher/humorist Will Rogers is now a State Historic Park.
Palm Springs: The Palm Springs Air Museum displays one of the world’s largest collections of flying World War II warplanes, rare and original combat photography, original artworks, artifacts, memorabilia and uniforms of World War II.
Palm Springs: Step back in time to the 1930s and early 1940s at Ruddy’s General Store Museum, an authentic, lovingly re-created general store of that period.
Port Hueneme: The Seabee Museum at Port Hueneme has exhibits on the Navy’s construction battalions.
Portola: At the Western Pacific Railroad Museum you will not only see an extensive collection of rolling stock, you can actually operate a locomotive on the museum’s own railroad tracks.
Salinas: Fans of author John Steinbeck, who immortalized the Dust Bowl Okies in The Grapes of Wrath and spawned an urge to travel in generations of Americans with Travels with Charley, won’t want to miss the National Steinbeck Center.
San Diego: At 27,000 square feet, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is the largest indoor model railroad display in the world. The individual HO and N scale layouts are among the largest of their type to be found anywhere.
Santa Rosa: Fans of the comic strip Peanuts will be thrilled with the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which displays examples of the comic strip creator’s work, hosts special Peanuts-themed exhibits, and keep Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty, Linus, and the rest of the gang alive forever.
Solvang: The Hans Christian Anderson Museum has displays on the life and work of the popular Danish storyteller.
Solvang: The Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum has an impressive collection of antique racing motorcycles and memorabilia.
Sunnyvale: The Lace Museum is devoted solely to lace and showcases an extensive collection of lace and lace tools.
Truckee: The Emigrant Trail Museum, located at Donner Memorial State Park, depicts the history of the area and the people who came into this part of the Sierra, including local Native Americans, the ill-fated Donner Party and the builders of the transcontinental railroad.
Tustin: The Marconi Automotive Museum displays over 70 automobiles, including Ferraris and other high end sports cars.
Victorville: The California Route 66 Museum honors the Mother Road with exhibits on the famous highway and the Dust Bowl Okies who traveled the old road in search of a better life in California.
Vista: The Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum’s collections focus on the agriculture, construction, and early industrial trades from 1850 to 1950. Exhibits include blacksmith and wheelwright shops, a country kitchen and parlor, steam and gas industrial power units, and gristmill and farm equipment from horse drawn through modern day technology.
Wilmington: Drum Barracks Civil War Museum is housed in the last remaining original Civil War-era military facility in the Los Angeles area. The Armory displays many interesting weapons used in the Civil War, including rifles, muskets, carbines, a Gatling gun, and pistols.