This summer we're taking a look at interesting, odd, historic and just plain worth it road trips in and around the Lone Star State.
For a true collector, it can be a slippery slope between hoarding and a museum-quality attraction. We've got a few who made that leap with toys, RVs and vintage automobiles, but our list of Texas museums also includes tests of faith (Santa Claus and creationism), controversy (Confederate artifacts and Japanese internment camps) and some really strange objects. So read more to find where to drive to view the two-headed goat, the Fiji mermaid and T. rex's bigger, badder cousin.
American Freedom Museum (191 miles from Houston)
Freedom may be "just another word for nothin' left to lose," but the American Freedom Museum tells our nation's history through exhibits ranging from the American Revolution to our country's longest war in Afghanistan. In the 15 galleries of the Hall of Freedom, discover a musket used in 1775 at the Battle of Lexington, a flag that once flew over Dachau concentration camp, and a Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War.
1051 North Houston, Bullard, Texas 75757, 903-894-5252, americanfreedommuseum.org
Austin Toy Museum (168 miles from Houston)
What's a collector to do when his personal collection of 20,000 toys outgrows his home? The Austin Toy Museum, now in its new location, began with Caleb Zammit's dream and has since doubled in size to feature an amazing rotating collection of figurines and toys from the 1980s, comics dating back to the early 1900s and even console video games.
314 1/2 Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701, 512-220-9582, austintoymuseum.org
Buggy Barn Museum (207 miles from Houston)
Ever hear the term horsepower? Before automobiles we had horse-drawn carriages and this historic Hill Country museum has preserved more than 140 buggies, carriages and wagons, dating from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Film buffs will recognize a few of the objects from True Grit, There Will Be Blood and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.
1915 Main, Blanco, Texas 78606, 830-833-5708, buggybarnmuseum.com
Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum + Big Bear Native American Museum (250 miles from Houston)
Going to jail isn't much fun, but seeing authentic jail artifacts is. This historical site in Johnson County includes the oldest log courthouse in Texas, a cemetery, and a sheriff's office and jail. After the Civil War, the Chisholm Trail was used to drive cattle from ranches in Texas to the Kansas railheads. Also on the premises is the Big Bear Native American Museum, which opened in 2014 and features a collection of Native American artifacts.
101 Chisholm Trail, Cleburne, Texas 76033, 817-648-4633, jcchisholmtrail.com
Creation Evidence Museum (261 miles from Houston)
Dinosaurs are in the Bible if you look closely enough — Genesis talks about how God created everything, even “beasts of the earth” — and this museum backs up that theory with scientific evidence for creation. There's a 25-foot detailed replica of Noah's Ark, dinosaur track excavations, a tutorial on how evolution got it wrong, a fossilized human finger and a casting of the famous Burning Tree mastodon skeleton from Ohio.
3102 FM 205, Glen Rose, Texas 76043, 254-897-3200, creationevidence.org
DFW Elite Toy Museum (275 miles from Houston)
Wait, this museum is dog-friendly? Cool. Plus the current exhibition — "Dogs in Art, Toys and Antiques" — brings together dog-themed artifacts from paintings, sculptures and vintage toys from the Ron Sturgeon collection. Sturgeon got his start collecting Mercedes toy cars and soon expanded to German wind-up toys, cast iron toys, and very fine models.
5940 Eden Drive, Haltom City, Texas 76117, 817-834-3625, dfwelitetoymuseum.com
Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute (187 miles from Houston)
This homage to our country's oldest major soft drink features a Liquid Lab with cooking demos, Smell-a-Pepper, an exploration of bubble-generating carbon dioxide and a look at really strange flavor profiles. Celery soda, anyone? Don't leave before stopping by Frosty's Soda Shop for an egg cream, dirt n'worms sundae or an old-fashioned pour of Dr Pepper.
300 South 5th Street, Waco, Texas 76701, 254-757-1025, drpeppermuseum.com
Edison Museum (88.5 miles from Houston)
This museum is dedicated to Thomas Alva Edison and his inventions and innovations through interactive exhibits and more than 60 historic objects. The study collection and reference library boast more than 1,400 artifacts making this the only facility of its kind west of the Mississippi River. Let the inventing begin.
350 Pine Street, Beaumont, Texas 77701, 409-981-3089, edisonmuseum.org
Flying A Car Museum (352 miles from Houston)
Auto enthusiasts in the Albany area proudly display their vehicles in a rotation that changes out three times a year. This summer visitors can catch a 1963 Chevy Impala, a 1955 Chevy Pickup, a 1923 Bucket T Ford and a Crayon yellow 1932 Ford 383 Stroker 4 speed, among other meticulously maintained classics.
129 South Main Street, Albany, Texas, 76430, 325-762-4650, albanycarmuseum.com
Fort Worth Aviation Museum (278 miles from Houston)
The history of north Texas aviation is preserved at this museum, formerly known as the Veterans Memorial Air Park. Explore museum exhibits and also a "petting zoo" of 26 warbirds ranging from 1943 to present day. The collection currently holds an F-14D Tomcat, a CH-53 Sea Stallion and the Mig destroying QF-4S Phantom II.
3300A Ross Avenue, Fort Worth, Texas 76106, 855-733-8627, fortworthaviationmuseum.com
Frontier Times Museum (248 miles from Houston)
Bandera may be the Texas cowboy capital of the world, but it's also home to a two-headed goat and a shrunken head. This small Hill Country museum turned 85 this summer and it's chock-full of an eclectic collection of old and very old donations from pioneers who lived in the region.
510 13th Street, Bandera, Texas, 78003, 830-796-3864, facebook.com/Frontier-Times-Museum-253278618106891/
International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame (260 miles from Houston)
With The Big Lebowski hitting its 20th anniversary milestone, there's a renewed interest in bowling and White Russians. In actuality, however, this sport began 5,000 years ago with the ancient Egyptians and visitors can explore this unique sports museum with one-of-a-kind artifacts located within the International Bowling Campus.
621 Six Flags Drive, Arlington, Texas 76011, 817-385-8215, bowlingmuseum.com
Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum (610 miles from Houston)
The world's oldest Airstream, a 1935 Torpedo, has to live somewhere and it might as well be in Texas. Check out this slice of midcentury Americana and view campers, RVs, motorcycles and classic cars that began when father and son collectors (Jack and Trent Sisemore) began restoring vintage RVs.
4341 Canyon Drive, Amarillo, Texas 79110, 806-358-4891, rvmuseum.net
Mary Elizabeth Hopkins Santa Claus Museum (76.6 miles from Houston)
Christmas came early this year and no further proof is needed than at the Santa Claus Museum in Columbus. Santa slides, Santa bells, Santa figurines — numbering more than 2,000 — remain on view from the collection begun in 1913 by the late Mary Elizabeth Hopkins.
602 Washington, Columbus, Texas 78934, 979-732-5135, columbushpt.com/historical-properties/santa-claus-museum
Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum (493 miles from Houston)
If you need proof that giants existed here on earth, then look no further than this fossil museum that includes a sculpted human femur based on a discovery in the Euphrates Valley of a leg bone measuring 120 centimeters (almost four feet), as well as a cast of the Burning Tree Mastodon skeleton with living bacteria still in its intestines. The museum staff stays busy excavating, restoring, molding and casting fossils from around the world.
124 West Main, Crosbyton, Texas 79322, 806-675-7777, mtblanco.com/visit
Museum of the Weird (168 miles from Houston)
Deep inside the weirdness of Austin, inside a curious and mysterious gift shop, visitors will find a strange and wonderful place with shrunken heads, Fiji mermaids, wax figures and an exploration of the paranormal. Don't leave without taking your selfie next to the life-sized King Kong.
412 East 6th Street, Austin, Texas, 78701, 512-476-5493, museumoftheweird.com
Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata (165 miles from Houston)
Currently on view is "The Impermanent Collection" that weaves together ephemera from five subsets: "The Celebrity Collection," "Naturalia & Artificialia," "Urban Phantasmagoria," "The Snowglobe Collection" and an entire wing dedicated to sleep. They're closed for renovations during July and August but we can't wait to see what this family-run museum unveils this fall.
1808 Singleton Avenue, Austin, Texas 78702, 512-289-9517, mnae.org
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (277 miles from Houston)
Retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O'Connor was a cowgirl, and so were many other tough-as-nails ranch women who demonstrated extraordinary courage in their trailblazing efforts, including Annie Oakley, Dale Evans and Nudie Cohn. Through artifacts, photographs and a rotating exhibition schedule, these brave women of the American West are remembered. The museum is closed to the public July 16-21, 2018.
1720 Gendy, Fort Worth, Texas 76107, 817-336-4475, cowgirl.net
National Museum of the Pacific War (240 miles from Houston)
What began as the Admiral Nimitz Museum has grown to encompass three museums on a six-acre campus. Explore American and Japanese culture during World War II, visit the George H. W. Bush Gallery and view this summer's temporary exhibit, "Prisoners Under the Rising Sun." Don't leave before stopping for a moment in the Japanese Garden of Peace to contemplate the parallels between the Japanese internment camps and the current separation policy along the border.
340 East Main, Fredericksburg, Texas 78624, 830-997-8600, pacificwarmuseum.org
National Videogame Museum (272 miles from Houston)
Wow, a museum where visitors are actually encouraged to touch and play with the objects. Cool beans! The museum features more than 100,000 videogame consoles, games, artifacts and historical documents. Displays include an arcade room (Asteroids, Donkey Kong), the world's largest home Pong console, a timeline of consoles and the rarest of artifacts (the only Sega Neptune protoype and one of two remaining Atari Mindlink controllers).
8004 North Dallas Pkwy, Frisco, Texas 75034, 972-668-8400, nvmusa.org
The Ocean Star Offshore Oil Drilling Rig and Museum (57 miles from Houston)
Our dependence on oil and gas as an industry, not to mention for getting around town and heating our homes, is evident at this Galveston Island museum that lets visitors explore a retired drilling rig and view scale models and interactive displays.
Pier 19, Harborside Drive, Galveston, Texas 77550, 409-766-7827, oceanstaroec.com
Perot Museum of Nature and Science (244 miles from Houston)
It's the "Summer of the Dinosaur" in Dallas with the new traveling exhibition, "Ultimate Dinosaurs." Cutting-edge technology will transport guests to prehistoric times to find themselves face to face with 20 exotic dinosaur species. Highlights include full-sized skeletons, interactive games, touchable fossils, miniature dinosaur dioramas and much more. But don't dawdle, this exhibit becomes extinct on January 6, 2019.
2201 North Field, Dallas, Texas 75201, 214-428-5555, perotmuseum.org
The Robert E. Howard Museum (310 miles from Houston)
Long before George R.R. Martin and Game of Thrones, American author Robert E. Howard was thrilling readers with pulp fiction and creating the sword and sorcery sub-genre by introducing characters like Conan the Barbarian. Each June fans converge on Cross Plains in the heart of Texas for the popular Howard Days. For the rest of the year, the Project Pride community organization has restored and maintained the Robert E. Howard Home which now operates as a museum in the author's memory. Call ahead for access.
625 West Hwy. 36, Cross Plains, Texas 76443, 254-725-6562, rehfoundation.org/the-robert-e-howard-house-and-museum
Salt Palace Museum (234 miles from Houston)
Legend has it that this part of Texas was once part of the Gulf of Mexico and, when the seas dried up, huge swaths of salt deposits remained behind. Grand Saline is also the home of The Salt Palace, this continent's only building made purely of rock salt. Visitors won't believe how much there is to learn about salt at this community museum.
100 West Garland, Grand Saline, Texas 75140, 903-962-5631, grandsalinesaltpalace.com
Texas Civil War Museum (285 miles from Houston)
The Civil War looked different for us than in other parts of the country but we did experience battles, especially in the greater north Texas regions. The museum's Sheridan exhibit includes a presentation sword belonging to General U.S. Grant, the personal belongings of Jeb Stuart, a Confederate cannon and an antique safe. The museum is best known for its military collections (including Union artifacts) and houses more than 3,000 objects from the Ray Richey Civil War Collection.
760 Jim Wright Freeway, White Settlement, Texas 76108, 817-246-2323, texascivilwarmuseum.com
Texas Cotton Gin and Museum (88.6 miles from Houston)
Our region's climate is perfect for cotton production and the Texas Cotton Gin Museum has preserved the legacy of cotton and the cotton industry with the historic 1914 Burton Farmers Gin, displays that show how technology made it easier to separate the seeds from soft white fibers, and an annual Cotton Gin Festival.
307 North Main, Burton, Texas 77835, 979-289-3378, cottonginmuseum.org
Texas Energy Museum (88.7 miles from Houston)
Jed Clampett wasn't the only landowner who became a millionaire over a bubbling crude. The story of "oil that is, black gold, Texas tea" has been captured at the Texas Energy Museum in the historic district of downtown Beaumont — not far from the Spindletop discovery that kicked off the gusher age. Exhibitions include geological formation of oil, a look at modern refining chemistry, and robotic characters that bring to life the 1901 Spindletop gusher.
600 Main, Beaumont, Texas 77701, 409-833-5100, texasenergymuseum.org
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Texas Maritime Museum (179 miles from Houston)
Explore Texas maritime history with collections focusing on petroleum production, seaports and commerce, settlement history dating back to the Spanish and French explorers, and the local seafood and fishing industry. Hurricane Harvey took its toll on the region but the "Official" Maritime Museum of Texas remains anchored in place.
1202 Navigation Circle, Rockport, Texas 78382, 361-729-1271, texasmaritimemuseum.org
Texas Prison Museum (74.4 miles from Houston)
Huntsville's prison museum has seen a huge uptick in visitors since moving to its new building in 2002. On loan are objects from Lee Simmons' family; he was the innovator who introduced the Texas Prison Rodeo and also put the smackdown on Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Be sure to pick up a copy of the museum's new book, Electrocutions in Texas: 1924-1964.
491 Highway 75 North, Huntsville, Texas 77320, 936-295-2155, txprisonmuseum.org
Texas Surf Museum (208 miles from Houston)
Hang loose at the only surf museum in the Lone Star State. Just like the waves, it's always free. Current exhibits include "Texas Surf: Life Cycle of a Wave," "Women Surfers of the Gulf Coast" and "Function of Fins," plus they're busy at work installing the "Wave Warriors Exhibit" that honors veteran Texan surfers. Time your paddle just right and you might catch a yoga class or a thought-provoking lecture.
309A North Water, Corpus Christi, Texas 78401, 361-882-2364, texassurfmuseum.org
Vintage Flying Museum (281 miles from Houston)
Explore aviation history through this museum's artifact and memorabilia collection that includes WWI, WWII, Korea and the Vietnam era. More than 200 members work to keep these historic aircraft functioning through preservation, maintenance and restoration. They also bring in veterans to tell their stories, like July's visit by a pilot shot down during the Vietnam War. His entire crew survived the crash only to become prisoners of war.
501 NW 38th Street, Hangar 33 South, Fort Worth, Texas 76106, vintageflyingmuseum.org