Underrated Museums in the Twin Cities

This summer, visit the unique, the niche, and the just plain wacky museums that Minnesota has to offer

The Bakken Museum
Photo by The Bakken Museum, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We know Minneapolis and St. Paul have cool, and educational, museums such as the Walker, Mia, the Science Museum, and the like. But there are some different collections in the area that don’t get enough attention. Spend this summer’s rainy or too-hot days by exploring one of these unique Twin Cities spots.

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting
In case you need a reminder that days before Spotify and podcasts existed, head to the Pavek Museum for some geeky nostalgia. The museum has more than 12,000 square feet of antique broadcasting equipment, televisions, and radios. Learn about the history of recording and view vintage publicity photos of Twin Cities celebrities. It even has kids’ classes on broadcast journalism and the science behind recording processes. (3517 Raleigh Ave., St. Louis Park, pavekmuseum.org)

House of Balls
A secret favorite Minneapolis landmark for many, House of Balls is the eclectic contrast to the Twin Cities’ more popular art museums. House of Balls owner Allen Christian started with plasma-cut bowling balls and then began to revamp and repurpose everyday objects into sculptures, wall hangings, and hard-to-name artistic creations. Visit anytime—Christian has an open-door policy. (1504 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, houseofballs.com)

The Bakken Museum
The interactive museum in Lake Calhoun’s West Winds mansion lets guests play with an electrostatic generator, charge a Leyden jar battery, illuminate a sign to see a secret picture, and make a hail storm with static electricity. Watch a presentation on Frankenstein and his monster in Frankenstein’s Laboratory, too—just try not jump at the end surprise. (3537 Zenith Ave. S., Minneapolis, thebakken.org)

The Museum of Russian Art
Museums in the Twin Cities can take art lovers across the world with a single painting, but Russian art can get overlooked in the main galleries. Explore Russia’s history and culture through multiple levels of exhibits on artists and their achievements. If you time your visit correctly, you might even catch a traditional musical performance. (5500 Stevens Ave., Minneapolis, tmora.org)

Gallery of Wood Art
Have you ever been to a museum just for wood? St. Paul’s Landmark Center hosts breathtaking collections of Hawaiian carvings and vintage lathes from more than three centuries ago. There are even interactive exhibits in which attendees can play with different carvings and smell different types of wood. (Landmark Center, 75 W. Fifth St., Suite 222, St. Paul, galleryofwoodart.org)

Minnesota Transportation Museum
The Transportation Museum is located in St. Paul’s historic Jackson Street Roundhouse, one of the last working train maintenance facilities. Climb through and explore 50 historic train cars while learning about Minnesota’s transportation history. If you go on a Saturday, a short train ride is included in the ticket price. Also check out their events list—the Vintage Bus Brew Tours are not to be missed. (193 Pennsylvania Ave. E., St. Paul, transportationmuseum.org)

Minnesota Streetcar Museum
Not to be confused with the Transportation Museum, the Streetcar Museum hosts its own piece of history: the preservation of the electric railway. The museum showcases eight vintage streetcars that used to transport Minnesotans around the Twin Cities, as well as artifacts and antique photos from the streetcars’ glory days. Attendees can even ride streetcars through the Twin Cities on this “museum on wheels.” (2330 W. 42nd St., Minneapolis, msmuseum.org)

North Star Museum of Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting
Guests can relive their days of camping, selling popcorn or cookies, and earning badges at the North Star Museum. Over the past 40 years, museum workers have collected more than 150,000 artifacts, photographs, sound and video recordings, and documents showcasing Minnesota’s Scout history. The museum even hosts events like “S’mores With Juliette Sing-a-long” to bring people back to the carefree summer nights of their childhoods. (2640 Seventh Ave. E., St. Paul, nssm.org)

Firefighters Hall and Museum
Learn about the history of firefighting in the Twin Cities in this interactive, 12,000-square-foot museum featuring fire trucks, equipment, documents, records, and photos from the 1860s to the present. Also, a permanent exhibit called “81 Minutes” depicts the harrowing rescues from the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007. Plan accordingly—the museum is only open on Saturdays or by appointment. (664 22nd Ave. NE, Minneapolis, firehallmuseum.org)

SPAM Museum
Okay, this one isn’t technically in the Twin Cities, but it’s well worth mentioning. Austin’s new SPAM Museum location offers interactive exhibits showing SPAM’s popularity in the military and around the world, games, hands-on activities, a set of instruments made of SPAM cans, and a gift shop. Don’t forget the samples, er, Spamples, that Spambassadors offer on toothpicks every day. (101 Third Ave. NE, Austin, spam.com)

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