The movies we watch, the toys we play with, the fun foods we eat — these elements of every day life and entertainment define every society’s culture. To celebrate the American way of life this summer, take a day trip to one of these seven pop culture museums worth the drive.
Dallas, TX: Dr Pepper Museum
It’s an hour and a half drive from Dallas to Waco, the birthplace of the soft drink with 23 fruit flavors. The Dr Pepper Museum ($8) displays artifacts and memorabilia that will delight all sweet tooths, but of course the biggest highlight will be a stop at the museum’s soda fountain. Tip: Large fountain drinks are half price, Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Sunday 12-1 p.m.
San Francisco, CA: Burlingame Museum of PEZ
You don’t technically need to road trip to the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia ($3), since it’s just south of the San Francisco International Airport, but it’s still highly recommended for ’70s and ’80s lovers. Peruse the museum’s more than 900 PEZ characters, then continue to the museum’s two newer additions: the Classic Toy Museum and the Banned Toy Museum (included in the PEZ museum admission) to further reminisce.
Atlanta, GA: Lunch Box Museum
Time travel back to your grade school cafeteria at the Lunch Box Museum ($5) in Columbus, Georgia, an hour and a half south of Atlanta. You’ll find roughly 3,000 lunch boxes and thermoses featuring everyone from the Beatles to the Dukes of Hazzard to Hannah Montana.
Kansas City, MO (and others): World’s Largest Toy Museum
Remember Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em? Linoel trains? Betsy Wetsy and Chatty Cathy? You’ll find these and more at the World’s Largest Toy Museum ($10) in Branson, Missouri. Rest assured, these relics are more for the young-at-heart than young-aged children, with a focus on “rediscovering childhood.” The museum is under 3.5 hours from Kansas City and easily accessible from other nearby cities in the Midwest.
Baltimore, MD: The Hershey Story
Immerse yourself in all things chocolate in Hersey, Pennsylvania, just an hour and a half drive out of Baltimore. A visit to The Hershey Story begins with the Museum Experience ($10), a look at how Milton Hershey built the Hershey chocolate empire. Continue at the Chocolate Lab with a 45-minute chocolate-making class ($10) — but don’t leave without tasting warm drinking chocolate samples at Café Zooka ($10).
Chicago, IL: McDonald’s #1 Store Museum
The first McDonald’s was opened by Ray Kroc in 1955 on Lee Street in Des Plaines, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago about a half hour from the city center. It was torn down in 1984, but fortunately the fast food chain has since recreated the store and converted it into a museum space. Vintage cars sit in the parking lot during the summer, and you can press your face to the window for a peek at original equipment and mannequins in the original uniform (free). If that gets your appetite going, you can always head across the street for a taste of the real thing.
Pittsburgh, PA: Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum
If you love Lucy, the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy ($15) is worth the under-three-hour drive from Pittsburgh to Jamestown, New York, the actress’ hometown. The museum provides an intimate look at one of TV’s most loved dynamic duos, while the attached Desilu Studios (included in admission) pays homage to the show through costumes, recreated sets, and props.
Minneapolis, MN: The SPAM Museum
The next time you’re in Minneapolis, hit the road for The SPAM Museum (free) in Austin, Minnesota, less than two hours south. You’ll find more than SPAM advertising here — the exhibits focus heavily on history, too, including the meaty concoction’s role in World War II. On the way out, sample SPAM-inspired treats and take home something SPAM from the gift shop.
Toronto, Canada: The Strong National Museum of Play
The road trip to Rochester, New York isn’t a short one — it’s four hours from Toronto or, for the true fan, six from New York City. But there’s plenty to see in this surprisingly vibrant upstate New York stopover, including the The Strong National Museum of Play ($13.50). The highlight of the museum is the 16-year-old National Toy Hall of Fame, filled with iconic favorites like the Slinky and Rubber Duck. Onsite, you can also walk along Sesame Street and visit the Bernstein Bears’ village — but stay clear on rainy days, when local families flock here with their children.