Photo Courtesy Denise Truscello/Neon Museum

The weirdest, most wonderful virtual museums you can visit without leaving your couch

Thank goodness humans invented the internet between America’s last big pandemic, in 1918, and the current one. We’re keeping in touch with loved ones and famous faces alike on Zoom. And we’re streaming a century’s worth of entertainment via platforms like Disney+ and Netflix. All things considered, staying home in the 21st century is pretty cushy.

But obviously, not being able to move about freely in the world has its drawbacks. In normal times, I find creative sustenance in the act of wandering through museums and art galleries on the regular. It’s a way of refreshing my brain when I’m feeling uninspired. These days, visiting IRL is out of the question; everything’s been shut down by COVID-19.

Tons of cultural institutions have responded to the pandemic by taking their collections online, however. You can wander world-renowned museums like the Louvre, the Vatican and the Metropolitan Museum of Art from the comfort of your couch. Google Arts and Culture hosts content from more than 2,000 museums around the world. You can even go inside the national parks and take 360-degree video tours of places like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

There’s a reason these places are popular — they’re wonders of the world. But there are also tons of quirky, lesser-known museums that’re worth your time and attention. Sadly, a lot of the weirdest-sounding places (like the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, NM) are indie and don’t have the resources for a robust web presence. But we’ve rounded up a selection of funky, offbeat institutions that are worth a virtual visit.

The Neon Museum in Las Vegas, NV

This place is an influencer’s dreamscape. The Neon Museum collects, preserves and displays iconic Las Vegas signage of yore in a massive outdoor exhibition space called the “Neon Boneyard.” There’s currently a huge, site-specific Tim Burton installation on view, with his art sprinkled throughout the museum. The alien dudes from his 1996 movie Mars Attacks! populate part of the Neon Boneyard, for example. While you can’t physically go check it out right now, the museum has a strong social presence. They recently gave a virtual tour of their collection on Facebook Live, with an emphasis on the Burton exhibition.

The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, PA

It’s not for the faint of heart or stomach, but the middle of a pandemic is actually an apt moment to explore America’s premiere keeper of medical history, the Mütter Museum. Its mission is to help the public appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body while understanding the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease. With so much misinformation about COVID-19 swirling, it’s comforting to turn to history and science. Plus, the Mütter has a number of really well-executed virtual exhibitions. This one, Memento Mütter, is an up-close-and-personal look at the museum’s collection with an emphasis on human mortality.

Star Trek: Original Series Set Tour in Ticonderoga, NY

After the OG Star Trek TV series was cancelled in 1969, the original sets were mostly dismantled and destroyed, and whatever survived wound up in private collections. But about 15 years ago, an über-trekkie named James Cawley living in upstate New York began the arduous process of reconstructing the sets to look exactly as they would’ve 50 years ago. Today, Cawley gives tours of his historically accurate Star Trek sets to trekkies from all over the world. You obviously can’t go visit right now, but here’s a video of a guy who worked in the Star Trek art department giving an in-depth tour of Cawley’s museum. Neat!

Museum of Broken Relationships

This one seems tailor-made for our uncertain, isolated times. The Museum of Broken Relationships is a physical and virtual museum (it has permanent outposts in Zagreb, Croatia, and Los Angeles) with the sole purpose of collecting, treasuring and sharing stories of heartbreak. Each item in the museum’s collection is a memento of a relationship past, accompanied by the personal, yet anonymous, story of the person who contributed it. The Museum of Broken’ships is ever-growing and exploring the collection online is a real wormhole of emotions, but in a good way.

“Hike” Ghost Towns in Nevada

Leave it to Nevada’s board of tourism to find a way to highlight the state's very strange desert attractions without requiring people to actually hike through scorching heat to reach them. You can embark on nearly two dozen different virtual treks, including a handful that let you explore ghost towns. But my favorite, and the weirdest, is a hike through a forest of perfectly-balanced, graffiti-covered junk cars just outside a town called Goldfield, NV.

There's no shortage of quirky museum content to explore online. In the course of researching this article, I bookmarked plenty more cool places and exhibitions to spend time with. If you enjoyed discovering these institutions, check out some of these others: the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, UK, houses more than 500,000 objects from around the world, but artifacts are arranged by a "democracy of things," rather than by time or region. The museum offers a bangin', high-resolution virtual tour. The Spy Museum in Washington, DC, curates collection highlights on its website and has been churning out at-home videos on YouTube. If you really need to leave Earth behind for a spell, NASA even offers virtual tours of alien planets. Happy exploring, my friends.