When the Smithsonian is not in your travel plans, consider what another city may offer, like the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.
When the Smithsonian is not in your travel plans, consider what another city may offer, like the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

En español | They may not have the recognition of, say, Washington, D.C.'s many Smithsonian options or New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art or Museum of Modern Art, but there are many underexposed museums in small towns and cities across the United States that have much to offer the curious traveler. We picked five favorites: Places where you will learn, laugh (at the Tinkertown Museum, anyway) and definitely want to linger.

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1. The Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California

Don't be turned off by the dry-sounding name: This museum regularly wows visitors with stimulating interactive exhibits and countless cool low- and high-tech artifacts, from an abacus to a massive early mainframe to the video game Pong. ("Fun and geeky!" one visitor gushed in an online review.) You can even play Jeopardy! against a simulated version of Watson — the IBM system that famously beat two human Jeopardy! champs. Not surprising, the museum also has a vast amount of historical information on their website.

2. National World War I Museum, Kansas City, Missouri

Many are not aware that the United States has an official World War I Museum. We do. It's seven years old and it's gripping from the start: Upon entering, visitors cross a glass bridge above a symbolic field of 9,000 poppies, each representing 1,000 people killed during the "War to End All Wars." The museum's vast collection includes replicas of life-size trenches, dramatic firsthand battle accounts and an FT-17 Tank battered by German artillery.

3. Lower East Side Tenement Museum, New York, New York

The perfect stop after a visit to Ellis Island, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is housed in a five-story brick building at 97 Orchard Street and offers an eye-opening look at the immigrants' day-to-day experience in their new land. Costumed interpreters in authentically restored apartments stand in for a few of the thousands of actual residents from around the world who lived in this crowded tenement from 1863 through the 1930s — many, in the early years, without running water or electricity.