Some of the cities and their neighborhoods are living museums. Venture to St. Augustine, the “Nation’s Oldest City,” and behold life during the 1740s through inkwells, ironware, and beeswax candles at the Colonial Spanish Quarter and Museum Store. Stroll through Ft. Lauderdale’s historic district and visit the Stranahan House, which was originally occupied by both Seminole Indians and settlers and is now adorned with furnishings from the Victorian era.
And there are some great art museums. From Impressionism to Surrealism, Florida has more than 50 art museums across the state to fit every art lover’s interest. Every part of the state offers a different facet to the state’s collection.
Museums of NORTHWEST Florida
The Indian Temple Mound Museum and Park – guarded by the largest ancient (1400 A.D.) mound by saltwater – journeys through 10,000 years of over 6,000 ceramic artifacts from four prehistoric tribes (America’s most extensive collection). For more whimsical fun, the Emerald Coast Science Center is a child’s science fantasy, filled with interactive experiences and kid’s educational displays enjoyable for any age.
Fort Walton Beach Museums
The Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach is dedicated to telling the history and development of Air Force armament and showing the public the role that air power has played in the defense of our country.
Pensacola was the first city settled by Europeans in America, making for a history that dates back more than 400 years. Numerous sites and museums in and around Pensacola tell stories about the area’s engaging history. Historic Pensacola Village offers peeks into several restored homes in the city’s downtown historical district. Several museums, including the National Museum of Naval Aviation and T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum, provide more educational outlets. The Wentworth Museum features a special children’s area with hands-on activities and displays of particular interest to children.
Museums of NORTH CENTRAL Florida
Lake City Museums
Among the museums in and around Lake City are the Columbia County Historical Museum, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, Olustee Battlefield & Museum (13 miles East of Lake City), the site of a Civil War battle, and the Stephen Foster State Folk Culture Center (17 miles North of Lake City in White Springs on the banks of the legendary Suwannee River) honors the memory of Foster, whose song “Old Folks at Home” memorialized the picturesque stream. Dioramas of scenes described in some of Stephen Foster’s songs are housed in the Stephen Foster Museum and in the Carillon Tower.
From power-play politics and pet macaws to family feuds and flower blossoms, Goodwood Museum & Gardens has a history as rich as its Tallahassee plantation soil. The Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee is home to the largest collection of Spanish-colonial gold and silver. Visit also the Black Archives, Research Center and Museum (FAMU), Knott House Museum, Riley House Museum of African American History and Culture, the Mary Brogan Museum Of Art & Science, and the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science where red wolves, Florida panthers, alligators, and other fascinating wildlife are found in a 52-acre natural habitat and an authentic 1880s farm.
Museums of NORTHEAST Florida
Arts and culture are a large component of what makes Gainesville a vibrant city. On the University of Florida campus sit two great museums. The Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Natural History are located next door to one another. The Natural History’s Hall of Fossils display delivers a look into Florida’s diverse past. At the Harn Museum of Art, a Monet painting resides as the museum’s centerpiece along with an extensive collection of pre-Columbian art.
Cultural activities are abundant, from the classic displays at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens on the banks of the St. Johns River to the edgy exhibits at the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art in the heart of downtown’s historic Hemming Plaza. There is an extended collection of 20th-century art at the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art. Here guests will find six floors of enjoyment that includes an exquisite permanent art exhibit, many seasonal series of photography, paintings and sculptures and a loft for innovative, hands-on activities inviting to the entire family.
St. Augustine/Ponte Vedra Beach Museums
Capturing the history and heritage of St. Augustine are a variety of local museums, each presenting a different story and a different phase of St. Augustine’s history. A listing of some of the most frequently visited museums includes: Florida Heritage Museum, Government House Museum, Historic Village of St. Augustine, Lightner Museum, Museum of Weapons and Early American History, Oldest House, Oldest Store Museum, Restored Spanish Quarter Village, St. Augustine Historical Society Gallery, and St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum.
Museums of CENTRAL WEST Florida
Museums in the Clearwater area include Dunedin Fine Art Center/David L. Mason Children’s Art Museum (Dunedin), the only children’s art museum on the West Coast of Florida; Florida Holocaust Memorial Museum and Education Center (St. Petersburg); Florida International Museum (St. Petersburg); Great Explorations – Hands On Children’s Museum (St. Petersburg); Gulf Coast Museum of Art (Largo); Heritage Village (Largo); Leppa-Rattner Museum of Art (Tarpon Springs); Museum of Fine Arts (St. Petersburg); St. Petersburg Museum of History; Salvador Dali Museum (St. Petersburg) and Ybor City National Historic Landmark District in Tampa’s Latin Quarter.
St. Petersburg Museums
Downtown St. Petersburg is home to six award-winning museums. The Salvador Dali Museum contains the world’s most extensive collection devoted exclusively to this famous Spanish master. The Museum of Fine Arts is noted for its display of French impressionist paintings. There is also St. Petersburg Museum of History, while the Heritage Village in Largo offers an insight into the lifestyle of Florida’s pioneers. The Florida International Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian.
Museums of CENTRAL Florida
A child-sized grocery store, news station, recycling area, airplane, and much more inspire the imagination and provide a hands-on experience for all ages at Explorations V Children’s Museum; the Polk Museum of Art features a permanent exhibition of pre-Columbian artifacts; and the Sun ‘n Fun Air Museum at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport features an assortment of home-built, sports aircraft and warplane jet engines, plus a small collection of 1930 vintage planes.
The crowning jewel in Marion County’s multi-faceted cultural scene is The Appleton Museum of Art, a regional landmark and one of the southeast’s finest cultural assets. The vast permanent collection includes 18th and 19th-century academic art from Europe, Canada and the U.S., Pre-Columbian art, African art, Asian art, and Antiquities. The permanent collection is complemented by three seasons of important traveling exhibitions each year.
In a region where theme parks dominate the vacation experience, visitors find surprisingly diverse cultural and natural attractions. Here are a few of the museums: Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens showcases nearly 200 of his works; The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany; Cornell Fine Arts Museum in Winter Park; Historic Waterhouse Residence & Carpentry Show Museums; The Mennello Museum of American Art showcases works of self-taught artists; Museum of Seminole County History in Sanford ; Orlando Museum of Art in Loch Haven Park ; Sanford Museum; Water Ski Hall of Fame and Museum; and Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts in Eatonville.
Museums of CENTRAL EAST Florida
Cocoa Beach Museums
Blast off to a world of space stations, launch pads, “future astronaut” training centers and space walk exhibits at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Apollo/Saturn V Center, Robot Scouts, Mad Mission To Mars, Restored Historic Rocket Garden, U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, and Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum. Other museums are Brevard Museum of Art and Science; Brevard Museum of History and Natural Science; and North Brevard Historical Museum.
Daytona Beach Museums
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum serves as a faithful guide to mariners off the Atlantic coast; the Museum of Arts and Sciences offers a variety of permanent exhibits including the skeleton of a 13-foot Ground Sloth; The Casements, the former winter home of billionaire John D. Rockefeller, now serves as a cultural center and museum for the city of Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona Beach; and the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, Home & Gravesite is at the two-story home of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune — a civil rights pioneer, educator, and founder of the nationally acclaimed Bethune-Cookman College.
The African-American Museum of Art and the 1920 DeLand Memorial Hospital Museum, which was a working hospital until 1948, are popular stops. For some aviation history, the DeLand Naval Air Station Museum serves as a tribute to all military wars and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1928 Volusia County Courthouse, with its marble rotunda, art glass dome and murals, and the 1921 Italian Renaissance-style Athens Theater are marvels to visitors as well.
Fort Pierce Museums
Fort Pierce’s rich military history can be explored at the St. Lucie Historical Museum which includes exhibits of Spanish treasure, a Seminole Indian encampment and turn-of-the-century photographs. Located on the same beach where the first U.S. Navy Frogmen prepared for the beaches of Normandy in 1943 is The Navy SEAL (Frogmen) Museum, which serves as a tribute to the Navy’s underwater demolition teams of World War II and the present Navy Sea, Air and Land teams (SEALS). The museum displays hundreds of artifacts from Navy combat missions, along with historical publications, photographs and videos.
Vero Beach Museums
You can experience the remarkable creations of Florida artists at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, the largest cultural arts museum on the Treasure Coast. Vero Beach Train Station built in 1903 houses the Indian River County Historical Society which provides directions to the Heritage Center/Citrus Museum which preserves the artifacts, photographs and memorabilia of the citrus pioneers of Indian River County; Breconshire Marker at Humiston Park which provides a historic account of the 1894 sunken ship, the Breconshire; Hallstrom House, a Swedish farmstead pineapple and citrus plantation; and Laura Riding Jackson House, an original Cracker – style house; and The Sebastian Fishing Museum.
Museums of SOUTHEAST Florida
Florida Keys Museums
When Key West visitors think of museums, the first ones they seek out are often the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, the Audubon House & Tropical Gardens and the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. Yet, if they don’t explore further they’re missing a diverse and fascinating side to Key West. The island’s many museums offer an informative glimpse into its historic and cultural richness. Key West’s Cuban heritage, for instance, is represented by the San Carlos Institute and Key West’s literary history is showcased at the Heritage House Museum & Robert Frost Cottage.
Fort Lauderdale Museums
Rare indeed is a beach destination with readily accessible museums. Greater Fort Lauderdale is the exception. Evolving in the heart of downtown Greater Fort Lauderdale is a vibrant Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District which includes major museum attractions like the Museum of Art, the Museum of Discovery and Science with its Blockbuster 3D IMAX Theater, Old Fort Lauderdale Historical Museum, and Stranahan House. The national landmark, Old Dillard Museum, has served as an important educational foundation for African Americans in Broward County for nearly a century. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, on the Big Cypress Reservation, explores the heritage of the unconquered Seminole Indians of Florida.
The Seminole Okalee Museum and Village provide periodic performances of authentic and dangerous deep-water alligator wrestling by tribal members as well as spine-tingling snake shows. The Anne Kolb Nature Center, one of Hollywood’s newest attractions, brings South Florida’s unique natural environment experience to all visitors. The Graves Museum offers an educational science and history journey for the whole family.
Miami’s major downtown museum, Miami Art Museum (MAM) exhibits and collects Western Hemisphere works of art from 1940 to the present. The Historical Museum of South Florida traces the community’s roots with interactive displays. In Coconut Grove, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is renowned for its Italian Renaissance architecture, priceless artwork and furnishings. The Miami Museum of Science and Space Transit Planetarium has hourly star shows and hands-on exhibits. The Miami Children’s Museum ranks as one of the ten largest children’s museums in the United States. Nearby the new World Erotic Arts Museum in South Beach is for adults only, featuring erotic paintings, sculptures and ceramic artifacts.
West Palm Beach Museums
More than 40 museums are located throughout Palm Beach County, including three museums of art – at Boca Raton, the Cornell Museum of Art in Delray Beach and Hibel Museum of Art in Jupiter. The 1898 shingle-style DuBois Pioneer Home in Jupiter sits atop a Native American Shell Mound and contains period furnishings, clothing, and artifacts. Other museums are Flagler Museum, Loxahatchee Historical Museum, Museum of the City of Lake Worth where each room in the Museum tells a story about specific people and events, The Lawrence E. Will Museum which consists of only local items representative of the upper “Glades” area, Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, and the South Florida Science Museum.
Museums of SOUTHWEST Florida
To see the oldest manatee living happily in captivity, swing by the South Florida Museum/Mary Louise Parker Manatee Aquarium and visit Snooty™. History buffs enjoy the Desoto National Memorial which commemorates Hernando Desoto’s historic landing in Florida. At the Family Heritage House, visitors can get a unique glimpse into the significant influence of the area’s rich African American heritage. Explore the Manatee Village Historic Park where you’ll find nine restored buildings from the county’s pioneer era (1860 – 1918) including a general store, church, courthouse, and school.
Fort Myers Museums
The famed Edison & Ford Winter Estates is a museum in everything but name: Steeped in history, Thomas Edison’s 14-acre riverfront estate home, laboratory and experimental gardens have been authentically maintained. After stepping back in time at the Edison Home, visitors can step next door to the winter home of automobile industrialist Henry Ford. Other museums in this area are Imaginarium Hands-on Museum, The Southwest Florida Museum of History, the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, the Sanibel Historical Village and Museum, Cape Coral Historical Museum, The Barbara Sumwalt Museum, Museum of the Islands, and Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum and Visitors Center.
Marco Island Museums
The Marco Island Historical Society has two museum locations on the island. One, in the Shops at Olde Marco, features items documenting the Calusa Indian settlements on the island, and the other, located within the Marco Island Area Board of Realtors office, showcases both ancient history and the modern day settlers who made Marco Island what it is today.
Culture abounds in Naples. From theatre to dance, to its 134 art galleries and numerous fascinating museums like the Naples Museum of Art which houses 15 galleries with both permanent and traveling exhibits. Historical museums feature information on the area’s early inhabitants, the Calusa Indians, as well as early southwest Florida pioneers.
One name will always surface during a discussion of the history of Sarasota – circus magnate John Ringling. His profound influence transformed this sleepy fishing village to an arts capital in the 1920s, and this influence continues today with the John & Mable Ringling Museum Complex. The magnificent architecture of the Museum of Art complements Ringling’s renowned collection. Most impressive are the giant works by Flemish master Peter Paul Reubens. Also on the grounds are the Museum of the Circus – a “snapshot” of circus history – and John Ringling’s home on the bay, Cà d’Zan (House of John).
With more than 10 military bases and three military unified commands in Florida, there is a sense of pride and dedication to the country’s heroes. Visitors to Florida can learn more about those who have served in one of the three sea services branches – Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, by visiting the Military Sea Services Museum in Sebring. More than 3,000 artifacts and memorabilia fill the museum, whose mission is to educate the public about the ideals, customs and traditions of these three branches.