When visiting Florida, you might want a day or two to escape from the hot sun and afternoon thunderstorms. If staying inside and enjoying the air conditioning is something you want to plan, then there’s nothing better to add to your itinerary than a visit to some of the best museums in Florida. The arts and sciences, history, the military, and agriculture all inform Florida’s diverse past and give the state a vibrant mix of cultures and natural wonders. As a result, there’s a jaw-dropping museum for just about anyone’s interests.
Quick Answer: Best Museums in Florida
- Best History Museum in Florida: Florida Museum of Natural History
- Best Science Museum in Florida: Orlando Science Center
- Best Pirate Museum in Florida: St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
- Best Art Museum in Florida: John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
- Best Military/Flight Museum in Florida: Air Force Armament Museum
- Best Museum for Kids in Florida: Great Explorations Children’s Museum
1. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art – Winter Park
Don’t be fooled by the unassuming front door or low entry prices; the Morse Museum is undoubtedly one of the most amazing art and culture museums in Florida and much bigger than its entryway would suggest, with over 19,000 square feet holding many works by many creators. However, the establishment’s true claim to fame is being the permanent home of hundreds of pieces designed by renowned glassmaker Louis Comfort Tiffany. Visitors will find themselves inside a hallway lined with lamps that cast kaleidoscopic colors across the walls, a room dedicated entirely to art inspired by daffodils, and even the famous Tiffany Chapel designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. If you’re looking for an arts experience that cannot be had anywhere else in the world, this is absolutely the place to stop.
2. IMAG History & Science Center – Fort Myers
The IMAG wants you to get up close and personal, both with the state’s past and its ecosystems and terrain. In one room, an enormous globe doubles as a projection screen, allowing complete detailed demonstrations of Earth’s weather patterns. In another room, an AR sandbox demonstrates topography and helps illustrate the nuances of southwest Florida’s watersheds. With all these interactive exhibits, the IMAG is certainly a contender for the best science museum in South Florida, but if that’s still not hands-on enough, a trip to the Sea-to-See Touch Tank will have you finger-to-fin with the very same yellow spotted stingrays that live just off the state’s beaches! With detailed explanations provided alongside the displays, this museum is a perfect stop for the whole family.
3. Orlando Science Center – Orlando
When stepping into the main building of the Orlando Science Center, or OSC, patrons are greeted by a huge sweeping staircase that wraps around a living reconstruction of the Florida Everglades, complete with fish and even a resident snapping turtle. Visitors can tour an air-conditioned version of the Florida wilderness to learn about sinkholes, the water table, and lots of native wildlife. Upstairs, the museum holds dinosaur bones, flight simulators, kinetic sand, and tons of hands-on physics and earth science exhibits. Two theaters flank the building, one in a planetarium and one set up for Tesla coil shows. And if you’re there on a clear night after dark, head to the top floor, where an astronomer will help you peer into the center’s incredibly powerful telescope. Be sure to check the event schedule as the museum also hosts many events alongside their regular admission, such as adults-only nights, science and technology conventions, and even competitions in video game design. Whether you’re looking for a different kind of date night or a place to take the kids, the OSC has something perfect for everyone.
Related: 10 Best Museums in Orlando, FL
4. St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum – St. Augustine
Step back in time and find yourself in Port Royal in the 1600s, where cannon fire rings in your ears and the Golden Age of Piracy is alive and booming in this interactive and immersive pirate museum in Florida. View artifacts from sunken wrecks, stand at the captain’s wheel aboard your sturdy vessel, learn to tie sailors’ knots, and even view some props from Hollywood’s most famous pirate movies as you wind through the vibrant, colorful halls. But what’s really impressive about this location is that it’s as full of artifacts and exhibits as it could possibly be, with every inch of every room dedicated to displays of color, light, sound, or hands-on elements. With the original Jolly Roger flag, interactive digital maps and books, and both real and replica documents from governments and pirates alike, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum is sure to ignite the adventurous spirit of even the saltiest landlubber!
5. Museum of Science and Industry – Tampa
Known by the acronym MOSI, this museum ties together the best and newest in the STEM fields, without compromising art or design, to create an overabundance of interactive exhibits that introduce visitors to many different scientific fields. With hands-on exhibits dealing in paleontology, moon colonization, project building, physics, human anatomy, and even virtual reality, this museum is engaging from start to finish. The museum also has a planetarium where you can tour the awe-inspiring cosmos, pairing stunning visuals with educational narration from one of the museum’s astronomers. And if you’re looking for a chance to really move, the Sky Trail Ropes course will have you feeling like you could reach up and touch the clouds while you take on each dynamic challenge. With such a focus on experiential learning, it’s easy to see why MOSI is one of the best museums of science in Florida.
6. Modernism Museum – Mount Dora
When visitors first enter the Modernism Museum, they often find it strange that an entire museum might be dedicated to furniture. However, with the museum’s informational video illustrating the Memphis art movement of the 1980s and the exceedingly knowledgeable museum attendants explaining every piece in detail, the works in the gallery become more engaging. It also doesn’t hurt that a great many pieces in the museum’s collection were originally part of David Bowie’s private estate! And while the pieces are certainly eclectic and wildly unconventional, they are all still completely functional in their intended roles as bookshelves, chairs, vanities, and serving carts. If pushing boundaries and subverting expectations is up your alley, this might be the museum for you.
7. John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art – Sarasota
The Ringling is one of the most culturally rich museums in the state, and the campus grounds are actually home to three museums in one: the Art Museum, the Circus Museum, and Ca’ d’Zan. John Ringling, one of five brothers who owned the Ringling Bros. Circus, built the estate with his wife Mabel in the 1920s. While living there, they collected art of all varieties, and much of the permanent Art Museum collection is made up of their personal effects. Visitors can also step into the Ca’ d’Zan, or House of John, to view the original colored glass windows, antique furniture, and beautiful views of the water. And a visit wouldn’t be complete without heading into the Circus Museum, where original costumes and train cars celebrate the glamour of the Greatest Show on Earth, and a series of hallways and viewing platforms showcase a complete model of the entire circus in its heyday, right down to every animal, performer, and employee. With free admission to the grounds and Art Museum on Mondays, and student, teacher, and military discounts, the Ringling Museum is highly accessible. As one of Florida’s best museums, it’s an absolute must-see for anyone traveling along the Gulf Coast.
8. Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science – Miami
One of the best science museums in South Florida, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science is a place to explore the skies and seas. The museum’s planetarium is state-of-the-art, with a surround sound system for immersion and a 16-million-color 8K projected display. Above the planetarium is the lowest of the aquarium’s three levels, where you can learn about the Gulf Stream and its impact on environments all over the world. Each successive level holds different exhibits dealing with flight, natural science, and hands-on exhibits in physics and biology. These exhibits sit alongside the subsequent levels of the aquarium, which form a miniature diorama of the ocean’s layers. A museum with the very best in modern design and technology, the Frost Museum of Science is the perfect place for anyone who likes their gadgets!
Related: 10 Best Museums in Miami, FL
9. Tampa Museum of Art – Tampa
If your travels have you passing along the west coast of Florida, consider stopping by the Tampa Museum of Art. Known for its historically significant permanent collection, the museum is home to a rotating display of pottery, sculpture, and carvings dating back to between 600 and 300 BCE. The artifacts of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian origin provide visitors a peek into how ancient people lived. This Florida art museum is also known for the temporary exhibitions it hosts and updates every few months. Many noteworthy artists have been hosted over the years, including Yayoi Kusama, Robert Indiana, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Manuel Carrillo, all notable and talented creators with diverse backgrounds and very different styles and subject matter. If you’re an artsy type and have some favorite creators, it might be worth keeping an eye on the museum’s upcoming exhibitions listed on their website.
10. The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art – St. Petersburg
Maybe you grew up watching Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger, or maybe you grew up watching National Geographic and Animal Planet. Whether it was the simpler times of the Old West or the grand migrations of bison and birds that captivated your imagination, a visit to the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art will rekindle that awe in a new way. Its displays of photography, sculpture, and jewelry honor the many ways of life, both human and animal, present in the American West. Moreover, the museum celebrates wildlife across the world, and part of its mission is to provide a stage for demographics not commonly represented in mainstream art. With lots of Native American artists’ work displayed and a focus not only on Western life and art in the 1800s but on modern times as well, the collection honors the establishment’s mission perfectly. If culture and natural science are your jam, then this museum will tick all the boxes for a unique and unforgettable experience.
11. Kennedy Space Center – Merritt Island
A journey through time and space awaits you when you set foot on the Kennedy Space Center grounds. Upon first entering, you’ll see the center’s iconic Rocket Garden, where remnants of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions stand tall and guests can take a tour or explore on their own. Partially indoors and partially outdoors, this two-campus Florida museum is located on the same property used for much of NASA’s work in Florida and mere minutes from the launchpads and hangars used for spacecraft. In fact, a bus tour explains the different platforms and doors while taking visitors past the enormous machines and buildings that house these vessels and launch them into the universe. This tour also brings patrons to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, a second campus dedicated to moon missions. Here, guests can attend a show to relive the 1968 launch of Apollo 8 and walk among several of the giant crafts that took humanity into the heavens. The Kennedy Space Center is a great place for kids or adults to unleash their inner astronaut, with interactive games about colonizing Mars, astronaut training simulations, and peeks into the future of space travel.
12. Air Force Armament Museum – Eglin Air Force Base
Travelers with an interest in learning about military achievements and history are often dismayed to find out that many of the best military museums either require Department of Defense identification in order to gain access or have high prices for civilians to help cover upkeep costs. However, the Air Force Armament Museum in the Florida Panhandle is open to the general public every day and has no admission fee, making it highly accessible and adding to its status as one of the particularly cool museums in Florida. Guests will find informational placards next to most exhibits, giving detailed explanations of all the various aircraft and weapons. The halls hold planes, missiles, and artifacts from many of the United States’ most memorable wars, some dating back to the 1940s or before. Be sure not to miss the gun vault, where a long room holds display cabinets filled with guns both antique and modern and tells the history and most impressive characteristics of each weapon in detail. And the museum is still growing, with a new expansion projected to open in Spring of 2022 dedicated to the achievements of the Eglin Air Force Base and celebrating achievements of African Americans in the Air Force. With interactive activities, lots of educational opportunities, and over two million visitors so far, this museum is great for both hard-core military fans and those just interested in big, exciting machines.
13. Orlando Museum of Art – Orlando
Something that makes the Orlando Museum of Art unique among the many art museums in Florida is its high number of temporary exhibitions, allowing the museum to showcase a wide range of artists and art movements. However, its expansive and well-rounded permanent collections are notable as well. The American Art collection dates from colonial times to the 1960s and accounts for a large facet of the museum’s educational programs. It’s complemented well by the Art of the Ancient Americas collection, which is one of the most comprehensive collections on this theme in the US and which showcases over 900 creations by the peoples of many cultures who lived in North, Central, and South America for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The museum’s Contemporary Art collection is even bigger, swelled by the community’s involvement and interests and by many donations and contributions. With so much to see, you’ll spend hours exploring the halls of this gorgeous establishment.
14. Salvador Dalí Museum – St. Petersburg
The Salvador Dalí Museum, or the Dalí, is instantly recognizable from the outside due to its distinctive appearance designed by famous architect Yann Weymouth. Mirrored windows make the museum appear covered in silver bubbles, a design that pays homage to the surrealist works of Salvador Dalí himself. A step inside the place certainly gives visitors the chance to view both Dalí’s most notable works and many lesser-known pieces—over 2,400 of them! These include photographs, paintings, drawings on paper, book illustrations, and even sculpted objects and clothing designed by the artist. But that’s not all this extensive art museum has to offer. The location hosts many traveling and temporary exhibits, too, including the work of local students, acknowledging young creative talent and giving budding artists a chance to show off their creativity. The museum has also recently implemented an augmented reality program that gives guests a chance to learn more about current installations and see them in a new way. As one of the more famous museums in the state, the Dalí continues to find ways to mix the past with the future.
15. St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum – St. Augustine
The Saint Augustine Lighthouse has been one of the region’s most iconic landmarks since it was first noted on a map as a Spanish watchtower in 1589. Representing a key aspect of Florida’s history, the lighthouse today houses historical artifacts and offers unparalleled views of the old city and the saltwater beyond it. The museum has several buildings filled with awesome antique maritime memorabilia and intricate model ships. One of the coolest parts is the rooms adorned with personal effects of past lighthouse keepers and their families, letting visitors feel as though they’ve been invited over for dinner and the lighthouse keeper himself might be just around the corner. Knowledgeable and helpful guides work throughout the campus to offer interesting facts about the many displays; they are happy to answer any questions and excited to teach people about the location’s history. And if you’re a fan of the paranormal, keep an eye and an ear open as many people believe the lighthouse to be haunted. After visiting, you’ll have no doubt that the Saint Augustine Lighthouse is a fantastic historical institution.
16. Indian Temple Mound Museum – Fort Walton Beach
People lived in Florida for thousands of years before the Spaniards arrived and began exploring the region, and they left behind thousands of artifacts and materials that demonstrate how they led their lives. The Indian Temple Mound Museum in the Florida Panhandle holds twelve thousand years’ worth of these artifacts, although most of them date between 1200 and 1500 CE. The artifacts, in the form of pottery, bone, and shell tools and adornments, showcase the lives of the people who lived there. Visitors can also view the mound itself, a structure that still stands 12 feet tall after eroding under Florida thunderstorms and hurricanes for hundreds of years, and that served as a religious monument, a base for Native political leaders to build their homes upon, and a burial ground for important community figures. Guests can also take a look at replica artifacts in the gift shop, created to offer tourists pieces that reflect the same craft and quality of the pieces on display while allowing the true artifacts to remain in museums for public knowledge. By celebrating the lives of such an important community in Florida’s history, this museum earns its place as one of the best in the state.
17. Florida Museum of Natural History – Gainesville
There’s just nothing quite like the experience of strolling through a room filled with enormous fossils dedicated to showing how big life can become, and it’s this experience that draws many visitors to the Florida Museum of Natural History. But when you’re not comparing prehistoric shark jaws and giant sloths to determine which ones could eat you in a single bite, there are many other fascinating natural artifacts housed here waiting to teach you how Florida used to be. Step into a hallway where a Florida estuary has been magnified to show the details of some of the smallest life forms or visit a Native American ceremony in a 1500s-style Calusa building. The museum hosts artifacts and art from Natives dating back centuries, as well as creations made by Native people living in the state today, and it shows how their ancient traditions and ways of life were tied to the natural life cycles of the land. With exhibits honoring the ancestors of Native people as well as the state’s flora and fauna, this museum is a great place to visit and learn.
18. Great Explorations Children’s Museum – St. Petersburg
If you’re traveling with little ones, you might be on the lookout for a children’s museum in Florida that adults can also enjoy. The Great Explorations Children’s Museum is made for small hands and eager, energetic minds. The kids will explore and learn with hands-on experiences dedicated to agriculture, meteorology, architecture, nutrition, and more in spaces designed for immersive play. Kids can be a firefighter for a day, learn the ins-and-outs of being a veterinarian, or host their own weather forecast, and they’ll love the playground, ropes course, and spaces for moving around, running, climbing, and building things. The museum has even teamed up with Publix Supermarkets to make a pint-sized version of a grocery store, where kids can push around a miniature shopping cart and don’t have to buy the play broccoli if they don’t want to. And if you’re looking to spend a few days in one place, there’s more to do here than just the museum; the Sunken Gardens, a famous historic Florida botanical garden, is on the same property. With so much to see, do, and touch, the Great Explorations Children’s Museum is the perfect place to get the kids moving and learning!
19. Tallahassee Automobile Museum – Tallahassee
Do you feel that most museums are the same and want to see something a little different? Consider making your way to the Tallahassee Automobile Museum, where over 160 rare autos of all kinds are on display, including cars that can drive in the water, cars that run on steam, Abraham Lincoln’s hearse, and more than one Batmobile! In 1999, this museum even earned the Antique Automobile Club of America’s first place award for Preservation of Antique Cars. But the museum’s collection doesn’t just stop at automobiles. The location is home to collections of case knives, historic boats and boat motors, toys, motorcycles, and even rare Steinway pianos. With a replica of a general store put together with authentic artifacts and prices from “back in the day,” (Five cents for a bottle of Coca-Cola, anyone?), this museum’s varied range of yesteryear memorabilia and technology will have adults reminiscing about their grandparents’ homes while the kids marvel that a calculator could ever have been so big.
20. Edison and Ford Winter Estates – Fort Myers
If you’re looking for a museum celebrating innovation and invention, look no further than the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. Alongside the opportunity to view the several houses which made up Thomas Edison’s home and Henry Ford’s winter lodgings, visitors can experience the research gardens where the inventors spent time brainstorming and creating. The real attraction at this location, however, is the museum itself, with over 15,000 square feet dedicated to Ford’s and Edison’s creations and lives. Learn about the process Edison followed to invent electric lights and the lightbulb, and learn what makes a lightbulb work and how lights have changed in the hundred years since his first success. Then discover how Ford became the most successful early car manufacturer and how he innovated the modern production line to manufacture his cars faster than the competition. And don’t forget to stop by the Smithsonian Spark!Lab, where children and adults can both get hands-on and channel their inner inventor to create their own gadgets. This museum is truly one of the most unique and fascinating locations in Florida!
With so much culture and history in one place, Florida has a huge number of incredible museums just waiting for your visit. On your next trip to the state, make time for a few of these places and discover something new!
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