Visitors flock to Florida from across the United States – and across the world – to soak up the sun and enjoy the fun at our huge range of famous theme parks. The state has a well-earned reputation as a vacation destination, offering something for everyone. Sadly, it is less well known for its culture, despite having some of the finest museums and best art collections in the country.
If all you know about ancient history is what you’ve learned from the DuckTales or playing Book of Ra Deluxe, then it’s time to broaden your mind with a visit to one of Florida’s many excellent museums. Whatever period you are interested in, you’ll find a museum to suit, from the Native American days to the pirates and privateers who prowled the coast centuries ago, famous local artists to Florida’s most famous author, Ernest Hemingway. Scratch beneath the surface of the theme parks and you’ll find Florida has a rich culture on offer.
Step back in time
To trace the history of Florida’s earliest inhabitants, head for the Indian Temple Mound Museum in Fort Walton Beach. Part of a vast heritage park and cultural center, the museum covers 12,000 years of the state’s past with an incredible array of Native American art and artifacts.
The park also includes the Garnier Post Office Museum, the Civil War Exhibit and the Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum. There’s even more Native American art to be found at the Orlando Museum of Art, which also houses remarkable works from African artists.
A different group of early Florida residents can be seen at the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach. This fascinating collection traces the history of the Japanese farming community in Florida and has its own delightful Japanese gardens. Other early residents can be found at the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, which houses the world’s biggest collection of genuine pirate artifacts from the seventeenth century. Pair it with a visit to the Key West Shipwreck Museum, where you can learn the fascinating history of shipwrecks and daring salvage operations in the Keys.
One thing Florida is not short of is amazing art galleries. Principle amongst these has to be the not-to-be-missed Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. This is the largest collection of Dali’s works outside of Spain and has upwards of 2100 pieces on display, with everything from sketches and drawings to complete oil paintings. St. Petersburg is also home to the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.
If you enjoy Dali’s surreal works, then you need to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. This major exhibition space has also housed Dali’s works along with many other leading modern artists. For paintings on a Florida theme, head for the Cici and Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, which is part of the large Daytona Beach museums complex.
Original and unusual Museums
Museums have a reputation as dull and dusty places, but there are a number of Florida museums that pop that bubble pretty quickly. For example, the incredible collection of aircraft at the Fantasy of Flight includes the world’s largest private collection of airplanes, most of which are still flown every day.
If you prefer to stay grounded, check out the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, or climb to the top of the 226 ft Citrus Tower in Clermont and visit their replica of the White House. If you are looking for a museum that really turns expectations on their head, there is no better place than the Wonderworks in Orlando, which is housed in a building that looks like it has been literally flipped over.
From authentic recreations of the past, such as the grand Lightner Museum in the former Alcazar Hotel in St Augustine, to the latest in modern technology, such as the 8K planetarium at the Frost Museum of Science in Miami, Florida has something for all ages and interests. Many of them offer free or significantly reduced prices for the kids, and best of all, they are all air-conditioned, making them cool in more ways than one.
So take a break from the rides and shows and check out Florida’s quieter, cultural side. You’ll be surprised at just how much there is to see.