For a state generally given little credit for its cultural chops, Florida has a LOT packed between its sea-going boundaries. Most of the big cities can boast a major museum or two, while even some out-of-the-way places like Sanford, Winter Park, Stuart, Fernandina Beach, Everglades City and Ocala have some highly worthwhile historical gem or other museum-quality offering.
Museum of Florida History, Tallahassee
Starting in the Panhandle, Tallahassee features the Museum of Florida History, the Historic Capital Museum and the St George Island Lighthouse Museum, as well as the natural history of the Tallahassee Museum, while Pensacola’s National Naval Aviation Museum is one of the best in the south-east USA.
Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando
Orlando boasts several high-quality choices, too, notably the Orange County Regional History Center, which tells the story of the region in high-quality detail, and the Orlando Museum of Art. There is also the Mennello Museum of American Art, with a focus on African-American artistry. The upmarket suburb of Winter Park is another a mini treasure trove for cultural highlights, with the superb Morse Museum of American Art – housing the world’s largest collection of work by Louis Comfort Tiffany – as well as the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens and Maitland Art Center.
Henry B. Plant Museum, Tampa
If St Augustine (and West Palm Beach) are the places to go for the full story of railroad baron Henry Flagler and his place in Florida history, the city of Tampa has the Henry B. Plant Museum, which details another great tale of state heritage, with the industry – and philanthropy – of Henry Plant. For even more history and culture, the city of St Petersburg is positively bursting with possibilities, from The Dali Museum to the Chihuly Collection, and also featuring the Museum of Fine Arts, the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Morean Arts Center, Great Explorations Children’s Museum and the St Petersburg Museum of History.
South Florida Museum, Bradenton & The Ringling, Sarasota
As you travel further down the Gulf Coast, two major points of interest are the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, which is a three-part journey into the region’s natural history, early Native American life and planetarium, and Sarasota’s The Ringling, an astounding collection of period pieces that is both art gallery and the story of the Greatest Show on Earth, with the full history of the Ringling Bros. circus and their stunning Ca’ D’Zan mansion.
Flagler Museum, West Palm Beach
Over on the opposite coast, West Palm Beach is another cultural oasis, with some wonderful history and heritage to explore, not least at the Flagler Museum, Henry’s former Whitehall mansion now turned into a repository of his life and times. Also here are the Norton Museum of Art, the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium and Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County Museum, which is great for families in particular.
Museums in Miami
Miami, of course, boasts one of the largest – and broadest – ranges of museum choice in the state, starting with the fabulous 1920s period piece of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and continuing with the Perez Art Museum, Miami Children’s Museum, the fascinating art of the Wynwood Walls and Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Down in Key West, the local history and culture are well represented by the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum, Harry Truman Little White House and the Key West Art & Historical Society Custom House Museum, all in keeping with the city’s eclectic reputation.
For more cowboy culture, seek out the Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch (just north-east of Naples) and the excellent Tallahassee Museum, both of which provide more detail into this surprising aspect of Floridian life. But, for the real highlight of all Seminole heritage, both historic and modern, the must-see place is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Clewiston, in the Big Cypress reservation. Here, in excellent detail and with living examples of Seminole culture, you can get first-hand knowledge of their way of life that is totally unique to Florida – and just one more reason for visiting.