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Museums in Phoenix: Our 10 Top Picks

Are you looking for the best museums in Phoenix? You will find dozens of options all around the Valley, which can make it hard to decide on which one to visit.

Our list of 10 offers you the best ones to check out during your stay. They include popular art, history, and outdoor museums that we know you will love!

 1. Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)

Netherlands and Luxembourg displays at the Musical Instrument Museum.

Address: 4725 East Mayo Road

This is one of the top 10 museums in Phoenix and, if you are a music lover, probably the world. Why is that? Because this museum holds over fifteen thousand musical instruments from around the globe.

Yep, you read that right 15,000 instruments from around the world and from many cultures!

The MIM is truly an incredible museum, not only because they have so many instruments, but that the displays which go with them are incredible. The first area you will start out in is based on the music from the USA. You will see exhibits from almost all music styles and memorabilia such as Elvis' actual military uniform, Johnny Cash's guitar, Tito Puente's Timbales (drums), and so much more.

After that you'll enter the areas that specialize in specific cultures from around the world. The rooms are packed with displays such as ones from China, Japan, the Antilles, the Netherlands, Jamaica, and that is just a tiny representation of the almost 200 different countries and their musical instruments on display. You will see pianos from the 14th century, drums from 5,000 years ago, conch shells that are used as horns, and will just be "blown" away by the variety and quality of everything you see here. 

>> Pick up advanced tickets for your visit

>> More about visiting this colorful gem

2. Children's Museum of Phoenix

Address: 215 North 7th Street 

This is a perfect place to visit for kids, and for kids of all ages, when you come to the Valley of the Sun. Most of the exhibits are best for kids from 0 to 10 years old. There are loads of spaces to play, and learn, while having a lot of fun and interacting with other kids.

There are permanent exhibits here, like the massive slide and play structure, the "Noodle Forest" where kids and adults can try to find their way through it. You will also find lots of arts and crafts for them.

No matter how many times you visit, there is always something new to experience.

Another reason it's one of the best museums in Phoenix is their outdoor area. It features adventures such as "TMX" (Tike Motocross), where the kids get to race around a track on tricycles, and the Nature Forest, where kids build and play with nature's own creations and can build their own.

You are welcome to bring food into the museum. There is also a café if you just want to eat there. 

3. Heard Museum

One of many interactive TV screens at the Heard Museum in Phoenix

Address: 2301 North Central Avenue

There is no other museum like the Heard Museum anywhere in the world. It is fully dedicated to the indigenous people of the Americas.

Based on the history of the different cultures, you will learn about the first moment of recorded history of these communities and how they have adapted throughout history.

You will also see how cultures lived and how they differed from each other, even some that lived within only a short distance. It interesting to see how many lived to close to each other but had totally original beliefs and ways of surviving.

Some of these cultures include the Hopis, the Navajo, and many others. It is always interesting for Aram and me to see how the names of the tribes have changed from what the people originally called themselves and what they are called by in today's world.

We absolutely love seeing all the art, jewelry, and audio and video displays in the museum since it gives us a more realistic feeling of what it was like to live in those times. There are even massive huts you can walk inside and feel like you are right there in that moment.

Make sure to check out their temporary traveling exhibits too which feature art that is the most current in the native people's world. These are just a few of the reasons it's one of the must see museums in Phoenix!

>> Pick up your tickets in advance

4. Arizona Science Center

Address: 600 East Washington Street

You may not immediately think of a science center as a museum, but this one easily qualifies as that and more! This massive complex is more like four different museums in one since you'll have your choice between the 360-plantarium, the Flinn Theater, loads of permanent exhibits, and our personal favorite that HUGE Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton nicknamed "Victoria."

Some of the permanent exhibits you and your kids can enjoy including the "Flight Zone" where you all can get hands-on and use all kinds of aircraft. The SkyCycle allows you to ride a bicycle, 15 feet above the ground, and use gravity and balance to move it down a rope. Another favorite is the My Digital World where you will explore and examine all the most current technologies.

This is one of the museums in Phoenix that also has traveling exhibits, which means you can see something new during each visit. A family could easily spend a full day in this museum and not see or do everything. It is so much fun, there is so much to learn, and it is well designed and thought out. 

5. Phoenix Art Museum

Address: 1625 North Central Avenue

This is one of the museums in Phoenix that is a must visit for lovers of many different types of art. With over 20,000 pieces in its collection, you know you'll be in for a great experience no matter how many times you visit.

Ranging from some of the earliest known art, up to the most current, the Phoenix Art Museum attempts to show you how art has developed and continues to develop throughout the years. Every form of art is represented and you'll be amazed by all of them.

Some of the most famous artists with pieces here include those such as Georgie O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Philip C. Curtis.

Some of their exhibits include Japanese ceramics and baskets interpreted in a very modern style, Family Eden which gives you a view of the princes and royalty of 19-century India using over 20 hand-painted lithographs, and one of Jill's and my personal favorite, the Thorne Rooms which are exact replicas of famous rooms around the world in 1/12th scale.

Being one of the best museums in Phoenix, they also host some of the best traveling exhibits from around the world.

6. Pueblo Grande: Museums in Phoenix

Address: 4619 East Washington Street

Jill and I love this museum because instead of it being just one museum, it is more like 3 museums in Phoenix in one! It focuses on the Hohokam people who lived in this area from 450 A.D. to 1450 A.D. It gives you an inside look at everything related to their culture, way of life, and why they disappeared.

The first part of the museum includes an indoor gallery with their classic art, drawings of the canal systems (which are still used today!), their use of astronomy, and many other exhibits showing how these people influenced the past and present of the Valley of the Sun. 

The next part of the museum is named, "The Outdoor Trail" and will lead you around a path outside so you can see how these people lived in their natural habitat. You will be able to explore The Adobe Compound, where they would spend their days and nights, the Pit Houses which were a community style living area, and where they would compete against each other. There are also traveling exhibits to help you learn more each time you visit.

Last, but not least, there is a fun Children's Gallery so that people of all ages can learn more about the Hohokam people. Simply stated, there is something for everyone when you visit Pueblo Grande. 

7. Arizona Capitol Museum

Address: 1700 West Washington Museum

This is one of the best museums in Phoenix to check out if you want to learn more about the history of this area, how the government works, and how present-day Phoenix continues to evolve. This may not sound like the most exciting museum, but we constantly learn more and more about our wonderful city, and state, every time we visit it.

Some of the most interesting exhibits include the USS Arizona exhibit which was destroyed at Pearl Harbor along with some of its memorabilia. The Arizona Takes Shape is another exhibit which follows the birth of the this territory from February 24th, 1863 until today. Kids will love the 7 foot Lego Flag built of exactly 114,006 Legos!!!!

There are always new, and traveling exhibits such as the history of the Grand Canyon National Park, one about Martin Luther King, Jr., and others.

You are more than welcome to walk around the museum on your own. There are also guided tours numerous times a day so you can get a more in-depth history of the Valley of the Sun and beyond.

8. Desert Botanical Garden

Pink and orange flowers on a plant at the Desert Botanical Garden

Address: 1201 North Galvin Parkway

This "living museum" is another one of our top picks for museums in Phoenix. If you love nature then this place is a must see!

With over 50,000 plants, covering over 140-acres (55 under cultivation), there is just so much to see. It also changes by the season as new plants are flowering all the time. This is the perfect place for the whole family since kids can run around while you are taking your time.

Proving that there is more than just desert and dust in Arizona, this is one of the outdoor museums in Phoenix that has 5 trails for you to explore. That means you can stroll through many different climates in the Sonoran Desert.

The trails include the Sonoran Desert Nature Trail, the Center for Desert Living Trail, the Desert Discovery Trail, the Harriet K. Maxwell Desert Wildflower Loop Trail, and the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail. Each trail is completely different, and you'll be amazed by the diversity here.

There is also wildlife throughout the park including lizards, birds, frogs, bees (don't worry, they won't sting you), butterflies, and so much more.

Fun Fact: If you look for it, you'll see the "Hole in the Rock" from one of the trails on the horizon. If you bring your kids, you can make it a game and see who finds it first! 

>> More tips to visit

9. Hall of Flame Fire Museum

Address: 6101 East Van Buren Street

This is another one of the museums in Phoenix we love due to the interesting story behind its founder, George F. Getz, Jr. The reason Getz was intrigued by fire engines was because his wife, Olive, gave him a 1924 American LaFrance fire engine as a Christmas present! First off, that is really amazing. Second off, this year Jill really needs to "up" her Christmas present level to the same as Mrs. Getz, in my opinion!

From that moment on, they both became interested in collecting firefighting equipment from around the world. After Mr. and Mrs. Getz passed, their two sons took over their collection, continued with their obsession, and then started this museum to show people everything they collected from around the world. Inside you will find everything from horse drawn carriages to the first motorized ones to pretty much anything else they use to fight fires both big and small.

Just to start with: The museum has over 130 wheeled pieces and more than 10,000 smaller objects that are part of the history of fire fighters and the jobs they do to keep all of us safe. There is also a theater to watch movies about the fire fighters and the museum, a children's area, and a fully functional 1952 America LaFrance Model 700 fire engine that you can climb on and explore. Some of these fire engines are MASSIVE!

There are also special exhibits for the heroes of firefighting, a 9/11 exhibit since so many passed trying to save the lives of others, and so much more. 

10. Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West

Another one of the best museums in Phoenix is Western Spirit, Scottsdale's Museum of the West. Within the permanent exhibits, you will find the Alper Bronze John Coleman Collection, the Cooke Hopi Pottery Collection, the Hays Legendary Cowboy Collection, just to name a few.

Jill and I really like to visit museums in Phoenix where we can constantly learn and find out more about the past and current people's cultures and way of life. That is why the Western Spirit is so magnificent.

They constantly having traveling exhibits, most of them lasting for a year or so, which allows you the chance to see something during each visit. Some of these have included an exhibit on Hopi ceramicists and Katsina doll carvers, photographs by the famous Edward Curtis, paintings by Maynard Dixon, paintings by Marjorie Thomas and much more.

There is also an outside sculpture area, theater, and museum store.

You will find this one just a few miles outside of Phoenix in the nearby city of Scottsdale.


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