Florida has over 400 museums and historic sights for residents and visitors looking for an experience on a rainy or bad beach day. For a fraction of the cost of visiting a theme park or in many cases no cost, you can visit some of these places.
The website of the Florida Association of Museums is the best place to discover the diversity of attractions found in Florida, but I would like to mention some of my favorite spots.
My Favorite Historic Site
The Dade Battlefield Historic State Park and Museum in Bushnell just off I-75 would probably attract thousands of visitors if it were not for the stupidity of one George Armstrong Custer in his campaign against the Sioux at Little Big Horn. For here during the Second Seminole War was the second worst Indian “massacre” in U.S. history as Major Francis Dade led 110 soldiers into an ambush in 1835.
Except for reenactment day, the museum and grounds are usually deserted. Instead of dozens of confusing monuments there are a few simple markers and a reproduction fortification of the soldier’s last stand. The museum does a nice job explaining the Seminole Wars (the longest and most expensive in US history) and the story of the Seminoles in Florida.
My Favorite Art Museums
While the state John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota has one of America’s greatest collections of Renaissance and Baroque Art, my wife and I are lovers of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works so we think the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach and the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Petersburg have the best coverage of American and World Art.
Dali Would Have Loved This Funky Dali Museum
But if you want to have fun with the family, I suggest the funky Salvador Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg for the building and grounds are exhibits in themselves. Barbara doesn’t like Dali but admits this museum is a great place for an outing particularly in good weather.
Widest Selfie – Stick Head In Space
My Favorite House Museum
Florida may not have the Biltmore, but it has in John Ringling’s Ca d’Zan in Sarasota and the Henry Flagler Whitehall mansion in Palm Beach some great and historic buildings. But nothing tops the incredibly beautiful 1914 home of agriculture machine magnate James Deering in the Coconut Grove section of Miami.
The Vizcaya Museum and Gardens contain ten acres of the most exquisite landscaping in the nation and every room in the estate is beautifully decorated. Some rich homes are just gaudy – not Vizcaya.
My Favorite Military Museum
Florida has some twenty military museums and collections honoring American military heroes and events, but I found nothing as amazing as the collection of airplanes and artifacts at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.
It seems half the navy is at this museum.
My Favorite Historic Complex
Many Florida communities have thankfully been preserving the state heritage of historic buildings, sometimes gathering buildings in a single location. It would be hard to match the Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.
The Edison Lab Looks Ready For Invention
For one admission charge you’ll see 13 buildings and 20 acres of wild tropical gardens, an amazing lab with 100-year old “continuously lit” light-bulbs, and a huge collection of unused Ford automobiles. Edison came to Florida at the order of a doctor, but obviously the workaholic inventor spent more time in the lab than Florida’s first pre-fab swimming pool.
The “Ghost of Edison” Looking Over One of his Trees
Ford, who got first pick on new inventions, wisely built his place across the street on the Caloosahatchee River waterfront.
My Favorite Archaeological Site
Most of Florida’s surviving ancient Indian sites have been so leveled or changed, they are not education to the average visitor. The Crystal River State Archaeological Site in Crystal River off US19 is the largest complex of mounds complete with a nice little museum. Your kids will love to climb the steps up the high temple mound to see what is on the other side.
The Temple Mound Leads To A Neat View
My Favorite Natural History Museum
People who like to look at the skeletons of mammoths and mastodons or pretend they are climbing into a limestone cave will love a visit to the Florida Museum of Natural History on the campus of the University of Florida. Best of all it is free.