8 Can’t Miss Museums in Arizona

You’ve come to Arizona for the outdoors—the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Sedona’s red rocks—but make time for air-conditioned curated culture, too. From big-city grand to small-town funky, there are museums and exhibits somewhere for everybody in the family as you travel around Arizona.

4725 E Mayo Blvd, Phoenix, AZ 85050, USA
Don a headset, approach an exhibit, and wirelessly listen to African thumb piano or Mongolian throat singing at the vast Musical Instrument Museum. Besides browsing some 15,000 artifacts that represent different musical genres, visitors can catch a concert, take a drumming class, or recharge at the café, which serves global fare made from local products.
2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743, USA
Mountain Lion. Cougar. Puma. Panther. Any way you call it, it’s majestic but fear-inspiring... At the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, on the western edge of Tucson, you can get face-to-face with one of these massive felines; their well-designed habitat includes a high den with a thick glass window. If your timing is right, a catnap will have just ended, and you’ll be studied closely. “Desert Museum” might seem like a misnomer. Part botanical garden, part zoo, and part, yes, museum, it’s been ranked one of the best in the world. The habitats are well thought-out, and you get a true feel for the flora and fauna of the lush Sonora desert, which straddles the US-Mexico border: from the Sea of Cortez to the mountains, from subtropical coast to saguaros that get the occasional dusting of snow...
7374 E 2nd St, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, USA
The museum’s collection and calendar of exhibits is a little more daring than you might imagine, but the permanent installation of James Turrell’s Knight Rise presents visitors with the biggest art jolt of all. The work, open to the public for free, consists of a circular bench beneath a luminous domed ceiling. An elliptical hole cut into the top of the dome contains a glimpse of sky. When observed in this manner, even the clearest desert sky seems to shift and pulse and fill the window with pure exuberant color. Come at dawn or sunset for the best (and often most solitary) viewing.
1625 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004, USA
The largest art museum in the Southwest, the Phoenix Art Museum contains more than 17,000 works of all sorts—American, Asian, modern and contemporary, European, Latin American, and Western American. There’s even a popular exhibit dedicated entirely to fashion design. Don’t miss the Thorne Miniature Rooms—scale replicas (one inch to the foot) of famous U.S. rooms and architectural designs—or the Museum Store, a source for distinctive and bespoke gifts. Lunch at Palette café, with its farm-fresh lineup of Southwestern-inspired bites, is also a must. The Phoenix Art Museum hosts a number of national and international exhibits throughout the year; check the website for the most updated information.
136 Main St, Jerome, AZ 86331, USA
The charming and scenic Jerome, Arizona is tucked on a mountainside 30 miles southwest of Sedona. Once a thriving mining town, it survives today as a tourist destination and artist community. One surprise highlight among the shops on Jerome’s small Main Street is Nellie Bly, the world’s largest kaleidoscope store. You’ll find all price ranges of magical, mesmerizing kaleidoscopes—created by over 90 different artists—on display here alongside the $6 cardboard and plastic varieties that you may have owned as a kid. This is a store where you’ll want to stay and play all day. Luckily, the store’s policy is: Please touch! Next door to Nellie Bly, check out its sister shop, Nellie Bly II, an equally enchanting jewelry and crafts gallery. After you’ve finished exploring Nellie Bly and the other local shops and museums, don’t miss the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town! It’s a worthwhile place to spend another hour or two, and just a few minutes drive from Jerome’s Main Street. http://nellieblyscopes.com/ http://www.azjerome.com/ http://www.goldkingmineghosttown.com/
215 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85034, USA
With nearly 50,000 square feet of breathing room, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix is a great place for the kids to get involved in the exhibits. The museum offers a wide variety of different activities—with classes ranging from yoga to music to math—and boasts an art studio as well as a book loft.
12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85259, USA
The city’s most famous snowbird, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, spent winters at his home and architecture school in the Sonoran Desert. Taliesin West brings the horizontal lines and organic materials of Prairie School design to the desert landscape in low, skylighted buildings. Behind-the-scenes tours visit the pop-up structures that students have designed as living spaces amid the barrel cactus and paloverde trees.
1580 Duval Mine Road, Green Valley, AZ 85614, USA
Visitors flock to southern Arizona for sun and saguaros... ...but for a hole in the ground? Other than the ones on golf courses? From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, Tucson was ringed by eighteen steel-and-concrete-reinforced holes in the ground--highly secure shafts in the desert that housed intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with multi-megaton nuclear bombs. “Peace through Deterrance” was the idea, as the propaganda-phrase goes... Of the 54 Titan Missile complexes that were scattered around the country, only this one, about 45 minutes south of Tucson, has been preserved and opened to the public. It’s a startling reminder of how thin the line was that separated the “Cold War” from “M.A.D."--"mutual assured destruction.” It would only have taken 30 minutes from its desert launch for this missile to deliver unimaginable destruction--via a 9 megaton nuclear warhead--up to 6300 miles (10,000km) away... On a lighter note, some of the filming of one of the Star Trek films took place here. You can visit the subterranean control bunker and staff living quarters, access corridors, and the missile silo itself. Tours are offered on the hour year-round, with additional tours offered every thirty minutes from January through April. Closed Christmas and Thanksgiving. Whether you’re coming from the left or from the right, politically, the sobering reality of this fusion of human nature and technology is worth going underground for if you’re driving down I-19.
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