Lifestyle

The All-Time Best Museums Worth Visiting in Miami

Explore beyond Wynwood.

If you’re into people watching and Art Deco architecture, Miami is like one giant, open-air museum with really, really good snack bars. But if you prefer your museums with artwork that wasn’t created by plastic surgeons, we’ve also got some fascinating, provocative, and downright fun museums of the traditional variety. Most people know about the skyline-dominating museums downtown that marked Miami’s arrival as a 21st-century metropolis. However if you delve further into the city, and throughout South Florida, you’ll find loads of history, contemporary art, and multiple ways to see the Everglades without an ounce of bug spray. Many of our favorite museums are still COVID-closed, but the ones that are open all follow struct safety guidelines, and are an outstanding way to actually learn something during your free time.

Perez Art Museum Miami

Downtown
Miami’s largest art museum is as much a showcase of architectural mastery as any other art form, where large rooms, rounded walls, and hanging gardens with more than 54,000 plants give it an aesthetic like no other art museum in the world. The view’s not bad either, where you’ll catch glimpses of Biscayne Bay in between showcases of contemporary art from throughout Latin America and the world. The museum is also home to Verde, which we’ll humbly call the best museum restaurant in America even without its breezy bayside terrace.
Know before you go: PAMM is currently only open 2-9 pm on Thursday, and 11 am - 6 pm Friday through Sunday. Tickets must be reserved in advance due to limited capacity. Admission is $16 for adults, $12 for seniors, students, and children 7-18. Children 6 and under are free.

Frost Museum of Science

Downtown
Perhaps no museum is more important to the future of Miami than the Frost, where the top level educates visitors on the fragile ecosystem of the Everglades and why we must act to protect it. Don’t skip over it on your way to the stingrays tank, where you can pet rays and enjoy a panoramic view of downtown and the Port of Miami. The Instagram star of the show is the Oculus—the window into the gulf stream aquarium you’ll no doubt recognize from your favorite influencer. And once the COVID-era has subsided, the Frost is also a fabulous place to go on Friday nights for their epic laser shows set to everything from Beyonce to Pink Floyd.
Know before you go: The Explorer Ticket is the best way to go, which grants you access to all the exhibits and demonstrations, plus one show in the planetarium. That’s $29.95 for adults and $21.95 for children 3-11. All tickets must be purchased in advance due to limited capacity, with hourly time slots available. The Frost Museum opens daily at 10 am, and closes at 5 pm Monday through Thursday and 7 pm Friday through Sunday.

Museum of Contemporary Art

North Miami
South Florida’s original contemporary art museum has been around since 1981, but moved into its spacious new digs in 1996. The North Miami facility regularly plays host to free jazz concerts in its breezy MOCA plaza courtyard, and features provocative rotating exhibits from up-and-coming young artists. Though the concerts are virtual for the time being, the exhibits are still open and ready for visitors. And you can check out Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art and Raul de Nieves: Eternal Return and Obsidian Heart from now through March.
Know before you go: Admission is $10 and free for MOCA members and North Miami residents with ID. Open Wednesday 12-7 pm, Thursday through Sunday from 10 am - 5 pm.

HistoryMiami

Downtown
Few things are more fascinating to a South Floridian than seeing how this city went from a swamp to major world metropolis in just over 100 years. You’ll learn all about Henry Flagler, Julia Tuttle, and the rest of the characters that made Miami what it is, as well as rotating exhibits exploring everything from the legacy of Hurricane Andrew to photos of the lost era of elderly Jews in South Beach. The museum also offers frequent walking tours with preeminent Miami historian Paul George, where even Dade County lifers will learn something new about the place we call home.
Know before you go: Open Monday through Saturday 10 am - 5 pm; Sunday 12-5pm. Closed on major holidays. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $5 for children 6-12, and free for children under 6, and active duty military during the summer.

Museum of Discovery and Science
Museum of Discovery and Science | Photo Courtesy of Museum of Discovery and Science

Museum of Discovery and Science

Downtown Ft. Lauderdale
Broward County’s science museum may not have the sexy rooftop of its Miami counterpart, but it does have one thing nowhere else in South Florida has right now—an operative movie theater. The IMAX at MODS is still screening movies, albeit on a limited basis, and yes, there’s popcorn in the lobby. Beyond the IMAX, the museum gives you a chance to take an airboat ride through a mocked-up Everglades, as well as watch otters doing adorable otter-y stuff. There’s also a hurricane simulator where you can feel what it might be like if you didn’t rush to Home Depot for shutters. For the gram, MODS has a replica shark mouth from the largest Great White ever found, which you can pose inside and post to your heart’s delight.
Know before you go: MODS was running on a limited schedule, but resumed normal operations in 2021. The MODS discovery pass is $24 for adults, $22 for seniors, and $19 for children 2-11, and includes one show at the IMAX.

Norton Museum of Art

West Palm Beach
Even before it underwent its $100 million renovation—which took eight years and finished in 2019—the Norton was widely considered to have the best art collection in South Florida. It began in 1941 as a place to house art owned by industrialist Ralph Hubbard Norton, and now lives in a sleek, open space designed by famed British architect Lord Norman Foster. Inside, you’ll see the state’s grandest collection of contemporary art outside Miami, as well as American, Chinese, and European exhibits of more classical stuff. You’d be best served to make a day out of your tip and plan lunch or dinner at the restaurant, which offers a full bar and creative sandwiches.
Know before you go: The Norton is currently open 11 am - 7 pm Friday, and 10 am -5 pm Saturday and Sunday. The restaurant is also operating with a limited menu, though the stuff they’ve got is still fantastic. Admission is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors over 60, and $5 for students. Children 12 and under, Florida educators, active U.S. military, and healthcare workers and first responders are all free.

Institute of Contemporary Art

Design District
Norman Braman’s gift to the city that bought his cars for decades, this free museum in the Design District serves to both showcase the word of avant garde artists and as a home for art research and education. The exhibits change frequently, and run the gamut from sculpture to photography to room-filling installations. Before the pandemic, ICA also ran community programs to engage the city in the art world, and currently offers seminars and lectures you can view online. Perhaps its greatest feature, though, is the outdoor sculpture garden, a quiet escape from the bustling city where, on cool winter days, you can enjoy modern art with no distractions.
Know before you go: ICA is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 am - 6 pm, Sunday from 12-5pm. Admission is free, but you must buy tickets in advance as capacity is limited.

Bass Museum

South Beach
Interestingly, perhaps Miami Beach’s most recognizable  piece of contemporary art is part of a museum many visitors don’t even know exists. Miami Mountain—aka the tower of brightly painted rocks that sits at the entrance to Collins Park—is actually part of the Bass Museum, the small-yet-fierce contemporary art museum on the park’s other end. The bright, open space is filled with modern art exhibitions from around the world, which typically rotate every few months. And because the works are often topical and thought-provoking, the museum is worth visiting a few times a year as it always offers a different experience.
Know before you go: The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 12-5pm, with no time-restricted tickets. So just mosey on up and buy yourself inside. Admission is free for Miami Beach residents and employees. Adults are $15. Seniors, students with ID, and youths 7-18 are $8. Children 6 and under are free.

Morikami Museum and Gardens
Morikami Museum and Gardens | Photo Courtesy of The Buzz Agency

Morikami Museum and Gardens

Delray Beach
Often glossed over in the Merrick-and-Flagler-filled history of Palm Beach County is the tale of the Yamato colony, a group of Japanese farmers who lived near Boca Raton at the beginning of the twentieth century. Much of their old land is now this majestic swath of Japanese gardens, where you can stroll through perfectly manicured gardens from different periods in Japanese history. Babbling streams and bonsai trees greet you throughout, as well as centuries-old lanterns and occasional tea ceremonies. Inside the main building, you’ll also find an exhibition gallery with rotating Japanese artwork from the museum’s collection.
Know before you go: The museum us open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am - 5 pm. Adults are $15, seniors and military $13, students with ID $11, children 6-17 $9, children under 6 are free.

Rubell Museum

Wynwood
The Rubell family, whose name has been synonymous with art and philanthropy in Miami for decades, has renovated a 100,000-square-foot industrial space west of Wynwood to showcase its massive collection. The family prides itself on finding great artists early in their careers, and visiting the museum you’ll find stuff from Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Rashid Johnson, and others from long before the world knew their names. The private collection is beyond impressive, with 7,200 works from more than 1,000 artists. And its new home is a work of modern art in and of itself, the creation of Selldorf Architects with more than 50,000 square feet of gallery space. 
Know before you go: Members get free admission all year long, but general admission for adults is $15. Seniors are $12, and students $10. U.S. military veterans are free. The museum is currently open Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday from 11:30 am - 5:30 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 am - 5:30 pm. Advance tickets are recommended, but not required.

Coral Gables Museum

Coral Gables
It seems only fitting that the first fully planned city in America would be home to a museum devoted to architecture and urban planning. The museum is set in the grand old Coral Gables Police and Fire Station, and visitors can wander past the jail cells, courtroom, and apparatus bay before delving into the exhibits. The museum offers the most comprehensive look into George Merrick and how his dream of a Spanish village in Florida came to life. It also hosts rotating exhibitions of local and Caribbean artists, and currently has a historical retrospective on handbags and a photo essay from quarantine as its headline displays.
Know before you go: Adults are $10, seniors and students $8, children 6-12 $5, and children under 6 and military families are free. It is highly recommended you book tickets in advance and pick a time slot online. The museum offers both guided and cell phone audio tours, which is included with museum admission. It also offers kayak tours of Coral Gables’ waterways the last Sunday of the month, downtown walking tours on the first Saturday, and Gables bike tours on the third Sunday.

Museum of Art and Design

Downtown
You no doubt know the Freedom Tower, the iconic bright orange Mediterranean Revival skyscraper across from the American Airlines Arena that some have dubbed the Cuban Ellis Island. What you may not know is that it houses Miami-Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design, where you can peruse the school’s permanent collection of more than 1,900 works in genres from painting to videography. In tribute to its role as the gateway to freedom for thousands of Miamians, the museum also runs frequent photo exhibitions telling the city’s story from that era. The mezzanine level is dominated by the “New World Mural 1513,” which was actually painted in 1987, but makes a striking historical tableau of the early conquest of Florida.
Know before you go: The museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1-5pm. Saturdays it is open 1-8pm. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and military, $5 for students with ID. Children under 12, MDC staff, MDC students, and MDC faculty are free.

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Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer for Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.