There’s no shortage of interesting things to do and see in Phoenix. It’s home to South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the United States, and it boasts some of the nation’s top resorts. You can take a jeep tour of the Sonoran Desert, visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, or explore a ghost town at the base of the Superstition Mountains.
But Phoenix also has a growing number of impressive museums covering everything from musical instruments to the Hohokam people who first inhabited the area. These are the 10 Phoenix museums you won’t want to miss.
Inspired by the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels, this Smithsonian affiliate takes you on a musical tour of the world through its displays of more than 6,500 instruments from 200 countries and territories. When you enter, you'll be given a wireless headset that lets you hear the musical instrument you see in the case. Videos show craftsmen and musicians at work.
End your visit on the first floor where you can admire instruments played by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Leonard Bernstein, and other greats in the Artist Gallery. Head to the Experience Gallery afterwards to try your hand at the Peruvian harp, West African djembe, and other exotic instruments. The Musical Instrument Museum hosts special exhibits, family days, and concerts throughout the year.
Founded in 1929 by Native American art collectors Dwight and Maie Heard, this is one of the best Native American art museums in the world. Its collection of 44,000 baskets, pottery, jewelry, textiles, paintings, and similar works rotate regularly through 12 galleries. Highlights include the East Gallery Boarding School exhibit and the 1,200 katsina dolls donated by the late Senator Barry M. Goldwater and Fred Harvey Company.
Throughout the year, the museum hosts cultural performances featuring dancers, musicians, and artists at work. Check the museum’s online calendar for upcoming events, or plan to visit when the museum holds its annual Indian Fair & Market in March.
The largest visual art museum in the southwestern United States, the Phoenix Art Museum displays more than 19,000 objects. You can see Western American, European, and Latin America art, as well as contemporary art and photography. Highlights include the 6,000-piece fashion design collection that spans nearly 500 years and the Thorne Rooms, many of which are 1:12 scale replicas of famous American and European rooms.
Free, one-hour public tours led by docents offer insights into the collections. The museum also hosts lectures, demonstrations, and family-friendly events, including Creative Saturdays with hands-on activities, games, and story time on the last Saturday of each month.
This art-centric museum tells the story of the American West, beginning with Native Americans and continuing to present day. The museum doesn’t limit itself to those who called the West home—it includes all the people who traveled West, regardless of country of origin, race, color, or religion. Don’t be surprised to see works by Georgia O’Keeffe next to an exhibit on water conservation or life on the Aleutian Islands. You’ll also see displays on ranching life, with saddles, spurs, and brands. Even in the heat of summer, take a minute to visit the Sculpture Courtyard to view masterpieces by Allan Houser, Bruce R. Green, and others.
This family-friendly museum has more than 300 hands-on science exhibits, a state-of-the-art planetarium, and a five-story IMAX giant-screen theater. It's also known for the Evans Family SkyCycle, a cycling experiment with a 90-foot cable suspended 15 feet in the air. Not sure you want to tempt fate and gravity? Stay on the ground for daily live demonstrations and special exhibits. (Some activities have an additional fee.)
Next door, the science center’s 6,500-square-foot makerspace, CREATE, encourages visitors to let their imagination run wild. Purchase passes to use the space’s Wood Shop, Artistry Hub, or Electronic Zone and its 3-D printer.
Like the mythical bird that rises from the ashes of its predecessor, Phoenix was built on the remains of a 1,500-year-old Hohokam village and canal system. You can view some of the Hohokam ruins at the Pueblo Grande Museum Archaeological Park, including an excavated ball court and intact irrigation canals. The 102-acre park also features two full-scale reproductions of prehistoric Hohokam homes.
In the Main Gallery, exhibits explore the Hohokam canal system, pottery, tools, and jewelry as well as what’s known about these ancient people. Families won’t want to miss the Children’s Gallery where kids of all ages can dig for artifacts in a replicated excavation site.
During World War II, fighter pilots trained in the skies over Phoenix, taking off from airfields such as Falcon Field Airport. After the war, Falcon Field became a municipal airport; today, not only do small aircraft take off from its runway, it also houses the Valley’s best aviation museum, the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum.
At the museum, you’ll see more than 20 historic combat aircraft from World War I to the present on display, including the B-17 Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey” and the B-25 Mitchell “Maid in the Shade” when they are not on tour. The museum offers rides on these World War II-era planes; you can also take a spin on a plane similar to the ones the fighter pilots of that time trained in or an open-cockpit Stearman biplane.
What the Arizona Museum of Natural History lacks in size compared to the Field Museum in Chicago or the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, it makes up for in focus. Much of the museum is dedicated to Arizona with exhibits on the state’s history, native peoples, meteorites, and gems and minerals. There are also replicas of a territorial jail and Spanish mission.
But dinosaurs are the real stars here. The skeletal remains of a mammoth and a mastodon greet visitors in the lobby, and a Tyrannosaurus bataar reigns over Dinosaur Hall. Models of another Tyrannosaurus, a Stegosaurus, and other roaring dinosaurs inhabit the three-story Dinosaur Mountain. Stick around for the flash flood that rushes down the mountain every 23 minutes.
Housed in the historic Monroe School Building—the largest elementary school in the West when it was built in 1913—the Children’s Museum of Phoenix has more than 300 play experiences for kids under the age of 10. Kids can navigate a forest of swimming pool noodles, build forts out of blankets and miscellaneous items, and pedal their way through a tricycle “car wash.” There’s even an art studio where kids can create their own masterpiece and a reading area where they can spend quiet time with a book. Kids 3 and under have their own space to explore on the third floor.
Dedicated to firefighters and firefighting, the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting showcases more than 130 wheeled pieces, from hand pumpers to big steam fire engines to modern fire trucks. There are also more than 10,000 smaller items on display that help tell the story of how humans have interacted with fire throughout history.
Most visitors begin with the 10-minute introductory video and end in the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes, which honors those who have died in the line of service or been decorated for heroism. For kids, the highlight is definitely climbing the 1951 fire engine in Gallery II.