Museums for Every Taste

Local collections to feed your soul | By Jessica Dunham

What do you think when you hear the word “museum”? If the first adjectives that come to mind are “boring” and “stuffy,” you’re not alone. But you’re also not correct, at least when it comes to Greater Phoenix’s offerings. Our world-class museums inspire, excite, surprise, and thrill. And when taken as a whole, the city’s museums collectively span a variety of interests, from race cars and military jets to contemporary art and Americana. Read on to find a museum to suit your style.

For music fans…

Hear music, see the instruments, even play a tune or two. These are just some of the activities the Musical Instrument Museum invites its guests to enjoy. There are few museums in the world like the MIM—as it is affectionately called—thanks to its collection of more than 7,000 instruments from 200 countries and territories. Items on display range from ancient to famous, including instruments, records, and even concert costumes from the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Maroon 5, and more.

The hands-on Experience Gallery at MIM lets the inner rock star in each of us shine. Play a guitar, bang a gong, shake a tambourine, or strum a harp. When you’re done, catch a live performance at the museum’s intimate concert venue, which keeps a packed calendar of musicians from all over the world and in a range of genres.

If you love fashion…

For those of us who’ve longed to raid the closets of designers like Dior or Chanel, the Phoenix Art Museum comes this close to making dreams come true. The esteemed museum’s fashion design collection boasts thousands (somewhere in the range of 4,500) of clothes, shoes, and accessories from the 18th to 20th centuries. Culturally significant fashions on display name-check designers such as Balenciaga, Galanos, Saint Laurent, and yes, Dior and Chanel. You can also view rare books and prints related to costumes and textiles in the museum’s Astaire Library of Costumes. Exhibits are always rotating.

Get right up close to the fire engines at the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting.

To honor our heroes…

You don’t have to be a firefighter to be fascinated by the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting. Originally opened in 1961 in Wisconsin, the museum found a new home when founder George F. Getz moved it to Phoenix in 1974. Spanning nearly an acre, the museum’s displays showcase everything and anything related to firefighting. Climb aboard a 1952 American LaFrance model 700 fire engine. See a horse-drawn firefighting apparatus dating back to the 1720s. And tour the Hall of Heroes, an emotional tribute to the men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty. From a display of arm patches from fire departments around the world to a powerful 9/11 exhibit, the museum offers an in-depth journey into the labor, love, and history of firefighting.

For admirers of the avant-garde…

ASU Art Museum touts its mission to share new and experimental work by emerging artists. This means you’ll see bold, contemporary prints with a social message; multimedia works that push the boundaries of your comfort zone; or feather-light sculptures made from organic fibers and paper pulp. With three floors of art and exhibits that rotate seasonally, it is possible you’ll never see the same exhibit twice, no matter how often you visit.

Tucked under the escalators at Scottsdale Fashion Square, you’ll find Wonderspaces Arizona, a museum with ever-rotating contemporary artworks. The museum aims to build a shared experience among visitors and also between visitors and the artists, and showcases art in emerging media, such as computation, 3D printing, and virtual reality.

Discover the West through art at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

If you’re fascinated by the Old West…

For more than 50 years, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum has welcomed visitors to explore the art and history of the American West. At this Smithsonian Affiliate museum, you’ll learn about Wickenburg’s mining past, plus enjoy a look at Arizona’s cowboy culture, the state’s “5 Cs” (cotton, copper, citrus, climate, and cattle), American Indian influences, and more.

Through paintings, photography, sculptures, and artifacts, Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West gives a thoughtful perspective on how the West—its mythology and reality—came to be. Artwork ranges from Western to contemporary, and items on display range from saddles and spurs to pottery and jewelry. Check the museum’s calendar of events before arriving so that you can time your visit to join a docent-led tour or see a documentary in the museum’s theater.

Walk through American Indian history at the Heard Museum.

If you appreciate American Indian culture…

Not only does the internationally renowned Heard Museum display works from tribe members from the American Southwest—Navajo and Tohono O’odham, to name just two—it also collaborates with arts centers and American Indian artists throughout North America to bring cutting-edge exhibits to metro Phoenix. The museum’s 44,000 objects document the American Indian fine art movement from the 20th century to the present and offer insight into the history of Arizona’s American Indian cultures.

Among the 12 galleries and outdoor sculpture gardens to explore, you’ll also enjoy free guided tours and a comprehensive, trading post-style gift shop featuring authentic artworks and souvenirs from American Indian artists. Post-art tour, savor locally sourced fare at the museum’s Courtyard Café, with its seasonally rotating menu that draws from the museum’s exhibits for inspiration.

For outdoorsy types…

Nobody said a museum must have walls in order to house an impressive collection. Take the Desert Botanical Garden. Throughout 140 acres, visitors can peruse more than 50,000 desert plants arranged in artistic displays and cared for by the garden’s nature experts. This winter, see the garden’s newest exhibit, Wild Rising by Cracking Art, an installation from Milan of 1,000 animal sculptures made from recyclable plastic.

At Boyce Thompson Arboretum, the state’s oldest botanical garden, three miles of trails wind through nearly 400 acres of natural landscape. Stroll at a leisurely pace to spot all of the unique flora: boojum trees, cork oaks, eucalyptus trees, as well as various cacti and succulents.

History comes alive at Sahuaro Ranch Park. The park preserves the site of a 17-acre, 1880s-era ranch. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Sahuaro Ranch provides visitors access to the property’s 13 original buildings, including guided tours of the beautifully restored Main House, plus a rose garden, barnyard, and orchards.

The ultimate museum roundup

But wait, there’s more! Art, history, interactive play for kiddos — no matter your museum mood, this list will point you in the right direction.


Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, Mesa
Phoenix Airport Museum, Phoenix
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale


Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson Museum, Phoenix
Martin Auto Museum, Phoenix
Penske Racing Museum, Phoenix


Ak-Chin Him-Dak EcoMuseum, Maricopa
Besh-Ba-Gowah, Globe
Huhugam Ki Museum, Scottsdale
Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park, Phoenix


Arizona Railway Museum, Chandler
Children’s Museum of Phoenix, Downtown Phoenix
I.D.E.A. Museum, Mesa


Arizona Capitol Museum, Phoenix
Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park, Tempe
Cave Creek Museum, Cave Creek
Chandler Museum, Chandler
Rosson House Museum, Downtown Phoenix

Military & Law Enforcement

Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum, Mesa
Arizona Military Museum, Phoenix
Phoenix Police Museum, Phoenix


Arizona Museum of Natural History, Mesa
Arizona Science Center, Downtown Phoenix