Who says Miami is devoid of culture? Sure, Miami nightlife and Miami beaches are partly the reason why we attract tourists from around the world, but there’s a lot to be said about the best museums in Miami. The city is home to a number of nationally recognized institutions in which you’ll find pieces by renowned Latin American artists, pre-Columbian artifacts, inspiring science displays and photographs of some of the biggest names in pop culture from their time spent in Miami and South Beach—Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and others. Not sure where to start? Dive right into the city’s growing art scene with our guide to the best museums in Miami.
Best museums in Miami
Better known as the PAMM, this contemporary art museum is much more than a place to browse paintings. Aficionados love the Herzog & de Meuron-designed space for its permanent exhibitions of Latin American works (collector and Miami developer Jorge Pérez donated a portion of his million-dollar collection) and sculpture garden with more than a dozen interactive works guests can sit on, walk through and pose with, plus groundbreaking shows such as Dana Friedman’s “Perfect Strangers.” While the less artsy types appreciate the PAMM for its cultural programming—including happy hours, nighttime concerts and film screenings—its unparalleled views of Biscayne Bay and creative American cuisine at onsite restaurant, Verde.
True to its mission, the 250,000-square-foot museum connects people of all ages with science through a range of inspiring programming—some of which is even bilingual. The new Frost Science (an upgrade from its previous Coconut Grove location) occupies four buildings—the Aquarium, the Frost Planetarium and the North and West Wings—features year-round exhibits such as “Feathers to the Stars,” “River of Grass” and “MeLab,” an interactive exhibit that lets kids learn about health by using their own bodies to conduct experiments (think hands-on simulations). Frost Planetarium gives visitors a reason to visit after dark thanks to its biweekly laser light shows set to music by the Beatles, Lady Gaga and loads of other pop stars.
The Bass, as it’s now known, remains the centerpiece of the Collins Park’s cultural campus (which includes the adjacent Miami City Ballet). The enhanced and enlarged property, which dates to the 1930s, reopened its doors in October 2017, following a two-year, $12 million renovation that added more exhibition space, four new galleries, a gift shop, café by Thierry Isambert and a new educational facility called the Creativity Center. “Moniker,” a community-focused graphic installation designed to grow over time, is part of this latest interactive component. With the revamp came a series of fresh acquisitions and gifts from New York’s Museum of Modern Art and in significant multimedia works from the Martin & Cricket Taplin Video Collection, among others. In addition to pieces from the contemporary art museum’s own permanent collection (including Sylvie Fleury’s Eternity Now, 2015 site-specific installation and Ugo Rondinone’s Magic Mountain), it hosts world-class traveling exhibitions—everything from folk art to photography and video installations
Interested in seeing what a real Cuban refugee raft looks like? Want to see the actual Miramar Playa hotel sign used during the filming of Magic City in Miami? Both, and more, are on display at HistoryMiami, a microcosm of the city’s past and present. Anytime a famous person makes history in Miami, it’s documented here—including the time the Beatles performed sold-out shows in Miami Beach. All exhibits here are fun and interactive so kids of all ages will enjoy learning about a time they may or may not remember. And now through April 2018, visitors can take a sobering, albeit hysterical, look back at the old SoBe in “South Beach, 1974-1990: Photographs of a Jewish Community,” which harkens back to a less hedonistic and more geriatric time in the neighborhood’s past.
Decidedly cooler and more low key than the museums clustered in downtown Miami, the MOCA is where you’ll find big Art Basel debuts and avant garde exhibitions from international artists. Jazz at the MOCA brings out the locals on the last Friday of each month for an outdoor concert and donation-based entrance to the museum. Community programming, however, takes on a more didactic approach, with a focus on art education that includes artist-led lectures and classes taught by local photographers and painters.
Known for breaking fresh talent and giving primary museum exposure to under-recognized artists, ICA Miami presents contemporary works and site-specific installations across six galleries and a 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden. The museum’s first thematic show, “The Everywhere Studio” (Dec 1–Feb 28), features 100-plus works from more than 50 artists (including Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein) and explores the influence that personal settings have on how artists work and what they produce.
Though flanked by nightclubs and late-night eateries, the Wolfsonian-FIU manages to attract serious thinkers and art lovers. Its exhibits are progressive without leaning toward the radical or esoteric, providing insight into trending topics like the relationship between the United States and Cuba. While its permanent collections, comprising paintings, graphic designs and a myriad of objects, offer a more general view of the modern world. On Fridays, the museum is free to the public between the hours of 6 to 9pm—which makes for one of South Beach’s most popular happy hours.
With an undergraduate dormitory to one side and the campus’ swanky business school to the other, the University of Miami Lowe Art Museum doesn’t seem like a place where you’d find a notable collection of Native American art, Egyptian antiquities and all sorts of paintings from renowned European artists, such as Claude Monet. But as the first art museum in Miami (opened in 1950) the Lowe has paved way the way for a number of newcomers and introduced the city to international artists thanks to a number of traveling exhibitions it welcomes annually.
The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum’s location on the FIU campus makes this formidable art institution both a place for scholarly research and an educational facility for those looking to broaden their understanding of the art world. But even those new to art will find something worthwhile at the nearly 40-year-old museum (the only Smithsonian-affiliated art museum in Miami), whose permanent collections include African artifacts, pre-Columbian art and a substantial collection of American prints from the 1960s—part of the overall Metropolitan Museum and Art Center’s collection donated to the Frost upon shuttering in 1989.
The Miami Children’s museum is where precocious little ones go to feel like adults—shopping for groceries in a mini supermarket, cashing checks at the teller stations and patrolling the streets on a police motorcycle or fire truck. Most of the museum operates as an interactive playground, giving children the opportunity to learn through hands-on experiences and activities designed to coincide with the Miami-Dade Public Schools curriculum. In addition to permanent exhibits, including cruise ships, a music studio and construction zone, the museum welcomes traveling shows, such as the recent Dino Island featuring robotic dinosaurs.