But the cultural scene offers so much more: Families flock to the Miami Children’s Museum to get their hands on two floors of interactive exhibits, including a Carnival cruise ship replica, which kids can navigate. Kids are also fans of the Phillipp and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, which brings the worlds of science and technology together and new and innovative ways (and features an enormous aquarium, complete with sharks, as its centerpiece). For history buffs, HistoryMiami gives an amazing overview of how the city went from swampland to tourist destination, while Vizcaya Museum and Gardens gives visitors a taste of Miami in its earliest days, with a side of old-world European charm.
And you thought lounging on the beach was the only activity you’d want to put on your agenda! Read on for our picks for the best museums in Miami, and squeeze in a visit while you're in town.
The Bass is a contemporary art museum just across the street from the beach that's completely reinvented itself after two-plus-year, $12 million renovation by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. The exhibition space is now twice as large—and they've added a café—without actually physically expanding the building itself. It’s a perfect rainy day activity.
Don’t let the museum’s rather plain Mediterranean-style building and courtyard fool you: Inside, HistoryMiami paints a colorful portrait of how the city transformed itself from a mosquito-filled swampland to one of the country’s most vibrant urban areas. Located in Miami’s ever-changing downtown (just look and listen for the cranes), the museum is not one you'll likely stumble upon while wandering the city—which is a good thing if you prefer a little breathing room.
Haitian Heritage Museum
More of a cultural center than a museum, the space is both a comforting reminder for Haitian expats of their country's art, history, music, movies, and literature, and a fascinating look into a Caribbean nation that too few have been able to visit. Opened in 2004 to commemorate Haiti’s Bicentennial, the 60,000-square-foot museum is a one-of-a-kind experience just steps from Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, a location that makes it even more immersive.
Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami
A museum for those serious about art, it's got a little bit of everything contemporary: playful mixed media pieces by Mexican artist Eduardo Abaroa, colorful landscapes by Cuban-born video artist Juan Carlos Zaldivar, and an edgy porcelain sculpture by Philadelphia’s Ann Agee.
Pérez Art Museum Miami
Though the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAAM) has long been one of the city’s most popular modern art museums, it's become an even bigger player on the Miami art scene since its relocation to the Biscayne Bayfront in 2013. As if the Herzog & de Meuron-designed building weren’t impressive enough, inside the massive 200,000-square-foot museum is everything from kinetic sculptures to replica boats and an outdoor sculpture garden that has become a magnet for Instagrammers.
Miami Children's Museum
This popular weekend spot is one of America’s largest kids’ museums—and every inch of the space is dedicated to teaching youngsters about the world around them. With 14 galleries spread over two floors, there’s an exhibit to spark every type of tot’s imagination.
Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
A temple to science in Downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park that's as vast as it is comprehensive. This well known destination is always busy, but it's big enough to accommodate even the largest rainy-day crowds. Though the exhibitions are just as interesting to adults as they are to kids, the Frost Museum is definitely a family-friendly place.
Rubell Family Art Collection
Miami tends to attract art lovers as residents—and they're more than willing to put their collections on display. The Rubell Family Collection is one truly stellar example, showcasing the eclectic tastes of Mera and Don Rubell in a 45,000-square-foot warehouse in Wynwood.
Just steps from the beach is the The Wolfsonian-FIU, a grand Art Deco building that’s now home to a Florida International University–affiliated museum, library, and research center dedicated to the importance of art and design throughout history. The Wolfsonian collection pays attention to the entire modern age of design, with much to show from the Industrial Revolution to the end of World War II.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
A bit of the Old World in Miami: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is modeled on a centuries-old Italian villa and draws architecture and design lovers.