Amazing Museums in Central and Southwest Florida

It can’t be warm and sunny all the time. So when we experience the inevitable rainy day here in Florida, or when we’re just in the mood to take in some fine art or high culture, we know there’s plenty to choose from!

From contemporary art exhibitions to a roaring ‘20s mansion, here are some of our favorite museums or cultural locales in Central and Southwest Florida. And with most of these institutions, when you become a member, you enjoy special rates and invitations, plus admission is included all year round.

Polk Museum of Art—Lakeland

Now celebrating its 50th year, the renowned Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland is one of the top 10 art museums in the state and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. As much a community resource as a collection of contemporary, modern, Asian, and European art, the Polk Museum is free every day. Be sure to grab the kids on the first Saturday of every month, and get into the flow with a series of free Family Fun Workshops.

Bok Tower Gardens—Lake Wales

A visit to Bok Tower Gardens is an unparalleled indoor-outdoor experience, complete with a stunningly carved 205-foot neo-Gothic and Art Deco stone and metal tower, daily carillon concerts in the park, and acres of nature trails and gardens in a beautifully landscaped historic estate. The visitor center maintains rotating exhibits of Florida art as well as information about carillon music. It’s the perfect place to find your Zen, kiss your sweetie, or captivate your kids.

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art—Winter Park

Housing the largest collection of work by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Morse Museum is located in lovely Winter Park, just north of Orlando, so it’s easy to make a day of art appreciation at the nearby galleries, as well. One of the most impressive galleries contains Tiffany’s chapel interior, which he created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. But be sure not to miss Tiffany’s other works, including jewelry, lamps, and stained glass, as well.

African American Museum of the Arts—DeLand

Founded in 1994 by local Floridians Irene and Maxwell Johnson, the African American Museum of the Arts showcases the work of established and emerging African American artists. A frequent participant in community festivals and events, AAMA also founded the Little Theater of DeLand and provides art classes for children and seniors. The permanent collection includes masks and other cultural artifacts from Africa.

The Ringling—Sarasota

A three-for-one museum experience, the Ringling comprises an art museum, a circus museum, and a restored 31-room Venetian Gothic-style mansion that was home to the circus magnate John Ringling and his wife, Mable, who lived there during the early 20th century. The art museum houses the Ringlings’ astonishing private art collection, featuring old masters, antiquities, and Renaissance sculpture (including a bronze cast of Michelangelo’s David), which the couple amassed in hopes of making Sarasota a cultural capital. The Circus Museum holds an interactive collection of circus memorabilia and artifacts. And the mansion showcases the opulent lifestyle of the wealthy during the Roaring Twenties.

The Dali Museum—St. Petersburg

(Pictured above) Housing an unparalleled collection of Salvadore Dali works, from paintings to artifacts to photographs, the Dali Museum building itself is as much objet d’art as repository. Its glass geodesic dome-like protuberances and concrete spiral staircases echo the Spanish artist’s surrealist style. Even the park benches get into the act, impossibly twisting and tapering at one end—the end opposite the melting clock, of course. The museum also features an inspiring diversity of temporary exhibits, from Disney and Dali: Architects of the Imagination to Ferran Adria: The Invention of Food. Plus, there are ongoing special events and educational activities, including innovation boot camps and regular Sunday morning yoga.

Laura is a blogger and part of the marketing team for | She has spent most of her life in the Sunshine State and does her best thinking at the beach with a perfect cup of coffee. Outside of work, Laura loves adventurous road trips, gardening, and spending time with her husband and pets in their little bungalow in the Conway area of Orlando.

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