Best Museums in Phoenix

10 Best Museums in Phoenix: Explore the Valley's Best Cultural Attractions

Phoenix is home to a growing list of museums and cultural arts venues, offering visitors plenty to see and do during their stay in the Valley of the Sun.

One of the most unique museums in town is the Musical Instrument Museum, or the MIM, which allows visitors to experience music from around the world. A huge collection of musical instruments representing over 200 countries around the world give visitors a taste of the sounds and rhythms of different regions.

Art lovers won't want to miss the Phoenix Art Museum, featuring a strong collection of European and Asian art, as well as an impressive Modern Art wing.

Explore the city's southwestern history at Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeology Park, where visitors get an up-close look at prehistoric Hohokam ruins, including a ball court.

The Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve just north of town provides another fascinating glimpse into Southwestern history, with more than 1500 identified petroglyphs etched on the rocks along this prehistoric trade route.

Finally, visit one of the world's greatest repositories of Native American art with a stop at the famous Heard Museum. If you're looking for a good place to find authentic Native American jewelry, rugs and crafts, be sure to stop at the museum's popular gift shop.



Located in a stunning contemporary building, this museum showcases a variety of galleries with ever-changing exhibits. The predominant emphases include modern, Latin and folk art, in addition to an array of arts and crafts. The permanent collection is strong on pieces exemplifying new media, ceramics and other crafts, prints, art from Arizona and the Southwest and art of the Americas. Visitors are encouraged to stop by the gift shop, which contains a variety of items similar to the original pieces displayed in the gallery. The museum has been named one of the best venues for contemporary art in the country by top art publications.

Recommended for Museums because: The ASU Art Museum is one of the best venues for contemporary art in the city.

Patricia's expert tip: Free admission. Please note that the museum is closed on Sunday, Monday and holidays.

Read more about Arizona State University Art Museum →

Arizona Capitol Museum

Housed in an impressive stone building that once served as the state capitol, this museum documents Arizona's time as a territory and its early statehood. The structure itself is crowned with a copper dome and a 16-foot, zinc Winged Victory statue. Within the building are flags documenting the state's history, including ones representing Spain, Mexico, and the Confederacy. Offices and congressional chambers have been restored to period splendor, and Megargee paintings (with Arizona as their theme) grace the interior. World War II buffs can browse the USS Arizona display, which offers artifacts, recollections from survivors, and a specially commissioned silver service.

Recommended for Museums because: The Arizona Capitol Museum offers an interesting look back at Arizona's pre-statehood days.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the U.S.S. Arizona display at this free museum, a can't-miss for history buffs.

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Formerly a private residence, this art center and museum sits on four well-manicured acres overlooking Camelback Mountain and is one of the few places to see large-scale sculpture outdoors. The displays change throughout the year as some are sold and others make way for newer works. The museum's permanent collection has over 100 artworks by contemporary Arizona artists. In addition, art classes for children and adults are offered. The center maintains an interesting schedule of events and exhibitions, including lectures and workshops. Admission to the Shemer is free, but there is a suggested donation of $7. This is one of the Valley's hidden gems.

Recommended for Museums because: The Shemer Art Center and Museum is a hidden gem in the local museum scene. Come to walk among the stunning large-scale sculptures.

Patricia's expert tip: The Shemer Art Center and Museum hosts an active free lecture series for art-lovers.

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On a 47-acre site north of Phoenix, Indians from throughout the Southwest carved more than 1500 petroglyphs, or rock etchings, along an ancient trade route. Between 500 and 5000 years old, these pictographs have an unknown meaning but may relate to hunting, religion, astronomy, or intertribal communication. Today, they're open to viewing along a quarter-mile trail; you can follow a guided tour or direct yourself among the boulders. Indoors, a video speculates on the nature of the carvings, and exhibits and a gift shop are available. This is a great museum for learning more about the Native American cultures that lives in the region for centuries.

Recommended for Museums because: The Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve offers a fascinating peek into the pre-European history of central Arizona.

Patricia's expert tip: Outdoor picnic tables and an amphitheater area make perfect picnic spots at this scenic attraction.

Read more about Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve (formerly Deer Valley Art Rock Center) →

The Children's Museum of Phoenix, located in the 70,000 square foot historic Monroe School building in downtown Phoenix, offers three floors of exhibits designed to engage young children and the adults who love them. Exhibits are hands-on and interactive, making this a fun place to spend the day with the favorite child in your life. Kids will love exploring the nooks and crannies of The Climber, an amazing multi-storied exhibit created with recycled materials. The Noodle Forest gives kids a sensory adventure in a safe environment, while The Market allows kids to roleplay in a fun grocery store setting. An art studio, book loft, and designated tricycle area add to the fun at this colorful and always-busy museum.

Recommended for Museums because: This unique kid-centric museum offers hands-on fun that will even entice grown-ups to join in on the fun.

Patricia's expert tip: Admission to the Children's Museum of Phoenix is free every first Friday of the month.

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Completed in the spring of 2005, the Mesa Arts Center is the largest in the state at 212,755 square feet. The campus has four theaters, the Mesa Contemporary Arts galleries, and numerous studios, workshops, offices and classrooms. The center hosts visiting performing arts companies such as the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and the Sonoran Desert Chorale, and schedules performances of every conceivable variety in every price range, from high school drama club shows to professional symphony orchestras. Mesa Contemporary Arts is an art museum and gallery that supports and promotes contemporary artists. The museum is free - don't miss the Mesa Arts Center Store, an artist's collective brimming with one-of-a-kind art and unique gifts.

Recommended for Museums because: The Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum is an exciting visual art museum at the Mesa Arts Center with five well-curated galleries.

Patricia's expert tip: Don't miss the Mesa Arts Center store, located adjacent to the museum space. It's an artist collective filled with unique art and gifts.

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The Musical Instrument Museum, also known as the MIM, celebrates art, music and culture by documenting the history of musical instruments from around the world. Everyone from Carlos Santana to Tony Bennett have sung the praises of this bright, open museum, which also hosts a full calendar of live music events. The museum collection includes instruments from 200 countries from around the world, with emphasis on ethnic, folk, and tribal music. Guests are given wireless headsets so they can hear instruments being played at each display, and flat-panel monitors throughout the museum give guests the opportunity to see instruments being performed live. Whether you love Chinese opera or Big Band jazz, the MIM celebrates the joy of musical expression in all its forms.

Recommended for Museums because: The Musical Instrument Museum is the only museum in the country of its kind, a fun and informative look at music-making around the world.

Patricia's expert tip: Check the daily schedule for Museum Encounters, thirty-minute musical demonstrations that allow musician-teaching artists to perform for and interact with museum guests. Museum Encounters are free with admission.

Read more about Musical Instrument Museum →

Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park

This museum and its adjacent park are built on the site of 1500-year-old Hohokam Indian ruins. Exhibits showcase lifestyles of the Hohokam and of other Southwestern tribes, and visitors learn about Phoenix's cultural heritage through displays of arts and crafts created and used by Native Americans. An informative and fun hands-on exhibit encourages children to learn more about archaeology. A fully accessible 2/3 mile trail takes visitors through the prehistoric site, which includes a partially excavated platform mound, ballcourt, and replicated prehistoric houses. The site is conveniently located minutes from downtown Phoenix next to Sky Harbor International Airport. It's a National Historic Landmark and Phoenix Point of Pride site.

Recommended for Museums because: Pueblo Grande is a fun way to explore Phoenix's prehistoric past with the whole family.

Patricia's expert tip: Pueblo Grande also hosts monthly lectures and demonstrations with local artists.

Read more about Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park →

Phoenix Art Museum
Photo courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

Another institution growing by leaps and bounds, this museum's scope is indisputably international with works representing American, Asian, European and Latin American art. The museum also features exhibits on fashion and the Thorne miniature rooms (rooms from different historical periods, scaled down to hatbox size). With more than more than 18,000 works of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, expect to spend some time exploring the halls of this vibrant museum. Major exhibitions, film screenings and various cultural events fill the calendar at this popular attraction. Make sure to stop by the gift shop on your way out for unique, art-inspired items.

Recommended for Museums because: The Phoenix Art Museum offers family-friendly exhibits and hands-on displays for art lovers of all ages.

Patricia's expert tip: Free admission/voluntary donation every Wednesday, 3-9pm.

Read more about Phoenix Art Museum →

Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art

The well-regarded, world-famous Heard Museum is one of the world's leading repositories of Native American art. It also features works by contemporary Southwestern artists, craft demonstrations, amphitheater performances, a caf--, and a gift shop. Paintings, drawings, and sculpture figure into the collection, along with domestic objects, textiles, pottery, dolls, and jewelry. The museum's revolving calendar of exhibitions offer new insight into Native American tradition, history and cultural trends. Anyone with even the slightest interest in Southwestern history and culture should make this a must-see destination when visiting the Valley of the Sun. Along with the original Heard Museum in central Phoenix, the museum also has branches established in other parts of the city, including Heard Museum North in Scottsdale, and Heard Museum West in Surprise.

Recommended for Museums because: The Heard Museum is one of the world's best living repositories of authentic and rare Native American art.

Patricia's expert tip: Stop by the Heard Museum gift shop for a large collection of authentic, handmade artwork, Navajo rugs, Kachina dolls, jewelry, and home decor.

Read more about Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art →


Meet Patricia Escarcega

Patricia Escarcega works as a writer and editor in Phoenix.