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Cultural Museums in Northern Florida
Along with scenic natural beauty and great weather, northern Florida offers a great cultural experience at its many museums and discovery centers. The Historic Pensacola Village provides a walking museum experience through a neighborhood of old houses, churches, and costumed tour guides demonstrating life in the late 18th century. The T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum is now home to fascinating exhibits highlighting the history of northwest Florida.
Over in Micanopy, the Historical Society Museum and Thrasher Warehouse offer tours of the surroundings to get a sense of life circa the 1890s through the 1930s. Stroll through attractions like the 1930’s Coca-Cola Sign and Civil War exhibits.
Tour the 22-storied Florida Historic Capitol Museum in Tallahassee, which was actually Florida’s original State Capitol building until a new one was built in the 1970’s. It was slated for demolition, but hence was saved and restored as a Florida Panhandle landmark.
Florida Historic Capitol Museum
Florida’s original State Capitol, this historic structure originally opened in 1845 when Florida became a state. As Tallahassee and Florida grew, the capitol received expansions. By the 1970s, the state decided to build a new capitol – the 22-story building towering behind it. The old capitol was actually threatened with demolition in the late 1970s, but in the end was saved and restored as a Florida Panhandle landmark.
Restored to its 1902-era appearance, it serves as the Florida Historic Capitol Museum. Numerous exhibits on the state and its history are showcased throughout the building; tours are free (although they happily accept donations) and the building is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and noon to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays.
Florida Museum of Natural History
Established in 1891, the Florida Museum of Natural History is located in the north-central Florida community of Gainesville on the University of Florida campus. Its location in the campus’ cultural plaza is shared by Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
The museum draws visitors in with exhibits like the Butterfly Rainforest, an expansive outdoor display of live butterflies; Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life & Land, complete with fossil skeletons of Florida’s first land animals; and the Charles Knight Collection, featuring paintings of prehistoric Floridian animals like the Allosaurus.
Goodwood Museum & Gardens
Formery a Florida Panhandle plantation, Goodwood Museum and Gardens now lives on as a museum, surrounded by lovely gardens. The Main House, constructed around 1840, has an extensive collection of 19th century furnishings and personal effects, and is decorated to resemble the World War I era in Tallahassee.
The gardens focus on an early 20th century design and presentation, with a wide variety of horticultural effects. Visit during bloom season to see Camellias, Magnolias, Roses, and Azaleas display their brightest colors.
With a dedication to preserving and interpreting the history of Alachua County, the Matheson Museum is located in the north-central Florida community of Gainesville.
The museum draws visitors in with attractions like the Matheson House, built in 1867 – the second oldest residence in Gainesville – and the Tison Tool Museum, a representation of a mid-1800s tool house reconstructed on the site in 1998.
Tours through the house, the tool museum, and the surrounding Southeast Historic District are available by appointment to school groups, families, and adults. Behind the museum, Sweetwater Park is another way to get in touch with the city’s history, featuring historic exhibitions like A Walk Through History, and the Sweetwater Park Native Plant Botanical Garden.
Micanopy Historical Society Museum
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Micanopy Historical Society Museum is located in the north-central Florida community of Micanopy, near Gainesville. Originally constructed in 1890 and serving as part of a general merchandise business, the Thrasher Warehouse is home to the museum, which is open daily from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Visitors can tour through educational exhibits and displays in the museum and check out other period buildings surrounding the thrasher warehouse to get a sense of life during the 1890s through the 1930s. Attractions like the Circa 1930 Coca-Cola Sign draw in photographers, while history buffs appreciate Civil War displays and more.
Museum of Florida History
Florida’s history is fascinating, and the Museum of Florida History traces everything from Native Americans to early Spanish explorers to today’s activities from Pensacola to Key West. Located right behind the State Capitol in Tallahassee, the museum offers free tours and is open seven days a week, certain holidays excluded.
Don't miss permanent exhibits like Florida in the Civil War, World War II, Naval Ships Named Florida, and La Florida, which details the Spanish occupation period. There are also traveling exhibits detailing aquatic life, local wildlife and birds, and the Seminole people.
Tallahassee Automobile Museum
Featuring over 100,000 square feet, the Tallahassee Automobile Museum houses two floors of mostly American cars and a wonderful collection of Americana. Over 140 automobiles, from an 1894 Duryea to a 2010 Camaro customized to look like a Pontiac Trans Am, are complemented by an 1860 horse-drawn funeral hearse reported to have carried Abraham Lincoln, and a collection of Batmobiles used in movies.
Other displays include one of the largest collections of Case knives in the US, outboard motors dating back to 1908, adding machines dating back to 1864, antique brass cash registers, Native American artifacts, plenty of sports memorabilia, and even classic and modern pianos. The museum is located in Tallahassee in the Florida Panhandle.
Located in a woodsy area on the southwestern side of Tallahassee, the Tallhassee Museum focuses on the region’s natural environment and cultural history. Outdoor adventure courses, sculpture exhibits, and the Florida Wildlife Trail complement the variety of indoor exhibits.
Don't miss special exhibits like Jim Gary's Twentieth Century Dinosaurs, which feature dinosaurs sculpted from recycled car parts or the Tallahassee Tree to Tree Adventures, a zip line and aerial adventure course.
St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum
Containing the most authentic collection of pirate artifacts under one roof, the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum is one of northeastern Florida's most interesting attractions. Catch glimpses of artifacts once owned by real pirates, including Blackbeard's original firearm, a Jolly Roger flag, and Thomas Tew's original treasure chest.
Don't miss a stop at the museum's extensive Treasure Shoppe or embark on the museum's Discovery Drawers treasure hunt. Don't miss the newest exhibit – Red Sea Pirates – featuring artifacts from as far as West Indies to Africa to the Red Sea.
St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum
Built in 1874, the St. Augustine Lighthouse is 165-feet lighthouse sitting near the Salt Run and Matanzan River in St. Augustine.
Along with the tower, the grounds feature the 1876 Keepers' House, two summer kitchens, a U.S. Coast Guard barracks, and a garage – all builting between 1870s and the 1940s.
The museum, open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., features a collection of authentic artifacts native to the northeastern Florida coast. While children must be over 44 inches tall in order to climb the lighthouse tower, the playground will delight kids of all ages and heights.
World Golf Hall of Fame Museum
Established in 1998, the World Golf Hall of Fame Museum is located in the World Golf Village along Interstate 95 in the western area of St. Augustine. The museum features a collection of profressional golfs greatest men and women, featuring roughly 350,000 visitors per year.
The museum was greatly expanded and was moved to the northeastern Florida coast after the PGA of America took over management. Apart from the awe-inspiring collection of golf memorabilia, visitors will also have access to an IMAX Theater and year-round events.
Apalachicola Maritime Museum
Founded to celebrate and preserve the rich maritime history of Apalachicola, the museum offers a hands-on learning environment – including sailing and boat building programs. The museum is located on the Florida Panhandle, offering historical tours, eco-tours, kayak trips, sunset cruises, and excursions to pristine barrier islands.
Visit the Apalachicola Museum and learn about the ecosystems of the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint river basin, the Apalachicola Bay, and Gulf of Mexico coastal regions. Guests are also encouraged to check out the 58-foot wooden ketch Quark, which embarks on daily sailing adventures on the Apalachicola bay and river.
Camp Gordon Johnston World War II Museum
Preserving the heritage of WWII veterans, Camp Gordon Johnston World War II Museum memorializes over a quarter million soldiers. The museum showcases the history of WWII, extensive histories of the various units that trained there, photographic displays of the area, and life as it existed at the camp in Carrabelle.
Veterans from the camp have contributed the artifacts brought back from battles overseas, along with uniforms, mess kits, and a variety of souvenirs to be showcased at the museum on the Florida Panhandle near Apalachicloa.
Indian Temple Mound Museum
The first municipally owned and operated museum in the state of Florida, the Indian Temple Mound Museum is right along U.S. 98 in downtown Fort Walton Beach.
The museum houses interpretative exhibits depicting 12,000 years of Native American culture, with over 1,000 artifacts of stone, bone, clay, and shell – and an impressive collection of prehistoric ceramics.
Artifacts from European Explorers, local pirates, and early settlers are also featured. The mound itself is right next to the museum building on the Florida Panhandle.
National Naval Aviation Museum
Featuring over 150 aircraft, the National Naval Aviation Museum is one of the most popular museums in Florida.
With over 350,000 square feet of exhibit space across 37 acres, it’s the world’s largest Naval Aviation museum. Visit soon on your trek through Pensacola and the Panhandle region.
The IMAX Naval Aviation Memorial Theatre, flight simulators, a virtual flight deck, cockpit trainers, and even the “Kiddie Hawk” play area will keep you and your family occupied for hours.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels do practice and autograph sessions at the museum as well – it’s on the Pensacola Naval Air Station grounds, after all – so check their website or call for times.
And yes, they’ve heard all the quotes from "Top Gun."
Pensacola Lighthouse & Museum
Opened in 1859 and still in use today, the Pensacola Lighthouse replaced a lighthouse built in 1824 and was the first on the Gulf Coast.
Reaching 191 feet above sea level, it’s the highest focal plane in Florida and can be seen for 27 miles. This is just one of the many treasures found in Pensacola and along the Panhandle.
The Carriage House, which houses the gift shop and visitor center, originally served as a shelter for horse-drawn carriages and related equipment, and was restored in 2012.
The Lighthouse is located just across and a few hundred feet down from the entrance to the National Naval Aviation Museum on the grounds of NAS Pensacola.
Raney House Museum
This Greek Revival house, completed in 1838, housed the Raney family. David Raney took advantage of the cotton trade in Apalachicola’s 19th century boom years and built this house on a bluff, where he could see the shipping and trade activity of the Florida Panhandle from his front porch.
The family lived there until 1914, and since 1973 it has operated as a museum. Many original and period furnishings, decorations, and documents are in the house, including original clothes and Confederate currency. Tours are offered daily.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!
Celebrating all things odd and unbelievable, Ripley's Believe It Or Not Panama City Beach is a fun-filled museum – and one of several Ripley's locations in Florida. You'll know Ripley's when you arrive – the building takes the shape of the sinking Titanic.
This Panhandle attraction is filled to the brim with must-see exhibits, including the Mirror Maze Challenge and Ripley's Impossible Laser Race. Visitors surely won't want to miss a trip through Ripley's Odditorium – a unique walk-through featuring over 500 exhibits.
Walton County Heritage Museum
Located in the former – and now restored – L&N Train Depot, the Walton County Museum Heritage Museum holds a large collection of area artifacts – it takes pride in showcasing the town and region’s history. Don't miss exhibits which restore historic DeFuniak Springs landmarks, like Allison's Grocery, H & M Hotdog, and the winter home of the Chautauqua.
Admission is free and the museum is open from Tuesday through Saturday, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Guests can also schedule appointments. Make travel plans soon for Florida and head north to the Panhandle – your stay in Defuniak Springs will only be elevated with some time spent at the Walton County Heritage Museum.
West Florida Railroad Museum
Milton’s railroad depot, replacing an earlier site from the 1880s, opened in 1909 and ceased operations in 1973. In 1989, the West Florida Railroad Museum opened here and showcases a variety of rail cars, from dining and sleeper cars to cabooses – it's a mainstay attraction in the Panhandle region.
A bridge tender’s house from a trestle and section shed are examples of outdoor items on display; inside, plenty of memorabilia as well as a gift shop. The museum is free, but is only open Fridays and Saturdays. It’s located in Milton, about 15 miles northeast of Pensacola via I-10 or U.S. 90.
Dating back to 1886, this is the oldest library in Florida still in use. The Walton-DeFuniak Library packs over 25,000 volumes into a cozy space perched above Lake DeFuniak. The Library not only holds books; it contains arms and armor from a local college professor’s private collection, willed to this Panhandle Library after his passing.
Weapons, including muskets from 18th century Kentucky and items dating back to the Crusades era and from across Europe and the Orient, are featured. The library is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the exception of Tuesday, when the library stays open until 8 p.m.
Air Force Armament Museum
Plan your next visit to Florida. Be sure to carve out some time for the Air Force Armament Museum. It's just a brief drive up Highway 85 from Fort Walton Beach on the grounds of Eglin Air Force Base. The Air Force Armament Museum showcases aviation warfare armaments from World War I right up to today's high tech planes and bombs.
Inside is an extensive collection of weaponry and interactive displays; outside you’ll get to check out vintage military aircraft including the fastest plane ever built – the SR-71 Blackbird. Admission is free. Enjoy a tour of the Air Force Armament Museum on your next visit to the Panhandle region of FL.