Orlando may be known for its thrilling theme park adventures and family fun, but tucked within the City Beautiful is a booming cultural scene. Explore art, science, and history at one of the city’s top museums, and bring a picnic, as a few even boast some of the area’s most admirable grounds, serene lakes, and age-old oak trees. Great for art connoisseurs and families alike, these museums top the list of the best in Orlando.
Orlando Museum of Art
Located in the heart of the Mills 50 District in beautiful Loch Haven Park, the Orlando Museum of Art nestles itself among age-old oak trees and sprawling green lawns, perfect for a picnic. Housing a diverse collection of art in all media, the museum prides itself on its recent emphasis on contemporary collections. At least 12 exhibitions, sure to appeal to any art lover, rotate through annually, and recently, the works of children’s book author-illustrator Eric Rohmann graced the walls of the museum as well as an exhibition brimming with paintings and artwork spanning over 200 years. Enjoy “Orlando’s Original Art Party” the first Thursday of every month from 6–9 P.M., complete with a cash bar and offerings from some of the best local cafés. Closed Mondays.
Experience roof-shattering winds of a Category 1 Hurricane, get up close and personal with some of Florida’s native inhabitants such as live alligators, or gaze at the Rings of Saturn with Florida’s largest publicly accessible refractor telescope when you spend the day visiting the Orlando Science Center.
With four floors of hands-on science beckoning visitors to explore, thrill seekers can instantly go to the depths of the ocean with sense-altering 3D movies in the astounding 8,000-square-foot (743-square-meter) Cinedome, while movie buffs can enjoy Hollywood films in a unique 3D experience. The Orlando Science Center offers an array of visiting exhibits and events as well, such as The Science of Wine and Science Night Live. Check their website for information.
Fans of Tiffany glass will marvel in the world’s most comprehensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s works. Situated among the charming boutique-lined, brick streets of Winter Park, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art houses the designer’s jewelry, leaded-glass lamps, and even his chapel interior from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. If you are in the area during the holidays, the long-held tradition of Christmas in the Park kicks off the holiday season by lighting up Tiffany windows in the city’s local Central Park to the beautiful sounds of the season presented by the Bach Festival Choir and Brass Ensemble concert. In addition to many visiting exhibits, the museum hosts free lectures throughout the year. Closed Mondays.
Courtesy of The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, Florida
Albin Polasek Museum and Gardens
With a collection of over 200 works by the award-winning, internationally recognized Czech-born sculptor Albin Polasek, the museum not only offers a reprieve for art lovers but nature lovers as well. Located on beautiful Lake Osceola, the sculptor’s home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits amid breathtaking grounds. Take a guided tour through the three-acre sculpture gardens, find serenity in the chapel, or simply linger along the tree-lined paths while enjoying one of Central Florida’s spectacular sun-filled days. Closed Mondays.
At the Orange County Regional History Center, you can experience life in Orlando, once known for its citrus farming and cattle, as it was long before Walt Disney famously set his sights on it. Travel through history in the restored 1927 brownstone courthouse, located in the heart of the city, and turn back the clock thousands of years to see how Florida’s indigenous people lived. Discover the life of early pioneers who slept on pillows stuffed with moss, or even step into modern times by visiting Courtroom B, the very place where notorious serial killer Ted Bundy allegedly carved his name into a desk as he sat on trial. The history center also offers other ongoing exhibits and educational events to the public.
Don’t be misled by the quaintness of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, which boasts over 5,000 objects and is the only teaching museum in Orlando. From European to American art, visitors can marvel at portraits from the likes of Louis-Michel van Loo to over 300 works in different media from international contemporary artists. If the free admission, tours, and interactive play stations aren’t reasons enough to visit, the museum sits within the picturesque architecture of Rollins College and is steps away from outdoor cafés and independent boutiques along Winter Park’s Park Ave.
Orlando recently gained its very first osteology museum with Skeletons: Museum of Osteology™, where visitors can view over 500 real animal skeletons in over 40 exhibits. These vertebrates, which sit in displays that mimic their real-life habitats, educate spectators on the beauty of the animal kingdom, with the end goal of raising awareness about conservation. The museum hosts engaging exhibits such as the new Forensic Pathology: Human Skulls and Sketching with Skeletons.
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With hundreds of genuine artifacts, memorabilia, and military relics, visitors have the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of American military history at the Museum of Military History. The 10,000-square-foot (929-square-meter) museum, which pays tribute to brave soldiers, covers events from the Civil War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t miss this educating experience saluting heroism from land to sea. Interactive exhibits, tours, and a research library make it great for visitors of all ages.
Originally established to preserve Earl Cunningham paintings, The Mennello Museum of American Art, housed in what was once the private home of Howard Phillips, uses its unique space to display American art of all genres and time periods. Marrying art and nature, visitors have the opportunity to experience exceptional exhibits with the beautiful backdrop of Lake Formosa. The Smithsonian American Art Museum Affiliate showcases notable exhibitions, but just as lovely is enjoying the grounds with a picnic lunch and reveling in the charm of the 350-year-old live oak affectionately deemed “the Mayor.”
Minutes from the busy city life of neighboring Orlando, visitors will find a serene escape in the Art and History’s five museums nestled within two campuses. Visitors can fill a day exploring the Maitland Art Center, Maitland Historical Museum, Telephone Museum, Waterhouse Residence Museum, and Carpentry Shop Museum.
Just step inside the restored Waterhouse Residence Museum and be whisked away to Victorian times as you stroll through a guided tour admiring the Eastlake staircase and plush furnishings or reminisce about the turn of the century with woodworking tools, including ones used by Mr. Waterhouse himself. The museum offers history buffs and nostalgics alike the opportunity to experience American art and history while meeting resident artists busy creating in their studios.