Must-see museums for holiday visitors

Visit the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa to enjoy this bead exhibit, a special NASA exhibition and plenty of hands-on activities

Truth be told, I never met a museum I didn’t like — and Arizona is home to plenty of them, many with very focused collections ranging from beads to military memorobilia.

When friends and family visit for the holidays, it’s hard to hit them all.  So here’s a roundup of some of my favorite Valley museums…

First, in the East Valley, a double whammy of sorts…

The Arizona Museum for Youth is Mesa features permanent and visiting exhibits that are especially hands-on and child-friendly. 

It’s right next door to the Arizona Natural History Museum, which sports the best dinosuars in town as well as plenty of other kid-pleasing exhibits.

Our children couldn't get enough of the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa when they were younger

With the Mesa Arts Center and so many shops and cafes nearby, this neck of the woods makes for a lovely outing for hometown and out-of-town folks alike.

Our newest museum is truly global in nature — featuring musical instruments and music-related artifacts from more than 50 countries and regions around the world.

The Musical Instrument Museum, or MIM, is located in north Phoenix but close to many Scottsdale shopping and entertainment destinations. Still, it’s located in a serene desert setting that features the beauty of open sky and native plants.

This global Musical Instrument Museum features hands-on activities, wireless audio guides, video of instruments being played in their settings of origin, a music theater and more

Here, musical instruments are coupled with the sights and sounds of people making music in their home countries and natural environments — so you enjoy a visual feast of history, culture, religion, art and more.

There’s even a large “Experience Gallery” full of diverse types of instruments, big and small, that beckon visitors to play them. It’s a refreshing change from the ‘don’t touch’ policies of so many of the museums I grew up with — and a sure way to convert folks of all ages who insist that all museums are bound to be boring.

The Heard Museum has Phoenix and Scottsdale locations that feature artwork with appeal to visitors of all ages

Arizona boasts many museums that exhibit the works of native peoples, but the single largest collection of American Indian arts and culture is housed in the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix.

It too features lovely, open outdoor spaces and items of interest to folks of all ages (including animal depictions favored by the younger set).

Thanks to the light rail system, it’s easy to travel from the Heard Museum to other downtown destinations — including performing arts venues like the Herberger Theater Center and Symphony Hall.

The Phoenix Art Museum is full of nooks and crannies that make exploring especially fun, and it features all sorts of modern technology that will update your perspective on how modern art is being created and delivered.

The RACE Exhibit at the Arizona Science Center is full of hands-on activities and interactive features

The Phoenix Art Museum is at one end of a grassy courtyard that’s also home to Arcadia Farms resturant and Phoenix Theatre — so a trip the this museum is easily coupled with taking in a show or enjoying some lovely time outdoors.

Downtown Phoenix is home to two especially family-friendly museums, the Arizona Science Center and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix — plus smaller museums like the Arizona Latino Arts and Culture Center.

The Arizona Science Center features many diverse exhibits, including one titled “RACE: Are We So Different?” All are hands-on and intriguing for both children and adults.

The Arizona Science Center is located at Phoenix’s Heritage and Science Park, home to the historic Rosson House and other smaller specialty museums. It’s also within walking distance of the Children’s Museum of Phoenix.

The Shuff-Perini Climber is one of many kid-friendly, hands-on adventures that await you at the Children's Museum of Phoenix

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix features hands-on exhibits and activities that are fun for even the very young.

Newer installations include a giant climber that gives children plenty of ways to use both mind and muscles.

Two other destinations of note if art adventures strike your fancy…

 There’s Old Town Scottsdale, featuring art galleries, quaint shops and plenty of restaurant choices.

Old Town is near the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art — so it makes for a full day of visual and performing arts adventures.

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is one of many places to enjoy art in Old Town Scottsdale

And there’s Arizona State University, home to several museums and performing arts venues both big and small.

There’s plenty of greenery and open space at the center of campus, so you can explore various attractions while enjoying the outdoors — and find several places for food and drink.

Which museums you choose will reflect your own interests and geographical preferences, but I’m especially grateful this holiday season to live in a metropolis with ready access to arts and culture for folks of all ages.

— Lynn

Note: Learn about Arizona’s diverse museums by exploring the Central Arizona Museum Association website here. Always call ahead for days/times of operation, locations/directions and costs of exhibits/special events.

Coming up: Black Friday and beyond — arts & culture style; Art activities for airline travel with kids; Celebrating the holidays — chorale and symphony style

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