Phoenix may be known for its rugged desert landscape and resort lifestyle, but it’s also one of the largest cities in the United States, with a very culturally diverse population. Due to this, Phoenix is home to a variety of museums featuring everything from the history of the Old West to contemporary art. While you are probably familiar with some of the bigger museums in the Valley, there are a ton of smaller museums that are truly hidden gems to explore. No matter what you are interested in, you can probably find a related museum somewhere around the Valley!
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The Chandler Museum offers a blend of history and art to visitors. The museum is located in a 10,000 square-foot facility just north of the McCullough-Price house and has a mixture of indoor and outdoor spaces to explore.
The Chandler Museum typically features between 6-8 rotating exhibits at a time, with a mixture of local history, culture, and art exhibits. Right now one of their most unique showcases is called Bigger than Boxing: Zora Folley and the 1967 Heavyweight Title, an exhibit about the Chandler native Zora Folley and the story of an epic boxing battle.
The museum is open each week Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am- 5 pm, and Sunday from 1-5 pm. It is completely free to visit, making a great spot to pop in even if you only have an hour or two to explore.
Shemer Art Center & Museum
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Another great museum that is tucked away but absolutely worth a visit is the Shemer Art Center. It was named “One of the 10 Best Museums in Phoenix” by USA Today for it’s creative exhibits, unique location, and community-oriented art classes. You will find this quaint cultural center right at the base of Camelback Mountain, in the Arcadia neighborhood.
The Shemer Art Center came into existence when real estate investor Martha Shemer purchased the property in 1984. She donated the land to the city of Phoenix to preserve the historic home, and since then it has been turned into a “home for the arts.” You may have driven by it without knowing it was actually an art center because the facade looks very residential!
At the Shemer Art Center, they offer a variety of adult and youth classes, with courses like beginner pottery and drawing basics. If you are more interested in art history, they also host lecture series throughout the year. Currently there is a series on Egypt that goes into detail on the origins of Egyptian art throughout periods of history.
It is free to visit the Shemer Art Center and tour the exhibits, but is recommended to leave a small donation when you visit. Before you go, note that the museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays unless there is a special event taking place.
Arizona State University Art Museum
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If you are searching for a museum that specializes in Latin American artwork, visit the Arizona State University Art Museum. You will find the art museum on the main ASU campus in Tempe in the Nelson Fine Arts Center. It’s quite an elaborate art collection, with over 12,00 pieces of contemporary art, new media, and American ceramics. This is another art museum that is completely free to visit, with free parking as long as you park in front of the museum on campus. They also feature rotating exhibits of artwork done by ASU students.
The art collection at the ASU museum has been a work in progress since 1950 when a Phoenix lawyer named Oliver James first gifted a collection of art to ASU. Since then they have continued to expand their collection through national endowments and art donations. It is important to note that the museum is only open from Friday- Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm each week and also observes the same holidays as the university.
Children’s Museum of Phoenix
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If you are looking for a fun and educational activity where your kids can get out their wiggles, plan an outing to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. It has over 300 interactive play areas designed to delight children up to 10 years old. The museum is open seven days a week and has a variety of fun exhibits, whether you kids love building with blocks, doing arts and crafts, or climbing in jungle gyms. It’s a great way to make sure your kids are getting the mental stimulation they need while they aren’t at school!
If you are looking to plan a full day of museum outings, combine a stop at the Children’s Museum with our next recommendation, Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park. They are only a 10 minute drive away from each other, with the Children’s Museum located downtown near Chase Field.
Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park
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You don’t have to go very far from home to find the largest archaeological site in Phoenix. The Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is only about a 20 minute drive from Scottsdale, and is located off of Washington Street, fairly close to the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport.
This local history museum features pre-Columbian artifacts from the Hohokam people. This site offers an immersive look into the life of the native tribes in that area. There is a mile-long walking trail that allows you to walk along the ruins and see some original structures and an agricultural garden where they still grow corn and beans. Both adults and children will enjoy learning more about how the Hohokam lived in Arizona in the indoor portion of the museum.
The Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 am to 4:45 pm, and costs $6 for adults and $4 for children. This archaeological site is an outstanding one to visit as it is close to home and extremely well preserved!
Desert Caballeros Western Museum
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Head about an hour northwest of the Valley and you’ll find yourself in Wickenburg, Arizona, home to the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. As the name suggests, this is a top of the line museum filled with exhibits about the Old West and the history of Wickenburg. Visitors say it’s one of the best western museums out there because they have real artifacts from that time period.
This is a great place to visit if you or your kids love the history of cowboys and cowgirls in the Wild West! It costs $12 to visit for adults, and admission is free for children 17 and younger.
Currently they have a traveling exhibit called Cowgirl Up! that features over 200 paintings and drawings from women artists representing all types of western art. If you love the art you see when you visit, there is even an option to purchase some of the art from the collections online.
Whether you are a full-time resident or are looking for another activity to add to your Phoenix travel itinerary, consider checking out some of these local museums! While some of them are off the beaten path, it allows you to get a more authentic look at the city and explore less crowded areas of town.