Holiday visitors tend to bring out one of two impulses. Sometimes you want to run them around to all your favorite haunts, making sure you spend as much time together as possible. Other times, you want to get a bit of peace and quiet and send them off to explore on their own.
Either way, museums are a big help. They give families places to bond, but also ways to enjoy the breathing room that makes everything go more smoothly this time of year. Here are several of our favorites, where your holiday visitors can explore racecars, musical instruments, indigenous cultures, and more.
ASU Art Museum51 East 10th Street, Tempe
ASU Art Museum is part of the Nelson Fine Arts Center designed by world-renowned architect Antoine Predock, who also designed the Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix. The museum is currently showing four exhibits that include works in diverse mediums such as neon, prints, sculpture, and video. Featured artists currently include Ivan Argote, Tania Candiani, Jenny Holzer, Robert Indiana, June Wayne, and more. Regular hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursday hours extend until 8 p.m. during academic semesters). The museum will be closed on Thursday and Friday, November 28 and 29; Tuesday and Wednesday, December 24 and 25; and Wednesday, January 1, 2020. Admission is free at both the main museum and its Ceramics Research Center located at 699 South Mill Avenue.
Children’s Museum of Phoenix215 North Seventh Street
If visiting friends or family members have children, take them to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, which features hands-on activities designed for those 10 years old and younger. The museum is located in the historic Monroe School, where former students include renowned artist Jackson Pollock. The museum has more than a dozen exhibits and experiences organized around themes, including art, blocks, books, role play, movement, and more. Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $14.95. Get free admission from 5 to 9 p.m. on First Friday, December 6.
Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting6101 East Van Buren Street
Four museum galleries at the Hall of Flame contain historic fire engines, including one that visitors can board and take selfies, and other firefighting apparatus. Another gallery highlights wildland firefighting. Also, look for a hands-on fire safety exhibit and several activities for children. The museum has a gift shop with an intriguing assortment of souvenirs. Regular hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $10 for adults. While you’re in the area, consider exploring nearby offerings, including Pueblo Grande Museum, Desert Botanical Garden, and the Phoenix Zoo.
Heard Museum2301 North Central Avenue
The Heard Museum has a dozen galleries where visitors can learn about the lives of Native people. Currently, the museum is showing 10 exhibits featuring works primarily by indigenous artists. Look for landscapes by British artist David Hockney and photographs by Barry Goldwater, as well. Must-see exhibits include “Home: Native People of the Southwest” and “Away From Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories.” Regular hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is $25. Get free admission from 6 to 10 p.m. on First Friday, December 6. The museum opens its new “Maria Hupfield: Nine Years Towards the Sun” exhibit that day.
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum1 East Main Street, Mesa
All five exhibitions at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum this season shine a light on the natural world, including animal photos from Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark project. There's also a group show titled “Flora & Fauna,” which includes a large-scale assemblage of recycled materials and found objects by artist Michelle Stitzlein, which makes a fun photo backdrop. While you’re there, check out El Mac’s mural painted on the exterior of the museum’s elevator shaft. Regular hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Other museums in the area include the Arizona Museum of Natural History and the i.d.e.a. Museum.
Musical Instrument Museum4725 East Mayo Boulevard
The Musical Instrument Museum currently has more than 6,000 instruments from around the globe on exhibit, primarily in five geographic galleries. Instruments are paired with cultural artifacts and video that shows them being played in their cultural context. The Artists Gallery includes instruments used by iconic performers, and there’s also an Experience Gallery where visitors can play instruments from several parts of the globe. Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving and have reduced hours on Christmas. A new temporary exhibit pairs masks with the music of the Congo region of Africa. Admission is $20 for adults, plus $7 if you also want to see “Congo Masks and Music.” Or, you can pay $10 to see just the Congo exhibit.
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Phoenix Art Museum1625 North Central Avenue
Phoenix Art Museum has more than 10 exhibits, highlighting everything from fashion to racecars. Check out You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies by Yayoi Kusama, and snap your picture outside with Sui Jianguo’s red dinosaur called Jurassic Age. Regular hours are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, and will close at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Admission is $18 to $23 for adults, or free at select times – including Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m., First Friday from 6 to 10 p.m., and the second Sunday of the month. When admission is free, tickets to the “Legends of Speed” car exhibit are $8.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art7374 East Second Street, Scottsdale
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is currently showing an exhibition featuring works primarily by women titled “Counter Landscapes: Performative Actions From the 1970s to Now.” The exhibit includes paintings, photography, sculpture, video, and more. The best daytime photo backdrop at the museum is Janel Garza’s Environ mural. Also, look for James Turrell’s Knight Rise and Murmuration by Squidsoup. Museum hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., plus Thursday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $10 for adults and free every Thursday and on the second Saturday of the month. You’ll find more art in the performing arts center and library nearby. Both Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West and the Old Town arts district are located near the museum.