10 Best Museums in Metro Phoenix

Phoenix is home to a diverse assortment of museums with various specialties from Western art to musical instruments. One is a former movie theater, and another sits on the site of a one-time transit station. One has a special hands-on gallery, and another encourages the use of social media photography. They're all worth exploring, whether you're entertaining visitors from out of town or just looking for new cultural adventures close to home.

ASU Art Museum

51 East 10th Street, Tempe

ASU Art Museum was founded in 1950 on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. Since 1989, it's been located in the Nelson Fine Arts Center designed by architect Antoine Predock. The museum has 49,700 square feet with five exhibition spaces and more than 12,000 objects in its collection. Areas of emphasis include contemporary art, crafts, prints, Southwest art, and art of the Americas. The museum also has a library, lecture room, print study room, courtyard, museum store, and outdoor sculpture spaces.

Programming includes lectures, family days, festivals, and multidisciplinary performance. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. during academic semesters. ASU Art Museum also operates the Ceramics Research Center situated inside the Brickyard at 699 South Mill Avenue, where hours are Thursday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission to both museum locations is free. 

Chandler Museum

300 South Chandler Village Drive, Chandler

The Chandler Museum
was designed to reflect the community's history, culture, and people. The museum presents both permanent and rotating exhibitions focused on diverse topics such as art, sports, and historic events. The museum also includes the historic McCullough-Price House, Tumbleweed Ranch, and an online resource. Architectural elements include a public art shade structure created by artist Jeff Zischke. 

Programming includes cultural, educational, and community events focused on both Chandler's history and its contemporary context. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is free. 

Children's Museum of Phoenix

215 North Seventh Street

The Children's Museum of Phoenix, founded in 1998 as the Phoenix Family Museum, is located inside the historic Monroe School building where alumni include renowned artist Jackson Pollock. The museum presented traveling exhibitions throughout the community before moving into its permanent home in June 2008. The museum's focus is hands-on learning through play for children through age 10. The museum features more than a dozen exhibits and experiences organized around themes that include art, blocks, books, role play, physical activity, and more. 

Programming includes monthly themes, art projects, performing arts, and pop-up activities. Adults cannot visit the museum without children, and children cannot visit the museum without adults. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and select Monday holidays. Admission is $14.95, or $13.95 for seniors. Children under 1 get free admission.

Heard Museum

2301 North Central Avenue

The Heard Museum
was founded in 1929 and has since undergone expansion and renovation. Today, it comprises 12 galleries, outdoor sculpture gardens, a cafe, a museum store, an auditorium, a small bookstore, a memorial for veterans, and an outdoor amphitheater. The museum's collection, which includes more than 40,000 objects, is focused on the lives of Native people. Specialty areas include cultural objects of the greater Southwest and contemporary native art from North America. The collection includes approximately 4,000 fine art works representing the American Indian Fine Art Movement from the 20th century to the present.

Programming includes festivals, lectures, and films. The museum is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $7.50 for students with ID and children ages 6 to 17. Admission is free for children 5 and younger, American Indians, and Heard Museum members. Admission is free during First Friday hours from 6 to 10 p.m. (except during March).

Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

1 East Main Street, Mesa

Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum, which is located on the Mesa Arts Center campus, opened in 2005. The 5,500-square-foot space includes five galleries, including one small space dubbed a project room that's typically used for site-specific and/or new media installations. One gallery is used to exhibit works from the museum's permanent collection, and another features works created by Arizona artists (with a focus on those living in the metro Phoenix area). Exhibitions rotate several times each year.

Programming includes lectures, workshops, and live performances. The museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. The museum is open until 10 p.m. on the second Friday of the month. Admission is free. 

Musical Instrument Museum

4725 East Mayo Boulevard

Founded in 2010, The Musical Instrument Museum has a collection of more than 15,000 instruments and artifacts from approximately 200 countries and territories. Most displays feature video components showing instruments used in their cultural context, and visitors can hear accompanying audio using wireless headsets. More than 6,000 instruments are on exhibit, most displayed in galleries dedicated to five geographical regions. The museum also has a conservation lab, music theater, museum cafe, and museum shop. Outdoor courtyards feature two sculptures by Jean-Claude Lecouflet.

Programming includes concerts by local to international artists, festivals, and theme weekends. The museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Museum admission is $20 for adults, $15 for teens 13 to 19, and $10 for children 4 to 12. Admission is free for children 3 and younger. Additional fees may apply to special exhibitions. 

Phoenix Airport Museum

3800 East Sky Harbor Boulevard 

The Phoenix Airport Museum, which began in 1988 with a dentistry exhibit, consists of two galleries and several exhibition spaces at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport— in addition to exhibition spaces at Sky Harbor Rental Car Center, Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, and Phoenix Goodyear Airport. The museum collection includes more than 900 works of contemporary art including portable pieces, site-specific installations, and architectural enhancements. The Phoenix Airport Museum galleries feature rotating exhibitions of works in diverse media, and art is also shown in other airport spaces.

Most exhibited works are located in pre-screening areas, and most of the work located at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport are available for public viewing 24 hours a day. The Airport Art Collection was purchased in part with Phoenix Aviation Department percent-for-art funds administered by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture. There is no cost for viewing these artworks. 

Phoenix Art Museum

1625 North Central Avenue

The Phoenix Art Museum opened in 1959 and has since undergone expansion and renovation. The museum has presented more than 400 exhibitions and its collection includes more than 18,000 works in the following categories: American, Asian, contemporary, European, fashion, Latin American, modern, photography, and Western American. Friends of Contemporary Art presents annual exhibitions of works by local artists selected to receive awards and grants. The museum has several galleries located on three levels, an auditorium, sculpture garden, restaurant, and museum shop.

Programming includes art-making, family events, live performance, films, festivals, lectures, and artist talks. The museum is open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. the first Friday of each month. Museum admission is $18 to $23 for adults, $15 to $20 for seniors, $13 to $18 for students with ID, and $9 to $14 for children ages 6 to 17. Admission is free for members and children 5 and younger. Special exhibitions may require additional fees. Voluntary donation times, during which admission to general exhibitions is free, take place Wednesday from 3 to 9 p.m., First Friday from 6 to 10 p.m., and the second Sunday of every month. 

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

7374 East Second Street, Scottsdale

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA), which opened in 1999, was transformed from United Artists Theatre into a museum through design work by architect Will Bruder. The museum specializes in contemporary and modern art, architecture, and design. Key architectural elements include a glass scrim wall designed by James Carpenter Studios and a Skyspace by James Turrell. The museum features four galleries and a multi-use lounge, for a total of 18,500 square feet of exhibition space. SMoCA presents nine to 12 exhibitions each year, and has approximately 2,000 works in its permanent collection. 

Programming includes lectures, films, live performance, and artist talks. The museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 5 p.m., Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for students, seniors, and veterans. Admission is free for members and youth 15 and younger. Admission is free for everyone on Thursday and the second Saturday of every month. 

Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West

3830 North Marshall Way, Scottsdale

Western Spirit: Scottsdale's Museum of the West, which opened in 2015, highlights the art, history and stories of 19 states including Arizona through rotating exhibitions of works loaned by artists, collectors, museums, and other cultural organizations. The 43,000 square foot museum was designed by Studio MA. In addition to several galleries, the museum has a sculpture courtyard, theater/auditorium, museum shop, and Heritage Hall featuring photographs and biographical information on historical and contemporary individuals who have made significant contributions to the West.

Programming includes lectures, multimedia presentations, and more. The museum is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and active military, and $8 for students with I.D. and children 6 to 17. Admission is free for members and children 5 and younger.

These museums offer various education and outreach programs. Most have holiday closures which are noted on their websites, and many offer individual and/or group tours. Check with museums before visiting for complete details.

Editor's note: This post first appeared in April 2015; it was updated on July 24, 2019. 

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble