Craig Lovell / Eagle Visions Photography / Alamy
Jeff Ficker
December 17, 2014

When it comes to Scottsdale’s museums, banish any visions of the stodgy, marble-columned buildings and hushed galleries. The city’s cultural institutions take a more immersive and relaxed approach, celebrating Arizona’s Southwestern roots, desert environment and spirit of adventure. That doesn’t mean they don’t offer world-class collections or provide scholars with important centers for research. In fact, the museums preserve and exhibit some the region’s most important cultural treasures, from architecture to archaeology, but they encourage hands-on learning, schedule frequent concerts and festivals, and offer special tours that make their cultural missions relevant and, dare I say it, fun. Sample Southwestern food and watch Native American hoop dancers compete at the Heard Museum. Have a seat in Frank Lloyd Wright’s living room and observe the shifting sunlight that inspired the design of his Arizona home. Encourage your kids to get a little dirty and dig for fossils. It’s museum-going, Arizona style.

Taliesin West

Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home is a towering landmark of modern desert design. The architect literally built his still-operating architecture school from the desert floor, sourcing local gravel and stone from the property. He seamlessly merged indoor and outdoor spaces, filtered Arizona’s harsh sunlight through glowing canvas ceilings and incorporated magnificent mountain views. It’s a masterpiece.  

Musical Instrument Museum

Music lovers of all ages enjoy the MIM, a sweeping multimedia tour that spans continents and centuries, from primitive African drums and Highland pipes to Johnny Cash’s guitar and hip-hop turntables. Hands-on galleries, music boxes that fill large rooms and some 15,000 instruments from nearly 200 countries make this a unique and smile-inducing, foot-tapping experience. 

Heard Museum

The Heard provides a meaningful overview of the Southwest’s native people. Exhibits range from Barry Goldwater’s collection of 437 Hopi kachina dolls to a look at the indignities of Native Americans forced to attend Anglo boarding schools in the 19th and 20th centuries. Beautifully landscaped with native plants, the Phoenix museum hosts music and dance performances, special events and festivals year-round.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

Arizona Museum of Natural History

Located in the neighboring city of Mesa, this kid-friendly museum explores the Arizona’s natural and cultural history with plenty of hands-on, interactive, sound-and-light, try-this-on exhibits. Pan for “gold,” visit a territorial jail, dig for dinosaur bones, and inspect the impressive collection of prehistoric fossils.

 

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