Visiting Northwest Florida museums is a great way to get to know the history and culture of the region. From Tallahassee to Pensacola there are dozens of facilities that cover a variety of subjects from history to science, and from art to aviation.
Some offer collections containing hundreds of thousands of artifacts while others display items important to a particular community’s heritage. They range in size from tiny, one-room, volunteer-built buildings to state of the art centers with thousands of square feet of exhibit space, but all of them have one thing in common – they tell the story of Northwest Florida.
Finding Northwest Florida museums that offer a look at the region's history isn’t difficult. It seems that just about every town has one, as do a number of Northwest Florida state parks, and you can make some interesting discoveries.
For instance, the Heritage Park and Cultural Center in Fort Walton Beach is home to a rare Indian Temple Mound and houses an outstanding collection of prehistoric Native American pottery and other artifacts that date to 12,000 years ago. Here too you'll find the Emerald Coast Science Center. In Panama City you'll find another hands-on children's museum, the Science & Discovery Center of Northwest Florida.
In nearby Valparaiso, the Heritage Museum of Northwest Florida presents Northwest Florida history through interactive exhibits and also features an extensive research library. The Air Force Armament Museum located at Eglin Air Force Base features vintage planes, missiles and airborne weaponry and honors those who served from WWI to the present.
Visiting one of the many Northwest Florida museums in small communities is like finding buried treasure. In the small town of Baker on the edge of the Blackwater River State Forest is the Baker Block Museum. It houses artifacts of the community's timber industry past and frequently hosts living history days in its log cabin pioneer village. In Carrabelle the Camp Gordon Johnston Museum honors the soldiers who trained on area beaches for the World War II D-Day landings in Normandy and the Destin Fishing Museum in the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village celebrates the town's maritime history, as does the Apalachicola Maritime Museum.
The first Florida constitution was drafted and signed in Port St. Joe and a monument was erected to signify that event. You can visit the T. T. Wentworth Museum in Pensacola for an in-depth look at Florida history, or visit the official state history center in Tallahassee that focuses on artifacts and eras unique to Florida's development and the roles that Floridians have played in national and global events. Step back in time to the 17th Century and talk with the Apalachee Indians and their Spanish allies at Mission San Luis, Florida's only reconstructioned Spanish Mission. There are also hundreds of buildings on the National Historic Register, some open to the public like the Raney House Museum in Apalachicola.
Want to know how the railroad helped to build the region? Visit the West Florida Railroad Museum in Milton. You can climb aboard real rail cars and on Saturday mornings you can watch grown men play with model trains.
In Pensacola, you'll find several museums, including the T. T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum. It houses a number of Pensacola's historical artifacts along with the quirky and eclectic collection of Tom Wentworth, one of its leading citizens.
You might be surprised to learn that the world’s largest air and space facility is located on Pensacola Naval Air Station. The National Naval Aviation Museum has 300,000 square-feet of climate controlled exhibit space and houses 150 vintage aircraft and over 4000 pieces of memorabilia, including uniforms, flight gear and weaponry. Best of all, admission is free.
As an added bonus, from March to November the Blue Angels Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron practices for their shows on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Special viewing stands are set up behind the museum and the practices are free and open to the public.
Whatever your particular interest, whether it’s art, history, fishing, science, or the natural world, you’re sure to find Northwest Florida Museums and exhibits to entertain, educate or get you out of the sun for a few hours.