Michigan Museums Guide

There are over 100 museums in Michigan that cover anything from Michigan’s history to Nun dolls. When you think of taking a road trip within the mitten state, you’re probably considering visiting the Upper Peninsula or the Lake Michigan beach towns. We’ve compiled a map of the 15 best museums in Michigan to visit whether you’re taking a trip to a certain region or taking a Michigan museums road trip.

West Michigan

Air Zoo

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Ever wanted to control a fighter jet? You can get close to the real thing at the Air Zoo in Portage with their 3D flight simulators. At the Air Zoo, you’ll be able to admire and tour aircraft dating back to the Wright Brothers era, learn about Galileo’s studies on cosmology, and theories on aliens. The museum also showcases the world’s largest indoor hand painted mural that towers at 28,800 square feet and depicts the first hot air balloon flight.

Even adults enjoy the aviation education the Air Zoo brings to Michigan. T.J. from One Well Brewing in Kalamazoo says:

“I love the fact that Kalamazoo County has such a gem of a museum! My favorite part is all the antique planes from different eras. It is neat to see how technology has evolved over time. I’d definitely recommend the Air Zoo to adults and children alike!”

 

Meijer Gardens grounds

Photo via John VanderHaagen

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

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One of the best places to visit in Michigan in the spring, Frederik Meijer Gardens is known for its sculptures and garden exhibits. There are several indoor and outdoor gardens and sculptures to explore like the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory, where the Spring butterfly exhibit takes place, and the 24-foot American Horse sculpture. While spring lets you see the flowers bloom, another great time to visit is the holiday season when there are trees decorated for holiday traditions around the world.

Frederik Meijer Gardens has both permanent installations and temporary art exhibits. John from Frederik Meijer Gardens says:

“Currently, we have a major landmark exhibition by the Chinese artist and human rights advocate Ai Weiwei titled Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State. This exhibition, his first at a sculpture park and botanical garden, is only on display through August 20, 2017. Known to work in a wide variety of contexts and scale, his ability to transform materials to share his ideas, concerns, and vision has given rise to a critically acclaimed and widely appreciated body of work. Iconic among recent work is his colossal Iron Tree, acquired and installed in 2015 in honor of Meijer Gardens’ 20th anniversary. In addition to the fantastic Ai Weiwei exhibition, our ever-popular Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens entertain guests in our amphitheater from June – September, as well as local and regional music on Tuesday nights.”

Photo via Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum

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You may have visited the museum when admission is free during Art Prize in the fall. You can visit the Gerald R. Ford Museum year-round to learn about the lives of Gerald and Betty Ford. You’ll get a chance to see Gerald R. Ford’s football collection, 1976 campaign memorabilia, Betty Ford’s dresses, and gifts given to the president over time. The museum also regularly hosts discounted admission “Ford After Five” themed events on Fridays.

The museum is set in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids near the city’s most popular tourist destinations. Courtney from West Michigan Tourist Association says:

“Recently renovated, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids offers visitors the chance to travel through a timeline of Gerald R. Ford’s life. Ford was from Grand Rapids, and much of his early life has strong ties to the community here. Visitors love checking out the full-size reproduction of White House rooms from Ford’s time as president. The museum is located in a park setting, just off of the Grand River, making it a nice area to explore on foot. The burial site of the President and First Lady is also located behind the museum.”

Mid-Michigan

Photo via Thomas Gennara

Impression 5

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Impression 5 in Lansing is all about creativity and hands-on scientific exploration. Some notable exhibits include a human mouth exhibit called “chew on this”, a light exhibit called “spectrum”, and the first impression room geared toward sensory play for children four and under. Even teens will enjoy solving creative problems at Impression 5 through the “think tank”.

The Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau named Impression 5 as one of their top five Downtown Lansing attractions. Lori from GLCVB says:

“It is a dynamic, interactive space for families to play, create and challenge their understanding of science. With a grandchild who is now 3 ½ years old, I’ve found their First Impression Room for the earliest learners keeps us active and learning together. I buy a family membership each Christmas which gets us all in free to Impression 5. They have the new water exhibit “Flow” that is very impressive. This truly is a museum for all ages and you’re never too old to lose your curiosity and learn something new about science.”

Cell Block 7 Prison Museum

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It’s like being in a real prison, but you can walk out at the end. Cell Block 7 was part of the real State Prison of Southern Michigan in Jackson from 1934-2007. It’s the world’s largest walled prison in the world and once held over 5,000 inmates. At the museum, you’ll be able to see how inmates lived in the prison since its beginning. One of the current temporary exhibits details the 1952 riot in the prison that inspired the movie Riot in Cell Block 11.

 

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum

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Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum

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It will be hard to miss the spaceship-like art museum building designed by legendary architect Zaha Hadid. The museum is located on Michigan State University’s campus and is always free. The exhibitions feature rotating modern art, Greek and Roman antiques, 19th-century American paintings, and beautiful sculptures by artists like Alexander Calder.

Eastern Michigan

Arab American National Museum

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The Arab American National Museum in Dearborn is unique because it’s the first museum in the world that’s completely dedicated to Arab American history and culture. The museum focuses on showing the shared experiences of immigrants and ethnic groups that make our country so diverse. The architecture alone of the museum is beautiful with unique mosaic art throughout and a domed ceiling. The museum walks you through life as an Arab-American coming to America, living in America, making an impact on the world, and the heritage of the Arab world.

The Arab American National Museum hosts regular Arab cultural events. Kim from AANM says:

“We have two galleries for temporary exhibitions, in addition to the permanent exhibits. July 8 – Oct. 1, we are featuring a very large group exhibition of artists from Saudi Arabia. Additionally, AANM offers guided culinary walking tours of Arab American businesses on Michigan Avenue and Warren Avenue, including restaurants, bakeries, and markets. These are very popular and the taste-testing is delicious! A great way to get FREE admission to AANM (and hundreds of other Michigan destinations) is through the Michigan Activity Pass program.”

Photo via flickr.com

Edsel & Eleanor Ford House Museum

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Located in Grosse Point, The Ford House Museum is an iconic part of Southeast Michigan and shows how one of the most prominent American families lived. While the house itself and the art inside are both gorgeous, Mrs. Ford’s tribute garden and the grounds of the house stand out no matter what season you visit. Be sure to visit during the summer to see the house transformed into Camelot for the Fairy Tale Festival.

DIA Detroit Mural

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Detroit Institute of Arts

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The 685,000 square foot museum is essentially covered in its collection of over 60,000 works. The museum’s collection is regarded as one of the top six in the United States and features Egyptian, European, and modern art. As you enter the museum, the giant Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera will capture your attention. They depict the Ford Motor Company in the early 1900s and is considered some of Rivera’s best work. The museum also houses a 16th century Gothic Chapel shipped from France to the United States.

Northern Michigan

Nun Doll Museum and National Shrine of Cross in the Woods

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The 28-foot cross in the woods in Indian River was dedicated as a shrine in 2006. On the grounds of the shrine is the Nun Doll Museum that includes the largest collection of dolls dressed in traditional habits. The collection was started by Sally Rogalski in 1945. Then she and her husband donated over 200 of their dolls to the shrine so others could learn about Catholic history. The collection now has over 500 dolls and 20 mannequins dressed in religious habits. The Rogalskis even received a blessing from Pope John Paul II for helping “promote the priesthood and religious life through the collection.”

Photo via musichouse.org

Music House Museum

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When traveling to Traverse City, some vacationers might miss this hidden gem. The museum is tucked away in the rolling hills of Grand Traverse County and shows visitors the history, artistry, and engineering of automated music. Their collection of instruments starts at the 18th century and includes everything from early jukeboxes to ornately designed organs. The museum also regularly hosts events. This includes their Silent Film Series with the renowned silent film actor, Harold Lloyd, accompanied by various organists.

If you play a musical instrument, the museum is a great place to learn the history behind it. Kelly from the Music House Museum says:

“The Music House was recognized by Forbes.com as one of the 10 reasons to visit Michigan’s lower peninsula. While it is listed as a museum of automated musical instruments, guests are taken on a musical guided tour showcasing the journey of humans to bring music into their daily lives, from the simplest music boxes to player pianos and amazing fair and dance hall organs and onto recorded sound and radio.”

Call of the Wild

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Call of the Wild is a roadside stop in Gaylord for those traveling to the Upper Peninsula or visitors on their way to other Northern Michigan museums. The museum showcases Michigan and North American wildlife including whitetail deer, elk, timber wolves, and cougar against hand painted landscapes. The Discovery Room at the museum is great for kids who want to test themselves on Michigan wildlife knowledge.

The museum showcases more than just Michigan’s “wild side”. Janis from The Call of the Wild Museum says:

“We just celebrated 52 years of business at Call of the Wild and it has been an up north tradition for many families. Visitors also love the Bavarian Falls Park golf course and go-cart track next door. We often direct visitors to the City of Gaylord Elk Park after their visit. The city maintains an elk herd in a large fenced in area that also has a park with paved trails called Aspen Park. Both are about a mile away from the museum.”

 

The Upper Peninsula

Michigan Iron Industry Museum

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The Michigan Iron Industry Museum sits on the site of the first iron forge in the Lake Superior region in Marquette. When you visit, you’ll be transported back in time to about 200 years ago when the iron industry in Michigan first got its start. The museum follows the lives of the people who worked in the iron mines and the changing technology of the industry. This includes products that were made possible because of the iron industry, like one of the only 1,500 1941 Ford Model JPs ever produced.

You may not have thought about how different industries have shaped Michigan’s history. Troy from the Iron Industry Museum says:

“The Iron Industry Museum offers an educational experience for all ages, both inside the museum and on our outdoor interpretive trails. We also offer a 20-minute documentary called “Iron Spirits”, which is about the social history of the iron mines and communities that grew around the iron industry. The movie is an excellent way to begin the museum’s experience. The museum is also free to the public!”

 

Photo via tripadvisor.com

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

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Few Michiganders know about the history of shipwrecks in Lake Superior. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise tells the story of the hundreds of shipwrecks that took place in the lake. You’ll get to see the bell from the famous Edmund Fitzgerald that was extracted from the shipwreck over 20 years ago. Other notable places to visit on the grounds are the weather bureau building and the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. The museum is open daily May – October.

A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum copper

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A.E Seaman Mineral Museum

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The A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum holds the largest public collection of minerals from the Great Lakes region. Travel to Michigan Tech’s campus in Houghton to see beautiful minerals from around the world. Some specimens were collected over 100 years ago. The museum also holds the largest copper sheet recovered from the bottom of Lake Superior. If you’re staying in the area, the admission fee is good for two days in a row if you don’t get through the whole museum the first time.