February 2012: You rarely hear the words “Orlando” and “museums” in the same sentence. It’s not why people make the pilgrimage to Central Florida. Still, the area has a few unique collections. It’s home, for example, to the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world (Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art) and the greatest amount of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in a single location (Florida Southern College).
Orlando’s Loch Haven Park is the city’s cultural center – not in the heart of the city, however – and it encompasses three of the museums: the Orlando Museum of Art, the Mennello Museum of American Art, and the Orlando Science Center.
Each museum listing includes the element(s) that might make you select it (or reject it) when comparing it to other local museums.
Orange County History Center
This is possibly the best choice for visitors seeking to offset the mind candy of the parks and interested in the non-Disney history of Central Florida. It’s located in downtown Orlando.
Orlando Museum of Art
The top art museum in town, the Orlando Museum of Art has a permanent collection and occasional traveling collection. Located in Loch Haven Park.
The Mennello Museum
of American Art
Located across the street from the Orlando Museum of Art, the Mennello specializes in folk art generally and the art of Earl Cunningham specifically. Cunningham painted in Florida, and while he has the same limited-perspective style of other folk art painters, his colors are so bright they seem to glow.
Orlando Science Center
The Science Center is a hands-on exhibition. While adults like it and it’s marketed “to all ages,” it’s a Disneyfied way (no relation) to make science interesting to teens and kids.
Located northeast of downtown Orlando and a town unto itself, Winter Park is part of urban Orlando thanks to the city’s expanding growth. A well-to-do community, Winter Park has a downtown shopping district popular with locals thanks to good restaurants, upscale shops, and a hometown feel – assuming your hometown has subtropical weather.
The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum Of American Art.
Home to the nation’s largest collection of Tiffany art – which is much more than pretty lamps – along with other exhibits, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is located on the north side of Park Avenue, Winter Park’s downtown business district.
Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens
While not large, the museum is located within a former estate, giving it a distinct Florida feel. Albin Polasek sculptures appear throughout the garden and indoors.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Harry P. Leu Gardens has two features that draw visitors: First and foremost, plants, with 50 acres of trails through old oaks and camphor trees along Lake Rowena. Second, a moderately upscale home recreates early Florida life pre-air conditioning. It’s Orlando’s top museum/garden for horticulture lovers.
The following museums have unique appeal and are within easy driving distance.
Mentioned under “Orlando’s small attractions,” Holy Land gets a mention here too because it has an extensive collection of old Bibles.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium
Another attraction also mentioned elsewhere on FAQOrlando.com, Ripley’s stuff is odd, but much is also old; and it’s presented in a museum format.
Zora Neale Hurston Museum
Named for one of Florida’s most famous writers, the Zora Neale Hurston Museum focuses on emerging and established artists of African descent.
Florida Southern College
Located in Lakeland, about 30 minutes south of Disney, Florida Southern College houses Frank Lloyd Wright’s largest single collection of architecture. It’s built, according to Wright, with basic materials only – steel, sand, and glass.
Osceola County Historical Society
This is country Florida before Disney and air conditioning. No exhibit is outstanding, but the feel of the buildings and early way of life provides a clear break from the plastic Florida found elsewhere.