I’ve been plenty unkind to some of Miami’s other museums, but credit where credit is due, HistoryMiami is fantastic.
Maybe I’m biased because I’m from Miami, but HistoryMiami represents local history and culture pretty thoroughly. The museum consists of two buildings, housing several major permanent and temporary exhibits. The museum’s main exhibit chronicles South Florida history starting with prehistoric times and international wars for ownership of Florida. The immersive and informative displays include old cannons, ships, and replicas of the homes and artifacts used by Native Americans.
It gets really fun when you jump into the 19th century to learn all about the contributions of people whose names are ubiquitous in South Florida. If you’re not familiar with local Miami history, this is the place to go to find out how Julia Tuttle, Henry Flagler, George Merrick, and Carl Fisher made this city what it is today. You can even board an old tram car, similar to the trolleys you can still ride for free in Coral Gables.
Whether you’re a local or visiting, you’ll probably discover something you never even imagined. Like that Overtown used to be called Colored Town because that’s where black people were allowed to live during segregation. And that developers drummed up interest for Fisher Island with parades of elephants over the Venetian. Yeah, Miami has always been that extra.
Closer to modern history, you get a glimpse into major events that shaped South Florida, like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Mariel boatlift. The diverse cultures that reside here are justly represented. You can even make santero bracelets after you pick your orisha, from a handy table describing all of the spirits. Local legends are featured including the Burdine family, founders of defunct department store Burdines, and Walter Mercado, famous astrologer.
HistoryMiami also features some stellar photography exhibits. For a limited time, you’ll be able to enjoy the finalists of the Miami Street Photography Festival, which shows photographs from all over the world. Another temporary exhibit shows the Jewish community in South Beach in the 70s and 80s. The colorful photos are both poignant and funny, and they are a great way to see the area’s art deco in its prime.
The museum just closed an exhibit commemorating the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, which is like 9/11 for South Floridians. Life here is pre-Andrew or post-Andrew. For people that lived through it, seeing the interviews and scraps of damage will put a knot in your throat. If you’ve never been through a hurricane, you could see what it’s like to sit in a darkened living room while a fake Category 5 rages outside.
Most people don’t come to Miami to visit museums (and even less locals do), which is what makes this museum so damn enjoyable. Even on a weekend, the halls are sparsely filled, allowing you to wander the exhibits peacefully. It’s one of the least crowded places in Miami, and for a $10 admission, it’s also one of the cheapest places to spend an afternoon.
Don’t miss HistoryMiami if you want to learn a little background on the city you’re visiting or when you’re too sunburned to spend another day at the beach. And if you’re from here, bro… dale!