Beat the heat in Florida? Museums are cool

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No matter how the most optimistic among us might try to spin it, this Florida heat is tough to take when summer moves into the dog days.

Fortunately, the resourceful traveler knows there are cool things to do, literally, in the Sunshine State. So fold up that beach blanket and go inside for a tour of the state's most impressive and unique museums, showing everything from Gilded Age extravagance to planes, trains and automobiles.

North Florida

Florida Museum of Natural History (Powell Hall Education and Exhibition Center, SW 34th Street at Hull Road, Gainesville; 352-846-2000; flmnh.ufl.edu): The permanent collection traces Florida's history through fossils and environmental archaeology. The current exhibit, "CSI: Crime Scene Insects," focuses on forensic entomology and how maggots, flies and beetles help solve crimes.

Lightner Museum (75 King St., St. Augustine; 904-824-2874; lightnermuseum.org): Three floors of costumes, furnishings, Victorian art glass and the stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany offer a glimpse into 19th-century daily life. The quirky afternoon instrument demonstrations are not to be missed.

Museum of Science and History (1025 Museum Circle, Jacksonville; 904-396-6674; themosh.org): Three floors of exhibits range from a naturalist center, where you can go eye-to-eye with a box turtle or Mediterranean gecko, to a walk through Florida and Jacksonville history from the Indians to the Civil Rights era.

Gulf Coast and Panhandle

Mote Marine Laboratory (1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota; 941-388-4441; mote.org): A diversion from the sand and surf of nearby Anna Maria Island, highlights are the Immersion Cinema — where undersea life unfolds on a 40-foot, high-def screen — and Shark Zone, home to three varieties of sharks.

National Naval Aviation Museum (1750 Radford Blvd., Pensacola; 850-452-3604; navalaviationmuseum.org): It's the world's largest naval-aviation museum with 37 acres of outdoor exhibits and 300,000 square feet inside. The Navy's Blue Angels do practice runs regularly during the show season from March-November, when the weather is nicer for being outside.

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota; 941-359-5700; ringling.org): The impressive collection features works by masters, including Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and El Greco. It is a palace for treasures that emulates the footprint of Florence's Uffizi Gallery, echoing its grace and grandeur.

Central Florida

Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing (13700 S.W. 16th Ave., Ocala; 352-245-8661; garlits.com): For more than 30 years, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits has dedicated himself to preserving the history of drag racing through his attraction and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. All that high-powered chrome and steel makes it heaven for gearheads.

Florida Aquarium (701 Channelside Drive, Tampa; 813-273-4000; flaquarium.org): Enjoy a window into the eco-system of sharks, otters, coral reefs, birds, gators and other wetland inhabitants, and take in daily stingray feedings and other shows as part of regular admission.

Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Art (445 N. Park Ave. Winter Park; 407-644-8355): The Morse is a hidden gem known for its comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The highlight, however, is the glimmering interior of the Tiffany Chapel originally created for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.

Salvador Dali Museum (1000 3rd St. South, St. Petersburg; 727-823-3767; salvadordalimuseum.org): The museum contains the largest collection of Dali's work outside of Spain. Eight masterworks and 96 oil paintings are among its 2,100 paintings, prints sculptures and drawings. The gift shop has plenty of twists on that melting-clock notion.

South Florida

Edison and Ford Winter Estates (2350 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers 239-334-7419; efwefla.org): A visit to the homes of American icons Thomas Edison and Henry Ford revolves around a 15,000-square-foot museum that highlights each man's contributions to science and industry. Edison's lab is kept in the state it was in his latter years and it's worth taking a look at his swimming pool, one of the first modern ones in Florida.

Flagler Museum (1 Whitehall Way, Palm Beach; 561-655-2833; flaglermuseum.us): Railroad magnate and hotelier Henry Flagler is one of the most significant figures in Florida history and a visit to his Whitehall Mansion offers everything from Louis XIV decorating to a look at his private Railcar No. 91.

IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum (300 Gulf Stream Way, Dania; 954-922-4212; igfa.org): In addition to the International Game Fishing Association's Hall of Fame, admission includes "Journeys" (a cinematic angling adventure), a wetlands walking tour, live alligator spotting, virtual reality fishing and a discovery area for kids.

Jewish Museum of Florida (301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305- 672-5044; jewishmuseum.com): A reflection of South Florida's deeply rooted Jewish community, this museum's main exhibit, "Mosaic:Jewish Life in Florida," boasts more than 600 photographs, documents and artifacts encompassing 250 years of Jewish history in Florida.

Norton Museum of Art (1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach; 561- 832-5196; norton.org): The museum is internationally known for its distinguished permanent collection of American, Chinese, contemporary and European art. In the collection: painting and sculpture by Brancusi, Gauguin, Matisse, Miró, Monet, Picasso, Hopper, O'Keeffe, Pollock, among others.

Wolfsonian- FIU Museum (1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-531-1001; wolfsonian.org): Housed in a 7-story Mediterranean Revival building, the Wolfsonian focuses on the role of design at the height of the Industrial age and how it influenced social, political and technological issues.

Jim Abbott can be reached at jabbott@OrlandoSentinel.com or 407-420-6213.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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