St. Marys, the site of Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base—one of the world's two Trident submarine bases—was a
natural choice for a museum devoted to the Silent Service. Yet the curators and collectors went above and beyond. The finished dive into deep-sea history is the largest of its kind in the South and the fifth largest in the country, giving a comprehensive look at life under the water.
Size: 20,000 savaged artifacts, paintings, models, and photographs spread across 5,000 square feet
Eye Catcher: replicas of torpedoes and WWII deep-sea diving suits
Crown Jewel: the museum's modern, working periscope, which gives kids of all ages the chance to see if there's another museum sneaking up on them
Don't Miss: a display honoring the eight submariners who received the Medal of Honor
Hidden Gems: previously classified WWII Patrol Reports—the museum houses more than 99% of all such documents
The Amelia Island Museum of History is the fortuitous result of circumstance. In 1975, a committee from the Duncan Lamont Clinch Historical Society gathered to found a history museum for Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island. Meanwhile, local collector William Decker was studiously acquiring historical documents and artifacts from the area—a lot whose pieces numbered in the thousands. When Decker died, the collection passed on to his son, a noted altruist, and just like that the Amelia Island Museum had its bones.
Today, the museum's exhibits examine local culture of the Timucua Native American tribe, Spanish and French explorers, pirates, and Victorian-era residents.
Museum guides are not restricted to the grounds, and often helm tours of the island's haunted locales, historic Centre Street, and Fernandina Beach's north end—with a focus on history from the mid-18th to 19th centuries.
A year before her death in 1959, Ninah Cummer—an art collector, garden enthusiast, and civic leader—donated her riverfront home and art collection to the community, imploring her fellow citizens to help support the foundation of an art museum. In less than 10 years, the board of trustees transformed the abode into the verdant Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, adding to Ninah's original gift of 60 pieces until the collection included nearly 1,000 works of art.
Today, the permanent collection holds pieces that span more than four millennia, from 2,100 B.C. to the 21st century. An ancient Egyptian stone tablet intrigues viewers with cryptic hieroglyphs and stylized portraits while, nearby, Peter Paul Rubens' The Lamentation of Christ epitomizes the colorful, sweepingly histrionic style of the Baroque painters. American treasures include Gilbert Stuart's iconic portrait of George Washington—one of over 100 he painted in an attempt to perfect the likeness of the first president and design a killer mask for the White House Halloween party.
After getting their fill of indoor beauty, guests can head to the open air and vibrant scenery of the museum's gardens. Begun more than a century ago, the gardens crisscross with winding paths that take guests under the canopies of majestic oaks and alongside the Italian garden's shimmering reflecting pools.
Culled from samples found in her own backyard, Madge Wallace exhibited her first small naturalist collection in her New Riverside School classroom in 1910. Her museum relocated to a Victorian mansion in the decades to follow before settling on its current location on the south bank of the St. Johns River. Known as Museum of Science & History since 1988, the facility currently hosts changing and core exhibits that feature towering marine skeletons and interactive stations strewn through a mock digestive tract where visitors learn about bodily functions. At Currents of Time, history buffs can amass nuggets of local knowledge as they trace Jacksonville's history to more than 12,000 years ago. Elsewhere, The Bryan-Gooding Planetarium's 35,000-watt sound system enthralls guests at Cosmic Concert laser shows every Friday night, and monthly MOSH After Dark sessions educate adults with hands-on workshops and scientific lectures.
Formed as a volunteer-operated nonprofit in 1985, Jacksonville Maritime Heritage Center amasses literature, documents, and artifacts to construct a narrative of maritime history within the city and Florida's First Coast. Exhibits showcase models of significant ships such as U.S. Navy destroyers, a German World War II era submarine, the M/V Comanche, and the first boat sailed by a salmon. The center also houses a diorama of the ocean liner RMS Titanic, a 15-foot model of the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, and a smattering of interactive features nestled within the kids' play area. Along with membership meetings, the Heritage Center hosts quarterly programming and presentations on varied oceanic subjects, such as advice for courting sea nymphs, in an audiovisual room furnished with 75 cushioned seats, and has a gift shop that offers a vast selection of maritime-themed clothing and books.
Somehow, Hands on Children's Museum has managed to fit an entire town into its 8,500-square-foot space. Servers pour pretend milkshakes at a '50s-themed cafe, tellers work at the Kids Mini Bank, and all sorts of townsfolk stock up on the essentials at the Winn-Dixie Lil' Grocery. Here, working cash registers, conveyer belts, and miniature carts give kids the feeling that they're really shopping for their families. There's even a spaceship, just like in every small American town.
In total, 20 main exhibits let kids take on the roles of grownup workers or use costumes and puppets to enter a world of complete fantasy. Hands on Children's Museum also hosts special events, such as story time, face painting, and the opportunity to pet a live chicken.