Like so many things in Miami, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science is made to be photographed. America’s most aesthetically pleasing science museum is chock-full of Instagrammable moments, from its sprawling top-floor view of turquoise waters and glimmering towers, to its underwater windows bathed in soft blue natural light.
But unlike a lot of pretty things in Miami, the Frost Museum of Science has substance. A lot of it. Part aquarium, part science museum, it can teach you more about the ecology and evolution of South Florida in a few hours than some locals learn in a lifetime. And while it’s easy to get caught up in its beauty, taking time to delve into the Frost Museum of Science’s exhibits can be just as memorable. We took a deep dive with VP of Animal Husbandry and Marine Conservation Andy Dehart and Director of Animal and Museum Exhibits Skip Uricchio, and they showed us how to make the most of your time at the Frost Museum of Science.
- The #1 piece of advice for visiting the Frost Museum of Science
- The best times to visit the Frost Museum of Science
- Where to start your Frost Museum of Science visit
- How long you should budget to visit the Frost Museum of Science
- Where to eat at the Frost Science Museum
- The five best things to do at the Frost Museum of Science
- The five exhibits you absolutely can’t miss at the Frost Museum of Science
- Three underrated areas you should visit at the Frost Museum of Science
- What you can skip at the Frost Science Museum
The #1 piece of advice for visiting the Frost Science Museum
Since there’s a lot of ground to cover at the Frost Museum of Science, and planetarium shows tend to sell out during busy times, you’ll want to book your show in advance, and plan your day around that.
“If you do online ticketing, you usually get the first shot at the planetarium shows,” says Dehart. “They’ll give you your choice of time slot, and what show you want to watch. And if you can get that done right out of the gate you can take your time exploring and not worry about a showtime.”
The best times to visit the Frost Museum of Science
The best time to go to avoid crowds, according to Dehart, is right around when school starts up, towards the end of August and into September. Is that also the hottest, muggiest part of the year in Miami, and may necessitate a change of shirts when you visit the outdoor exhibits? Maybe. Just stay hydrated and you’ll be fine.
As one might expect in Florida, the busiest times at the Frost Museum of Science are around the holidays in December and January, and spring break in March and April. And if that’s the only time you can make it, both Dehart and Uricchio stressed that coming early is crucial. The museum opens at 10 AM daily, and in addition to that being the emptiest time it’s also the coolest.
Where to start your Frost Museum of Science visit
To see the museum properly, the first thing you’ll want to hit is the Royal Caribbean Vista on the fourth floor. It looks out onto Biscayne Bay and the city skyline, and down into the aquarium’s tanks. But once you’ve had your fill of the top floor, the Frost Museum of Science is best visited as two different spaces.
“I typically tell people to go up to the fourth floor of the aquarium, at the Royal Caribbean Vista, first, and work their way down,” says Dehart. “You’ll end up in the Power of Science, which has an aquarium component to it, then take the yellow elevators up and do the trick all over again. It’s like two cascading waterfalls.”
How long you should budget to visit the Frost Museum of Science
Even though it’s effectively two museums, The Frost Museum Science can be done in about two and a half to three hours, even if you take your time. This can, however, be extended by excessive selfie time, which will be a lot more than you think if you’re visiting with kids who own cell phones.
Where to eat at the Frost Science Museum
The five best things to do at the Frost Museum of Science
1. Gaze down into tropical coral reefs from the top floor
Aquariums the world over allow you to look in on the undersea world, where colorful fish swim past you behind a thick glass wall. Few, however, let you peer down into the undersea world. Standing atop Frost Science’s fourth floor, you’ll be at the surface of the Gulf Stream, a 100-foot, 500,000-gallon tank where shark fins cruise the surface with the Miami skyline in the background.
A few steps from the Gulf Stream you can look down into an artificial coral reef, meant to replicate the reef just off the South Florida shore. You’ll see into a world of colorful, tropical fish enticing you to delve deeper into the museum, and similarly see them from below.
2. Take a picture at the Oculus
If there is one iconic, Instagrammable moment at Frost Science, it’s the Oculus. This 31-foot circular window at the bottom of the Gulf Stream allows visitors to stare up into the underwater world, where hammerhead sharks, manta rays, mahi-mahi, and 7,000 shiny bait fish make for one of the most mesmerizing views in American museums. The eerie blue lighting juxtaposed against the natural light coming from above also makes it an ideal place for pictures. And you’ll find tourists, photographers, and influencers queueing up for their turn in front of the window.
Is it a little cliché? Sure. But kinda like taking a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower in France, if you haven’t been before, you kinda have to.
3. Take a load off at the planetarium
While the Royal Caribbean Vista and the Oculus may be the social media stars of the Frost Museum of Science, its most recognizable exterior feature is its massive planetarium. Its shows are all captivating and educational, but Frost’s planetarium also affords visitors the opportunity to do something else critically important: Cool off.
Miami, in case you weren’t aware, can get warm. And much of the best stuff at Frost is outside. The planetarium, however, is refreshingly air-conditioned, and the 20-25-minute shows serve as a welcomed chance to relax and recharge.
4. Pet a stingray
On the museum’s top floor, you’ll find a large tank of Atlantic and Southern rays sitting on the far eastern end, right near the wall. This is the Florida Bay Touch Experience, where kids and kids-at-heart can take their turn safely petting one of the ocean’s coolest-looking creatures. For those concerned about the ethics of touching an animal that may not have a choice, Dehart assured us the rays are only pet when they want to be.
“The experience is designed so that the rays really have to choose to be touched,” Dehart says. “It’s deep enough that people can’t just reach down and touch them. If the rays don’t want to be in that contact zone, they’re not. Some of them will, and some of them won’t.”
5. Immerse yourself in the virtual gulf stream
Beautiful and massive as the Gulf Stream exhibit is, it still can’t give you a fully immersive experience inside the ocean. For that, there’s the virtual gulf stream, a 55-foot-wide by 10-foot-tall circular screen, that puts you in the middle of jellyfish, sharks, and even the occasional whale.
But this is no simple movie projection. As you move through and touch the screen, schools of fish and large creatures react to your presence, just as they might if you were swimming among them. You’ll learn the animals’ behaviors both with each other, and interacting with other creatures. The experience is made even more immersive by top-quality surround sound.
The five exhibits you absolutely can’t miss at the Frost Science Museum
Standing atop the “giant martini glass” — so named because of its conical shape — might be one of the best vantage points of Downtown Miami. But the exhibit includes animals that people travel the world to see, from Eagle Rays to Hammerhead Sharks to mahi-mahi. And you can view it from three different levels throughout the museum.
In addition to showcasing the creatures that live in the current off the Florida coast, the Gulf Stream is also designed to educate visitors on the vastness of the ocean.
“We wanted to show it was kind of that wet desert, that wet kind of middle of nowhere,” says Dehart. “If you jumped off a boat on your way to Bimini halfway across, this is what you’d see.”
Obviously, the best way to visit the unique and heavily endangered ecosystem of the Florida Everglades is to drive about 45 minutes west of Miami to Everglades National Park. But if you don’t have that much time — or insect repellant — stepping into the fourth floor aviary and Everglades habitat is a great way to learn about it.
Through red and black mangroves you’ll spot the impossibly rare Roseate Spoonbill, once hunted to near extinction for hat feathers. Creeping through the hardwood hammock, you’ll also see baby alligators and crocodiles, as the Everglades is the only place in the world you’ll find both. There are also owls, hawks, eagles, and plenty of snakes (behind glass, don’t worry). The birds are all part of rehabilitation programs, too, meaning they were found injured in the wild and were brought to the museum to recover.
3. The Dive and The Deep
Descending down from the Royal Caribbean Vista level you’ll find yourself moving deeper into the aquarium tanks you just viewed from above. The third level, The Dive, includes dozens of small aquariums showcasing fish from around Florida and the world, including invasive species like the lionfish. There’s even a Pacific coldwater tank with a little red octopus.
Drop down another level and you’re in The Deep, where the light fades away and you meet deep-sea creatures you’d never see at diveable depths. It’s also home to two of the museum’s more memorable experiences — the immersive virtual gulf stream and the Insta-famous Oculus.
No exhibit at the Frost Museum of Science is more thought-provoking as Feathers to the Stars, a look at how birds evolved to fly, and how humans used that evolution to propel ourselves into the sky. Inside you’ll be met with a 30-foot Yutyrannus huali, a feathered dinosaur that ultimately learned to fly. You’ll also see life-sized airplanes suspended from the ceiling, and have the chance to land a spaceship on Mars as part of the exhibit’s space section.
“Once you understand that story arc, the emergent evolution of flight of animals from dinosaurs to birds, then the evolution of flight from the Wright Brothers to the moon, it’s pretty cool,” says Dehart. “It’s probably my second favorite.”
5. Power of Science
Three underrated areas you should visit at the Frost Museum of Science
Because most journeys within the Frost Museum of Science start at the fourth floor Royal Caribbean Vista, few people ever visit the museum’s lush rooftop. But take the elevators up to floor six and you’ll be met with a terrace filled with native Florida beach plants, and a look at how solar energy is harnessed to help power the museum. You’ll find a good dose of Florida sunshine, so if you’re planning to spend some time up here, pack some sunscreen.
“It was originally part of our being a LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certified building,” says Uricchio. “But it’s all the native beach plants from right on the water, and we want people to see that they can have a really beautiful landscape using native plants that are more efficient.”
2. Wet Lab
Hidden behind some nondescript doors on the museum’s seldom-visited fifth floor, you’ll find a sort of coral-incubation lab called the Wet Lab. Here, real-life scientists are working to restore 40 genotypes of coral, raising smaller specimens in tanks to hopefully replenish the dying reefs off Florida’s coast. “It’s kind of like the Noah’s Ark of Pillar Coral,” Dehart says with pride. While it’s not advertised as one of the museum’s main exhibits, it is open to anyone who pays admission.
Just outside, a series of interactive water features show what happens to the Everglades’ water flow when we build roads and dams. And though it’s aimed at children, it’s an important education in water conservation that anyone can benefit from.
What you can skip at the Frost Science Museum
The Frost Science Museum isn’t intimidatingly huge, so there’s no reason you can’t visit everything during one visit. But if you’re pressed for time, and you don’t have kids, you can probably give the MeLab a miss. While it’s an interesting look at how bodies work, and the impact of food and exercise on your health, it’s typically packed with kids and it can get noisy.
If you do have kids, understand every exhibit in the MeLab is highly interactive, so you may end up spending a lot more time here than you’d planned. Still, younger children will probably also find this more fun than the Power of Science. Our advice is to do both, but if you’ve got little ones with a short attention span opt for the MeLab instead.
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