New York City is home to some of the most well-known museums in the world: MoMA, the Met, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim. But let’s face it: an eighth viewing of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” will not up her appreciation of it, and at this point, his favorite thing about the Gugg is (understandably) tearing down that winding ramp. Don’t fret! NYC also plays host to a slew of fun, under-the-radar museums that celebrate and champion our city. From fire trucks to skyscrapers to the homes of famous native sons, here are 12 off-the-beaten track museums that the whole family will enjoy.
photo: Michelle L. via Yelp
For the Pint-sized Anthropologist: National Museum of the American Indian
Located in lower Manhattan, the National Museum of the American Indian could get lost in the shuffle of other go-to destinations like the Statue of Liberty and the Staten Island Ferry. However, this Smithsonian branch of Native American art and cultural artifacts is housed in the majestic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House (the rotunda itself is a “wow” moment). Featuring exhibitions, dance and music performances, children’s workshops, family programs, and film festivals, NMAI will turn your kids on to Native American cultures without boring them. Kids will dig checking out masks made from bark and feathers, while you’ll gravitate more to the hand-woven tapestries and jewelry.
One Bowling Green
Daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
photo: Alice Perry
For the Historian-in-Training: Museum of Jewish Heritage
The Museum of Jewish Heritage’s mission is to educate people about the broad tapestry of Jewish life in the 20th and 21st centuries. Techie kids will love the “Voices of Liberty” exhibit in which they use iPods to listen to first-person accounts of arrivals to the U.S. Also, check out the “Garden of Stones” show in which guests can flashback and fast-forward through a time-lapse film on the sculpture garden. Kids can then go outside and walk through the actual garden. Note: some of the museum’s exhibits dedicated to the Holocaust are not appropriate for young children.
36 Battery Place
Battery Park City
Sun.-Tues. & Thurs., 10 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
$12/adults, free for children
photo: El Museo del Barrio
For a Little Latin Kick: El Museo del Barrio
Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latin American cultures are all around us in New York City, and El Museo del Barrio brings them together in one rich setting. The galleries are housed on a single floor, so your visit will be a quick, happy jaunt for the kids. At a recent show, pint-sized patrons grooved on such contemporary artwork as a wingback chair with upholstery made from rubber bands and a crate sculpture on which kids were invited to climb.
1230 Fifth Ave. at E. 104 St.
Upper East Side
Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Suggested $9/adults, free for children
photo: The Museum at Eldridge Street
For the Old New York Buff: Museum at Eldridge Street
Scout around some of old, old New York at the Museum at Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side. Housed within a 127-year-old synagogue, the Museum at Eldridge Street offers tours of the synagogue, during which visitors learn about the Jewish roots of the downtown neighborhood, which was once home to one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. On the second Sunday of each month, the museum sponsors Preservation Detectives, a scavenger hunt-like game and a super fun way to discover secrets of the museum and its environs.
12 Eldridge St.
Lower East Side
Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri., 10 a.m.-3 p.m., closed Sat.
$10/adults, $6/children; free for children under 5
photo: The Tenement Museum
To Go Back in Time: The Tenement Museum
If your kids ever complain that their room is too small, take ’em on a tour at the Tenement Museum. Kids get to step back in time and see a preserved tenement apartment from the early 1900s. In these tiny, two-room spaces, extended families were jammed in together and the young’uns typically slept on the floor. The best tour for kids is the Victoria Confino Tour. An actress portraying a young girl who has moved to New York at the turn of the century tells her tale of survival as a new immigrant. (Check website for specific times.)
103 Orchard St.
Lower East Side
Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
photo: The Louis Armstrong House Museum
For the Musically-Inclined: The Louis Armstrong House Museum
In humble little Corona, a giant once lived. Jazz great Louis Armstrong set down roots in the Queens neighborhood in 1943 and made a home with his beloved wife, Lucille, for nearly four decades. A refuge from the world of nonstop touring and public demands, this modest home is now deemed a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark. Beyond the home’s nondescript brick exterior, you and the kids will find a tricked-out set designer’s dream with mint condition decor from earlier eras, including electric blue metal kitchen cabinets and a gold and marble bathroom with mirrored walls. Older kids will dig the fact that rap music and hip-hop evolved directly from Armstrong’s music.
34-56 107 St.
Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. & Sun., 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
$10/adults, $7/children; free for children under 4
photo: Jim U. via Yelp
For Little Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt Boyhood Home
Unbelievably, Teddy Roosevelt is the only U.S. president born in New York City. Although Roosevelt was regarded as a great nature lover and conservationist, he was an honest-to-goodness native New Yorker and was raised in a townhouse on E. 20 St. All tours through his boyhood home are guided. Kids will be able to explore Teddy’s taxidermy specimens (he was an avid bug collector), see his Rough Rider uniform, and the bullet-pierced eyeglass case that helped save his life during an assassination attempt. Note: No strollers are allowed in the period rooms.
28 E. 20th St.
Tues.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tours are offered on the hour starting at 10 a.m.
photo: Mike C. via Yelp
For Fans of New York’s Bravest: The New York City Fire Museum
Who doesn’t love a fire truck? Here’s a whole museum that celebrates those red machines and honors the men and women who fight fires with them. The New York Fire Museum is the perfect size for the smallest of museum-goers. It’s a short and sweet tour that traces the history of fire trucks from when they were bucket brigades and horse-drawn ladder wagons to the current motorized era.
278 Spring St.
Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Photo: Alice Perry
For Number Crunchers: Museum of Mathematics
Filled with more than 30 interactive hands-on exhibits on its two floors, the Museum of Mathematics has achieved the remarkable feat of getting kids excited about numbers. While young visitors’ test scores won’t jump after one visit, those little brains will get an abstract thinking workout when they ride the square-wheeled trike, race a mini cart on the “Tracks of Galileo,” and boogie on the math square dance floor. Best of all? Your kids will equate math with fun.
11 E. 26 St.
Madison Square Park
Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Photo: The Morgan Library and Museum
To See the Manuscripts of a Magnate: The Morgan Library and Museum
While you might think that this former private library of financier Pierpont Morgan may sound a bit stuffy and academic, the Morgan Library and Museum makes a huge effort to be inviting to families. Past exhibitions have celebrated kid-centric subject matter like The Little Prince children’s book and author Beatrix Potter. In addition, the Morgan hosts a monthly family day that includes a musical concert or arts workshop. P.S.: your kids will love riding up (and down and up again) in the museum’s glass elevator.
225 Madison Ave. at W. 36 St.
Tues.- Thurs., 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri., 10:30 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.- 6 p.m.
$18/adults, free for children
photo: Alice Perry
For a Dose of Zen: The Noguchi Museum
While the words “kids” and “serenity” seem on opposite ends of the stress spectrum, they come together in harmony at the Noguchi Museum. Dedicated to the sculptural works of Isamu Noguchi, the Queens museum is also devoted to including children and families in exploring the museum’s minimalistic artworks. On the first Sunday of each month, Open Studio invites families for kid-friendly tours and hands-on artmaking. For the youngest of visitors, check out Art for Tots and Art for Families, which are held on selected weekends. For an extra Om experience, take a stroll through the museum’s serene rock garden.
9-01 33rd Road
Long Island City
Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. & Sun.
11 a.m.-6 p.m.
$10/adults, free for children
photo: Roxanne L. via Yelp
For Budding Architects: The Skyscraper Museum
Kids dig anything big — including buildings. At the Skyscraper Museum, you and your budding architects can explore what makes New York City famous: its skyscrapers. Children can check out photos, films, and models all dedicated to really tall buildings in their hometown. For a more tot-focused visit, stop by on a Saturday morning for the museum’s family program for fun activities like redesigning Times Square or going on a scavenger hunt.
39 Battery Place
Battery Park City
Wed.-Sun., 12-6 p.m. Family program: Sat., 10:30 a.m.
Did we miss your favorite unsung NYC museum? Tell us about it in the comments!
— Alice Perry