Museums Worth the Extra Mile
Ten must-see cultural institutions that merit a trip from Manhattan
Most visitors to the city rarely leave the island of Manhattan, or if they do, it’s often to get better views of it. But venture further afield and you’ll find fascinating museums throughout the outer boroughs, and even across the river in New Jersey. Once you’ve exhausted the heavy-hitters of Museum Mile and Midtown, there’s a whole world of worthy cultural institutions a short distance away. The big bonus is fewer crowds—and often the trip itself. Whether you get there on the breezy decks of the Staten Island Ferry or a scenic train ride along the Hudson River, with these art adventures, it’s the journey and the destination. Below, our picks for 10 museums that deserve a trek.
Lights, Camera, Art: Museum of the Moving Image (Queens)
36-01 35th Ave., movingimage.us
It’s a long way from Hollywood, but Queens has one of the finest movie museums in the country. The entertaining institution is rooted in the “Behind the Screen” permanent exhibit, which features everything from historic cameras to vintage TV sets and rare merchandise like the prototypes used to create a King Kong action figure. But the real draw is the museum’s interactive exhibits, like the one that allows you to dub your own voice into famous movie scenes. The regular movie screenings are another treat, including 1940s Hollywood dramas, digital shorts, and the popular “See it Big” series, which presents classic films.
The museum reopened in 2011 after a multimillion-dollar makeover, which the New York Times described as a “face-lift that might even put Hollywood cosmeticians to shame.” The new centerpiece is a dazzling theater, designed by architect Thomas Leeser, which has a wraparound ceiling and shimmering blue walls that give viewers the sensation of floating in space.
The Trek: Swipe your metro card and take the M or R to Steinway Street, or the Q or N to 36th Avenue.
Please Touch the Exhibits: New York Hall of Science (Queens)
47-01 111th St., nysci.org
The New York Hall of Science has come a long way. Originally built as a pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair, it’s now New York City’s largest science and technology center. The museum enthusiastically courts kids, with over 450 interactive exhibits that invite “touching, exploring, and manipulating.” Get up-close views of a colony of leaf-cutting ants through a video camera, follow the evolution of space exploration, from rockets to shuttles, and flex your muscles at Internet arm-wrestling. You can also test your skills at mini golf and rock-climbing.
The Trek: Hop on the 7 train to 111th St. and walk three blocks south.
Island Meditation: Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art (Staten Island)
338 Lighthouse Ave., tibetanmuseum.org
The anti-Manhattan, this historical museum features Tibetan art as graceful as its setting. Designed like a Tibetan mountain monastery, the museum incorporates sloping gardens, a fish pond and galleries fed by natural light. The well-curated collection delves deep into Tibetan history, from musical instruments to richly detailed thangkas (scroll paintings). The museum sits on Lighthouse Hill, one of the highest points on the Eastern Seaboard, with vistas that make finding inner peace a lot easier. Unwind with Saturday-morning meditation or Tai Chi classes, then sprawl out on a bench to take in the views.
The Trek: From Manhattan’s Whitehall Terminal, board the Staten Island Ferry, which is still one of the best free deals in New York City. Upon arrival in Staten Island, take the S74 bus to Lighthouse Avenue and walk up the hill. The bus meets every ferry.
Northern Lights: Bronx Museum of the Arts (Bronx)
1040 Grand Concourse, bronxmuseum.org
The Bronx may be known for its zoo and Yankee Stadium (distant third: the birthplace of J. Lo), but the Bronx Museum of the Arts should be right at the top of the list. Founded in 1971, the museum celebrates the borough as much as it does international art, with a focus on 20th-century and contemporary Bronx artists as well as those of Latin American, Asian and African descent. Housed in a handsome modern building designed by the well-known firm Arquitectonica, the museum excels at temporary exhibits on topics like digital photography and graffiti art. It also hosts the respected Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) program, which supports new artists.
The Trek: Take the D or B train to the 167th St/Grand Concourse.
King of Queens: MoMA PS1 (Queens)
22-25 Jackson Ave., momaps1.org
Artists in New York City often go in search of cheaper pastures, and they long ago migrated from SoHo to Chelsea to Williamsburg to, these days, Long Island City. The result is that this Queens neighborhood has become fertile ground for new galleries and art studios. LIC’s artistic flavor is largely credited to MoMA PS1, one of the oldest and largest nonprofit contemporary art museums in the U.S. Founded in 1971, this “artistic laboratory” has never wavered from its core principle of supporting and celebrating contemporary art, from established artists like Sol DeWitt to emerging ones brought to view by public programs like the Young Architects Program (YAP). On Sundays, follow the sounds of DJs and electronica at the Sunday Session, with international music and sound installations. And during the summer, enjoy outdoor parties in the courtyard on Saturdays.
The Trek: Take the E and M train to Court Square-23rd St.; the 7 train to Court Square; or the G train to the 21st St. stop.
The Other Met: Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn)
200 Eastern Parkway, brooklynmuseum.org
Not many museums can claim their own subway station. The Brooklyn Museum, one of the oldest museums in the country, has its own newly renovated station for easy access to one of the world’s finest collections. Take in the Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art collection of wall reliefs, plaques and sculptures, including the remarkable chlorite head from a female sphinx. The museum also hosts an excellent collection of African arts and sculpture, as well as American and European masters from Georgia O’Keefe to Monet.
The Trek: Hop on the 2 or 3 to the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop.
Sculpture Retreat: The Noguchi Museum (Queens)
9-01 33rd Rd., noguchi.org
When you think of Queens, home to the roaring runways of JFK and LaGuardia, peace and solitude probably don’t immediately leap to mind. But that’s exactly what you’ll find in the quiet sculpture gardens of the Noguchi Museum. Created by Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi in 1985, the museum is a living homage to a harmonious life’s work, which includes a sun-warmed outdoor garden populated by Noguchi’s abstract, lyrical sculptures. Explore further at the nearby Socrates Sculpture Park, a sprawling public space built on reclaimed riverside landfill with a mission to display rule-breaking sculptures and art.
The Trek: Take the N/Q to the Broadway stop in Queens. (Check the museum website for walking instructions from here.) On Sundays, there’s a free shuttle service from Park Avenue and 70th Street (in front of the Asia Society) to the museum.
Revenge of the Nerds: Liberty Science Center (New Jersey)
222 Jersey City Blvd., lsc.org
This popular museum in Liberty State Park commands all sorts of superlatives. Not only is it the largest science center in New Jersey, it also houses the nation’s largest IMAX Dome Theater. The center’s chief appeal is its astonishing variety of interactive exhibits, including the Surgical Robot, where kids can practice on 3-D HD simulators used by surgeons-in-training; the Wildlife Challenge, an outdoor obstacle course; and a skyscraper exhibit with a forest of towering images where visitors can test their balance skills by walking on a steel beam over the gallery floor.
The Trek: Catch the Liberty Landing ferry from the World Financial Center to Liberty State Park. From the pier, it’s about a 20-minute walk to the museum. You can also take a PATH train to Pavonia/Newport or Exchange Place stations and transfer to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
Medieval Times: The Cloisters Museum and Gardens (Inwood)
99 Margaret Corbin Dr.
Set amid four verdant acres in Fort Tyron Park, this branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art features five impeccably reconstructed European abbeys dating from the 12th to 15th centuries, including Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa from the northeast Pyrenees. Wander the peaceful monastic halls and the collection of over 3,000 pieces of medieval art, which includes reliquaries, ivory carvings and the famous “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” a series of tapestries made of woven wool, metallic threads and silk.
The Trek: Yes, geographically, The Cloisters is technically still “on the island,” but aesthetically it’s a world away, surrounded by well-groomed parkland. Take the A train to 190th Street. Walk north along Margaret Corbin Drive for about ten minutes or transfer to the M4 bus and ride north one stop. From the main MoMA, you can take the M4 bus at Madison Avenue/83rd Street to the last stop.
Art on the River: Dia: Beacon (Hudson Valley)
3 Beekman St., Beacon, N.Y., diaart.org
Where is the largest contemporary art museum in the United States? It isn’t in Manhattan or L.A— it’s actually in the Hudson Valley. The massive Dia: Beacon, housed in a former Nabisco factory on the banks of the Hudson River, tops out at 250,000 square feet. The collection specializes in large-scale works that generally can’t fit into conventional museum spaces, usually by art luminaries of the 60s and 70s, including Cy Twombly, Blinky Palermo, Richard Serra and Andy Warhol. The Dia: Beacon has beautiful outdoor areas, and the indoor galleries feature massive skylights, which keep them awash in natural light.
The Trek: Beacon lies 60 miles north of New York City—the perfect distance for a day trip. Take Metro-North from Grand Central, which snakes along the Hudson River and offers gorgeous views along the way, with the green valley on one side and sparkling water on the other.