Discover NJ Museums: Ultimate Guide to Under-the-Radar Places

These lesser-known museums are fascinating treasure troves of art, history, wildlife and some of the oddest oddities around.

Fluorescent rocks on display at the Franklin Mineral Museum.
Fluorescent rocks on display at the Franklin Mineral Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum

Whether you’re a newcomer or a longtime New Jersey resident, there’s always something fresh to discover in our state. Nowhere is that truer than at our museums.

With that in mind, New Jersey Monthly writers set out on a mission to explore the state’s more under-the-radar museums, and compile the ultimate guide of places to visit.

Along the way, we found everything from bugs to pop-culture relics to incredible pieces of Garden State history. We also dug into the permanent collections at some of the larger, more well-known museums, where we found treasure after treasure.

Happy exploring!

POP CULTURE

Grammy Museum Experience

Newark

A visit to this Recording Academy outpost starts with a primer on Grammy history—in photos and touch screens. The “Jersey Legends” exhibition includes artifacts such as Bruce Springsteen’s 1967 high school yearbook; gowns worn by Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick and Gloria Gaynor; and Count Basie’s signature captain’s cap. To fully appreciate the museum, try the interactive experiences. You can rap with Wyclef Jean, drum with Max Weinberg, or sing backup for Ray Charles. A “Springsteen Live!” exhibition runs through the end of March. —Ken Schlager
165 Mulberry Street; 973-757-6300

TiLT: A Tracy Lee Stum Museum

East Rutherford

Visitors pose with a massive shark mural at the TiLT museum in East Rutherford.

The TiLT Museum features a jaw-dropping collection of murals, like this Great White Shark. Photo courtesy of TiLT Museum

You won’t believe your eyes when you visit this immersive museum at the American Dream mega-mall. TiLT features a series of vibrant murals created by award-winning artist Tracy Lee Stum. Providing more than just something to look at, Stum uses angles, well-placed cameras and photography tricks to let visitors become part of her world-class optical illusions. You can make it look as though you’re climbing up the Statue of Liberty, being eaten by a great white shark, or floating in space. There’s no shortage of imagination (or photo opps) at TiLT, making this museum perfect for children and Instagrammers alike. —Gary Phillips
1 American Dream Way; 833-263-7326

Doo Wop Experience Museum and Neon Sign Garden

Wildwood

The retro-style malt shop at the Doo Wop Experience Museum in Wildwood features vintage signage and decor.

Grab a refreshment at the Doo Wop museum’s retro-style malt shop. Photo courtesy of Doo Wop Preservation League

Packed with cool artifacts, fascinating history and bright neon lights, this Wildwood museum is a celebration of architecture, design, music, pop culture and everything else that made the city famous in its 1950s and 1960s heydey (which is when doo wop music became popular). Inside, check out memorabilia, as well as the retro-style malt shop; outside, experience the Neon Sign Garden, a display of fully restored and reassembled signs from classic Wildwood motels that were rescued from places that have since been demolished. Dan MacElrevey, the president of the museum, says a new neon sign collection from former motels in Wildwood is being restored and exhibited this year. The museum is open seasonally, from the end of April until mid-October, and also offers bus tours of Wildwood’s motels and landmarks three nights a week. —Jacqueline Mroz
4500 Ocean Avenue; 609-551-2289

Buy our March 2022 issue here. Cover illustration by Matt Herring; Springsteen photo courtesy of Luke MacGregor/Reuters.

QUIRKY & WACKY

Insectropolis

Toms River

As museums go, Insectropolis is smaller than most. But then, so are the treasures it showcases—which, as you might suspect, are bugs, represented here in all their wild diversity. Laid out as a miniature city, the museum includes an airport of highly efficient flying machines (bees); a radio station broadcasting insect songs and sounds; Creepy Cavern, where arthropods dwell; and a host of other buggy landmarks. If you’d like to meet (and even touch) a few of the city’s creepy, crawly residents, the museum’s knowledgeable staff will be happy to arrange introductions. —Leslie Garisto Pfaff
1761 Route 9; 732-349-7090

Burlington County Prison Museum

Mt. Holly

Designed by Robert Mills, the same architect who gave us the Washington Monument, this austere museum served as a prison from 1811 until 1965. Visitors can tour the narrow cells that once held vagrants, thieves and murderers; seven of the latter were hanged in the exercise yard out back. Make sure to watch for the few remaining examples of prison graffiti, crude scrawls that hint at the deprivation suffered herein. And yes, the museum is haunted (or so we are told). —KS
128 High Street; 609-265-5476

Vintage Automobile Museum of New Jersey

Barnegat Bay

A red 1957 Mercury Montclair Convertible.

The classic cars at Point Pleasant’s Vintage Automobile Museum are swapped out every two months. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Kevin Tichenor

It’s located in a boatyard at the head of Barnegat Bay, next door to the New Jersey Museum of Boating, but inside the Vintage Automobile Museum, the only vehicles are those that travel on land—with fins, chrome and other bygone stylistic flourishes. The museum is small, with room for about seven or eight cars at a time, plus a wide assortment of automobilia, but the volunteers who run it have access to hundreds more, and they change every two months, so there’s always something new to see. —Kevin Coyne
1800 Bay Avenue, Building 13; 732-899-0012

New Jersey Shipwreck Museum

Wall

Did you know that the New Jersey coast has more than 4,200 known shipwrecks on its ocean floors? Rare artifacts, such as china from the Andrea Doria, flatware from the Morro Castle, and pieces of German submarine U-869 from World War II—all obtained from 13 confirmed shipwrecks dating back up to 300 years—are on display here. A dedicated team behind the scenes continuously works to find the missing puzzle pieces of unsolved shipwrecks, says Dan Lieb, a diver and museum staffer. —Falyn Stempler
2201 Macroni Road; 732-280-3000

Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Atlantic City

Behold the bizarreness of humanity at the late cartoonist and entrepreneur Robert Ripley’s Odditorium, a collection of 14 galleries showcasing all things strange, including the world’s smallest car (which weighs 138 pounds and can go up to 38 miles per hour) and a roulette table made of more than 14,000 jellybeans. For extra kicks, once you’re done checking out the oddities, head over to the museum’s Laser Maze Challenge, where you’ll dodge over and under laser beams to reach the end. —Olivia Beach
1441 Boardwalk; 609-347-2001

SPORTS & GAMES

Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center

Little Falls

The museum tells the life story of longtime Montclair resident Yogi Berra, from growing up in St. Louis to his first minor league contract ($90 a month) to his Hall of Fame career with the Yankees (and a nod to the Mets). Highlights include a complete set of 26 Yankee championship rings (and one watch); the original Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle plaques from Yankee Stadium; and Berra’s three MVP awards—plus his baseball cards dating to 1947. Kids of all ages can handle vintage catcher’s mitts and grip game-used bats from Berra, Roberto Clemente, Derek Jeter and other greats. ­—KS
8 Yogi Berra Drive; 973-655-2378

United States Golf Association Museum

Far Hills

Visitors explore the Hall of Champions in the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History at the USGA Museum in Far Hills.

The USGA Museum in Far Hills tells the story of golf. Photo courtesy of USGA Museum

This golfers mecca (in a 100-year-old mansion) tells the story of the sport in meticulous displays of period equipment, photos and video. Five rooms are dedicated to individual legends—Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Mickey Wright, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus—and the Hall of Champions has plaques for winners of all major USGA events since 1895. After touring the galleries, play the nine-hole putting green with replica antique balls and putters. —KS
77 Liberty Corner Road; 908-234-2300

Silverball Museum Arcade

Asbury Park

If you fancy yourself a pinball wizard, check out Silverball. It’s a tribute to pinball and arcade games of the past, with 150 options all set to play. (Patrons are charged at the door.) Pinball machines range in date from the 1950s, including the Gottlieb Knock Out, to current ones, like the 2020 Jersey Jack Guns N’ Roses game. Silverball takes great care with its games; it has a tech on hand for daily servicing, says Patty Barber, senior vice president of the museum. Artists come in to touch up the artwork inside the machines. “Asbury is both old and new, so we like to keep the retro feel of the place, but we also keep updating,” she says. Silverball is open year-round and has become an iconic part of the boardwalk. —JM
1000 Ocean Avenue; 732-774-4994

ART & ARTISANS

A still-life painting by artist John F. Peto.

See John F. Peto’s works at the John F. Peto Studio Museum in Island Heights. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum

John F. Peto Studio Museum

Island Heights

The artist John F. Peto lived and worked in a Victorian, shingle-style house in Island Heights, the picturesque Methodist camp-meeting settlement on a hilly peninsula overlooking the Toms River, where he painted trompe l’oeil still-lifes that now hang in America’s most prominent art museums. The house stayed in his family for almost a century after his death in 1907 and is now a meticulously restored studio museum where you can see not just his paintings, but other items he painted, as well as rotating exhibits of other artists. —KC
102 Cedar Avenue; 732-929-4949

Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum

Oradell

The stalls in this 1893 carriage house once held thoroughbred horses. Today, as part of a museum dedicated to wildlife art, they are small galleries for large works, like a towering bronze ostrich by sculptor Bart Walter. The museum’s collection ranges from charcoals and oils to sculpted pieces, including Mary Taylor’s The She-Wolf, a menacing creation of welded steel rods. Also on display: an original 2-foot-wide edition of John James Audubon’s classic book Birds of America. Through April 30, an exhibit celebrates the work of photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen, including his photos of polar bears and salmon. —KS
705 Kinderkamack Road; 201-261-0012

Noyes Museum of Art

Atlantic City, Galloway, Hammonton

Originally opened in Galloway in 1983, this fine art museum, largely funded by Fred and Ethel Noyes of Smithville, was hard hit by financial challenges and in 2016 closed to the public. Reinventing itself in 2017 after having been acquired by Stockton University, the museum created affiliate sites and now display its collections at the Kramer Hall gallery at the university, the Seaview Golf Club in Galloway, and the Arts Garage and Noyes Gallery at the Claridge Hotel, both in Atlantic City. The collection showcases more than 3,000 paintings and sculptures, as well as many duck decoys. —Deborah P. Carter
Kramer Hall, 30 Front Street; 609-626-3420

A vibrant, brightly colored painting of activist Angela Davis.

An exhibition celebrating African-American activist Angela Davis is on display at the Zimmerli through June 15. Photo courtesy of Zimmerli Art Museum

Zimmerli Art Museum

New Brunswick

Located at Rutgers University, the Zimmerli features American art, from Alfred Bierstadt landscapes to modern works by Roy Lichtenstein. In an upstairs gallery, you can walk in and around Herbert Ferber’s curvaceous Environment for Sculpture. There’s also art from Asia and Europe, including an array of 36 amusing busts by the 19th-century caricaturist Honoré Daumier. Most fascinating is the world’s largest collection (20,000 works) of Soviet Noncomformist Art, from stark to satirical. ­—KS
71 Hamilton Street; 848-932-7237

Stickley Museum

Morris Plains

Housed in the former country estate of designer Gustav Stickley, a leading voice in the American Arts and Crafts movement, the museum features a collection of furniture and objects that were made or sold by Stickley’s companies, and other items that represent the movement. These include ceramics, metalworks, textiles and Stickley’s distinctive furniture. The main house is built log-cabin style on 33 acres that also include cottages, barns and beautiful landscapes. Stickley fans from around the world travel to visit the museum; it is his only house open to the public. He built it as a showplace for his ideas, his furniture and his architecture, says the museum’s executive director, Vonda K. Givens. The museum, which is a National Historic Landmark, is currently closed due to damage from Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020, but is expected to reopen for tours in a limited capacity in April. Online classes in design and design history are also offered for a small fee. —JM
2352 State Route 10; 973-540-0311

HISTORY & CULTURE

American Labor Museum

Haledon

Italian immigrants Pietro and Maria Botto built this house in 1908. Five years later, it became the rallying point during the seven-month silk strike in neighboring Paterson. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark. Four period rooms depict the Botto family’s simple lifestyle. An exhibit room tells the tale of the strike. Upstairs, you can stand on the balcony where labor leaders addressed crowds. Each visitor gets a guided tour; don’t miss the backyard root cellar. —KS
83 Norwood Street; 973-595-7953

Museum of Early Crafts & Trades

Madison

The museum lovingly shows the implements New Jerseyans used daily when settling the state. It boasts over 8,000 tools and artifacts dating back to 1860, from the Colonial era to the industrial age. The finds range from printing presses to farming tools that helped cultivate the land now known as the Garden State, says Deb Starker, executive director of the museum. Even the museum’s walls were built in 1899, in Richardsonian Romanesque style with high, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, guaranteed to make you feel like you’re travelling back in time. —FS
9 Main Street; 973-377-2982

New Jersey Historical Society

Newark

Founded in 1845, the Historical Society has an extensive collection. A display of World War I items includes military uniforms, posters, and an ornate Thomas Edison jukebox loaded with patriotic songs. The “Ebb & Flow” exhibition documents historic activities along Jersey’s rivers and canals. Another exhibition salutes department store founder and philanthropist Louis Bamberger. Visitors can also dig into the society’s research library by appointment. —KS
52 Park Place; 973-596-8500

Harriet Tubman Museum

Cape May

This single-floor museum, housed in the former residence of the pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church next door, paints a broad picture of abolitionist Harriet Tubman’s time and achievements in this Shore town and beyond. One of the most renowned leaders of the Underground Railroad, Tubman is believed to have spent several summers in town working as a cook to help fund her ventures. The museum focuses on artifacts related to Tubman and other activists—especially locally—during the 1800s. Holdings include portraits, busts, relics of slavery such as metal shackles, and a historical account of business trailblazers from Cape May’s once thriving African-American community. —DPC
632 Layfayette Street

Macculloch Hall Historical Museum & Gardens

Morristown

A painting of Speedwell Village by Edward Kranich.

Speedwell Village and Iron Works by Edward Kranich is in the collection of Macculloch Hall. Photo courtesy of Macculloch Museum/Stan Freeny

The floorboards creak as you stroll through the period rooms of this early-19th-century mansion. Impressive furnishings, oils (including a circa-1796 Charles Willson Peale portrait of George Washington) and selections from the museum’s treasure trove of antique china adorn each room. The museum also boasts an unparalleled collection of works by 19th-century cartoonist Thomas Nast, whose home stands across the street. In March, the museum is unveiling two restored, 11-foot-long Nast cartoons. —KS
45 Macculloch Avenue; 973-538-2404

Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum

Skillman

Most museums are significant for the treasures they house; in the case of SSAAM, the real treasure is the house itself—a modest, beadboard-clad structure that was originally home to the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. Descendants of slaves built and worshipped in the building, and the region’s history of slavery—and the lives of those who survived it—has literally been written into the interior panels by the museum’s founders. Now under renovation, SSAAM is set to reopen in the spring, offering changing exhibits about African-American life in the area and, most compellingly, a chance to step back into a history long overlooked. —LGP
189 Hollow Road; 609-309-5155

Walt Whitman Museum

Camden

From 1884 until his death in 1892, Walt Whitman spent his declining years here in the first and only house he owned on Mickle Street (now Martin Luther King Boulevard). In this sparse, six-room home, the poet revised his magnum opus, Leaves of Grass, along with penning other works and hosting famous contemporaries. From this home base, Whitman journeyed to nearby Barnegat and Atlantic City, which he documented in letters and essays. On display here are letters, rare photos and personal belongings. His tomb—of which Whitman himself oversaw the construction—is also in Camden, several miles away. —DPC
330 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; 856-964-5383

Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum

Camden

A visitor poses at a sailing ship model at the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum.

Camden Shipyard Museum features intricate ship models like this one. Photo courtesy of Jose F. Moreno/USA TODAY NETWORK

With about 6 miles of Delaware River waterfront, Camden put it to good use. This museum documents the city’s history of ship construction, which spanned more than 150 years. The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis, which carried vital components of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and were later sunk by the Japanese, were built in the city. While temporarily closed due to Covid-19, the museum offers a virtual tour and is expected to open again this spring. (One wing houses Urban BoatWorks, a program that teaches students how to build boats.) —Tom Wilk
1912 S. Broadway; 856-541-7447

Miller-Cory House

Westfield

Now the bucolic suburb of Westfield, in the 1740s it was farmland in the town of West Fields, a section of the area then called Elizabeth Town. Samuel Miller was a prominent farmer who built his home on a parcel of the 100-acre plot he owned. Nearly fifty years later, the house was purchased by a neighboring farmer, Joseph Cory. These two families remained the only owners of the property until 1921. Today, this living-history museum serves as an example of early-American life. Hosted events include early-American crafts like cheese-making. —DPC
614 Mountain Avenue; 908-232-1776

Long Beach Island Historical Association Museum

Beach Haven

Just a half-mile down the boulevard from some of Long Beach Island’s most bustling sites sits a quaint reminder of its past. Located in the former Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in 1882, the LBI Museum is chock-full of artifacts, photos and archives (plus charmingly creaky floorboards). From shipwrecks to shark attacks to the lost resort of Tucker’s Island, there’s a history lesson for everyone to enjoy. —Jennifer Finn
129 Engleside Avenue; 609-492-0700

The Twin Lights Historic Site, a castle-like landmark in the Highlands.

The Twin Lights Historic Site is one of the highest points along the Atlantic coast. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Twin Lights State Historic Site

Highlands

Climb the narrow, spiral stairs to the top of the north tower of this castle-like landmark that commands one of the highest spots along the entire Atlantic coast of the United States, and marvel at the panoramic view—over the ocean, around Sandy Hook, and all the way to New York City. Then climb back down to the museum in the old keepers’ quarters that illuminates all the history this place has witnessed—from America’s Cup races to Marconi’s wireless-telegraph experiments. —KC
2 Lighthouse Road; 732-872-1814

Ridgewood Historical Society Schoolhouse Museum

Ridgewood

Housed in an 1872 schoolhouse, this quaint museum boasts original features—like the potbelly stove—plus a robust collection of local artifacts. Annual themed exhibitions have covered historical events that range from the Revolutionary War through the 1960s revolution, as well as fashion and social norms. —Amanda Staab
650 E. Glen Avenue; 201-447-3242

Old Barracks Museum

Trenton

The inside of the Old Barracks Museum shows Colonial-era domestic life—beds, clothing, a table, food and games.

Trenton’s Old Barracks Museum offers a glimpse into Colonial life. Photo courtesy of Old Barracks Association

Near the New Jersey State House, the museum brings to life Colonial and Revolutionary history. Built in 1758 as winter quarters for British soldiers during the French and Indian War, the large stone structure is one of the most visited sites in the state. It also served as an army hospital during the Revolutionary War and as a residence for Trenton’s first mayor. Tours from guides in period dress are available, as are virtual tours for students. —AS
101 Barrack Street; 609-396-1776

Paterson Museum

Paterson

Housed in a 19th-century locomotive factory, the museum documents Paterson history from Lenape days (represented by pre-Colonial tools) to the city’s heyday as an industrial powerhouse. The exhibits of locally manufactured innovations include silk looms, massive airplane engines, and an impressive display of more than 30 Paterson-built Colt revolving pistols and rifles. Also represented: hometown heroes Larry Doby and Lou Costello. —KS
2 Market Street; 973-321-1260

Tuckerton Seaport & Baymen’s Museum

Tuckerton

Once used for domestic and international trade and now part of a reserve, the 40-acre Tuckerton Seaport encompasses more than a dozen historic and replica buildings, a boardwalk, a marine railway and a lighthouse. Museum exhibitions explore the natural environment, as well as local history and folk art. Boat rides are offered. —AS
120 W. Main Street; 609-296-8868

Washington’s Headquarters Museum

Morristown

A young visitor poses with a Colonial re-enactor.

Go back in time at Washington’s Headquarters Museum, located in Morristown. Photo courtesy of Tom Ross/Washington Headquarters Museum

The museum’s Style Gallery displays household and personal items from the Colonial era, including a lace cap, dress and slippers believed to have belonged to Martha Washington. The Military Gallery has weapons and equipment of war, including George Washington’s sword. There’s a terrific display of manuscripts by the likes of John Hancock and John Adams, as well as Washington’s will. Museum visits are accompanied by a tour of the neighboring Ford Mansion, where Washington and his aides spent the winter of 1779-1780. ­—KS
30 Washington Place; 973-539-2016 ext. 210

SCIENCE & TECH

Thomas Edison National Historic Park

West Orange

The historic park comprises the prolific inventor’s laboratory complex and nearby home. The three-story main-lab building features Edison’s impressive, wood-paneled library; his machine shops (where tools and prototypes were fabricated); an exhibit hall lined with Edison inventions (including his first phonograph, Edison bulbs and more); and his recording studio. Adjacent buildings include the chemistry lab where Edison developed his recording cylinders. A visit includes access to the grounds of Glenmont, Edison’s family home (though the interior currently closed for renovation). —KS
211 Main Street; 973-736-0550

Franklin Mineral Museum

Franklin

A sky-blue gemstone.

The Franklin Mineral Museum has more than 4,000 local specimens. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Sebastian Janicki

On a former New Jersey Zinc Company site, the museum preserves mineral wealth that made the Franklin-Sterling Hill mining district recognized worldwide. Its collection of zinc ore and mineral specimens includes more than 4,000 from the local area. Fluorescent rock and fossils are also on display. An 1895 engine house contains a replica of an underground mine. Outside, there are 3.5 acres for collecting minerals. —AS
32 Evans Street; 973-827-3481

Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey

Teterboro

Mammoth aircraft engines, the first hovercraft, a meteorological satellite—all were conceived in New Jersey and are on display at this museum adjacent to Teterboro Airport. Other displays feature aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, artifacts from the ill-fated Hindenburg airship, the state’s early African-American flyers, and our 14 astronauts. Hall of Fame plaques commemorate more than 180 inductees. Kids enjoy climbing into Little Cut Up, a model plane with a realistic cockpit. —KS
400 Fred Wehran Drive; 201-288-6344


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