Best theme museums

Coney Island Museum
Photograph: Norman Blake
Museums, Childhood

Coney Island Museum

icon-location-pin Coney Island

The Poor Man’s Riviera is preserved in all its grimy glory here; highlights include fun-house mirrors and vintage bumper cars.

Museums, Fashion and costume

The Museum at FIT

icon-location-pin Chelsea

The Fashion Institute of Technology owns one of the largest and most impressive collections of clothing, textiles and accessories in the world, including some 50,000 costumes and fabrics dating from the fifth century to the present. Overseen by fashion historian Valerie Steele, the museum showcases a selection from the permanent collection, as well as temporary exhibitions focusing on individual designers or the role fashion plays in society.

Museums, History

Museum of American Finance

icon-location-pin Financial District

Situated in the old headquarters of the Bank of New York, the permanent collection traces the history of Wall Street and America’s financial markets. Displays in the august banking hall include a crisp $10,000 bill, a bearer bond made out to President George Washington, ticker tape from the morning of the stock-market crash of 1929 and a curvaceous couch made of $30,000 worth of nickels. The museum also serves as a de facto visitors’ center for the New York Stock Exchange, with videos of the Exchange floor and a "Teaching Ticker" that explains what each abbreviation, numeral and color means. The recent addition of a timeline exhibit tracking the evolution of the credit crisis from 2006 to the present helps to clarify the current global predicament.

Museums, Special interest

Museum of Sex (MoSex)

icon-location-pin Flatiron

For an institution devoted to erotica, this midtown museum is on the conservative side—ironic, considering it’s in NYC’s former Tenderloin District, which was chockablock with dance halls and brothels in the 1800s. The museum offers a tastefully presented collection of vintage girlie magazines, Victorian-era vibrators, blue movies and Real Dolls, plus rotating exhibits on prostitution, fetishism, homosexuality, masturbation and other semitaboo topics.

Museums, Natural history

National Museum of the American Indian

icon-location-pin Financial District

This branch of the Smithsonian Institution displays its collection around the grand rotunda of the 1907 Custom House, at the bottom of Broadway (which, many moons ago, began as an Indian trail). The life and culture of Native Americans is presented in rotating exhibitions—from intricately woven Pomo baskets to beaded buckskin shirts—along with contemporary artwork. The Diker Pavilion for Native Arts & Culture, which opened in 2006, has already made its mark on the cultural life of the city by offering the only dedicated showcase for Native American visual and performing arts.

Museums, Art and design

The Noguchi Museum

icon-location-pin Astoria

Sculptor Isamu Noguchi was the first living artist in the U.S. to establish a museum dedicated to his works. The collection occupies a former photo-engraving plant across the street from the studio he had occupied since the 1960s to be closer to stone and metal suppliers along Vernon Boulevard. The entire building was designed by Noguchi to be a meditative oasis amid its gritty, industrial setting.

Museums, Art and design

The Skyscraper Museum

icon-location-pin Battery Park City

The only institution of its kind in the world, this modest space explores high-rise buildings as objects of design, products of technology, real-estate investments, and places of work and residence. Recent exhibits have covered architectural fantasies of the early 20th century, and charted the progress of the new World Trade Center complex and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai—the massive cloud-buster is the world’s tallest building, as of January 2010.

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