Unique Museums of the Northeast

From classic candies to silver screen treasures and everything in between, the Northeast has shrines to just about anything you can think of.
unique museums

The Northeast is home to some of the finest, most well-regarded museums in the country. Places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History and Museum of Fine Arts immediately come to mind. But these cultural monuments are by no means the only Northeast locales where history, art and other interesting collections are on full display.

The region is, in fact, blanketed with a countless number of smaller, often more unique museums. They’re found both in big cities and tucked-away towns, on the coast and off the beaten path. Each one is dedicated to something you won’t likely see at any another museum. Here are just a few unique museums in the Northeast.

International Cryptozoology Museum

Portland, Maine

We know you probably already know this, but for the uninformed, cryptozoology is the study of animals whose very existence is unsubstantiated (think the Loch Ness Monster). If this subject sounds intriguing, you’ll want to head to Portland, Maine, home of the International Cryptozoology Museum. Here, you’ll find countless artifacts of undiscovered creatures, including what the museum claims are actual hair samples of Abominable Snowmen and Bigfoot. Other exhibits focus on local folklore beasts such as the Jersey Devil and Montauk Monster.

American Classic Arcade Museum

Weirs Beach, N.H. 

If you’ve got an itch for a bit of childhood nostalgia, a trip to the American Classic Arcade Museum should soothe your symptoms. Occupying the entire second floor of the Funspot arcade, the museum is the largest shrine dedicated to arcade games in the world. In total, it houses roughly 200 pinball and arcade games, most originating from the 1970s and ’80s. In fact, you won’t find any made after 1987. What you will find are all the classics, including Tetris, Space Invaders and, of course, Pac-Man.

unique museums

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Amherst, Mass. 

Dr. Seuss (who himself has a fascinating Massachusetts museum to his name) is not the Northeast’s only famed children’s book author and illustrator. Eric Carle, of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” fame as well as some 70 other books, was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, before settling in western Massachusetts as an adult. It’s the latter region, specifically Amherst, where he and his wife established the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in 2002. The museum, which is the only one in America dedicated exclusively to book picture art, includes rotating galleries of work by famed illustrators such as Maurice Sendak and the aforementioned Theodor Seuss Geisel.

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Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum

Nantucket, Mass. 

You can’t talk about New England’s past without delving into the region’s storied maritime history. While there are a plethora of well-known museums dedicated to the topic, one off-the-beaten-path-site is sure to peak any visitor’s interest. The Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum features more than 5,000 artifacts related to the region’s famous shipwrecks and rescues dating back to the 19th century. As an added bonus, the museum’s location at the edge of Folger’s Marsh provides photo-worthy views of Nantucket island.

PEZ Visitor Center

Orange, Conn. 

Did you know the iconic PEZ candy’s U.S. base is right in our own backyard? In 1973, the Austria-based PEZ company built its American production facility in Orange, Connecticut, just outside of New Haven. The site remains fully operational to this day and, fortunately for us, has since added a visitor center.

The tourist attraction, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, contains the largest public collection of PEZ memorabilia in the world. You’ll also find viewing windows to get a firsthand look at how these sweet, collectible treats are made.

The Audrain Automobile Museum

Newport, R.I. 

In 2014, Newport’s century-old Audrain Building was renovated into an exhibition space to house the Audrain Automobile Museum, one of the most unique collections of cars on the East Coast. Within its walls, visitors will find more than 150 of the rarest automobiles and motorcycles in history, ranging from the early 1900s through present day. The museum puts on three to four new exhibits each year covering a wide array of themes, from the history of electric cars to modern day supercars. It also serves as host to a variety of events, including the Audrain Newport Concours & Motor Week.

unique museums

The National Museum of Mathematics

New York, N.Y.

If you’re anything like us, you believe it’s mathematically impossible for math to be fun. Well, one trip to the National Museum of Mathematics will dispel that notion for good. The two-story site in the heart of Manhattan is part science fair and part playground. It’s all designed to illuminate the role mathematics plays in nearly every aspect of life, from sports and art to nature and architecture. And yes, every exhibit is interactive so be sure to bring your kids – or your inner child!

It’s a Wonderful Life Museum

Seneca Falls, N.Y.

Tucked away in picturesque Seneca Falls is a unique museum honoring one of the greatest films ever made. Opened in 2010, the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum is filled with memorabilia from the 1946 classic. These include items from the personal collections of director Frank Capra as well as several of the film’s cast members.

You may be asking yourself what Seneca Falls has to do with “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Although the movie was shot in California and takes place in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, New York, many believe the Finger Lakes city was the inspiration for the film’s setting. Capra notably visited the Seneca Falls while he was writing the screenplay.

The Paranormal Museum

Asbury, N.J.

Asbury Park may be best known for its famous boardwalk or as Bruce Springsteen’s stomping grounds. But the seaside town is also home to a place with a little less cheery disposition. The Paranormal Museum, a part of the Paranormal Books & Curiosities, is a space dedicated to, for lack of a better word, oddities. You’ll find relics, haunted objects, even a wall of Ouija boards. The museum also offers ghost tours through Asbury Park’s haunted grounds.

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What are your favorite museums in the Northeast? Tell us in the comments. 

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24 Thoughts on “Unique Museums of the Northeast

  1. The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum in Chestnut Hill, MA. A unique location across from the 1870 Reservoir and inside the original 1888 pumping station. This place, with huge steam engines still intact, served as the hub of Boston’s water supply for almost a century. And requires no admission fee!

  2. Don’t overlook the American Heritage Museum in Stowe, MA, particularly if you are a Veteran. The American Heritage Museum at the Collings Foundation features the Jacques M. Littlefield Collection explores major conflicts ranging from the Revolutionary War until today. http://www.americanheritagemuseum.org. Absolutely fascinating museum.

  3. We learned of a Leominster Scouting Museum in Leominster, MA, when our youngest [awarded Eagle in 2016] was in the Boy Scouts. It’s located on 2nd floor of the Old Gallagher Building at 24 Church Street. They have limited operating hours.

  4. My hometown of Commack, New York (Suffolk County, Long Island) is home to a cool and quirky museum: the Telephone Pioneers of America Museum. It offers exhibits dating back to the advent of the telephone on 1876 and is especially eye opening for kids today who know no other phones than smart phones, Check it out! Usually only open on Sundays 631-543-1371.

  5. Milford, MA has a Museum in Memorial Hall that has one of the best Civil War collections with a uniform and artifacts carried home by GAR soldiers and sailors and stored in the attic of the building for years. They are now on display along with a WWI and WWII exhibit. The town proudly offers artifacts from the Milford pink granite business, the boot and shoe shops along with the history of the town and its people from 1780 to the present.

  6. A great museum to explore is the P.T.Barnum Museum. Great historical artifacts. You”ll find yourself saying “A sucker is born every minute .”

  7. You also forgot to mention New England Carousel Museum and American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol, CT, as well as Connecticut Fire Museum in East Windsor, CT.

  8. The Clinton Russian Icon Museum, in downtown Clinton, MA, is a personal but extensive collection of authentic original icons with exhibits that rotate. Impeccably presented visually; optional docent-led tours uncover secret historical details! Indescribably alluring.

  9. The Herreshoff Marine Museum, located in Bristol, Rhode Island, USA, is a maritime museum dedicated to the history of the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, yachting, and the America’s Cup.

  10. Another small museum is the Massachusetts State Police Museum & Learning Center in Grafton, MA. We are the oldest state police organization in the country, established in 1865. Go to our web site MSPM&LC.org for more details.

  11. One of my favorites is the Whydah (pronounced whi-dah) Pirate Museum in Yarmouth, Mass. It has artifacts recovered from an 18th-century vessel that sunk off the coast of Cape Cod and was used for piracy & the slave trade.

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