The Princeton University Art Museum has a collection that rivals some of the best museums in the country. (Image via Shutterstock.com)

Stepping into the past, present, and future at any of New Jersey’s many different museums can be a very enriching experience. The Garden State has many world-class museums that offer interesting displays, special exhibits, and educational programs for visitors of all ages.

Whether your interests center around art, history, science, culture, or nature, there is always something new to discover at a New Jersey museum. Read on to learn more about some of the top ones here.

African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey - Atlantic City

Founder Ralph E. Hunter, Sr. realized his dream to build a museum about the New Jersey African American experience back in 2002. Since then, the African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey has grown to have over 3,000 pieces, such as furniture, clothing, diaries, photographs, and tools. The collection also includes household items, decorative items, all displayed in the context of what decade it came from. The museum also showcases works by local African American artists.

The museum is known for its outstanding exhibits, including “Stealing Home: How Jackie Robinson Changed America” and “With These Hands: An Exhibit of 101 African American Quilts.” The museum is located in Noyes Garage at Stockton College, in Atlantic City; a second museum, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center, is in Newtonville.

Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey - Teterboro

This museum opened in 1972, and its displays focus on New Jersey’s aviation and space legacy. Guests of the Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey check out historic aircraft and engines, photographs, fine art, air and space artifacts and equipment, models, and a large research library.

Many men and women are also recognized in the Hall of Fame for their notable aeronautical achievements, including Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart. And NASA Space Shuttle Commanders Mark E. Kelly and Scott E. Kelly. Some of the unique exhibits include rocket engines, the interactive aerodynamics display “Fundamentals of Flight,” and military aircraft. They also sponsor events like Open Cockpit Weekends and their “Dare to Fly" interactive learning program. This museum is located in Teterboro Airport. Admission prices range from $7 to $9.

Garden State Discovery Museum - Cherry Hill

Active adults that take grandparenting seriously are likely familiar with the Garden State Discovery Museum. It's a well-known, interactive museum for children up to ten years old and their caregivers. Its exhibits include a “Dinosaurium,” a science area, a wildlife area, a weather learning station, a climbing wall, a farmers market, a tree house, and others.

There is also a theater, live animals, an outdoor play area, classes, field trips, and group workshops. The museum has its own cafe and can be rented for private events and birthday parties. Admission is $14.95, while seniors get a $1 discount.

Newark Museum - Newark

The Newark Museum is Jersey’s largest, with 80 art and science galleries, a planetarium, sculpture garden, mini-zoo, and an auditorium. There is also a National Historic Landmark on the property: the Ballantine House, a restored 1885 mansion. Newark Museum’s American Art collection contains over 12,000, works, including Colonial and Federal portraits and landscape paintings by artists like Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt. Featured 19th century artists include Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, and George Inness.

Additional exhibits include Arts of Global Africa, Arts of Asia, and Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean. The museum hosts many special events and programs, including courses, workshops, and festivals. It has an exciting travel program, with art-oriented tours to far-off places like Morocco and Cuba. General admission is $15 and $8 for seniors.

Princeton University Art Museum - Princeton

Recognized as one of the country’s top art museums, Princeton University Art Museum has approximately 92,000 pieces of art. Its displays range from ancient days up to contemporary times and focus on the U.S., Latin America, China, the Mediterranean, and Western Europe.

Some of the current exhibits include “Color and Motion,” and “World War I and the Graphic Arts.” Special events include highlights tours and guest authors. The Museum also offers a Museum Travel Program for members. Participants can sign up for travel opportunities to visit famous museums, like the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Pittsburgh.

Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park & Edison Memorial Tower - Menlo Park

Called the world’s greatest inventor, Thomas Edison lived in Menlo Park, NJ from 1876 to 1882. During this time, he invented the phonograph, the first usable incandescent lamp, developed the telegraph system, and perfected the light bulb and the telephone. In total, he patented around 400 inventions during these six years. 

The Thomas Edison Center features original artifacts along with interpretive exhibits that highlight his research and development laboratory, his electrical distribution system, early light bulbs, phonographs, and historic photos. There are also hands-on demonstrations and group tours volunteers are encouraged to apply for. The site also features the Edison Memorial Tower and adjacent Edison State Park, a 36-acre nature preserve with excellent hiking trails. Admission is $15.