The heart of Harlem  is 125th Street, always alive with vibrant colors, sights, and sounds. As the neighborhood’s main commercial drag for decades, 125th Street has had many ups and downs. Today, it’s riding an optimistic wave, with more businesses in operation now than at any other time in recent history.
The street is also home to two major Harlem landmarks—the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Apollo. Just south of 125th Street, on 5th Avenue, is Marcus Garvey Park, lined with elegant brownstones.
The Studio Museum (144 W. 125th St., between Malcolm X Blvd. and ACP Blvd., 212/864-4500, www.studiomuseuminharlem.org , noon–6 p.m. Wed.–Fri. and Sun., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Sat., suggested admission adults $7, students and seniors $3, children under 12 $1) was founded in 1968 in a small factory loft.
Today, it’s a first-class institution spread over several well-lit floors of a turn-of-the-century building. The “principal center for the study of Black art in America,” the museum offers a permanent display of works by such masters as Romare Bearden, James VanDerZee, and Jacob Lawrence.
Perhaps the single most important landmark in the history of African American music, the Apollo (253 W. 125th St., between ACP and Frederick Douglass Blvds., 212/531-5305) has hosted nearly every major jazz, blues, R&B, and soul artist to come along since the 1930s. Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, and Michael Jackson all played the Apollo, and the list goes on and on.
It is said that when a teenage Elvis Presley first came to New York City , the one place he wanted to see was the Apollo. The same was later said of the Beatles.
Originally built in 1913, the Apollo was once Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theatre, which presented vaudeville to a Harlem  that was then predominantly white. But by 1935, the neighborhood’s racial mix had shifted, and the two-balconied theater, capable of seating 2,000, became famous for its Amateur Nights.
Now a nonprofit enterprise, the Apollo continues to present a variety of entertainment, including a Wednesday amateur night. In the lobby is a small exhibit on the theater’s early history. Tours are available for groups of 20 or more, otherwise you may be able to join a group that has already booked (212/531-5337).