Heading into Long Island  on Southern State Parkway, you’ll pass one of the state’s only African American museums and two historic residential communities, Garden City and Levittown. Neither of the latter are tourist attractions in the traditional sense, but both have played an interesting role in America’s suburban development.
On a scruffy main drag in sprawling downtown Hempstead is the African American Museum (110 N. Franklin St., Hempstead, 516/572-0730, http://aamoflongisland.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., free admission), a small but very active institution where the exhibits change every 8–10 weeks. Most of the exhibits are arts or history oriented, and range in style from locally produced shows to traveling Smithsonian productions. Subjects covered in the past have included the role of African Americans in the Civil War, and contemporary Long Island artists.
The hangars of Mitchel Field, a former airfield just outside Garden City, are slowly being transformed into a Museum Row. At the heart of the project is the impressive Cradle of Aviation Museum (1 Davis Ave., off Charles Lindbergh Blvd., 516/572-0411, www.cradleofaviation.org , 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., adults $9, children 2–12 $8). In the atrium, biplanes and fighter planes seem to soar up above, while all around are dozens of rare aircraft documenting the history of flight. Many major aviation events took place on Long Island , including Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 nonstop transatlantic flight, which departed from nearby Roosevelt Field (now a shopping mall). Also in the museum are Long Island’s first IMAX theater and the Red Planet Cafe, designed to look like a 21st century Mars space base.
The long-established Long Island Children’s Museum (11 Davis Ave., off Charles Lindbergh Blvd., 516/222-5800, www.licm.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Sun., adults and children over age one $8, seniors $7) has also relocated to Mitchel Center. Here, find numerous hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages. Build a skyscraper, be a musician, or climb a two-story play tower.
To reach Mitchel Center from the Northern State Parkway, take Exit 31A south to the Meadowbrook Parkway. Take Exit M4 to Charles Lindbergh Boulevard. From the Southern State Parkway, take Exit 22 and head north on Meadowbrook Parkway to Exit M4 and Charles Lindbergh Boulevard.