Family Fun in New York City

Filed Under: New York

Embark on a great New York adventure designed for the entire family. Visit the city’s icons, from the tallest buildings to the biggest dinosaurs, and explore the many great neighborhoods. Stroll the specialty shops on Fifth Avenue or enjoy the city’s sprawling green spaces. Just pack everyone’s most comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking in the Big Apple.

Rex Sorgatz, Flickr
American Girl Store
Sure, it’s a little over-the-top but a trip to the American Girl store on Fifth Avenue is definitely not overrated for girls who love their dolls. Wander the 3 floors of American Girl dolls, clothes and accessories. Be sure to take a spin through the historical character section on the second floor, where the store feels more like a museum with miniature displays of the dolls’ worlds. Then stop by the salon and let the stylists coif your American Girl’s doll hair or pierce her ears.

Insider’s Tip: Bypass some crowds by browsing during the designated meal times in the café (you can find this information on the website). Just plan to skedaddle before the meal is over and the rush from the café crowds the store.
Bryant Park
Need a breather after navigating a stroller through the ever crazy Times Square? Just walk a few blocks east on 42nd Street toward 5th Avenue and enjoy a change of scenery at Bryant Park. Grown-ups can get a caffeine fix and snack from one of the ’wichcraft kiosks and relax on an Adirondack chair or oversized swing on the Southwest Porch. Small fry can burn off some energy in a game of table tennis (paddles provided free from park attendants), flipping coins in the fountain or taking a few spins on the French-themed Le Carrousel.

Insider’s Tip: Discover a new favorite picture book in the free-of-charge Reading Room, the park’s shady reading nook with tables and portable shelves stocked with beloved kids’ books.
JvL, Flickr
Central Park Zoo
Make some new friends in the city, namely April, Clarisse and Scooter, the 3 sea lions that make their home in the Sea Lion Pool in the center of the cozy Central Park Zoo. Though small on size (it’s just 6.5 acres), the area is still big enough for kids to journey from the chilly Arctic with playful polar bears and the Antarctic where the penguins eat at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to the tropical rainforest where tortoises lounge and lemurs leap through the trees. Don’t bypass the separate entrance to the Tisch Children’s Zoo, which is included in admission. There you can follow a wood-chip path past interactive animal exhibits, feed goats and potbellied pigs or climb a man-made spider’s web.

Insider’s Tip: Seeing as it is the backyard for the entire city, Central Park is pretty enormous (843 acres and 2.5 miles long). Little feet will wear out before you can enjoy all of the park’s spoils. Save visits to the kid-friendly Belvedere Castle, Carousel and any of the 21 designated play areas for another day.
Introduce the kids to New York’s rich diversity with a stroll through this ethnic enclave on the lower East side. The narrow streets are lined with shops and restaurants packed with wonders, mainly of the edible variety, including bubble tea, imported candy, avocado or wasabi ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and an array of hard-to-identify ingredients displayed in shop windows. Upstage the food-court version of Chinese food with authentic dim sum for lunch. Nom Wah Tea Parlor is one good choice with small plates of both familiar (dumplings and spring rolls) and new (chicken feet, anyone?) delicacies. Finally, burn off some energy from all of those snacks at the Hester Street playground that’s part of the Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Hester Street between Chrystie and Forsyth streets.

Insider’s Tip: Bookmark or print out the for kids/by kids map of Chinatown, which highlights some restaurants and shops that kids will dig.
Empire State Building
Take in the panoramic views from one of the city’s highest points, towering 1,250 feet above the passing cabs and crowds below. Most visitors stop at the 86th floor, but if you’re willing to spend some more money you can continue up another elevator 200 feet to the Top Deck, a smaller observatory on the 102nd floor. Buy your tickets online to avoid waiting in long ticket lines. While tickets are non-refundable, your ticket is good for one year and isn’t limited to a particular day or time, so no worries if your plans change during your visit.

Insider’s Tip: If have you some flexibility, skip the pricey express passes that let you jump the lines for the elevator and simply call (212) 736-3100 to get current wait times as well as visibility. Arriving early in the morning may also help you avoid the crowds.
Frank Oudeman
Imagination Playground
The flagship Imagination Playground at Burling Slip has an unbeatable location in downtown New York’s South Street Seaport, a historic neighborhood with old architecture, restored ships and shopping galore. This is not your classic playground, but is instead a truly imaginative play space filled with moveable parts and building materials. So children can be the architects of their own fun using oversized blue foam blocks, crates, fabric and other accessories to create fantastical dreamscapes. There are climbing structures, sand, water and an amphitheater where your little wonders can share their big thoughts.

Insider’s Tip: With spraying sprinklers and water features, it’s hard to leave dry. Instead of worrying about a change of clothes, have kids wear swimsuits or bring an inexpensive poncho to avoid a full wardrobe change. And fast-drying shoes are a must if you plan to continue on a downtown adventure.
Josh Hallett, Flickr
Lego Store
In some ways, the Manhattan Lego store is not very different from Lego stores around the country with its huge selection of the classic building toy. But then there are those models of New York icons carefully constructed with thousands of miniature Legos to celebrate beloved locations like Rockefeller Center and everyday sights in New York, like hot dog carts and park benches with pigeons. Ogle the work of these master builders and, then fill a cup with multi-hued Legos at the company’s largest Pick A Brick wall. You’ll find 116 clear cases packed with teeny Lego necessities like car wheels, house windows and cool clear bricks.

Insider’s Tip: Check the monthly calendar online to see if any special events coincide with your visit. Quantities are limited at the free monthly mini-build, but if you get there early that day you may score some free Legos.
Museum of National History
American Museum of Natural History
Little kids arrive with big expectations, at least if they have seen the movie Night at the Museum, and the museum never disappoints. It’s impossible to take in all the museum’s wonders in a single visit, so don’t go crazy trying to do so. Though you should plan your visit around your family’s interests, must-see stops include the dinosaur halls on the fourth floor, the startlingly realistic animal dioramas in the Mammal Halls and the hulking 94-foot-long blue whale model hanging above the Hall of Ocean Life. Space shows in the planetarium and IMAX films cost extra, but if you have the time, they are worth the investment to sit back in the theater and be dazzled by even more great science on display.

Insider’s Tip: The museum’s admission is actually a suggested donation price. Local moms suggest that if you’re popping in simply to visit T-rex, offer a payment that you’re comfortable with. But if you’re gearing up for a full day of fun, stick with the suggested prices.
mgendelman, Flickr
Staten Island Ferry
Skip the pricey narrated boat tours of New York Harbor and take to the seas on the Staten Island Ferry for a view of the skyline, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The ferry leaves Manhattan from the downtown Whitehall Ferry Terminal generally every 30 minutes, though this varies during rush hour and after midnight. The ride is free both ways and just 25 minutes each way, but you’ll need to depart and reboard a returning ferry once you arrive on Staten Island. Avoid the busy mass of commuters and plan your boat ride around rush hour, generally between 6 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. leaving Staten Island and between 3:30 p.m. and 7p.m. leaving Manhattan.

Insider’s Tip: Everyone wants to sit on the same side as Lady Liberty, which is the side facing New Jersey, but both sides offer pretty views. About 15 minutes into to the return trip to Manhattan, head downstairs and stand outside on the lower deck in the front of the boat for the approach to Manhattan.

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