Back in February, I posted a guide to New York City with kids , which was a super popular post. As my family is still in NY, I’m lucky in that I go back often. In fact, I spent most of the summer there with Little & Middle (Big was off at sleepaway camp). Given the constantly changing restaurant and theatre scene in New York, I thought it was a good time to update my list of off the beaten path activities for families. (The below list will be a great compliment to the usual list of attractions such as Ellis Island, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the 9/11 Museum depending on the age of your children and The Metropolitan Museum of Art among others). So here we go…
Take in a Show: Of course, when traveling to New York City with kids, you have to take them to the Great White Way. Exposing kids to live theatre can be a wonderful experience for the kids and lets them experience a story unfolding in real time before their eyes. Right now these are some of my favorite options for kids.
Aladdin The Musical: The reviews for Aladdin from the critics and close friends have been off the charts. Not surprising since this is the latest musical production from Disney, who indisputably has the midas touch. We’re taking the kids over Christmas break when we’re back in the Big Apple. Big musical numbers, bold costumes and make this a sure bet.
Matilda: Fans of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novel Matilda won’t be disappointed with this terrific adaptation of the book. Somehow they’ve managed to stay true to the book while creating a dazzling big budget stage production. Big saw this with his grandmother over a year ago and can still describe each scene in detail. He loved it as did she (and she is quite the discerning theatre goer).
Kinky Boots: This is one of Big’s favorite shows. It’s best suited for teens and sophisticated tweens. Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein have created theatre magic in this hilarious musical about a struggling English shoe factory that turns itself around by making high-heel boots for drag queens..
Uptown: Since Central Park is accessible from both the Upper East and Upper West sides we’re putting it in its own category.
Central Park- What is more synonymous with NYC than Central Park. This 840 acre park feels like it was just magically dropped right in the middle of the bustling city. During the winter, nothing is more fun then renting skates and taking a few turns around the ice at Wollman Rink. The rink will open in late October. You can then amble up the paths and stop at some of the amazing playgrounds scattered throughout the park. One stop not to be missed is to let your kids climb the Alice in Wonderland Statue by the 75th street boat pond which is a local tradition. If the weather is nice, you can rent remote control boats and let the kids race them right on the boat pond here as well.
Upper West Side
Natural History Museum: You’re most likely going to need a few hours to see everything that you want to see in this world class museum. But, don’t try and visit on the weekend, or you’ll find yourself fighting insane crowds. Currently, they have a must see Pterosaurs exhibit that your kids will thoroughly enjoy. While often mistaken for dinosaurs, Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs; they’re not even birds, but rather flying reptiles that lived million of years ago. The exhibit includes rare fossils, life size models, hands-on interactive stations and you’ll even be able use your body to pilot a pterosaur over a prehistoric landscape in the virtual flight lab. The museum also has huge areas dedicated to animals, space and the not to be missed butterfly conservatory.
Madeline Exhibit at the NY Historical Society: You’ll have to hurry as this exhibit is leaving Oct 19th. Little girls will delight in this charming exhibit showcasing over 90 original artworks from the creator of Madeline Ludwig Bemelmans. In addition to drawings from all 6 Madeline books, murals and his earliest work on comic books you’ll enjoy learning about Ludwig’s career. They also have all of the Madeline books available to read to your children as you walk through the exhibit.
Isabella’s Restaurant: This is an uber popular bistro for the stroller set and celebs alike when on the Upper West Side. It’s also super convenient to the Museum of Natural History. When we were living in the city, this was our go to spot for brunch with the kids. They have great salads, eggs, burgers and other classics.
Sugar & Plumm Bistro: You’ll feel totally taken care of at this charming and whimsical bistro and confectionery on the UWS. They have a large menu featuring all the best in comfort food such as eggs, waffles, paninis, large crisp salads and delicious burgers. There is a dedicated kids menu, and a candy store in the back, making this is a great spot to take a quiet moment from the hustle & bustle of the city.
Upper East Side:
JG Melons: JG Melons has the best burger ever! Pubs don’t come more old school than this. It’s quite the institution with real New Yorkers. Moms, dads, lunching ladies, college kids and grade school kids all flock to this spot. Cash only. 1291 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10021. 73rd and 3rd. (You have to love that they don’t even have a website)
Dylan’s Candy Bar: Yes, it’s always crowded with throngs of tourists but my kids still want to make a pit stop at this candy emporium every time we visit the city. Parents will love seeing many of their nostalgic favorites while the kids will probably relish in the newer candy novelties and Dylan’s branded candies. There’s a candy café where you can sit and enjoy ice cream creations and let your kids take a selfie to show their friends.
Lester’s: If you have a daughter between the ages of 7 and 14 and she’s dying to come home with something to remember her trip to the big apple by, then bring her to Lester’s. This is an uber-popular clothing store for babies, toddlers, and tweens. The clothes are very on trend. They also have a large selection of novelty items and fun accessories for lockers, desks, and camp bunks.
Via Quadronna: As I’ve said before, I feel like I’m giving away an insider secret with this one. Tucked away on east 73rd street (between Madison & Fifth) is this wonderful café and paninoteca where all the locals go. After running around with the kids all day, you deserve to rest your tired feet and enjoy one of the best cappuccinos and lattes this side of the Atlantic. They also have a huge selection of made to order Panini’s. I do have to warn you though that this place is tiny. If you have a huge stroller with a lot of stuff or a large party then I suggest you grab something to go as you head into Central Park or to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (both nearby).
Top of the Rock: I know that you’re supposed to go to the top of the Empire State building, but I actually think Top of the Rock is more fun for kids. It’s typically less crowded, and it still has one of the best views of the city. In fact, you can clearly see Central Park from the 3 floors of observation decks here, which is not possible from the Empire State building. The elevator ride up to the top floors is also quite a thrill. And an added benefit is that you’ll be in the famous 30 Rockefeller Center home of NBC, TODAY and SNL.
FAO Schwartz: If you only visit one toy store during your stay, then this is the one to go to. There is no store like it in the world. You probably remember the giant piano from the movie BIG, but you’ll be amazed at how much else there is to see and experience in here. Upstairs, you’ll find the giant piano, but they also have a lovely book area where you can sit and linger with your kids for a moment of quiet. Throughout the store, the friendly staff is demonstrating paper airplanes, magic tricks and tons of other toys. They’ve also added a “create your own Muppet bar” in the back. Just set expectations with your kids before you head in, otherwise they’ll ask for everything – they can do that…but prices get lofty.
Times Square: Locals wants to spend as little time as possible in Times Square, but it seems like visitors always want to come and see it. Here are a few places that are worth battling the crowds to experience.
Toys R Us Times Square: There are two real reasons to come to this toy store. First, is the enormous dinosaur on the second floor that roars. All kids seem to really like it. The second reason is the cool two story indoor Ferris wheel. I suggest that you go early if you are hoping to ride it though because otherwise you’ll be waiting in a long line.
Bowling & Games: I’m not suggesting that you try and fit bowling into your NYC itinerary. However, the city can be a total downer in the rain. Should you be caught in a monsoon one day, you can have a great time spending a couple of hours at one of the three bowling alleys in Times Square. Believe me, they’re not your typical bowling alleys. Bowlmor is probably the most kid friendly and definitely one of the iconic bowling alleys in the city. Bowlmor, Lucky Strike, Frames Bowling
The Bubble Show: All kids are enamored of bubbles, and you will be too when you see The Gazillion Bubble show. Fan Yang, the creator of the show, will amaze you with what can be done with simple bubble solution. If you want a really fun experience then try and book seats in the front row, but I caution you that you will get wet. At the beginning of the show, your kids can have their picture taken from inside an actual bubble which is cool (this is an additional charge).
The Ride: This is a cool and alternative way to experience NYC. The Ride is an interactive bus tour of NYC guided by two “hosts” who are more like performers. You sit on the bus, stadium style, with all passengers facing out one side. As the bus travels throughout midtown giving you a tour, you’ll see hidden performances throughout the city. It’s a unique way to experience and engage with NYC street life. Check their website for hours of operation.
Math Museum: This relatively new museum is a great place to take the kids for a couple of hours. I promise you that I’m no math wizard so don’t worry if your kids aren’t total math geeks. MoMath, as it’s now referred to, is a kid friendly interactive museum illustrating how math comes into play in our daily lives. If you’re expecting flashcards and multiplication tables think again. Throughout the two floors there are puzzles to solve, games to play and cool building materials to try. There’s also a roller coaster demonstration and my kid’s favorite the bike with square wheels. Neither one could believe what a smooth ride it was.
The Tenement Museum: This is an often overlooked gem in the city. The Tenement Museum is an interactive museum that recreates the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants. As you’ll learn on the tour these residents faced incredible hurdles while trying to make a new life for themselves and their families and often with limited means. The only way to visit the museum is to sign up for a guided tour. There is a great interactive one specifically designed specifically for families with children. On the “Meet Victoria Confino” tour, you’ll visit the apartment of a Greek Sephardic family and meet a costumed interpreter playing 14-year-old Victoria. You’ll take on the role of newly arrived immigrants, and have the opportunity to ask Victoria questions about how she’s adapting to life on the Lower East Side. We took Big and he’s still talking about. A truly one of a kind experience that brings the immigration experience to life.
The High Line: What was once an old elevated train track is now one of the more beautiful and serene parts of NYC. Let your kids run a few steps ahead as you take a stroll through this beautiful park. Along the way, there are stops for hot chocolate and something stronger if you wish. The High line park runs on Manhattan’s West Side from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street.
Chelsea Market: After walking the High Line and doing a bit of shopping in the nearby Meatpacking district this is a fun place to stop in and refuel. This urban food hall and mall is housed in the old National Biscuit factory. You’ll find vendors selling soups, seafood, awesome Thai dishes and a vast assortment of authentic Italian delicacies. My kids always ask to stop in and pick up a sweet treat at the famous Eleni’s Cookies and Fat Witch Bakery. This is a great place to grab breakfast or lunch or in the nice weather even a picnic to go.
Spice Market: Renowned chef Jean -Georges Vongerichten tackles Asian street food at this super cool spot in the trendy Meatpacking district. This is a great place to take your tweens or teens who want to experience “New York”. They’ll love the scene and people watching, and you’ll enjoy the exotic cocktails and impressive food. The setting is absolutely gorgeous.
ABC Kitchen: Yes, this is another Jean-George restaurant, but it’s totally different than above. At ABC Kitchen, you’ll enjoy the delicious farm to table food against the sophisticated yet fun backdrop of eating in a home store.
Momofuku Noodle Bar: If you have adventurous eaters and don’t mind eating at off-peak times, then you might want to swing by Momofuku noodle bar. They are known for their pork buns and ramen and neither will disappoint. Afterwards, you can walk to nearby Momofuku Milk Bar to try their infamous compost cookie and crack pie (it’s not what you think but it is that good).
John’s of Bleecker Street: A Village landmark with the best brick oven pizza in NYC. Hands down. They don’t serve slices, but the pizza is so good that you won’t mind eating the whole pie. It’s totally casual with a great homey feel and perfect for kids. Go early as they don’t take reservations.
Balthazar: A consistently great bistro in the heart of Soho with terrific people watching! We highly recommend the onion soup and the ham & gruyere toasted sandwich. Given how popular this spot is, they are surprisingly accomodating to kids.
Two chains that aren’t like the others and are great options while in NYC:
As NYC is known for some of the best food in the world, I would never suggest that you spend your time at a national chain restaurant (like Olive Garden for example). Save that for other trips. However, there are two “chains” that are consistently great options especially with kids while you’re in NYC.
Serafina: There are 7 of these totally kid friendly great quality Italian restaurants throughout the city, making it a great choice for families. It doesn’t matter where you’re staying or what’s on your itinerary, you are bound to be near one of them. They serve great thin crusts pizzas, hearty pastas and if you’re looking for something lighter they have a number of delicious salads on their menu. They are very accommodating to children and are happy to rush out a kid-sized portion of pasta to satisfy hungry stomachs.
Shake Shack: Danny Meyers calls this his take on a “roadside” burger stand. Let me be clear, this is not like any burger that I’ve had when I’ve been on the road. Shake Shack consistently delivers delicious burgers, hot dogs, crispy fries and unbelievable shakes (about which I know a thing or two). You’ll place your order and be given a ticket. You’ll then have to jockey for a table. But once you get your food it will all be worth it. With six locations in Manhattan, this is another great option for a quick lunch (the location in Madison Square Park is the only one without indoor seating though). There is one on the UES (East 86th St), as well as near the Math Museum, Natural History Museum and Times Square (not that I’m trying to talk you into going or anything).
Where To Stay:
You’ll notice that I didn’t suggest a specific hotel. New York is an incredibly expensive city so I suggest that you look online and try and find a deal on a room. Anywhere in Midtown would be very convenient but Downtown would also be fun and possibly less crowded. Besides, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway with so much to see and do.
Have a great trip! And I’d love to hear about your Big Apple adventures.