One of the questions we get asked by readers most often is: “I’m bringing my kids to NYC! What should we do?” My boys have lived in NYC their whole lives — which is kind of crazy to think about — so we have explored a lot. Here are six itineraries we love doing with little dudes…
Itinerary #1: See a giant whale (Upper West Side)
The American Museum of Natural History is magical with its Tyrannosaurus rex, animal dioramas, and enormous model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. In the whale room, there’s also a glass elevator that my kids love taking up and down by themselves. And in the summer, you’ll find sprinklers on the roof!
What’s nearby: For lunch, get burgers and fries at the nearby Shake Shack or try the legendary chocolate chip cookies at Levain Bakery. If your kids still have energy to burn, head to the great wooden playground right across the street. Or you can take a walk around the Upper West Side, which feels like old-school New York from the movies — big apartment buildings with uniformed doormen; bookstores, bagel spots, and the iconic Jewish grocery Zabar’s; and, of course, sprawling Central Park.
Itinerary #2: Breeze through the Met (Upper East Side)
The great thing about the Metropolitan Museum of Art is that kids under 12 are free, so you don’t have to feel pressure to stay for hours. My kids think it’s funny to “count bums” in the nude paintings, or we’ll head straight to the Temple of Dendur (like in When Harry Met Sally!).
What’s nearby: If you’re hungry, grab a hot dog or pretzel from the food trucks out in front; or walk a few blocks north to Café Sabarsky for elegant Viennese cakes and sandwiches. The Upper East Side feels deliciously fancy — keep an eye out for older couples in lovely coats and lots of tiny dogs.
Itinerary #3: Stroll around Central Park and let the magic happen
This enormous (843 acres!) park is full of surprises and delights, so you don’t need a plan. Just walk around and you’ll come across street musicians, bubble-makers, carousels, grassy lawns, and ice-cream stands. If you’re in a playground mood, check out the pyramid and bridges at Heckscher Playground; in the summer, it becomes an epic water park, with cool jets spraying every way, even inside the tunnels. And, if your child, like Anton, believes they’re secretly a knight, get them to the Belvedere Castle. (Very castle-y.)
What’s nearby: Bring a picnic to enjoy while lounging on the Great Lawn. If you’d like cheese, bread, or prepared foods, swing by Butterfield Market on 85th and Madison.
Itinerary #4: Wander the West Village
When I first set eyes on this neighborhood way back in 2002, I couldn’t believe how charming it was. Think: gorgeous brownstones, magnolia trees, and cafés on every corner. Our family has since spent many lovely days just soaking it all up. Bleecker Playground is toddler-heaven, with swings, slides and a big sandbox. If you’re hungry, treat yourselves to cupcakes at the famous Magnolia Bakery (right next to the park) or stop by Murray’s Cheese for stinky goodness. Three Lives is a charming bookstore; and on a hot day, you can walk to Washington Square Park and dip your toes in the sparkling clean fountain.
What’s nearby: For lunch, grab a slice at Bleecker Street Pizza or Joe’s, or enjoy a sit-down lunch at Café Cluny, a pretty spot with sandwiches and reliable celeb sightings.
Itinerary #5: Ride a horse (Dumbo)
If you want your heart to swell, head to Jane’s Carousel in the evening’s golden hour — or really anytime. For $2, you can ride a horse (my boys recommend “the up and down ones”) positioned right between the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge, so you take in gorgeous views as you spin. There’s also an adjacent meadow for running around and people-watching afterward.
What’s nearby: Luke’s Lobster Shack is just a couple blocks away, or you can hit up OddFellows for creative ice-cream flavors, like Malted Banana and Kitchen Sink.
Itinerary #6: Brave the rides at Coney Island
For many years, our boys went absolutely bananas for the rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel — cars that go in a circle, boats that go in a circle, planes that go in a circle, fire trucks that go in a circle… you get the gist. Since turning nine or so, they’ve leveled up to the bigger rides at Luna Park, including the famous wooden rollercoaster, The Cyclone, which is an official New York City Landmark.
What’s nearby: The amusement park food is expensive and not great, so we usually pack a lunch and then get gelato on the boardwalk.
What would you add? Plays? Shops? Dim sum? New York is such a fun hang.
P.S. Where New Yorkers eat in New York, and 10 ways NOT to look like a tourist.
(Central Park boats photo by Ben Wagner. Murray’s Cheese photo by Jamie Beck for Cup of Jo. Washington Square Park fountain photo by Julia Robbs for Cup of Jo.)