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New York is a wonderful destination for families with children and teens. The safety record is one of the best for American cities. New Yorkers are generally fond of children and its sights are world class for wee ones and their parents alike. Things to see and do are too many to enumerate in detail; guidebooks specifically geared towards children such as Frommer’s New York City with Kids, or NineBlue's New York for Families can be particularly helpful. Plan carefully and be prepared, as the fast-paced environment that makes New York so vibrant can be overwhelming if you have little ones to keep track of.
Every day activities are transformed for kids into wonderlands: the movie theaters are grand, the subway is an adventure in itself, and even the McDonald’s restaurants are overstated in that kid-friendly way. The ferry ride to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty is just as interesting as the end result to the children in the crowd. Do not forget to let them enjoy the fountains and sculptures that dot nearly every corner and crevice in town.
New York City is an awfully big place: in terms of its population at last count, it is larger than London's by one million people plus the two million that commute into the city each day for work from surrounding areas. It is large enough to be serviced by 13,000 yellow taxis with an additional 4,000 for hire livery services (limosines and smaller cab companies) plus a growing number of pedicabs. It has the largest subway systems in the country, which, if including commuter rails, extends into four states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Upstate New York,) some of which reach points over a hundred miles away (the New Jersey Transit System connects both with the main lines in New York City and Philadelphia.) It is served by three airports and, by the looks of things, is going on a fourth (there is an airport on Long Island by the name of MacArthur that has seen much growth and activity in the past few years that strongly correlates with traffic into the city.) It is a juggernaut that isn't going to get any smaller or less loud, so it is wise to plan ahead, especially when there are going to be little feet tramping beside yours.
This is not a post about "where" to go with kids in NYC, but rather about "how" to go with kids. Feel free to add your own tips that you learned during your travels.
First, remember that New Yorkers have kids too. It's not all young couples like in "Friends". We take our kids to restaurants, shows andmuseums. As a city, New York is loaded with great things for kids to see and do.
1. The happiness of any family vacation is directly related to the happiness of the most miserable. What this means, is that if your kidis unhappy, it will be contagious. To that end, you may have to compromise what you "need" to see for the benefit of all.
2. My sister was 8 years old when we were in Amsterdam.After a day of being schlepped from museum to museum she began screaming "NO MORE REMBRANTS" over and over in the Reich museum. Know what your kids limits are. Know when to stop.
3. Kids are creatures of habit and many times upsetting a routine can be difficult. If you usually eat dinner at 6:00, Id stick as close to that time as possible. If your kid routinely melts down at 3:00 PM and needs a nap, maybe that Wednesday matinee is not the best planning.
4. A family is not a chain-gang. Have mom and daughter get their nails done and have a shopping day, while dad hits some golf balls at Chelsea Piers. Have dad and son visit the Intrepid while mom does some power shopping or hits the Frick. Meet up for dinner and you will all have stories to share.
5. Give you child his or her own money to spend at the beginning of the trip. "Here's $50 for souvenirs, spend it as you like "No more mom, dad buy this for me, buy that for me." A little responsibility is a nice thing. But, you may want to hold the money for him.
6. Go to Playgrounds of your kid is of that age. Kids need to blow off steam, and New York has some great playgrounds to do it in. From Central Park to DUMBO, there are great playgrounds all over the city.Besides, kids can have a new "best friend" in about 20 minutes. How cool would it be for your 10 year old to have a pen pal from DUMBO?
7. It ain't Des Moines. Now, I have nothing against Des Moines, but New York is different. Many kids do appreciate these differences. For example, you probably drive a car. Your kid will probably love the subway. Visit Russia [Brighton Beach], China [Chinatown], India [Jackson Heights], Korea [Flushing]. Pick up a newspaper in a foreign language as a souvenir.
8. Photo safari. If your child is old enough - a camera and a diary are great companions. Kids love to take pictures of everything. Stick those ticket stubs, or any other flat item in the diary. Both will make great keepsakes.
9. Sometimes things do go wrong. Be flexible. Have fun.
With patience, planning and luck, your vacation with child can be memorable and enjoyable for everyone.
Bronx Zoo, (website) 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx – With award-winning, spacious exhibits designed with the needs of the species inhabiting them in mind, this zoo is one of the largest in the country and is the world' s largest urban zoo. This zoo features 4,000 animals, some of which are extremely rare in the wild, and in warmer months is nice and shady owing to a very leafy landscape.Many may be mistakenly deterred at first when they arrive here by the fact that some exhibits like Tiger Mountain and Congo Gorilla Forest cost extra, but there is a ticket option where 1) all "extra" exhibits are included in the price of one ticket and 2) patrons to many of these types of exhibit have the option of donating the price of their admission to aid conservation in Africa and Asia. Once beyond that, visitors seldom regret entering and parents, take care to remember your cameras: you and your kids are in for a treat.
Adults appreciate the Bronx Zoo it for its gorgeous Beaux Arts architecture found at the heart of the zoo (it opened its doors at the turn of the 19th century) and also for the fact that the aegis it runs under (World Conservation Society) is well respected for zoology research within the zoo and conservation efforts both in America and around the world (in 1912, for example this zoo donated a small herd of American bison to be taken by rail out West to save the species: today that donation has helped the bison reestablish itself in North America. Many years later similar efforts are being taken to understand the needs of the Chinese alligator, of which only a few nests remain in Asia. ) As of July 2008, this zoo also has just turned what was once a long abandoned turn of the century lion house (i.e., completely unsuitable for such a large cat) into a brand new, eco-friendly, state-of-the-art exhibit featuring the unique plant and wildlife of Madagascar: great for adults who get to see something rarely seen in any zoo, great for the six year old boy who gets to see giant cockroaches and crocodiles, and great for the little girl who wants to see ring tailed lemurs leaping in the canopy overhead, some with little babies clutching mum for dear life.
For children, the Bronx Zoo is an excellent place to go: it is perfect for little bodies to cut loose and blow off a little steam in. (Wear trainers or sturdy sandals-the paths are long and meandering.) Within the zoo there is a section that is especially made for smaller children with animals that are safe to touch and feed, like goats and sheep, and also a place where they can "duck underground" and see what life is like from the point of view of an American prairie dog (this is a rodent about the size of a kitten that prefers to live in burrows much like a stoat.) In warmer months parents should take care to remember that there are plenty of places that sell ice cream and ice cold water in addition to a few attractions (like the World of Darkness) which are air conditioned, so if you or the little ones overheat, there are opportunities to slow down and relax a bit. For parents of toddlers, kindly note that rentals for strollers (called "pushchair" elsewhere) are available if you did not remember to bring yours and there are places to change the little one scattered everywhere.
(TIP: A recent development near the Bronx Zoo is the appearance of an American beaver named Jose in the Bronx River : this is important because no beaver has been seen in New York City for nearly 200 years and the trade in beaver pelt is what spurred the Dutch to found New Amsterdam, so the return of this creature has become the thrill and hope of an entire city, a sign that the cleanup efforts of the local environment are working! If possible, when visiting the zoo, ask around to find out the latest developments on where his lodge is so you can show the kids.)
Central Park , ( website) – A true New York treasure, beautiful and vibrant Central Park takes up 843 acres in the center of Manhattan and welcomes 25 million visitors annually. In just fifteen years, Central Park has rehabilitated itself from a den of thieves, prostitutes, and murderers back to the place of leisure it was intended to be when it opened in 1857. If you think otherwise your information is woefully out of date -- it is one of the safest places in this already very safe city and is noted for having many police, park rangers, and volunteers on horseback who do everything from crowd control at rock concerts to chasing thugs. Horsemen (includes police, volunteers, and park rangers) are very common in Central Park and are very important to its day-to-day functions -their preferred mounts, for example (American Quarterhorse, Standardbreds) are breeds chosen to be just large enough to deter hoodlums, speedy enough to nab a perpetrator (the Quarterhorse can sprint at 88 kph/55 mph) but most importantly calm and tractable enough to be around average patrons, including children who naturally will be curious. (Fear not if your child decides he wants to pet the horse-most horsemen shall oblige and their mounts have been trained to handle the sound of noisy trucks and gunshots, let alone a four year old squealing with glee.) If a little one should wander away from you, don't hesitate to ask for help: each mounted person carries a long range walkie-talkie that can broadcast to most corners of this large park and alert others to look for your daughter or son, and the NYPD has a unit stationed in Central Park just in case of serious situations like yours.
Central Park is very much a place where recreation reigns: Boating, Renting Model Sailboats, Bike Riding, Swimming, Horseback Riding, Wall Climbing and Concerts are a few common activities available in summer alone. Year round, bicycles and rollerbladers frequent the dozens of paths and bridges and performance artists are a common sight: an old Chinese man playing an erhu (Chinese string instrument) or a tenor saxophonist add quite a bit of atmosphere. Otherwise, don't be discouraged if it is wintertime: Those vendors with ice cream and soda exchange their wears for hot chocolate and warm, soft pretzels in cool weather just in time for when little children love to go outside on sleds in snow, families take carriage rides through the park, or their parents lead little hands to Wollman's Rink to ice skate under the stars.
There are many instances in which Central Park was used as a backdrop in film and television-Mr. Deeds (Bethesda Fountain) Kramer vs. Kramer (grove of American Elms) and Spiderman 3 (near boathouse) to name a few. For a deeper look at filming in Central Park, explore the Central Park TV & Movie Sites Tour. Central Park is a haven from the honking of cars and bustle of the surrounding areas for humans and animals alike: if you wish for your children to learn something on this trip or if they have an interest in science, bring binoculars for the birds in the trees and on the ponds: Central Park is right in the center of a huge flyway that stretches from Canada to the Caribbean and over 200 species either nest or visit here, everything from red-tailed hawks to ruby throated hummingbirds.
On the West side of the park (not far from the American Museum of Natural History) is Strawberry Fields-the place which commemorates John Lennon's life and also a nice spot to sit and rest for lunch from the many hot dog vendors in the area. (Ask the vendor if you are interested about something called a knish or a yoohoo: the first is a potato filled pastry that is a good, filling snack and the latter is a type of chocolate flavored drink that has been the joy of New York children since the 1920's.) Teenagers may like the significance if they've heard of the Beatles and kids may need a spot to take a load off their feet for a few moments, especially for snacks-this would be the place to do it.Madison Square Park -- various programs (see this for kids programs) 23rd and Broadway near the Flatiron Building ( NOT the Madison Square Garden area). The Madison Square Park Conservancy hosts a wonderful series of summer programs for kids and adults, check their web site. The park also has a splendid playground for the smaller kids. The park is also home to the ever popular Shake Shack, where real, true handmade American burgers can be bought alongside the best milkshakes the city has to offer. (Ignore the nearby McDonalds: they don't even compare.) Enormous lines form around lunchtime because locals simply cannot get enough of the greasy goodies that make supermodels blush and cardiologists quail but it is well worth the wait, but remember to get extra napkins-chili fries are gooey!
Central Park Zoo Can't make it to the Bronx? Try a smaller, older "storybook zoo" in Central Park that is a little more manageable, especially for children who dislike walking a lot. The Central Park Zoo showcases a good amount of animals ranging in size from a huge water loving Polar Bear in one exhibit right on down to a tiny marmoset in one of its indoor exhibits.
Rockefeller Center: This is a very famous area of the city that was originally constructed in the 1930's, so it has the classic art deco look that will impress parents. Otherwise, this is a nice place to take photos and rest as well as go sightseeing as a lot of people watching goes on here. At Rockefeller Center, there are major sights nearby (NBC Studio Tour, Radio City Music Hall, Observation deck at Rockefeller Plaza, etc.) so many people stop here for lunch when the weather is good (the main courtyard with the golden statue of Prometheus is a restaurant from about May to October) and sometimes when it is not so good (lesser known is the fact that there is a little food court hidden beneath the plaza (30 Rockefeller Center entrance) where things like soups and even spaghetti can fill little tummies and give parents the break they need, including clean public bathrooms with changing tables.) In winter, this place really shines: The Christmas season in New York city is kicked off by the lighting of an enormous tree about a week or so after Thanksgiving and the whole area becomes bedecked in decorations. During the Christmas season the main courtyard is turned into an ice rink with skate rentals available and the two more upscale restaurants that stand adjacent to the rink serve something called "Breakfast with Santa", a full brunch with Santa Claus and all the hot chocolate the kids can stand. (Book in advance for this-it is worth seeing their eyes bug out when they see the huge gingerbread house alone, and it is very lovely to watch the skaters outside through the windows.)
Ellis Island and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum are a wonderful stop accessible via the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Ferry from Battery Park in lower Manhattan, New York. During its tenure, Ellis Island processed thousands upon thousands of immigrants from Europe and the story of how this came to be is well documented: outside the main building there are plaques listing names of folks whose families passed through the gates on their way to a new life in New York City and beyond. Equally stunning is the view of New York Harbor from this point so if you have a camera with a panoramic feature, this would be the place to snap a photo.
Staten Island Ferry: (Leaves from Battery Park) This is a completely free, relaxing boat ride with great views of Manhattan Island. Locals mainly use it to commute between Staten Island (large island in New York Harbor) and their jobs in lower Manhattan, but when the weather is warm it is a cheap way to cool off: the boat moves at enough speed to turn New York Harbor into a giant fan, complete with the opportunity to shoot your kids with sailboats and the NYC skyline in the background. If you want some time away from the city then hop on the S40 bus at the ferry terminal (fare is included in the Metrocard). A 10 minute ride takes you to the beautiful greenery of Snug Harbor where you can visit the Staten Island Children's Museum. Aimed at younger kids up to around 7-8 years old, this interactive museum provides a range of hands on exhibits and workshops. You may also get the chance to see a Little League baseball match if you didn't manage to get tickets for the MLB.
Yankee Stadium Most folks, save those from Japan or the Caribbean, have no idea why baseball is such a big deal in America. Going to Yankee Stadium may give insight into why it is "America's Pastime" and why seeing the game is a good insight into American culture. For a hundred years, the New York Yankees have played in the Bronx, thrilled New Yorkers from the very old to the very young, won 26 World Series (only breaking for WWII) , and driven their neighbors in Boston (the Red Sox) and even neighboring Queens (the Mets) nuts with their domination of the sport. Even if you don't understand the rules of baseball (don't be shy to ask if you don't, the locals will be very happy to show you and answer questions) it is a nice way to spend an afternoon: the atmosphere is similar to a European football match but doesn't have the hooligan culture attached, so even little kids will be fine. (For example, in right field is a section of seats reserved for "The Bleacher Creatures"-fanatics with season tickets that like to heckle the players and do "role call" (calling out the lineup and riling up the stands until the player acknowledges them.) The Creatures, though rowdy, almost never harm anybody and alcohol is banned from that section for obvious reasons, and one is more likely to teach your kid to properly heckle the opposing team with a cowbell.)
Although it does get hot at games, this is mitigated by plenty of vendors selling cold drinks available for a few dollars and some sections of the stadium afford some shade. (Don't worry about the Star Spangled Banner being played at the beginning of the game- nobody expects you to sing along if you are not American and mostly its best to just take your hat off for a few minutes to enjoy a cool breeze.)The most exciting part of the game is the foul ball: at Yankee games, if the man with the bat pops the ball backwards or not within the confines of the baseball diamond, you can catch it with your own mitt and keep the ball if you like-an instant (and free) souvenir. Bring a set of binoculars for another treat: they make people watching a joy, and the box seats near the dugout might showcase a celebrity or two!
Food On Foot Tours let's you Eat Like A New Yorker! By experiencing the cuisine of New York you get to experience the culture. This tour is very different from most tours because it is not a gourmet food tour but an inexpensive quality food tour You purchase the food you like and FoodOn Foot Tours is a relaxed getting-to-know-people from around the world subway/walking tour. Food On Foot Tours is the highest rated food tour on TripAdvisor's Things To Do in NYC as of 4/18/10. Tours include East Village Variety, International Express, Midtown Mix, Food For Fans Baseball & Fireworks Tours, Sandwich Salvation and The World Famous Sweet Tooth Tour! All tours have vegetarian options
Inside Broadway Tours Have a professional Broadway actor show you Broadway! They will show you the "real-life" drama and comedy of Broadway, the "must-know" history and gossip. Hear the personal stories of actors in the business of Broadway as they search for workand stardom. Get a "behind the scenes" look at Broadway and Times Square.
Manhattan has dozens of museums dedicated to culture, art, and yes, kids of all ages are invited. The focus of many of these museums is education and research as well as profit- Both the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are giants in their fields AND post a SUGGESTED donation to enter the museum: this means one doesn't necessarily have to pay the posted $10 a person fee to get in (art students in New York City have been let in on five cents and in return are permitted to access and sketch Renaissance masters.)
Many museums within Manhattan are made to be child friendly: some have stroller (pushchair) rental and nearly all have a place to check your coats for a small fee so you needn't carry them around. (The Metropolitain Museum of Art even allows for rental of Baby Bjorn like contraptions so parents can wear the littlest of patrons.) They can be very large, so parents would be best prepared to pick out a meeting spot on the map for children to remember if they wander away. (And if they do, relax: most of the major sites deal with lost children every day.)
Children’s Museum of Manhattan , ( website) 212 West 83rd Street, – five floors of exhibits and ever-changing programs inspire children and parents alike. Nearly every exhibit is interactive, teaching kids about the world around them, from bugs to bathroom humor and back again.
Metropolitan Museum Art museums can be problematic with children: no five year old is going to care much about Abstract Expressionism and shoving it down his throat over going to a midtown toy store will cause tears and resentment for years to come. Thankfully, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has several permanent exhibits which may be of special interest to your kids and yourself. The Costume Institute has an extraordinary exhibit of clothing and fashion. It's a permanent section of the museum but the contents change from time to time -- you may see anything from 18th century French Aristocratic dress to 20th century couture fashions. It is well worth checking out, especially if you have a daughter. For your sons there is is Arms & Armour which displays what is probably the finest exhibit of armour in the United States. It really has to be seen to be believed if you've only seen this stuff in movies; one of the more memorable items is a group of horses and riders, all fully armoured! For musicians there is the Musical Instruments exhibit which shows historical and rare instruments. For the truly committed, there is a wing of the museum dedicated to American Art with works spanning from the late 1600's on up through to modern contemporary works, some only about twenty years old. The exhibit is crowned with a very famous, gigantic painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware, based on a real event occuring on Christmas Eve in 1776.
The Met has a collection large enough that not all of it can be displayed at once, and one of its specialties is antiquities. It is the home of extensive and recently renovated exhibits of Roman and Greek art that teenagers will like (Roman swords are a hit with teenage boys) and the whole family will love the Egyptian Art section (but note that there are no unwrapped mummies on display as a matter of policy). One extraordinary thing in the Egyptian section is the Temple Of Dendur, a real, full scale Egyptian Temple ca 15 B.C. (not a model) that the Museum "rescued" from the Aswan Dam area. You can walk in it and see graffiti that people carved in it in the early 19th century!
The Cloisters: This is a much, much less crowded museum found in Fort Tryon Park that is operated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is often overlooked by tourists. The Cloisters is probably not the best place for very small children (much of the collection is NOT meant to be touched by little hands) but for families travelling with school age children and teenagers it is magnificent: the museum is perched very high on a hill overlooking the Hudson River and from the main courtyard (which features a pretty garden) one has a beautiful view of granite cliffs across the water and the boats that pass below. And inside, one shall find one of the largest collections of Medieval Art on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the earlier part of the twentieth century many of the abbeys, castles, and monasteries of France had fallen into serious disrepair and suffered a prior century's worth of damage and disdain: time had been unkind to what were once great centers of wealth and knowledge. One of the Rockefellers thus purchased portions of real medieval abbeys and priories and today the museum building itself is an amalgam of 5 such places, incorporating well the styles of various points in medieval/ecclesiastical history. The museum offers two different kinds of audio tours at the front desk (for a fee), one for adults and teenagers and another for children, which encourages them to engage with the artwork by looking for different animals and symbols in the paintings, tapestries, and religious artifacts, and figuring out what they may mean.
The Cloisters includes a nearly intact medieval chapel, a large collection of manuscripts, and several of the Unicorn Tapestries, as of 2008 recently and painstakingly restored. (If you have a daughter, show her these: it shall be a hit.) In the autumn, there is a medieval festival sponsored by the museum in the park which includes a demonstration of how jousting tournaments would have worked and include fully armored knights doing battle in the nearby park (this is great fun for boys.) At Christmas, the Cloisters is beautifully decorated with greenery and there are special programs and concerts that include plainsong and traditional revels that would have been sung in honor of the season in pre-modern Europe: a lovely thing to hear in a place with good acoustics.
American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side, along Central Park almost directly across from the Metropolitan Museum, will keep a child enthralled for hours. This museum was founded at the turn of the 19th century with then- future president Teddy Roosevelt on the board of trustees (this is why his statue is outside.) One of the world's great museums, you'll need to check their web site to get an idea of all the things they have on display, including many special exhibits which change from time to time. Nevertheless, these few exhibits and features merit special mention to families:
1.The Discovery Room allows hands-on involvement for the kids. Through other parts of the museum, there are special lectures aimed at kids as well, so check the schedule: a little girl who loves butterflies may be pleasantly surprised when they put up the Butterfly Conservatory in spring, as the specimens in this case are ALIVE and most are North American natives.
2.The Museum of Natural History has a huge fossil exhibit. Unlike most museums, they display the real fossils wherever possible, not casts: AMNH is both a center where paleonotology research is conducted and a place where public education is key, so over time it has accumulated one of the largest collections of dinosaur bones in the nation, large enough so that, like the Met, it cannot display it all at once! The dinosaur exhibit includes a full scale Tyrannosaurus Rex and the collection includes a massive, near totally intact diplodocus skeleton posed in battle with an Allosaurus skeleton in the main hall. The paleontology section of the museum is loaded with Ice Age era fossils as well: full skeletons of mastodons and mammoths are common, as is at least one full skeleton of an Irish elk.
3.IMAX theater: The films featured in this theatre change every few months, and most often include examination of subjects related to recent science and discovery.
4.Rose Center For Earth & Space, including the Hayden Planetarium, includes a state of the art theatre where the greatest joy is to lean back and look up at the cosmos. (Note: not recommended for kids afraid of the dark.)
5. Dioramas: In the old days when people traveled less and zoos were less common than menageries, this was the way the public became accquainted with the animal kingdom. Though the museum now forbids collecting specimens of animals in this manner, (some animal specimens not on display within the museum collection have gone extinct because of past carelessness) they do provide an interesting glimpse of flora and fauna from all over the world, posed accordingly.
6. The Hall Of Ocean Life is a newly renovated exhibit which explains with multimedia how the ocean ecosystem works and includes dioramas of mounted specimens of various sea creatures. Most impressive of all, a full sized model of a blue whale dominates the scene, complete with ultrasonic sounds.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum Fitting very nicely with Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty, this museum gives a close look at immigrant life over the last 150 years. This actual tenement building, built during the Civil War, had been shuttered in the 1930s and so became a telescope back into time when it was turned into a museum. Roughly 7,000 people from 20 different nations lived in this building from 1863 to 1935! Each apartment has been decorated to appear as a different immigrant family would have; they have taken the stories of real families who lived in the building and reconstructed their apartments and their lives. Due to space limitations, the museum is by guided tour only and it's recommended that you buy your tickets in advance. Note that most of the tours are not for little kids, but the "Confino Living History Tour" has a costumed interpreter and is appropriate for kids 5 and older.
New York Public Library, Main Branch: Admission to the library is free, storytime is common, and the surroundings are beautiful, no matter how much goop Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd spread here twenty years ago ( "Ghostbusters" was filmed here.) This is a great, simple place to go on a rainy day: Children will like the large children's collection and the occasional storyteller (check the website for schedules.) Parents will like the fact that this library is home to many rare writings, including portions of Shakespeare's earliest folios, pages from the Book of Kells, and original copies of books like The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. (British tourists may also be impressed with the fact that Christopher Milne's teddy bear, Winnie the Pooh, and all of his friends are on display here, a gift of the Milnes' publishers to the library.)
Madame Tussaud’s New York , ( website) 34 West 42nd Street – In the heart of Times Square, you can have your picture taken with uncanny wax likenesses of celebrities and historical figures such as Malcolm X, Mahatma Ghandi, Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep and Madonna. Enjoy the horror film section if you are in New York in late October: it will befit the season of Halloween.
There is plenty to see at the theatre if you have young ones: Broadway has a plethora of choices and plenty of Americans bring children as young as six years old to see the sights and so long as you are sure your son or daughter can keep quiet for about two hours, all should be fine. Shows change all the time and some tickets are harder to get than others (especially if the show is new) but checking listings and descriptions over the internet a few weeks before your trip should ensure kids don't see anything that might upset them (i.e., The Phantom of the Opera might be a bit much for a small child.) A common trend is for some newer shows to have an edge atypical to traditonal American theatre: in the past fifteen years, shows like 'Rent", "Avenue Q", and "Spring Awakening" have utilized pop culture and rock n' roll to reach audiences and mock the status quo. This is perfect for teenagers to see, so if you have a teenager and a younger child in your party it might pay for Dad to take the teenager to a harder edged show and for Mom to take the younger child to one of the multiple Disney plays.
The following links are specifically for kids & teen theatrical events:
The Big Apple Circus: This circus comes to town in the fall and winter and it is great for families with young children for a nighttime outing. It is very much based on an old time circus (one without flashy animals) and mainly consists of goofy clowns, fire eaters and acrobats from around the world, and yes, they do serve cotton candy (candy floss.) This circus is also involved in a good deal of charity work including something called Clown Care (entertaining sick children in hospitals), so the money you spend there goes to a good cause.
Many stores in New York have children in mind, and everything from sportswear to striped socks with individual spaces for the toes are for sale. Management normally doesn't even mind the very small children: larger stores are noted to have changing tables and most do not mind it if the little one toddles around, so long as one of his parents is nearby. Typically, stores are open in New York City starting around 10:00 a.m. and close around eight p.m.; Stores usually open later and close sooner on Sundays as New Yorkers wake up later on this day than usual or are off attending church (good to know if you wish to sleep in a bit before braving the city.) For kids, there are innumerable toy stores and goodies to go crazy over, many of them bluntly huge.
FAO Schwarz , ( website) 767 5th Avenue, – This is the flagship branch of the fabulous high-end toy store chain; for parents old enough to remember the movie "Big" this is the branch at which that movie was filmed (and yes, the giant keyboard is still there for you or your children to enjoy.) Every toy under the sun can pretty much be found here including Playmobil and gigantic Lego collections, so stock up and remember: everything here is child friendly.
Nintendo World Store, ( website) 10 Rockefeller Plaza – all things Nintendo or Mario, and a truly dazzling display of Pokemon merchandise; all of the latest consoles and games are available to play right in the store. If you can, try to go head to head with one of your children-it is a lot of fun.
Disney Store, 5th Avenue shopping district - a mega-version of the typical mall Disney store, with the happiest store clerks on earth, activities and photo opportunities abound.
Apple Store: 767 5th Avenue (near FAO Schwartz) The Apple Store is a natural draw for teenagers: it simply is too cool to ignore. A giant glass cube at first glance, there is an elevator which takes you underground to a trove of high tech goodies, some of which may not yet be available overseas (including the latest iPod models.) You can use the set up computers for free: even if you aren't buying, the store allows you to sample the merchandise and thus this could be a good spot to send emails home or look up information on New York City if you get lost or tripped up.
Virgin Megastore: (Union Square) This is one of the largest record stores in the city and everything the eyes and ears can stand is here. Kids and teenagers will love the very large collection of video games in the basement and teens will like the fun skater clothes sold on the top floor. (Europeans take note: DVD's in New York City are compatible with NTSC encoding, not PAL, so it is wise to check to see if your laptop will read the encoding before you buy visual media or the DVD will NOT play.)
Macy's (34th Street at Herald Square) : This is a good place to go for decent middle of the line clothes. At Christmas, the window gets all dressed up with a theme worthy of a photo op and the shop is loaded with deals for gifts to give to relatives back home. For the kids, there is the real tradition of lining up in a pretty fantasy North Pole to have their picture taken with Santa Claus and ask him for what they'd like for Christmas, so it is something to consider. For mothers out with their teenage daughters, also note that this Harrod-sized shopping center has a pretty decent makeup case featuring perfumes at a fraction of the cost they would be in Europe, so consider it a good spot to pick up souvenirs and gifts.
American Girl Place: This is a surefire hit with little girls. The main dolls this shop produces each come from a different period of American history, beginning in the early 1700s and ending in the 1970s. Each doll comes with its own accessories and personal stories written in books, and little girls in this store may even spend time with their new purchase in the doll salon (trying on new do's) or in the cafe attached.
"To have a nosh" is a phrase imbibed from Yiddish into local language: it means to have a snack or meal. There are hundreds of places all over New York City that are meant for the delights of small mouths, even the fussiest, and not all are found in food courts, at hot dog stands, or are even chains. At first they may not look child friendly: New York is heavily populated with 20 and thirtysomethings and these are the people you see in the windows of restaurants; the fact that the many of the buildings restaurants occupy were built in the austere late Victorian era doesn't help. However, going solely by what you see in the window is a big mistake: most places are happy to accommodate babies and children (only the very expensive restaurants discourage little kids and the fare they serve is typically not what children eat anyway.) Restaurants in New York are used to serving families great and small (it is not unheard of to have families with five kids, two parents, and two grandparents out for dinner.) Many restaurants as a matter of principle have high chairs for babies and toddlers and managers often shall allow a parent to find a place to stow away the stroller (pushchair,) usually tucked behind a counter.
When in New York City (especially if you are out with the children) it is an excellent idea to have a dinner guide aside from the usual tourist guide. Europeans, however, should take note that Zagat's is actually the best guide to New York City's foodstuffs, not Michelin's: Michelin's guide is actually one of the WORST guides for eating in New York City. It is heavily biased towards very high priced French and haute cuisine restaurants while totally eschewing places that serve traditional American foods ( going well beyond the hamburger) and totally ignoring immigrant restaurants and foods (a travesty in a city that is one of the most diverse in the world and where often the immigrants cook better than any so-called expert.) Subjecting your children to this guide would be a crime while in New York and it is best to just "leave it behind on the bus by accident."
Carmine's 200 West 44th Street (Near Broadway Theatres)- This is a very popular place to eat after a Broadway show, so getting reservations ahead of time is a good idea: once you have the reservations, you won't be let down. Carmine's is an Italian restaurant where everything is served family style: one order of Penne Alla Vodka is intended for the entire table and portions are simply huge, even for New York: parents of teenage boys, take note that your son will look as though Christmas has come early this year when the waiter plonks down what looks like an entire side of beef in front of him. The atmosphere feels like something out of The Sopranos and if you listen to the accents of those around you you will feel like you might meet Tony Soprano himself (James Gandolfini has eaten here once or twice.) For little children, there are plenty of choices to haggle over with Mom and Dad-nobody ever goes hungry at Carmine's. (If it is the little one's birthday, tip the waiter off to the fact: the opportunity to blow out a candle and get sung to is a possibilty.)
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory 65 Bayard Street-This little ice cream store is a staple of the neighborhood, and though it is a bit tricky to find (it is located away from the main strip on Canal Street) it is a very good place to bring kids, especially on a warm day. Opened in 1978, it is a place that serves American style ice cream with a decidedly Chinese twist, very fitting for its location: flavors include passion fruit, lychee, durian, and sweet peach alongside the usual standbys of chocolate and strawberry.
Chinatown (in general) all over Canal Street and back alleys, parts of East Broadway-Many tourists with kids, especially those from Europe, overlook Chinatown as a destination for food. It can be very intimidating: Chinatown is a very crowded area that is easily 3 times the size of the one off Shaftesbury Avenue in London. It is one of the oldest sections of the city with narrow streets and seems very alien to the rest of the city: it is as if a part of Shanghai landed in the middle of New York ala Dorothy's house in the Wizard of Oz, with all the trappings that come with it. To give an idea, think open fish markets that butcher on the spot, huge bags of live frogs being shipped in to shops every morning, chicken feet being sold in large baskets, and dialects and subdialects of the language spoken everywhere (if one speaks Mandarin, one may not always receive an answer or acknowledgement.) However, overlooking Chinatown as a place to eat is a very big mistake: there is great variety to eat here, very good service, and a good deal of diversity. A great way to fully experience both the gastronomic and cultural aspects of Chinatown is to go on a Chinatown food tour.
Chinatown is populated mainly by immigrants from all over the Chinese speaking world: this would include people from Guangdong and Hong Kong (especially Canal Street.) Taiwan, Fujian (especially parts on and abutting East Broadway,) and even a few pockets of Vietnamese Chinese and Singaporeans. The foodstuffs available are vast and various, thus: restaurants owned by immigrants from Taiwan will have bubble teas and tapioca milk drinks, often flavored with passion fruit or lychee and tasting great. Canal Street, home of Hong Kong expats and Guangdong newcomers, will have special egg custard sweets that little ones will love and the back alleys will have noodles of all kinds and lengths, right alongside vast stores of seafood dishes native to the Pearl River Delta. Fujianese foods, made by the newest group to emigrate, shall usually and most authentically be found near East Broadway, with menus often written mostly in Chinese characters but also with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and offal (ask about a dish called buddha-jumps-over-the wall.) Vietnamese Chinese will serve pho and oxtail soups, plus red bean pastries and the infamous banh mi sandwich, often for very , very cheap: a great thing to know if you and your kids plan on taking the Dragon Bus to Boston as it will be a good way to have lunch on the four hour drive there (in fact, there is a small shop that fits this description right next to the ticket booth for Fung Wah.)
One of the great highlights of Chinatown are the dim sum shops and gaudy banquet halls that dot the place. The actual names of such places are far too numerous to mention here, but it can be said that children will like a simple Chinese custom that seems to have survived immigration to America: in China, the child is the center of attention at the table and so waitresses and waiters shall pay extra attention to the kids. It can be a great way to spoil your little ones, so whip out that copy of Zagat's and enjoy.
Lombardi's Pizzeria 32 Spring Street (near Spring Street Subway Station)-This is likely the oldest pizzeria in the United States; in 2005 it celebrated its 100th birthday. This pizzeria is a New York City icon and introduced an entire culture to the concept of a breadlike substance covered in San Marzano tomatoes, cheese, and basil. Even today the wait to get in can be an hour or more, but it is worth it: try the clam pizza for something a bit unusual (since cockles are not available on this side of the Atlantic, Italian immigrants improvised and used quahogs, even on pizza.)
Big Daddy's Diner Park Avenue South near 23rd Street -Kitschy Americana decorate the walls and old time rock hits play over the loudspeakers in this family friendly restaurant: imagine eating at a place with a 1950's style chrome countertop and the little ones bopping to the beat of "Billie Jean" or "Runaround Sue" as they go through an order of curly fries. At breakfast, fluffy American style pancakes with bananas and syrup are the norm and the local specialty of cream cheese with smoked salmon and onion may sound strange, but tastes very good. For dinner or lunch, children will like the fried chicken or turkey burgers, or better yet the desserts: chocolate cake, apple cobbler, or egg creams (contains no eggs, is named for the frothy whipped top) are WONDERFUL.(Parents take note, if you are traveling with toddlers high chairs are available.)
Max Brenner's (Chocolate by the Bald Man) 841 East Broadway, between 13th and 14th Street- Women and men alike quaver under the power of Max Brenner to make their mouths water: his dessert menu is nothing but chocolatey seduction on a plate. Imagine a place that churns its own chocolate and grinds its own cacao beans, and sells premium sweets in the back of the restaurant in addition to the brisk business it does, even into the wee hours of the morning. Imagine a place that, at night, brings out chocolate fondue and bits of fruit and marshmallow begging to be dipped, chocolate mousses that come in both milk and dark chocolate, and crepes filled with banana, hazelnut creme, and bits of (you guessed it) chocolate. Imagine an individual steamed chocolate pudding that has a molten center that, if you cut it open with a fork, will ooze out dark chocolate mixed with raspberry sauce and served with a side of vanilla ice cream....go to Max's....and understand the true meaning of "death by chocolate."
To be totally frank if Willy Wonka were a real person he would go out of business instantly because he would not hold a candle to this New York City must-eat: it is beloved by those who know about it, and though a chain with a few locations in other parts of the world it originated here. Little children will love it for obvious reasons (children are very welcome to peruse the sweet shop in back) and adults will like the very inventive cocktails (a cacao rich spin on the bog standard Irish coffee will be a good pick me up on a cool autumn night.)
(TIP: Max Brenner's is best known for its chocolatey goodness, but if you cannot make it there after sunset for the chocoholic stampede, try going in the morning: they serve a decent brunch, with seats a la carte in good weather, right on up through the autumn.)
Jekyll and Hyde: 91 7th Avenue South, Greenwich Village-If the Addams Family opened a restaurant, it would look something like this. This place boasts to be "the only haunted bar and restaurant in New York City," but it is a quirky little place where skeletons talk to diners and things "unexpectedly" go bump in the night. Kids and parents will like the fact that the bathroom can only be accessed through a hidden bookcase and teenage boys will love the "create your own monster burger"-they can make huge, half pound burgers ever larger. (And yes, there are healthier alternatives, too.)
Life Cafe Corner of Avenue B and East 10th Street, East Village- Remember the Broadway play "Rent"? -This is where the big tribut to "La Vie Boheme" supposedly takes place and incidentally this is most likely where Jonathan Larson wrote it back in the early 1990's. The scenery he would have known has changed since then and the play he wrote has closed, sadly, but it is a good place to eat if you are traveling with teenagers, for dinner or otherwise. Despite its 27 years, it still has a very funky feel to it with a full stocked bar (yes, there are non-alcoholic options, too) and vegetarian options like the veggie chili which tastes pretty good. Teenagers will like the big nacho dishes they serve, sweet potato fries, and the big crocks of homemade mac n cheese plus the option of buying pitchers of lemonade or soda (great when the weather is hot.) Parents will like it when the weather warms up in spring and summer when the cafe puts tables and chairs for outdoor eating and they can watch the people in Tompkins Square Park across the street, sipping a cocktail (these change with the season.)
Tip: The Life Cafe is particularly friendly to gays and lesbians, and consequently friendly to families that include/are headed by such people. For those that are not gay, you are welcome as well, but if one of the waitstaff bats an eye at you and is of the same gender, take it as a compliment (and leave an extra tip if it so moves you.)
Serendipity 3 : 225 E 60th Street- this restaurant on the Upper East Side does serve lunch, but it is best known for its sundaes and sweets. Knickerbocker glories will be seen as amateurish by the cooks here: imagine a sundae that is twice the size of your child's head and dripping in chocolate fudge sauce, then help him dig in: you will waddle out unbelieving at the amount of calories. but it is worth the sin and the trouble of getting there early to avoid like minded people.
Union Square Market and Park : (E 14th Street at Union Square) Once upon a time, contrary to popular belief, there was no such thing as the supermarket in New York City: Everything meant for the table was bought in a small shop or in open air markets. This tradition (and the convivialism that went with it) had all but disappeared by the 1950's, and by America's bicentennial New York City was in such terrible financial and social condition that any chance of revival by the public was slim, let alone the fact that the worst of the crack and AIDS epidemics was still to come to make it worse.
Despite this, what was once a fairly seedy , very dangerous park infested with drug dealers and vicious crime has been transformed into a lovely, leafy place where New York University students come to "chill out" and parents with small children come to play and spend an afternoon. It is a place where , in the northeast corner, local artists sell their prints and paintings and art students from the School of Visual Arts, a nearby university, come to do their sketches (don't be bashful if one politely asks to draw you or the children: it is meant as a compliment and you are usually helping a student do his homework.) It has, above all, become a mecca for people watching and a wonderful place to sit and have a snack on the many benches and picnic tables, especially on Saturdays.
Starting in 1976 the Union Square Greenmarket grew from a few sundry stalls into the largest farmer's market in the city and spawned a movement of buying local, even before enviromentalists made it popular. (New York City currently has about forty markets in operation.) The market runs year round, and is typically serviced by farmers and artisans in Upstate New York and New England. Lots of local goodies from American farms are available for sample and purchase provided cash is on hand: handmade honeys and beeswax candles make great gifts for those looking for souvenirs, cheeses and decent breads for a few bucks is a nice snack, and for parents coming in the autumn to this place is a nice pit stop if you want healthier fare than hot dogs and pizza for the kids-harvest time begins in early September, and apples start to show up in the truckloads. (Tip: many of the local more expensive restaurants in the area buy from this market, so you know it is good!)
Virgil's: (152 W 44th Street, near Times Square ) Any beast of the bovine or porcine persuasion should be simply terrified of this restaurant, and for good reason: it is popular, it serves up enormous portions, and if it oinks or moos, it is on the menu. Virgil's is a barbecue restaurant where slow cooked Southern style dishes like baby back ribs and beef brisket get served up with mashed potatoes and catfish; it is real stick-to your-ribs goodness whose equal is a five hour drive south towards the Mason-Dixon line. The only thing your family will need to remember is to leave room for dessert and not to be ashamed to tie a napkin 'round your neck instead of placing it in your lap: the Colonel isn't the only man who can claim his food is finger-lickin' good.