This post is part of the “Mommy Shorts Guide to Manhattan,” a series where I share all our favorite family-friendly spots in NYC.
When I first moved into the city, a friend of mine got an apartment on Gansevoort and we all made fun of him. “What’s Gansevoort???” we’d sneer from our apartments on the Upper East Side. I remember him forcing us all to come over for drinks and when the cab driver let us out, we were standing on a huge dark street with broken curbs, badly laid cobblestone and no sign of life in sight.
We felt like we were in the middle of NOWHERE.
The apartment turned out to be awesome, but we all knew why. It was in the Meatpacking District, a small area on the west side between Chelsea and the West Village, which was given it’s name because it was full of meatpacking plants. The buildings were large with garage doors facing the street and sloped sidewalks for trucks to easily pull up. It was dirty, charmless and didn’t smell all that great. “Well, of course, the apartment is awesome. It’s in the Meatpacking District. Who would want to live there?”
Flash forward a few years after my friend moved out of his apartment to join us all uptown and man, did things change. Gansevoort became the center of all things hip and cool with tons of restaurants, high end clothing stores and lots of night life.
Turns out those big warehouses were perfect for trendy clubs who packed in twenty-somethings and demanded hundreds of dollars for bottle service and a seat. At night, the streets were over run with pretty people waiting in long lines, hoping to get past velvet ropes and hop from one impossible-to-get-in club to another.
In the last ten years, the area made another transformation when the High Line was built, Chelsea Market was renovated and the Whitney opened its doors. The Meatpacking District (once too dirty to go near and then too fancy to afford) has somehow now become my go-to response when people ask me for family-friendly things to do in the city. I like to give people a bunch of things they can do in one day, all within walking distance from one another.
The Meatpacking District is where my family goes when we find ourselves with a day on the weekend with nothing on the calendar. Remember the vlog I made comparing Mike and Mazzy’s weekend upstate with Harlow and my weekend in the city? A lot of what Harlow and I did appears below.
1) Start with breakfast or brunch
The Meatpacking District has tons of amazing restaurants, but most of them are fancy places with menus and clientele that aren’t exactly kid-friendly. Plus, most parents don’t want to shell out an arm and a leg for a kid to reject their meal. Two places that I love taking my kids both for their casual atmosphere and their basic menus are Bubby’s and the Standard Grille.
Bubby’s is famous for their biscuits. Standard Grille has great outdoor seating. Both have awesome breakfast/brunch menus that won’t confuse your kids. If you go early enough, you should be fine, but starting at around 11pm, you’ll probably have a wait at both.
2) Go to the Whitney Museum
The Whitney Musuem is in easy walking distance from both my restaurant suggestions, right at the beginning of the High Line. You literally walk underneath it to get to the front entrance. It’s a beautiful museum that opened only a few years ago which shows both more obscure and well-known modern artists.
Currently, there is an Alexander Calder exhibit on the top floor.
They also have floor to ceiling windows on the west side of the building with a stunning view of the Hudson River (and New Jersey) which makes the gallery rooms extra impressive.
On the weekends, they have a room for kids on the 3rd floor where instructors lead an activity inspired by one of the artists they are currently showing.
There is often interactive exhibits that aren’t necessarily intended for children but the kids always love them. The last time we were there, they had an installation where you took off your shoes and explored different paths created by curtains, with changing textures underfoot. Harlow and I walked through sand, cushions and books.
Don’t miss the rooftop where there is always a pretty spectacular sculpture or installation that makes for a great photo op, along with a view of the Highline.
3) Walk the High Line
The High Line is an old raised train platform that was shut down for years and then repurposed into a public park. I remember when the city first started talking about the development project and I could not wrap my head around it. What train platform? I had never noticed it since it was above street level.
That old converted platform totally changed the entire area because it made the Meatpacking District a family-friendly destination spot for the daytime, when before, it was mostly a place that young people would go at night.
The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street all the way up to West 34th Street. The train tracks are still there but covered with beautiful gardens, greenery, seasonal art installations and murals all along the way.
There are also various spots for lying in the sun, eating lunch and even a little splash pad that kids love off to one side.
My personal favorite part is the stadium seating with a picture window onto 10th Avenue but if you keep walking up towards 34th, there are tons of things to discover with changing landscape and architecture the whole way up.
During nicer weather, there is also food stalls, ice cream, and art vendors. The most popular part of the Highline is the covered tunnel right above Chelsea Market, where you’ll find gelato, Blue Bottle Coffee, People’s Pops and an outdoor restaurant called Terroir for food and drinks.
4) Lunch in Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market takes up the full square city block between 9th and 10th Avenue (East to West) and 15th to 16th Street (North to South). Fun fact! It used to be the Nabisco factory where they made Oreo cookies, Chips Ahoy and Lorna Doones. Now the only evidence of its history is a little display case with old Nabisco memorabilia inside.
About ten years ago, it was transformed into an indoor food market where you could buy fish, meat, vegetables, bread, wine and bakery items. Then a few years ago, it expanded to include tons of restaurants, shops, food stalls and an Anthropologie. You can satisfy pretty much any food craving inside from burgers to kimchi to Fat Witch Brownies. There is an entire food stand dedicated solely to pickles. Fun Fact #2! The owner of Dickson’s Meat (Chelsea Market’s butcher) is the dad of Theo, the boy who appeared with Jack in my Toddler Dinner Dates video.
My favorite place to eat in Chelsea Market is Los Tacos No. 1, which many people say makes the best tacos in New York City. The same people own a second taco place in Chelsea Market called Los Mariscos, which you can access through a hidden walkway near the back of Los Tacos and find extra seating.
You can also access Los Mariscos from West 15th Street. The only difference between the two places is that Los Tacos serves chicken, steak and pork tacos, while Los Mariscos serves fish and shrimp. I might be a Jew, but the pork tacos are my favorite.
5) The Standard Hotel
I know I mentioned eating at the Standard for breakfast, but I am giving it a second shout-out because when the weather turns cold, it’s got a tiny ice skating rink that is the perfect place to spend the afternoon.
The rink has penguins to help first-timers balance and it’s so small that you really don’t have to worry about any speed skaters getting in their way.
Attached to the rink is an outdoor seating area with heat lamps that serves a limited menu from the Standard Grille. The area also has access to the Standard Biergarten which serves beers in large glass boots along with an area to play shuffle board and ping pong.
Also worth mentioning is Top of the Standard which is a gorgeous restaurant/bar that should not be missed, but also not attempted with children. I’d get a sitter and go back at night. The decor is stunning, the view is stellar and there’s an old school ritzy piano bar vibe with lounge singers that make for a really special date night. The food is not half bad either.
On a nice night, there are two rooftop bars as well, one for quiet conversation and the other, called Le Bain, which is more of a scene with colorful drinks and a DJ.
The entrance to Le Bain is on the street around the corner from the hotel entrance, but if you want to avoid the velvet rope, you can also enter the hotel via the regular entrance, head up to the restaurant and then be all like, “Oh, we were trying to go to the rooftop bar!” There’s a chance that guy will send you directly in.
6) A few Other Places Worth Mentioning
Obviously, you can eat pretty much anything you want in Chelsea Market and there really is no need to venture elsewhere, but if it’s a Saturday afternoon and the market is packed enough to scare you out of there, I totally understand. Personally, I think Chelsea Market is best attempted on a weekday. Another restaurant I recommend is The Park on 10th Ave and 17th St. which used to be a crazy night spot back in the day, but has now become an easy place to wheel in a stroller and get some brunch. It has a pretty indoor garden with tons of seating, lots of booths, tall trees and hanging lights.
Black Tap Burger is another favorite. We usually go to the one in Soho but there is one on 14th St. between 7th & 8th Aves as well. Not only do they make a great burger, that’s the place with the really crazy looking shakes. Plus, the owners are big Mommy Shorts fans. Last time I was in there, the owner asked to take a picture with Harlow to show his wife.
For ice cream, I recommend Ample Hills which can be found inside of Bubby’s.
For pizza, Artichoke is the neighborhood favorite.
For coffee, I love Blue Bottle which can be found in a stall on top of the High Line as well as a shop on 15th St. between 9th and 10th Ave.
If you are looking for a cool gift to bring home from your trip, I’d check out STORY on 10th Avenue between 18th and 19th, a concept shop that changes theme every few months.
Oh, and by the way— that apartment my friend rented on Gansevoort all those years ago? I’m guessing that now it rents for at least 15K a month.