Every day, I get direct messages from people on Instagram, saying they are visiting NYC with their kids and asking for my recommendations. I’ve written a lot about various things to do with kids in NYC, but I’ve never written one post with all my favorite activities in one place, so I always find myself creating new lists every time I answer a message and worrying that I left something out. The purpose of this post is to serve as that one comprehensive place to send people. It was a monster to write!
Obviously, this list does not include everything there is to do in the city. For instance, there is barely a mention of Times Square, even though I totally think you should take in a Broadway Show. There is also no mention of Lincoln Center, even though it’s beautiful and sometimes has ballets for children. There is no mention of the Museum of Natural History, even though that is obviously a go-to family destination. This list is my favorite things to do with my kids. There are some fairly obvious choices, along with some insider information that you might not find otherwise, that I think will make your trip extra special. I tried to pair up many destinations with nearby playgrounds and family friendly eating options too.
I know many people come to New York City for the food, but please keep in mind— this is not a post that lists the greatest places to eat in NYC. I love a great restaurant, but my kids are not very food focused, so to me, that is not a kid-friendly activity. I could have written a much better post on NYC restaurants before I had children. That’s when I was up on the NYC food scene.
Okay. Enough caveats. Are you ready? Let’s start with the best view…
The Best Views of Manhattan
A trip to the Empire State Building is at the top of every NYC tourist’s list, but you know what’s lacking from the view at the top? The Empire State Building. It’s the same way people say the worst view of Paris is from the top of the Eiffel Tower, because you can’t see the Eiffel Tower. Regardless, I’m still putting the Empire State Building as my number #1 view. Especially since in addition to the famous outdoor balcony on the 86th floor (that’s the one with viewfinders and the fencing)…
They just renovated and reopened the 102nd floor, which puts you all the way up in the spire. It’s an additional charge to go to this small circular observatory, but with floor to ceiling windows, zero crowds and a glass elevator, it’s pretty spectacular.
There is also a brand new museum on the 2nd floor that’s all about the history of the Empire State Building, which I totally recommend. You can read more about our visit to the Empire State Building here.
There is no question that the Freedom Tower is an amazing view (I’ll talk more about that later), but you are so high and so far downtown, that you won’t get the quintessential New York City skyline view that you see in the movies. That view is actually from New Jersey, but that’s another story.
The place to get the best view within Manhattan is the Top of the Rock, which— added bonus— puts you right in Rockefeller Center and you can knock that tourist destination right off your list too. Rockefeller Center is in the center of the island, at the north end of midtown, so it’s the perfect distance from the Empire State Building and the surrounding skyscrapers for prime aerial viewing. You can also see Central Park if you look in the opposite direction.
Make sure to go all the way up to the top deck if you want a view that’s not obstructed by glass.
30 Rockefeller Plaza is also, of course, the home of NBC and Saturday Night Live, so you can take that iconic photo of the entrance used in every episode of 30 Rock. Right across 49th Street, you can see the studio for the Today Show, and right up 50th street is Radio City Music Hall.
The best place to snap a photo of Rockefeller Center is on 5th Ave between 49th and 50th St, across from Saks 5th ave. That’s where they change out all the landscaping, depending on the season.
Rockefeller Center is also the new home of American Girl Place, the Lego Store and FAO Schwartz, so depending on your tolerance for crowded toy stores, I would either plan a visit or be prepared to divert your child’s eyes. The famous piano (you know, the one from Big) is on the second floor of FAO Schwartz, but in my opinion, it is way less thrilling in person. Plus, there is always a line.
I also recommend getting the hell out of Rockefeller Center when and if you want to eat.
Washington Square Park
If you want to steer clear of midtown and go somewhere that real New Yorkers frequent (we don’t go to either the Empire State Building or Rockefeller Center unless we work there), I suggest a stroll through Washington Square Park. Go on a Saturday when all the people are out and the artists and street performers are in full swing. Washington Square Park provides some of the best people watching in the city.
My favorite part is that as you walk around, the music changes as you encounter jazz bands, lone guitarists, drum circles and my favorite, the guy who brings his grand piano to the park on weekends to play classical music under the arch. Sometimes he even invites people to lie underneath the piano to watch the keys move as he plays. I’ve seen this guy play dozens of times and every time, I feel like I am witnessing something special.
The famous arch is great for photos and the fountain is another great gathering spot. The fountain is empty most of the year, which allows the perfect enclosed space for your kids to run around. When it’s full of water in the summer, kids will actually wade into the fountain while their parents sit on the edge.
You’ll also find Washington Square Park staples like the bubble guy, the pigeon guy, the chalk artist, the people playing competitive chess at the Southwest corner and two playgrounds. One is a regular playground and the other is the rope ladder playground that you always see my kids play in on Instagram.
Bonus— there is always a pretzel cart in the park and an ice cream truck on the North side across from the arch. I don’t know what ice cream trucks are like in most parts of the country, but in NYC, the soft serve is ON POINT.
The Highline is a park built on a raised railway that stretches from just below 14th Street up to 34th street. It shut down as an active subway line in the ’80s and was abandoned for many years, until the city decided to turn it into a public garden and park.
Now you can leisurely walk up the west side of Manhattan, starting at the Whitney Museum (which I also highly recommend going to) and going all the way up to Hudson Yards, through wild flowers, sculptures, communal seating, water fountains, modern architecture, NYC murals and street art.
Two of my favorite spots are the stadium seating at around 18th Street with a picture window that looks out onto 10th Ave below, and the section that intersects with Chelsea Market, where you will usually find street performers and food carts.
Chelsea Market is filled with tons of food stalls and little restaurants, my favorite being the two taco places, Los Tacos and Los Mariscos. They’re owned by the same people and connected through a back hallway. The difference between the two is that Los Tacos serves chicken, steak, pork and cactus tacos while Los Mariscos serves shrimp and fish tacos. For pickle fans, I also have to recommend Dickson’s Farmstand Brines, owned by a friend of ours.
Another kid-friendly place nearby is Bubby’s, which also has an Ample Hills ice cream shop inside. You should be prepared for quite a wait on the weekend but they take your phone number and text you when your table is ready so you can hangout up on the Highline while you wait. The food is big hearty country cooking and the menu has tons of options that will appeal to kids.
If you hire a sitter and want a more sophisticated spot for the night, I highly recommend drinks at The Top of the Standard. It looks like it’s straight out of the 1940’s with gold and white leather booths and lounge acts. The rooftop of the Standard Highline is worth checking out too.
If you walk all the way up the Highline, you will reach the newly developed Hudson Yards, which is currently open to the public in many sections, with many more buildings still under construction. The most iconic part of Hudson Yards thus far (and I can’t imagine that this will change) is the Vessel. What is the Vessel? Well, it is a bunch of staircases that lead up to nowhere, enclosed in a hive-like, shiny, gold, free-standing structure. Probably one of the biggest pieces of “art” you will ever see.
Once inside the Vessel (which is free but you do need to reserve a ticket ahead of time), it feels a little like you are standing within an Escher drawing as the staircases weave and reveal themselves in what sometimes feels like an optical illusion. A word of caution: Everyone I was with felt a little nauseous either during or after the climb. I felt fine during but then once we came down, I got nauseous and couldn’t even look at my pictures of it until the next day. Still worth it though.
Next to the Vessel is a high end mall with a lot chain eateries popular in New York City like Blue Bottle Coffee and Shake Shack, and high end restaurants like Tak Room from Thomas Keller. There is also a Spanish gourmet market underneath the mall called Little Spain, with spots to sit down to eat and drink, and The Shed, which is a gallery and performing arts space. For shopping , there is everything from Madewell to Fendi.
Kids will love Camp Store on the second floor, which is a toy store with an indoor playspace, a disco room full of flippy sequins and a pretty unique view.
Domino Park is a fairly new park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn right next to the abandoned Domino Sugar factory. In fact, the entire look and flow of the playground is inspired by an actual sugar factory, making the structure really unique and fun to explore. I find the playground especially great for big kids who have often outgrown your typical slides and swings. It’s also right on the water so you get a great view of Manhattan from the other side.
Next to the playground, you will find Tacocina, a taco stand owned by Danny Meyer, which is great for a quick bite.
If you walk further down the pier, you will hit a water element with several jets in a grid on the ground that splash up in the summer. They even light up in different colors in the evening, making it a super fun spot for kids to jump around on a hot day.
If you walk even farther down, you will hit Velosolutions Pumptrack, which is a kid-friendly track for bikes, scooters and skateboards filled with bumps, curves and hills. This is another spot that is great for big kids.
It costs $5 per kid to ride and you can rent bikes there too. Keep in mind, they sometimes host private parties but those are usually just an hour or two. There was a party when we visited so we just headed over to the playground, ate lunch at the taco stand and then returned when it opened.
Mazzy and Harlow spent hours there as Mazzy mastered the track on a bike. It took Mazzy a bit to get the hang of it, because she is a fairly new rider and there isn’t a lot of space to get your balance before each twist and turn, but she persevered and it ended up being a great learning experience for her.
Right outside of the skatepark, you will find the very Instagram friendly stain glass house underneath the Williamsburg bridge.
Tea at the Plaza
If your kid is a fan of Eloise or the kind of kid who likes to throw a fancy tea party, they will absolutely love getting an actual tea service at the Plaza. Head to the Palm Court (the restaurant at the back of the lobby) where your kid will ooh and ahh over the high ceilings and fancy furniture. Then sit down at a table for two (make a reservation!) and order the Eloise tea, which consists of hot chocolate or pink lemonade (depending on the weather) and three tiers of kid-friendly treats.
On the first tier, you will find fresh fruit and finger sandwiches like grilled cheese and PB&J, on the second tier there will be fresh scones, jam and clotted cream and the third tier, the best tier, my kids would say, you will find a selection of pastries and chocolate covered strawberries.
After tea, you can head downstairs where there is a mall and gourmet food court (in case you are still hungry) and then follow the signs to Eloise’s very pink shop, where your kid can try on dress-up clothes, play a pink miniature grand piano, and write Eloise a card.
The Plaza is right across the street from the Southern most point of Central Park, right where all the horse carriages line up (whether you agree with that or not), so it’s an excellent place to start your day and then head into the park.
I wouldn’t have normally included Central Park in this list because it is one of the more obvious places to go in New York City, but since we just spent the loveliest day there last weekend, I have a newly renewed feeling of wonder for the park and felt compelled to write about it. The park is huge and there are lots of points of interest, but I think for the quintessential Central Park experience, I would make your way to the Central Park Mall, which starts around 66th Street, and walk North. This will take you straight to the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain.
That’s where Chuck and Blair got married. And where Ella in Ella Enchanted does her cartoon bluebird dance around the fountain. From there, it’s a short walk to get a boat at the Loeb Boathouse to row around the Central Park Lake. The boathouse being where Carrie and Big fell in the lake. Then you can row over the famous Bow Bridge, with the Dakota building in the background.
The Dakota is where John Lennon lived, along with Judy Garland, Leonard Bernstein and Lauren Bacall. It is also famous for having one of the toughest co-op boards, rejecting celebrities such as Madonna, Cher, Billy Joel, Carly Simon, and even Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas.
If you want to stay on land, you can exit the Bethesda Fountain area to the west and then take a lovely stroll around the lake on foot. You can cross Bow Bridge, stop to sit on one of the benches by the water and listen to numerous musicians as you wind your way around.
Other options are picnicking in a sea of people on Sheep’s Meadow, renting bikes and riding around the park or just strolling and letting your kids climb the various boulders which pop up all over the park. There are also numerous playgrounds around the park, the biggest and most popular being Heckscher Playground, down at the south end of the Park, which has tons of stone pyramids, bridges and tunnels to climb and explore.
If you want a more official activity than just wandering, the Central Park Zoo is a great option for a half day zoo experience. It’s small and manageable with scheduled sea lion feedings and a nearby Children’s zoo area for petting goats and other farm animals.
Another special spot that not many people know about is the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, which has been in Central Park since 1877.
They put on fairly elaborate old school puppet shows that will absolutely delight little kids. We saw Peter Pan there and they are currently showing Puss in Boots. Check their site for showtimes and buy tickets ahead of time.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Swedish Marionettes, I must mention a newly conceived interactive show called Pip’s Island, that will absolutely blow your child’s mind. I have taken Mazzy and Harlow to see it twice, they loved it so much. The show follows the story of Pip, Finn and Pebble as they try to save an island, meeting tons of interesting characters and defeating a villain along the way. The characters interact with the kids as the show moves from one room to the next, making the whole experience truly immersive and thrilling for adults and kids alike. I thought it was absolutely fantastic, and every parent I have sent there with their kids has said the same.
The best part is that they do not allow any photos inside, which is great for two reasons. 1) You have no pre-conceived ideas about what you are going to see, and 2) you can sit back and watch your kid be totally enthralled with a visually stimulating experience, without trying to capture the perfect picture of it. Personally, I always find that things are more fun when the photo pressure is off. If I had been allowed to take pics at Pip’s Island, I would have felt the need to take photos of EVERYTHING.
The theater is located on 42nd St and 9th ave, so I recommend going to Five Napkin Burger for lunch, which has great burgers and salads and a comprehensive kid’s menu. It also places you at a safe distance from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. If that’s something you want to see though, it’s an easy walk over.
If you want something a bit more civilized and way less commercialized, I recommend walking over to…
Bryant Park is often overlooked by tourists because it is right in the middle of midtown (on 6th Ave between 40th and 42nd Street), located somewhat in between Times Square and the Empire State Building. It’s also walkable from Grand Central and right behind the main New York Public Library. You know, the one with the lion statues out front. The reason I often tell people to go to Bryant Park is because it is like a high rise oasis. In Central Park, you feel like you are out of the city. In Bryant Park, the city rises up all around you.
Bryant Park is beautifully landscaped with great food options (Bryant Park Grill has a lovely indoor or outdoor space), assorted kiosks depending on the season, a large patch of grass with tons of random seats strewn about for anyone who wants to bring lunch and have somewhere to sit outdoors, and my favorite— the little French carousel on the South side of the park. It’s picture perfect with mystical animals to ride and even has an old-fashioned European looking ticket booth where you can buy tokens.
Next to the carousel is a little seating area for parents with children, where there is a bookcase filled with children’s books and games from the library. During the summer, Bryant Park hosts outdoor movie nights on Mondays, where the whole park looks like a quilted blanket of moviegoers picnicking with friends. But in the winter, the lawn is converted into an ice skating rink and with a full winter village of shops all around it. There are booths to buy fun gifts or treats.
When you leave Bryant Park, I recommend walking east on 42nd so you can get a glimpse of Grand Central.
It’s linked up to almost every subway line (very practical!), plus the central room is one of the most beautiful interior spaces in Manhattan. The famous turquoise vaulted ceiling has all the star constellations on it and FUN FACT! It was almost torn down in 1975 until Jackie Kennedy made a case for it be officially named a landmark.
If your kids like seafood (which I do not), I recommend heading downstairs to the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar and having lunch at the ridiculously long winding counter.
Driving Range at Chelsea Piers
I’m not sure what driving ranges look like in most cities, but in New York City, it looks like a high rise, just like everything else. The range is spread out to four different floors and when you are golfing, you are hitting your balls straight out in the direction of Hudson River. I remember taking Mazzy as a little kid and it kinda blew her mind.
Also at Chelsea Piers is an ice skating rink (Sky Rink), a bowling alley (Bowlmor), a skate park and a carousel at Pier 62.
Across the street on the corner of 23rd Street and 11th Ave is a brand new playground called Chelsea Waterside Park with tons of water elements for hot summer days.
Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge Park
If you are vacationing in Manhattan, I would suggest walking to DUMBO over the Brooklyn Bridge. Fair warning— the walk over can get crowded on the weekends and it’s also pretty long, so I suggest bringing a stroller or having your kids ride their scooters. The view from the Brooklyn Bridge and the architecture of the bridge itself cannot be beat. Once you are in Brooklyn, make your way through Brooklyn Bridge Park which starts in DUMBO and runs all along the waterfront of Brooklyn Heights.
In DUMBO, you’ll find Instagram Alley (that’s where the famous shot of the Manhattan Bridge can be taken from the corner of Washington and Water Street), Jane’s Carousel and the restaurant Sugarcane, which is right along in the water in a converted warehouse with an excellent view of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. For more food options, there is the brand new Time Out Food Hall, which has 21 different food vendors selling everything from thai food to pizza.
Jane’s Carousel needs a special shout-out because it is pretty spectacular as far as carousels come. It’s glass enclosed for one and it’s on the water, right across the river from a spectacular NYC view.
Then you can either walk or take a car to the far south end of the park where you will find Pier 6. If you walk, you’ll pass Ample Hills Ice Cream, which will most likely have a ridiculously long line. If you don’t want to wait on it, continue walking to Fornio, a pizza place with a great view (make sure you walk upstairs for the rooftop seating), great pizza and soft serve ice cream. No, the flavors aren’t as exciting as at Ample Hills, but you’ll avoid the line and the kids never have to know what they are missing.
Continue walking towards Pier 6 and you will find two awesome playgrounds— one with a big rocket ship to climb and the other with some frisbee swings meant exclusively for big kids. From there, you can take a water taxi back to Manhattan.
If you want to experience a whole bunch of the same kind of stuff without leaving Manhattan, I suggest Pier 25 in TriBeCa. There’s mini golf, beach volleyball, a skate park, a playground with a splash park, a turf field and a nicely designed seating area at the end of the pier. Right next to all that on Pier 26 is City Vineyard which is great for food (and wine) with a view. Although since you are now in NYC, your view is of New Jersey.
Governor’s Island has been an island right off Manhattan forever (it was a Coast Guard base until 1996) but then was bought by the city and made a public space in 2003. Redevelopment started in 2012 and it it has just recently gained popularity after a whole bunch of festivals, food carts, new playgrounds and cool public spaces, like Hammock Grove, have popped up all over the island.
Mazzy and I actually went “glamping” there with the Girl Scouts this past weekend at a place called Collective Retreat, which was AWESOME.
The tents were more like yurts and beautifully styled. The view was of both downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty and the food was delicious. The island shuts down at night (last ferry is at 6pm) so if you are camping, you will be the only people on the island. The experience was nothing short of magical, with the girls running around on the massive lawn, while the grown-ups sat back and sipped wine at the outdoor bar.
But even if you don’t stay overnight, Governor’s Island is worth a day trip. Most of the activities on the island are free, with one exception being the zip lines, which I highly recommend. It’s two rides for $25.
Another amazing spot for kids on the island is the Junkyard. Just be forewarned— this place is not for the helicopter parents among us. There are precarious structures, metal and wood scraps piled up everywhere and REAL TOOLS. Like hammers, saws, etc. Parents are not allowed in, so if you can trust your kid and let them play in a super lax environment that studies have shown can be very beneficial to their development, you can have a genuine moment to relax on the grass across the way, without having to keep an eye on your kid.
For lunch, there are various food carts throughout the island, or you can get a table at Island Oyster, and enjoy a cocktail along with one of the best views of Manhattan.
There’s also a lot of public art scattered around the island, programs for kids (like a CMA outpost), the Teaching Garden (which educates visitors on urban farming), environmental initiatives (like the Billion Oyster Project), and some interesting history to explore (like the old Civil War era prison). You should definitely check the schedule for special events.
Statue of Liberty and SeaGlass Carousel
Every first timer to New York City should see the Statue of Liberty. It’s smaller than most people expect, so you really need to see it up close to appreciate it. If you visit the island, I highly recommend taking the ferry over to Ellis Island too and checking out the museum there. That’s where my mom’s family first stepped foot onto U.S. soil when they immigrated from Europe.
Right near the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, a little bit South in Battery Park, you will find a special little spot called the SeaGlass Carousel. Instead of horses, this carousel is filled with colorful glowing fish that raise up and down and move in circles to classical music, for a spectacularly surreal five minutes of your life.
I highly recommend it for kids of all ages. We went during the day, but I hear it’s even more enchanting at night.
From there, you can walk a few blocks over to the Wall Street area, where you can find the Fearless Girl in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
John J. Harvey Fireboat
When visiting New York City, you should definitely take some kind of boat tour. This can be accomplished with the ferry to Governor’s Island, the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, or if you want a longer, more touristy experience that takes you all around Manhattan, hitting every major vantage point and going under every major bridge— the Circle Line. But, if you want something truly special, I recommend a little known boat called the John J. Harvey Fireboat, which was used as an actual fireboat from 1931-1994 and is now considered a museum.
Here are three things I love about this boat: 1) It’s free. 2) It’s currently painted in a fabulous red and white wavy design by Tauba Auerbach as part of a commission by the NY Public Art Art. 3) When you reach the Statue of Liberty, they turn on all the firehoses, releasing 18K gallons per minute, to create a spectacular water show with Lady Liberty as a backdrop, drenching pretty much everyone on the boat. Your kids will LOVE it. 4) It’s not that long so your kids won’t go stir crazy, as opposed to the three hour Circle Line trip.
Launch locations change between Pier 6 in Brooklyn and Pier 66 in Chelsea, so check their site for the schedule and to reserve a spot. Tickets are released in mid-June for the summer. There is a playground near both piers, so either way, I highly recommend letting your kid run around after being trapped on a boat.
I mentioned the Camp Store in Hudson Yards, but in my opinion, the original, much bigger Camp Store near Union Square is the one that will really blow your child’s mind. It looks like an old-fashioned toy store at first glance, with a candy section, some novelty gifts and assorted sundries, all in perfectly stacked wood shelves. In fact, you could walk in, look around, buy a toy and leave without ever knowing there was more to it. But, the reason Camp Store is on this list is because the shelves located next to the register are actually a secret door that leads you to the toy wonderland in the back.
Once the secret door is opened, you walk through a dark hallway, filled with mist from a fog machine, and then slowly the bigger area is revealed. It’s still a toy store (there are a ton more options back there for all ages, including board games, books, puzzles, stuffed animals, science kits and clothing) but it also doubles as a play space.
There is a “bunk” with a slide inside that takes you to a disco room lined with flippy sequins and a light up dance floor. There is a “dock” that makes musical sounds as you walk across next to a full-sized canoe filled with stuffed animals. In the back, there is a stage for performances and an activity area for scheduled crafts such as slime-making. We have gone many times just for fun and not purchased a thing. It’s located on 5th Avenue and 16th street.
Semi Permanent Pop-ups
Two places I need to mention (but could be closed by the time you read this), are Color Factory and the Museum of Ice Cream. In both instances, purchase tickets ahead of time. Color Factory is best for older kids who can read. The whole thing is a little retro and hokey for adults, but kids will get a big kick out of the interactive maze of rooms, random treats and esoteric journey to find your favorite color.
If none of that appeals to them, they will DEFINITELY appreciate the greatest ball pit ever.
The Museum of Ice Cream is currently located in SOHO. It’s also an interactive maze of rooms, but many of them involve sampling ice cream.
In addition to all the photo ops, there’s also a super fun slide, an indoor playground, an interactive piano, a tiny bouncy house and a sprinkle pool, which all help make the tickets worth the price of admission.
Although, I feel I should warn you— the sprinkles in the pool are rubber so you don’t really sink into them like you would expect. Getting Harlow buried under there was actually quite a bit of effort, which I think was a miss on their part. You can read more about our experience at the Museum of Ice Cream here.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka The Met) is can’t miss, especially since you need to see those iconic front steps. Inside is pretty fabulous too. And there is a rooftop terrace open May through September. I’d recommend pairing a trip to the Met with a morning or afternoon in Central Park.
The Museum of Modern Art (aka the MoMA) is my favorite for modern art— it has Van Gogh’s Starry Night inside. The MoMA is currently closed for renovation which should be completed by the end of October (2019). If you go there, you could also walk over to the LOVE and HOPE statues on 6th Ave and 55th Street.
The Whitney Museum of American Art is one of my favorite museums and always has really interesting multi-media exhibits that appeal to kids. It’s right at the start of the Highline so pairing those two together makes for a great morning or afternoon. be sure to check out the rooftop, which has a really cool view of the Highline and different sculptures every time we visit.
For a completely kid-focused museum experience, I highly recommend the Children’s Museum of the Arts in TriBeCa. They have an art gallery, but the main attractions are the claymation bar and the hands-on art room with huge easels, craft tables and colorful paint everywhere.
There’s also a big play space for younger kids and an upstairs area with spinning chairs so kids can let off some steam. The upstairs hallway is always designed by a different artist. My favorite was when it was completely yarn bombed.
If you go to CMA, I highly recommend eating at the Tribeca location of Westville, which is just up the street. They’ve got a big space (so plenty of room for a stroller), great food and lots of kid-friendly menu options, including some pretty exciting veggie choices on their Market Board.
Madison Square Park
There are a few reasons to go to Madison Square Park. The first is that it’s a great place to see cherry blossoms when they are in season. The pink flowers spill out over the side of the park, into the street. The second reason is that is gives you a prime view of the Flat Iron Building, which is my favorite building in the city.
The third is that it is the home of the original Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack, named because it is literally a shack in the middle of the park.
Across the street is Eleven Madison Park (also owned by Danny Meyer), which is consistently ranked one of the top three restaurants in the city, but under no circumstances should be visited with kids. Instead I recommend heading to the other side of the park where you will find another Eataly. Eataly has pizza and pasta options downstairs and a GORGEOUS rooftop restaurant called Serra, that is open year round and changes it’s decor seasonally.
On the North end of the park, you will find a playground for smaller kids and the Museum of Math, which is way more fun than it sounds. We used to take the kids there all the time on rainy days.
The Freedom Tower and the Oculus
The Freedom Tower is totally worth a visit, because it will take you to the highest point in Manhattan with ridiculous 360 degree views. The elevator that takes you to the top is also really cool because it is covered in screens that show you a video of Manhattan being built over the years as you rise. The grand reveal of the view once you get to the top is particularly spectacular. You exit the elevator, watch a quick movie about the city, and then the movie screen lifts to reveal the view behind it. The whole thing brought me to tears.
Around the Freedom Tower is a lot of fun stuff to do too. There’s the Oculus (a mall and transportation hub), which is the bright white otherworldly designed building right next door. It looks pretty small from street level, but when you walk inside, the space is tremendous. It’s just built mainly underground.
Next to the Oculus is a huge metal structure (I believe it’s the air unit for the Oculus) which was recently commissioned by the city to be painted by various street artists. They succeeded in turning that ugly building into an Instagram destination.
You can also walk over to see the September 11th Memorial which I think is one of the most beautiful and fitting memorials ever built. The 9/11 Museum is right there too.
For food, I would suggest Eataly which is just around the block. Kids can get personal pizzas shaped like hearts, fish or bunnies.
Another suggestion would be to walk just across West Street to Brookfield Place to eat at one of the many restaurants along the waterfront or in the gourmet food all called Les District. When the weather gets colder, the restaurant Beaubourg (a french bistro that serves steak frites and chicken palliard) puts little igloos along the water for some truly unique family dining.
Food that Kids Care About
You can find good food everywhere in Manhattan, so keep that in mind before you go out of your way for a destination restaurant. If you are traveling without kids, that’s one thing. Then my recommendations would be different. But for eating with kids, I would go for convenience. When it comes to kids and destination dining, I am going to focus on the two meals that kids appreciate the most— breakfast and dessert…
Breakfast and Brunch
There are numerous brunch places I LOVE, but keep in mind, good NYC brunch places always come with a wait. On the weekends, my suggestion is to go as early as possible, while the young child-less people are still fast asleep. Or, even better, go for breakfast on a weekday, when everyone else is at work. Just please check all restaurants to see when they open.
I recommend Clinton Street Bakery (for the pancakes)…
Russ and Daughters (for the bagels and lox)…
Maman at 237 Centre St (for the avocado toast, quiche and crazy good pastries)…
and Rosemary’s (for the scrambled eggs with burrata).
You can find a million places that serve awesome ice cream, doughnuts, pastries, etc. In my opinion, a dessert place that is actually worth a special trip (destination desserts, if you will) have to have both delicious treats a noteworthy. Here are the four dessert shops that I think are worth the trip:
Flour Shop (for rainbow cake push-pops and sprinkles filled mini-cakes in front of a giant rainbow wall)…
Ladurée Soho (for macarons in the ridiculously pretty outdoor garden)…
Black Tap Burger (for totally over-the-top milkshakes in a dark grungy downtown space)…
and the L Room Cafe (which serves desserts covered in a cloud of cotton candy in a cotton candy pink space).
One more thing…
I can’t end this post without mentioning where to get a decent slice of pizza. Our favorite, which has two destinations— one in the East Village and one in the West Village, is Joe’s Pizza. In both cases, it is a hole in the wall, and you’ll most likely eat your pizza standing up, but by real New Yorker standards, it is known to be the best.
You know your kids will be happy. They’ll get pizza without a big production, and you’ll be in and out and on to your next NYC adventure.
If you want to follow my family’s adventures in NYC, follow @mommyshorts on Instagram.
Are you from New York and think I left something out? Please tell me below so I can check it out!
This has to be the single best, most comprehensive list about New York that I’ve seen. Thank you!
Ilana, this is incredible! My kids love visiting NYC (we’re not far away in Boston) and this is SO helpful. Thank you! The last time we were in town, I DM’d you from Washington Sq park and it was every bit as great as you said. This is so much better than a guide book.
Love this list and immediately sent it to friends! I’m just telling them to add in Pommes Frites when they’re in Washington Sq. and they’ll be set.
This is a fantastic guide! It should be made into a pamphlet. It made me want to be a kid again!
I visited New York this winter with my daughters for the first time. My expectations were so far off of reality! I’m a country girl at heart, but I fell in love with New York… just hopelessly in love. I plan to visit again in the summer. Thank you so much for these recommendations!
WOW. What an incredible post. Thank you so much for the time, effort, and heart that went into this. I am bookmarking for the next time I go to NYC with my kiddos. Thank you again!
This is INCREDIBLE. One addition: if you go in the basement of Grand Central and go in opposite corners at Grand Central Oyster Bar, you can whisper in one corner and your kid can hear you loud and clear in the opposite corner. Magic!
Thank you for putting this list together, we just came back from NYC and finished about 75%!!! We all loved it, especially the Highline and Chelsea Market!
Just wanted to drop a note to tell you how much my family LOVED all of the things on your list. My son George who is 5, said that going to Pip’s Island was his most favorite thing about visiting NYC. He wants to move there, just so he can go again!
All of your suggestions were fantastic! My daughter Sophie who is 8, loved going to the CAMP store and the added surprise of the “hidden” section!
Thanks for all your help in making our trip to NYC so much fun this summer!