Spring break is coming up next month, and if you’re itching to go somewhere but haven’t made any plans, here’s the answer: New York City. Think about it – people from all over the world pay thousands of dollars and fly thousands of miles just to visit a city that’s only a MetroNorth ride away for us. Maybe you don’t take advantage of it because, well, it’s always there. But you should! Here are 10 slightly off-the-beaten path activities that we love to do with our kids around the city.
1. Dine at a fun theme restaurant geared toward kids. Some of our favorites: Ellen’s Stardust Diner (the Broadway-bound waitstaff belts out showtunes and Disney songs every few minutes), Ninja New York (dine in a “Japanese village,” surrounded by ninjas performing all sorts of cool tricks), American Girl Doll Café (the ultimate tea party, and your doll gets a seat at the table with her own place setting), and Max Brenner (every kid’s dream meal come true, consisting of chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate). Not so into themed restaurants? Check out S’Mac for some gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese, or the original outdoor Shake Shack at Madison Square Park instead.
2. Take a ride on the Sea Glass Carousel. Located in Battery Park, it features 30 sea creatures made of fiberglass and steel that glow, rotate, and bob up and down in a seemingly random pattern. “Aquatic” music composed specifically for the ride blare from stereo speakers in each fish, and lights within the domed building add to the illusion that you are swimming through a bioluminescent underwater world.
3. Visit the Children’s Museum of the Arts. This two-level fun zone is an artsy kid’s paradise. Draw on a wall mural in pastels, hang out at a ball pond filled with dozens of large exercise balls, mold something at the clay bar, and write your own song that’s mixed together by the resident DJ. You’ll leave with a bunch of finished projects to display at home.
4. Take in an off-Broadway show. Why shell out the money for a big Broadway production when there are so many fun, smaller shows running all over the city, many of them geared toward kids? Blue Man Group, Stomp, The Gazillion Bubble Show, and anything playing at the New Victory Theater will be an experience to remember for the whole family.
5. Take the subway into Brooklyn and be hipster parents for a day. You can hit the Prospect Park Carousel, the Prospect Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens all in one shot – here’s how. Or, if you’ve got a train-loving kid, check out the New York Transit Museum. Afterwards, discuss with your husband: Where’s the better place to raise your kids, Westchester or Brooklyn?
6. Get gorgeous views of the Statue of Liberty and the city from the Staten Island Ferry, all for free. The ferry departs every half hour from Battery Park — you simply walk right on — and unless you’re going during rush hour, there are plenty of open seats and space for the kids to roam. In the 25-minute ride over, check out the amazing view from the open deck and pick up some snacks from the on-board concession stand. When you get to Staten Island, hop right on the returning boat for the trip back.
7. Travel back in time at The Cloisters. The museum, located in Washington Heights, is a branch of the Met and the perfect intro to serious art museums for young children. First of all, it looks like a medieval fortress, with a looming tower, plenty of stone steps to climb and explore, and heavy, curved wooden doors to pull open. And if you’ve got a unicorn-lover in the family, the Cloisters houses the world-renowned unicorn tapestries.
8. Grab a treat you won’t be able to find anywhere but NYC – the original cronut from Dominique Ansel, frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, Momofuku Milk Bar’s cornflake-chocolate chip-marshmallow cookie, or the chocolate pizza from Max Brenner are just a few ideas.
9. Sail the waters of Central Park, from row boats, gondolas and pedal boats at the lake’s Loeb Boathouse, to the model boats that kids can rent and operate at the Central Park Conservancy’s ornamental pond. It feels like you’re in Paris, or an E.B. White classic. The rental season starts in April; call ahead to make sure they’re available before you go.
10. Check out a newly rebuilt part of the city. I only recently visited Ground Zero for the first time, kids in tow, and we were all in awe of the Oculus station house, opened just two years ago. Standing in the $4 billion structure feels like being in optical illusion, and getting free samples from the various gourmet eateries in the building (including rosé gummies from Sugarfina) only added to the appeal for the kids. Ours were too young to visit the 9/11 Museum at this point, but everyone could appreciate the stunning fountain memorials that can now be found where the Twin Towers once stood.
And since you’ll be on spring break, why not indulge in a night or two in town instead of hurrying back home? We were lucky enough to be treated to a one-night stay at the Millennium Hilton New York Downtown, conveniently located right by several of the sites mentioned above and on the same block as half a dozen subway lines. Request for a room toward the top – the view from our room on the 52nd floor was insane!
The kids loved the idea of sleeping in a skyscraper, riding in one of the fastest elevators in the city, and, of course, swimming in the heated, glass-enclosed pool with skyline views. In fact, that’s probably what they’ll remember years from now about their staycation in the Greatest City in the World – the hotel pool!