Thursday, July 12, 2018

New York City family travel guide

There’s no shortage of NYC-based bloggers, so no doubt my expertise pales in comparison, but I’ve traveled enough times to know how to explore the city with a young family. New York may not be your first choice for a vacation with kids, but don’t be surprised if it ends up being a favorite. The keys to any successful family travel are fun activities, frequent food stops, and incorporating necessary downtime.

I’ve also found that paying up for a good, comfortable location is worth every penny when traveling with little ones. Over the years, I’ve stayed in various New York City neighborhoods, but the Upper West Side has our hearts. Midtown certainly is convenient for a shorter stay, but the UWS is quiet and family-friendly; and my favorite way to vacation is to live like a local. There are some great rentals (we loved staying here, but were also comfortable here) and boutique hotels. Midtown has all the usual big name hotels (we stayed here recently), but I would avoid Times Square at all costs. We’ve never taken the kids there.

I could write a lengthy post on restaurants alone, but I'll save that for another day. Instead, these are our favorite city sights, partnered with some quick bites:

The Empire State Building is a definite must-see for all. I would always choose this over the Top of the Rock (I've been to both). This is one of the only things that opens at 8:00 a.m. in the city, so go early to avoid lines if you can. Pro tip: Purchase the VIP express tickets. It will be worth it when you’re walking past the lines at the ticket counter and the lines to enter and the lines at security and the lines at the elevator. Come to think of it, there are lines everywhere in this place! Remind the staff at each transition that you have express tickets because they don’t check at each point. Afterwards, walk six blocks to Sweetgreen at 1384 W. Broadway or eight blocks to the 6th Avenue location. Then head to Grand Central Terminal (a sight in and of itself!) before heading home for afternoon naps.

The Museum of Natural History’s dinosaur (fourth floor) and biodiversity and ocean life exhibits (main floor) are favorites. Follow the fork and knife signs backwards to the discovery room for the hands-on children’s exhibit. The museum is pay-what-you-choose, but an entrance fee is suggested ($72 for our family). Pro tip: Outside food or drink is not allowed anywhere in the museum so eat a snack before entering (the cafeteria is gross). Order Shake Shack at Columbus Avenue via the app (don’t make the mistake of thinking you can walk in and order quickly) and pick it up before heading to the Arthur Ross Terrace and splash pad for a picnic on the north side of the museum. The splash pad is free and you can do this in conjunction with a museum trip or independently.

The New York Historical Society is the city’s hidden gem, and if you’re short on time I would choose this over all other museum options. At $6 for children and $21 for adults, it's less expensive and the downstairs children’s exhibit is amazing. Be sure to check the event schedule. This summer they have a magic show on Sundays and a story and craft on Tuesday and Friday afternoons. The children’s exhibit is interative and so, so interesting (for adults too). I had to drag my kids out of here after two and a half hours.

We will definitely be back to do Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the future, but at this stage, standing in lines for an entire day is out of the question. The best (and free!) way to see these sights is to take the Staten Island Ferry. The subway to 1 Bay Street/South Ferry couldn’t be easier. Grab some banana chocolate chip or sour cream bread from Levain Bakery on the UWS before taking the red line 20 minutes to the last stop. When you exit the subway, Whitehail Terminal is directly in front of you. The ferry leaves every 30 minutes and is 25 minutes long. The 9:30 or 10:00 ferry is a great time to go – after rush hour but before the mobs of tourists. Enter on the right side of the ferry for views of the Statue of Liberty. After passing the Statue of Liberty, begin heading toward the exit ramp (opposite the entrance). If you aren’t planning to stay on Staten Island, you have five minutes to get on the ferry headed back to Manhattan. You will exit the boat, go through the terminal to walk onto the departing ferry.

The ferry is easily paired with the World Trade Center Memorial. Head back into the subway and take the yellow line NRW uptown to Courtland Street. It’s a short walk to Memorial Plaza. Stop in Starbucks for an iced coffee and a snack before hoping on the blue line AC at Chambers Street Station home.

Another highlight of our recent trip was our walk through Central Park to Victoria Gardens (at Wollman Rinks, which is also high on my list of suggestions in winter). I suggest buying the $24 unlimited rides and park admission for the kids. There’s only a dozen rides and a few games (which aren’t included in the unlimited rides package), but it’s perfect for ages 1-12. Afterwards you can walk to Dylan’s Candy Bar (admittedly a tourist trap, but I’m never above a bribe) and then walk across the street for some shopping at Bloomingdales while the kid’s are momentarily entertained with their candy selections.

If you find yourself with a little time while everyone is napping, enjoy a mama’s afternoon out. Grab a fresh pressed juice at Joe & The Juice and do some shopping. And no matter where you stay, there is no shortage of shopping! A Tempo and Liana are cute, UWS boutiques. Across from the Museum of Natural History is Book Culture (children's story times on Tuesdays and Saturdays) and an adorable kid’s shoe and clothing store next door. As you head south there’s Joie, Theory, Sandro, Intermix, and some of the usual staples. Stop at Magnolia Bakery on the way back to pick up cupcakes for dessert.

For older kids, I also highly, highly recommend the MoMA. Buy tickets ahead and get there at 10:00 a.m. to avoid lines. Don’t miss the MoMA store behind the museum on 53rd. Afterwards, girls will love Alice’s Tea Cup (chapter 2) for lunch, but if the walk is too much, Burger Joint, inside the Le Parker Meridian, is also a family favorite.

After naps at home, order Patsy’s Pizza or pick up a greek salad and some picnic fixings at the New York institution that is Zabar's and walk over to the Great Lawn at Central Park for dinner. Belvedere Castle is fun to explore (although currently close for renovation).

We also spent a morning in Brooklyn on our most recent trip. I would skip this if you’re short on time or if you have a little one that takes two naps (it’s a little difficult to get to and from). At $2 per ride, the kids rode Jane's Carousel several times. Check out Juliana’s Pizza for lunch and don’t miss Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (cash only). I really wanted to schedule a trapeze class in Brooklyn, but our kids are a little too young.

We also loved the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular, seeing the real Santa Claus at ABC Home, the New York Public Library's reading room, and the tree lights and window displays around the holidays.

What are your New York City favorites?


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