By Tim Johnson
Alongside New York City’s amazing combination of flash, sophistication, and pounding pace, you’ll find an impressive number of kid-friendly features, making the city an excellent destination for the entire family. And with plenty of sun and an average high of 26 CËš, September is a great time to visit. From top tourist sites with special programs aimed at little travellers, to restaurants where asking for a high chair won’t be an eye-rolling experience, this is our guide to family-friendly New York.
TIMES SQUARE (46th and Broadway) This spot is home to more glittering lights than you can imagine. Let your kids choose their favourite car on the giant Ferris wheel (Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head and Scooby Doo are among the options) and visit the two-storey Barbie house at Toys “R” Us, view the amazingly lifelike wax statues at Madame Tussauds, then fill up on chocolate at M&M’s World or the giant Hershey’s store. Allow at least four hours to pop in and out of the various attractions.
CONEY ISLAND (1000 Surf Avenue) A blast from the past, Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk have been entertaining families for decades. Don’t miss the New York Aquarium, home to more than 8,000 animals. Ride the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster that’s been thrilling riders since 1927, or head to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement & Kiddie Park, which has more than a dozen rides designed just for your little ones. Allow at least two hours for the aquarium, then spend the rest of the afternoon at the amusement parks (note — parks open weekends only after Labour Day).
STATUE OF LIBERTY AND ELLIS ISLAND (Ferries leave from Battery Park, lower Manhattan) More than 12 million immigrants passed Lady Liberty on the way to their new life in America. A short ferry ride through New York Harbor will take you to the world-renowned statue, then to Ellis. Both sites include a Junior Ranger program featuring fun (and educational) activities for kids aged seven to 12, and your smallest travellers might simply enjoy throwing bread to the seagulls, or pushing the buttons on the interactive displays at Ellis. Allow three hours for both, including ferry ride.
FAO SCHWARZ (767 Fifth Avenue) Possibly the world’s most famous — and fanciful — toy store. Make sure to be there at 10 am (11 am on Sundays) for the daily opening ceremonies, when red-coated toy soldiers herald a new day with the blowing of horns. Head up to the second floor to dance on the huge keyboard, made famous by the movie Big, and visit the adorable baby doll nursery.
BABESTA (66 West Broadway) This Tribeca boutique is the ultimate destination for your rebel rocker babe. Find everything from Che Guevara onesies to “I’m with the Band” bibs. There’s also a selection of furniture, accessories and offbeat toys.
GIGGLE (120 Wooster Street [SoHo], 1033 Lexington Avenue [Upper East Side]) Leave your stroller in the indoor “parking lot” and browse through a great selection of cool and fashionable baby stuff — from furniture to gear to toys and clothes — at either of Giggle’s two Manhattan locations. The store’s pledge is to carry only “the most healthy, stylish and innovative products available.”
PEANUT BUTTER & CO. (240 Sullivan Street) Located right in the heart of Greenwich Village, this sandwich shop serves up more than a dozen peanut butter sandwiches and dishes — try The Elvis (grilled, with bananas and honey; bacon optional), wash it down with a PB&J milkshake, and top it off with some chocolate peanut butter pie.
JECKYLL & HYDE CLUB (1409 Avenue of the Americas) It’s Halloween all year round at this creepy midtown theme restaurant, where spooky animatronic characters and outlandish scenes entertain (think pipe organ-playing skeletons and Frankenstein-style experiments). Oh, and there’s food, too.
OSTERIA DEL CIRCO (120 West 55th Street) This “sophisticated big top” is just a few blocks south of Central Park. There’s an upscale atmosphere and first-rate Italian fare for Mom and Dad (with prices to match), and a whimsical circus motif to wow the kids. Meals can be adapted to suit little palates, and Shirley Temples and pizzas rarely disappoint.
PROSPECT PARK (Main entrance at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn) This 585-acre Brooklyn landmark boasts what is thought to be the longest stretch of unbroken meadow in any U.S. urban park (nearly one mile long), a small zoo, and a charming carved 1912 carousel (open Thursday through Sunday after Labour Day) that the kids can ride for just a buck and a half. Bring a picnic lunch and a Frisbee and spend the afternoon.
THE CLOISTERS IN FORT TRYON PARK (North Manhattan) Overlooking the Hudson River (and way uptown), this branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art will have your kids feeling like they’re in a scene from Shrek. Modelled after medieval French monasteries, the site boasts beautiful walled gardens and more than 5,000 works of medieval art on display, and you can gambol through at a relaxed pace. Fort Tryon Park offers majestic views of the Palisades and the Hudson. Allow one to two hours for the museum and park, plus extra time for the trip uptown.
THE NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN (200th and Southern Boulevard, Bronx) An incredible display of beauty and an excellent place for adventure, right in the Bronx. Stroll through vibrant gardens of roses and magnolias, explore a forest and its rushing river and watch the little ones let off steam by climbing through the Boulder Maze. Let your kids get their hands dirty at the Children’s Adventure Garden, where they can conduct experiments and size up giant flowers, or at the Family Garden, where parents and kids alike can plant seeds and dig for worms. Allow three to four hours.
DISNEY ON BROADWAY (for tickets: disney.go.com) With four shows featuring favourite characters both current and classic, Disney brings together world-class theatre and childhood wonder. Choose from Mary Poppins, Tarzan, The Lion King or The Little Mermaid (which opens on November 3rd) — all are sure to inspire and amaze both parent and child.
THE NEW VICTORIA THEATER (209 West 42nd Street) A real Broadway theatre devoted exclusively to kids and families, the New Vic offers shows ranging from circus to dance to puppetry to comedy, plus velvet booster seats, pitchers of milk at the concessions, and tickets that top out at around $35 (US).
AVENUE OF THE AMERICAS FAMILY EXPO On Sunday, October 14th, this major Manhattan thoroughfare will be transformed into a family-friendly midway. More than 500 food, art, crafts and antique exhibitors will line the street, with live entertainment provided on multiple stages. It’s all free of charge, but you won’t be alone — more than 750,000 attended in 2006, and organizers are expecting even more this year.
Contributing Editor Tim Johnson loves New York — along with Paris and Prague, he considers the Big Apple one of his very favourite cities.
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