And by the way, visiting here with little ones is made even easier by some of the top museums and attractions — because not only do they allow strollers, some even provide them.
Home Away From Home
We suggest a stay at Embassy Suites, downtown in the Financial District. It’s well-priced, but the major draws are the in-suite kitchen for quick snacks and late-night requests for just one more glass of juice; the complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast served downstairs, which means you’re not shelling out a gazillion dollars for breakfast every day; and two TV’s to help keep those “what to watch” arguments to a minimum.
Or try Doubletree Guest Suites in Times Square. The spacious childproof suites have a microwave and mini-fridge. Cribs, strollers, laundry service — even a kids-only room service menu — are also on the list of offerings.
If you can get up early enough (read: pre-dawn), go to Rockefeller Center for NBC’s glass-walled “Today Show” studio and a live broadcast with Meredith Vieira, Matt Lauer and Al Roker. Word to the wise: If you won’t be content simply watching through the large studio windows, bring the silliest sign you can think of to grab the camera’s attention. Then friends and family back home can see how much fun you’re having when the news gang heads outside to join the crowd and ace celebs perform for the al fresco crowd.
We all want our kids to be cultured. Thing is — that’s usually of no interest to them. The good news is many city culture stops have kid-cool stuff — and our first choice is the American Museum of Natural History. The under-12’s will enjoy getting a hands-on look at every major field of science, hunting for hidden creatures in a majestic two-story replica of an African baobab tree filled with tropical birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals — or assembling the cast skeleton of a Prestosuchus, a 14-foot-long reptile from the late Triassic Period. Don’t forget to see the Hall of Dinosaurs.
When the gang gets hungry, there are two super walkable choices. Try the inexpensive and very friendly Gabriela’s for possibly the best home-style Mexican food from recipes handed down from generation to generation or the all-dolled-up and reasonably priced Alice’s Tea Cup — where kids can munch on Granny Smith apple slices with peanut butter or maybe a sandwich of peanut butter and fruit preserves on homemade banana nut bread. If it’s a nice day, consider picking up one of their picnic box lunches and head one block over to Central Park — seeing as there’s a ton of fun stuff to do in there year-round. Check out the park’s zoo for chilling out with the penguins and feed “fishicles” (peanut-butter smeared treats) to the polar bears, or take out a row boat for an hour or so (or until your arms get too tired) of turtle, frog and swan spotting.
Next stop — the 86th floor of the Empire State Building for up-close, jaw-dropping views of Manhattan. You won’t see King Kong dangling, but we bet you can pick out the exact spot where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had their fateful meeting in “Sleepless in Seattle.” Check out their virtual reality New York Skyride, too.
No family can come to New York and not see at least one Broadway show, and there are lots of choices to please everyone — so have an early family-style Italian dinner at Carmine’s or a towering pastrami sandwich and a huge piece of cheesecake at the Carnegie Deli before seeing the curtain go up on one of the city’s many family-friendly shows.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget Manhattan is an island with some excellent ways to sail the waters and see the city’s skyline at its best. Three morning options include the Staten Island Ferry — a glorious, 5.2-mile, 20-minute mini-cruise with great views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and lower Manhattan — and it’s free! Or you can hold unto your hats and take Circle Line’s 30-minute Beast, speeding past the skyscrapers at a heart-pounding 45 m.p.h. For those who are a bit more faint-hearted, Circle Line also offers very serene cruises around Manhattan Island.
Once you’re all back on terra firma, why not head out for an early lunch and leisurely stroll in Chinatown and Little Italy? (They’re right next door to one another.) In Chinatown, it’s fun to wander the frenetic blend of tiny, winding, cobblestone back streets dotted with dozens of family-owned restaurants ready to serve up silky stuffed dumplings and crispy shrimp anything any time of day. The scene is more Shanghai bazaar than city streetscape along Pell and Mott streets; you’ll pass funky shops and kitschy stores selling everything from silk pajamas to Chinese board games. Little Italy’s streets are lined in 19th-century tenements and long-held traditions, and Mulberry Street is considered its heart. For lunch, check out the more than 50 well-priced restaurants in the neighborhood. We recommend Lombardi’s, the first ever pizzeria in the United States (1905).
It’s within walking distance, so next up is the Financial District. Head up the steps to the Federal Hall National Memorial across from the Stock Exchange to see where George Washington accepted the presidency. As for visiting Ground Zero these days, there’s less to see and more to imagine — but you can see the affixed Plexiglas panels with names inscribed of some of the 2,800 victims lost as well as other panels exhibiting the site’s history all the way back to the 1993 car bomb explosion. Be prepared for the odd mix of grief and tourism that surrounds the area where some come to lay flowers and leave notes amid vendors selling Ground Zero baseball caps and other cheesy souvenirs.
If everyone’s feeling a bit pooped from walking, consider getting onboard the Downtown Connection — a free hop-on/hop-off bus service for getting around the Financial District that will take you past iconic sights such as the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank and Trinity Church — as well as the South Street Seaport.
Next — a fairly easy stroll through SoHo (there’s a Bloomingdale’s outpost there now) and TriBeCa to Greenwich Village to wander the narrow streets dotted with 19th-century brick buildings. It’s a perfect neighborhood for self-guided walking tours; don’t miss Bleecker Street for yummy cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery and Bedford Street to see the neighborhood’s narrowest house at No. 75 1/2 (the oldest is, and No. 102 is an off-kilter chalet). Check out Grove’s Court (Grove Street between Seventh Avenue South and Hudson Street), where O. Henry wrote The Last Leaf, and Patchin Place on West 10th Street for the city’s last functioning gas lamp. Of course, you must walk through Stanford White-designed arch in Washington Square.
Later, head north to 14th Street and Union Square, a great spot for kicking back and people-watching or listening to musical acts in the small pavilion on the north side. Don’t forget to check out the amazing statue of the Marquis de Lafayette. It was sculpted by Bartholdi, who also sculpted the Statue of Liberty. Have dinner nearby at Rosa Mexicano, where adults can enjoy crabmeat enchiladas and delicious tableside guacamole, and kids get their own “Young Amigos” menu.
Practically everyone knows the Bronx is home for J.Lo, but it’s also home to the New York Botanical Garden, Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo. There are actually more than 60 landmarks and historic districts in the Bronx, including the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage on the Grand Concourse and the stately Van Cortland House Museum in Van Cortlandt Park. On weekends and all holidays, the free Bronx Tour Trolley links the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden — so if a day at the zoo hasn’t worn everyone out, take some time to see the gardens.
The Bronx Zoo has more than 4,500 animals and over 500 species in natural habitats. A Congo Gorilla Forest recreates an African rain forest with more than 300 animals, while Jungle World is home to four Asian habitats, including a mangrove forest packed with bear cats, black leopards and the Asian small-clawed otter. Tiger Mountain is a re-creation of the natural habitat for Siberian tigers (only 5,000 remain in the wild today).
Head back to Manhattan’s Times Square for dinner. A fun place to eat is Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It’s the 1950’s from top to bottom — with a menu that works for diners of all tastes and ages.
Visit our sister site, Family Vacation Critic, for more information on New York City family vacations.
–written by Lauren Price