We have recently returned from a week long vacation to both NYC and Boston, and while half of it was dedicated to Husband attending PAX East (Penny Arcade Expo), the other half was reserved to family time in one of our favorite cities, our home away from home (well one of the many places we consider “home”), New York City. Luna has been to NY with us a couple of times, but this is the first time she could voice her opinion of what she did and didn’t want to do. We were in no rush and had no itinerary for ourselves, so we let her map out most of our time in the city.
I’ve had many friends message me and ask what they should do with their toddler in NYC, and if it’s even worth taking them. I think traveling is the most important activity you could ever do with your children, so I will always answer “yes”. Yes, take them. I promise it’s not as hard as it seems. (This, of course, does not relate to a much-needed romantic getaway you might plan with your significant other.) Toddlers are happy with running around outside, snacks and silliness, which is easy to find in just about every location, New York included. To make it even easier for you, I’ve compiled a quick list of best places to take a toddler in NYC.
1. Central Park
No matter what the age of your children. Go to Central Park! It is enormous and gorgeous and packed with adventure and wonder. There is so much to do that you could easily spend a couple of days exploring. I suggest starting at the Conservatory Water and watching the little sailboats, climbing on and taking pictures with the Alice and Wonderland Statue, head to Bathesda Fountain and pass the Boathouse, walk over the Terrace Bridge and down the Mall, explore the Ramble and definitely play at a couple of the amazing playgrounds. They are incredibly unique and fun!
There are a surprisingly huge number of playgrounds around the city. In fact, I never noticed just how many until we brought Luna. That girl can spot a swing-set 6 blocks away. A few of our favorites are Carl Schurz playground on the Upper East Side, the Union Square Playground, East 72nd Street Playground and Billy Johnson Playground in Central Park and Pier 6 Playground in DUMBO. There are dozens more that I am just dying to visit too!
3. Ice Cream
What kid doesn’t love ice cream??? Like pizza, there’s really no better city to find great ice cream. There are ice cream trucks on every corner, but there’s also and endless supply of artisan ice cream shops in every single neighborhood. Want some of my recommendations? I love Big Gay Ice Cream, Van Leeuwen (which has plenty of vegan options), Emack and Bolio’s and Victory Garden (all goat’s milk soft serve!)
4. Time Square
Yes, Time Square is ridiculously crowded, but it’s also so full of energy! Luna not only loved watching all the people and creepy characters* wondering around, but she loved the stores. Namely, the Disney Store. Walking through the Disney Store in Time Square will make you feel as if you’ve transported to Disney World for a moment. Everyone welcomes you as you enter the door and the entire store is beaming with Disney magic. I’d also suggest climbing and sitting on the red steps to eat a snack and people watch for a bit.
*I very strongly suggest you not to take photos with the people dressed as characters.
This is risky, but I would take a three or four year old, or a mature two-year old (oxymoron, right?) to a kid-friendly matinee. I plan to take Luna on our next trip. Lion King, Aladdin, Matilda or Wicked would all be great shows for kids.
6. A Library
I know you have a library wherever you live, but it most likely doesn’t compare to a NYC library. I LOVE the 42nd Street Library for many reasons, but it also has really large children’s center. It’s also the home of the original Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear. Of course, there are tons of story times for kids all over the city, just check the schedule here.
It’s easy to assume that a museum is too sophisticated for your toddler, but I assure they are not. Many NYC museums are child-centered… the Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and the Transit Museum to name a few. Even if the museums isn’t “child-centered”, it can still be child-friendly. Lots of museums offer family-friendly exhibits and it’s pretty easy to engage your kiddo in classic museums like the MET too. I like to ask Luna questions like, Can you find a dog? What colors do you see? What shapes do you see? Which do you like best? Who does that look like? Can you count the girls? Etc. Of course, after a half-hour we resort to goldfish crackers and juice for entertainment. Everything in moderation.
There’s the famous Bronx Zoo and the less famous Central Park Zoo. The Bronx Zoo is definitely the better of the two, but it’s also a trek to get out there. Central Park is much easier to access, but expect a small zoo experience. It’s worth your time to checkout the Children’s section of the zoo, which includes a petting zoo! Oh, and don’t forget to ask about the gay penguin couple!
9. Take a free class
This might be unethical, I don’t know, but you can definitely sign your kid up for a free trial class for anything you can imagine. NYC offers top notch classes for toddlers. They can learn dance, gymnastics, sign language, music, Chinese, sports, cooking, Spanish, art, you name it! MOST of these classes offer free trials. So, before you go, give them a call and ask if it’s cool for you and your kiddo to try it out. It might just be the best class they’ve yet to experience! And, heck, it’s probably worth it to pay a one time visitor fee…if that’s even a thing.
10. Public Transportation
Now, I know what many of you are thinking. Eww. Well, get over yourselves. Everyone in New York takes public transportation, and kids LOVE IT. In fact, Luna could not shut up about taking the train. Trains, buses, taxis, boats…anything out of their ordinary will be a thrill. Trust me. Plus, it’s cheap and gets you to your next fun destination!
Anything you’d add or take away from my list? I’d love to hear your opinion. Keep in mind, that anytime you travel with a toddler you will have good and bad moments. So pack their favorite snacks, your Xanax, and take it all in stride. The best thing about New York is that it’s always noisy, crowded and full of weirdos. No one will look twice when your toddler decides to have the meltdown of the century!