Only in New York City: An Insider's Favorite Places
Published: May 2014
By Heather Smith MacIsaac
It's a helluva town for families — if you know where to go. Here's our pick of the places and things available virtually nowhere else.
Step lively, now. your goal is to one-up the locals by seeing more in a week than they do in a year.
FIRST, GET ORIENTED
Do as New Yorkers do: check in with the up-to-date Web site www.nycitysearch.com or read the listings in the latest issues of New York magazine (www.newyorkmag.com) and Time Out New York (www.timeoutny.com). Consider buying a nine-day New York CityPass (707/256-0490; www.citypass.com; available online or at the six attractions covered; adults $53, children under 17 $41), which moves you to the head of the line and takes half off the price of admission at six of the city's most popular stops, including the Empire State Building and the American Museum of Natural History. Upon arrival in town, don't scoff at a quick visit to New York's Official Visitor Information Center (810 Seventh Ave., at 52nd St.; 212/484-1222) to gather brochures, leaflets offering discounts, and a few more words of advice.
TWO YOU GOTTA DO
GO STRAIGHT TO THE TOP The Empire State Building (350 Fifth Ave. at 34th St.;212/736-3100; www.esbnyc.com) is the hometown favorite for classic views of the city. Its observation platform—open year-round until midnight; last tickets sold at 11:25 p.m.—places you in dense midtown, affording close-ups of its period peers, the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center, and distant views that put the length and breadth of Manhattan into perspective. Back on the ground, head down the street for some Korean barbecue at Kang Suh (1250 Broadway at 32nd St.; 212/564-6845), where you can grill your own sirloin or shrimp over live coals.
HEAD WAY DOWNTOWN In spite of all the time spent standing and waiting (to board the ferry, to enter the pedestal, to hike 22 stories to the crown), a visit to the Statue of Liberty, or at least neighboring Ellis Island, is a must. Purchase ferry tickets at Castle Clinton National Monument, on the north side of Battery Park (212/269-5755 or 866/782-8834; the same boat makes stops at both landmarks and leaves frequently). Huddled masses become personal at Ellis Island—more than 40 percent of Americans have an ancestor who was "processed" at this way station, now an exquisitely planned and designed museum. To beat the crowds, take the earliest ferry (8:30 a.m.) or go on a rainy day; Lady Liberty's profile looks even more noble through the mist.
MUSEUMS: LET THE TREASURE HUNT BEGIN
The key to a successful museum visit with kids is focus. Here, some standouts to track down.
American Museum of Natural History Central Park West at 79th St.; 212/769-5100; www.amnh.org. Check out the Cosmic Pathway in the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the dinosaur halls, and the blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life. There's also a new food court—dino nuggets!
Children's Museum of Manhattan 212 W. 83rd St.; 212/721-1234; www.cmom.org. A Peanuts exhibit lets kids crawl into Snoopy's house, play Schroeder's piano, and even take a turn at Lucy's psychiatry booth (no nickel required).
Guggenheim Museum 1071 Fifth Ave. at 88th St.; 212/423-3500; www.guggenheim.org. The big hit is the building, a giant spiral (if only scooters were allowed). In the gift shop, pick up Learning Through Art, a fun companion for kids.
Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum Pier 86, Hudson River at 46th St.; 212/245-0072; www.intrepidmuseum.com. At the top of everyone's must-see list is the Growler, the only guided missile submarine in the world that's open to the public.
Lower East Side Tenement Museum 90 Orchard St.; 212/431-0233; www.tenement.org. In this building, which was home to 10,000 people from 20 nations between 1863 and 1935, don't miss the quarters Prussian dressmaker Natalie Gumpertz shared with her four children.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.; 212/535-7710; www.metmuseum.org. Three crowd-pleasers: the larger-than-life painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, in the American Wing; the tiny suit of armor of the Infante Luis, Prince of Asturias, in Arms and Armor; and "William," the 12th-dynasty faïence hippo (and Met mascot) in the Egyptian gallery.
The Paley Center for Media 25 W. 52nd St.; 212/621-6600; www.paleycenter.org. Spring and fall Saturday workshops allow 9- to 14-year-olds to reproduce a show from the golden age of radio.
Museum of the City of New York 1220 Fifth Ave. at 103rd St.; 212/534-1672; www.mcny.org. The 1920's Stettheimer dollhouse has, among other astonishing details, paintings by Marcel Duchamp and Gaston Lachaise.
Whitney Museum of American Art 945 Madison Ave. at 75th St.; 800/944-8639; www.whitney.org. Check out Alexander Calder's Circus, on the fifth floor, as well as the film in which the artist plays all of the roles.
WORLDS UNTO THEMSELVES
Central Park (59th to 110th Sts., between Fifth Ave. and Central Park W.; 212/794-6564; www.centralpark.org) is the dose of calm and chlorophyll that New York's visitors and natives need. Within the park's 843 acres, you can take a spin on a carousel (mid-park at 64th St.; open Tuesday—Sunday 10—5); visit polar bears at the Central Park Zoo (64th St, at Fifth Ave.; 212/439-6500; www.centralparkzoo.com); take in a show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre (81st St. on the west side; 212/988-9093); rollerblade; bike; row on Central Park Lake; or simply stroll. Discovery Kits—backpacks equipped with a map, guidebooks, binoculars, and sketching materials for kids—are available for loan at Belvedere Castle (mid-park at 79th St.; 212/772-0210).
Times Square (42nd St. and Broadway) has been transformed in recent years from seedy to slick, an inevitably controversial makeover. There's no arguing, however, that its extravagant kilowattage is energizing.
Rockefeller Center (48th to 51st Sts., between Fifth Ave. and Ave. of the Americas; 212/632-3975; www.rockefellercenter.com), an architectural phoenix that rose during the Depression, is home to NBC and the Today show studio, among many other things. The skating rink is open October to April, and Paul Marship's shining sculpture of Prometheus stands next to it.
Grand Central Terminal (42nd to 45th Sts., between Vanderbilt and Lexington Aves.; 800/638-7646 or 212/532-4900; www.grandcentralterminal.com), after a fastidious restoration, has become a destination in and of itself. There are shops and restaurants, even a food court—none of which has sullied its image as an architectural masterpiece. Kids love the awesome scale of the Main Concourse with its celestial ceiling (look for a tiny patch of dark gray—the before-cleaning color—in the northwest corner).
NEW YORK STREETS WERE MADE FOR WALKING (BUT YOU CAN ALSO GRAB A RIDE)
You'll be surprised by how much time is spent getting from one place to another. For information on New York City's mammoth transit system, including fares and route maps, go to www.mta.nyc.ny.us. While you're logged on, pick up a $7 Fun Pass—a one-day MetroCard good for unlimited rides for one person on buses and subways (or, for $24, a seven-day unlimited-ride card; both are also available at subway station vending machines). As for the ubiquitous taxis, be aware that they accommodate four people at most, should be avoided at rush hour (especially if you're trying to get across town), and are available only when their rooftop number is illuminated and their off-duty sign is not. And when on foot, masquerade as a local by observing the time-honored rules of pedestrian traffic: pass on the left, gawk without stopping, and, when really pressed, run like crazy along the curb.
Create a symphony of barking dogs, sirens, and traffic at Sony Wonder Technology Lab (Madison Ave. at 56th St.; 212/833-8100; www.sonywondertechlab.com). • Ogle 10,000 toy soldiers and 12 Fabergé eggs—the original ones—at the Forbes Magazine Galleries (62 Fifth Ave. at 12th St.; 212/206-5548). • Watch stellar basketball at the courts on Avenue of the Americas at West Third Street. • Tour Grand Central Terminal with the Municipal Art Society (212/935-3960). • See the world's most comprehensive collection of Native American artifacts at the National Museum of the American Indian (U.S. Custom House, 1 Bowling Green; 212/514-3700; www.nmai.si.edu). • Observe (or play) serious chess matches in Washington Square Park (off West Fourth St. and MacDougal St.). • Catch a glimpse of gold during a one-hour tour of the Federal Reserve Bank (33 Liberty St.; 212/720-6130; www.ny.frb.org; reservations required), which houses more bullion than Fort Knox. • Get down but not dirty at the New York Earth Room (141 Wooster St.; 212/989-5566; www.earthroom.org) by artist Walter De Maria—it's a SoHo loft packed with 250 cubic yards of dirt. • Take advantage of pay-what-you-wish admission during designated times at major museums (call to inquire)—at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it's whenever they're open.
NEW YORK MATH
The Statue of Liberty has 13-inch fingernails and a three-foot-wide mouth. The New York Post, after 200 years, is the nation's oldest continuously running newspaper. There are more people of Italian descent (2.8 million) in New York than in Rome. New York City has 140 skyscrapers—a world record. There are 656 miles of subway track. Brooklyn is three times the size of Manhattan. There are more people in New York City (7.4 million) than in Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Hawaii, Delaware, and New Mexico combined.
THE BEST FOOD IN NEW YORK—JUST ASK ANYONE UNDER 16
bagels Ess-a-Bagel (831 Third Ave. at 51st St., 212/980-1010; 359 First Ave. at 21st St.; 212/260-2252; www.ess-a-bagel.com). brunch, with live Brazilian music Coffee Shop (29 Union Square W.; 212/243-7969). brunch, with live gospel music Lola (15 Watts St.; 212/675-6700; www.lola15watts.com). popovers Popover Café (551 Amsterdam Ave. at 87th St.; 212/595-8555). eggs and bacon EJ's Luncheonette (1271 Third Ave. at 73rd St., 212/472-0600; and two other locations). waffles, downtown Bulgin' Waffles [This business is no longer in operation]. waffles, uptown Sarabeth's (423 Amsterdam Ave. at 80th St., 212/496-6280; and two other locations; www.sarabeth.com).
LUNCH AND DINNER
burgers, with theater-star sightings Joe Allen (326 W. 46th St.; 212/581-6464). burgers, with a mile-high pile of fries NoHo Star (330 Lafayette St.; 212/925-0070). fried rice Ollie's (1991 Broadway at 67th St.; 212/595-8181; and four other locations). grilled cheese sandwiches Grilled Cheese (168 Ludlow St.; 212/982-6600). hot dogs, cabbies' pit stop Gray's Papaya (2090 Broadway at 72nd St., 212/799-0243; 402 Ave. of the Americas at Eighth St., 212/260-3532). hot dogs, Euro-style (two doors from Krispy Kreme doughnuts) F&B (269 W. 23rd St.; 646/486-4441). mac and cheese Chat n' Chew (10 E. 16th St.; 212/243-1616). matzoh ball soup Second Ave. Deli (156 Second Ave. at 10th St.; 212/677-0606). pizza Lombardi's (32 Spring St.; 212/941-7994); Two Boots (37 Ave. A at Third St.; 212/505-2276; and five other locations). ribs Virgil's Real BBQ (152 W. 44th St.; 212/921-9494). tacos Gabriela's (685 Amsterdam Ave. at 93rd St.; 212/961-0574).
BIG NIGHT OUT
Balthazar (80 Spring St.; 212/965-1785; www.balthazarny.com)—Paris has landed, with mirrors, golden light, and the best bread around. Tavern on the Green (67th St. and Central Park West; 212/873-3200; www.tavernonthegreen.com)—a whole lotta razzle-dazzle.
EASIEST NIGHT (OR DAY) OUT
Grand Central Terminal—From quesadillas to frozen custard, fast and first-rate.
FANTASY, AND A BIT OF FOOD
Jekyll &Hyde Club (1409 Ave. of the Americas at 57th St.; 212/541-9505; www.jekyllandhydeclub.com)—prepare for a change in temperament. Mars 2112 (1633 Broadway at 51st St.; 212/582-2112; www.mars2112.com)—blast off!
GIMME SOME SUGAR
black and whites William Greenberg Desserts (1100 Madison Ave. at 82nd St., 212/744-0304). chocolate chip cookies City Bakery (3 W. 18th St.; 212/366-1414). cupcakes Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker St.; 212/462-2572). frozen hot chocolate Serendipity 3 (225 E. 60th St.; 212/838-3531). milk shakes Ellen's Stardust Diner (1650 Broadway at 51st St.; 212/956-5151). s'mores DT.UT (1626 Second Ave. at 84th St.; 212/327-1327).
WHEN IN CHINATOWN
Kids get crabby at a fish market. Their Chinatown favorites: dim sum at Golden Unicorn (18 E. Broadway; 212/941-0911); ice cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (65 Bayard St.; 212/608-4170; www.chinatownicecreamfactory.com); and souvenirs from Pearl River Mart (277 Canal St.; 212/431-4770), a department store stocking paper pajamas, Chinese board games, and white T-shirts that are a New York fashion-world staple.
PAYING A VISIT TO THE PLAZA
The hallways at the Plaza (Fifth Ave. at Central Park South; 800/441-1414 or 212/759-3000, fax 212/546-5324; www.fairmont.com; family of four from $345) are still wide enough for precocious little ones to skidder and scibble along à la Eloise, and kids swoon before the dessert table at the Palm Court. The service at this New York landmark (conveniently located across from the equally mobbed F.A.O. Schwarz) doesn't always live up to the grandeur of the lobby or the price tag of the rooms. But afternoon tea is a quintessential New York experience—and if it coincides with your child's birthday, the resident violinist will announce the occasion with a serenade.
I GOTTA GO
Where to pee when you're out and about
Don't bother running around the city in search of public facilities—in fact, there are only two of those new-fangled, pay-per-use, supposedly self-cleaning toilets (they're at Greeley Square Park, Ave. of the Americas and 32nd St., and Herald Square Park, Broadway and 35th St.). Instead, take advantage of the city's hotels. After all, haven't you always wanted to peek into the Waldorf-Astoria (301 Park Ave., at 50th St.), the St. Regis (2 E. 55th St., at Fifth Ave.), or the Royalton (44 W. 44th St., between Fifth Ave. and Ave. of the Americas)?Elegant bathrooms can also be found in large stores, such as Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman, and even the Banana Republic in Rockefeller Center. And Restoration Hardware stores (935 Broadway, between 22nd and 23rd Sts.; 103 Prince St., between Mercer and Greene Sts.) use their toilets as mini showrooms. In a pinch, duck kid-first into the best looking restaurant around and in no time you'll be sitting pretty.
WHERE TO STAY
GETTING A ROOM FOR LESS
Try to book ahead no matter what time of year you plan to visit. Web sites such as www.express-res.com (which specializes in New York City), www.quikbook.com, www.hotres.com, and www.hoteldiscount.com offer reduced rates and can often locate a room when a hotel's own reservations office delivers a "Sorry, we're full."
Choosing a hotel in the thick of it makes sense, though you'll trade tranquillity for convenience.
A new anchor on the western edge of Times Square, the Hilton Times Square (234 W. 42nd St.; 800/445-8667 or 212/840-8222, fax 212/840-5516; www.timessquare.hilton.com; family of four from $189) has great views from every room, starting with its 21st-floor lobby.
From the tunnel-of-light entryway, to the lobby chandelier's holographic candles, to the giant watering can in the courtyard, the Hudson Hotel (356 W. 58th St.; 800/606-6090 or 212/554-6000, fax 212/554-6001; www.hudsonhotel.com; family of four from $350) provides a Through the Looking Glass experience. Caveat: Only 71 out of 1,000 rooms have two double beds.
Nearly every accommodation at the 10 properties owned by Manhattan East Suite Hotels (800/637-8483; www.mesuite.com; prices vary) is a suite with kitchenette.
On the stroller-jammed Upper West Side, you'll find kids' menus, toy stores, and parks. And the pace here, appropriately enough, slows to a crawl.
The Excelsior Hotel (45 W. 81st St.; 800/368-4575 or 212/362-9200, fax 212/580-3972; www.excelsiorhotelny.com; family of four from $239) is across from the American Museum of Natural History and a block west of Central Park—and the rooms are stocked with Nintendo.
Though moderately priced, the Hotel Beacon (2130 Broadway, at 75th St.; 800/572-4969 or 212/787-1100, fax 212/787-8119; www.beaconhotel.com; family of four from $195) serves up the greatest luxury: space. One-bedroom suites comfortably sleep six. All rooms have kitchenettes, and there's excellent food shopping nearby at Zabar's, Fairway, and Citarella.
W hotels are concentrated in midtown, but the newest, on Union Square (201 Park Ave. S., at 17th St.; 877/946-8357 or 212/253-9119, fax 212/253-9229; www.whotels.com; family of four from $1,295), puts you across the street from playgrounds and a renowned farmers' market, and near key teen downtown shopping.
A 19th-century building on an old seaport street may be an unlikely place for a chain hotel, but that's where you'll find the Best Western Seaport Inn (33 Peck Slip; 800/468-3569 or 212/766-6600, fax 212/766-6615; www.bestwestern.com/seaportinn; family of four from $194). Try to land a room with a terrace for a lookout over early—New York rooftops and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Take the city by storm with The New Ultra Cool Parents Guide to All of New York and New York's 50 Best Museums for Cool Parents and Their Kids (City &Co.), both by Alfred Gingold and Helen Rogan. They're the most comprehensive—and attitudinal—listings for all five of New York City's boroughs.
Christopher Maynard's pocket-sized Kids' New York (DK Publishing) combines colorful pictures with concise information.
If you're determined to visit New York's gems from Coney Island to Queens, make selections based on the amusing descriptions in New York's 50 Best Places to Take Children (City &Co.), by Allan Ishac.
I WENT TO NEW YORK AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS FABULOUS . . .
T-shirt printed with FDNY (Fire Department of New York) across the chest, and keep back 200 ft. across the back ($18 at New York Firestore, 263 Lafayette St.; 212/226-3142).
Beach towel emblazoned with the graphics of 15 Broadway shows ($29.95 at Broadway New York, 1535 Broadway, at 45th St.; 212/944-3724).
Empire City charm bracelet sporting six New York City landmarks in silver ($150 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave., at 82nd St.; 212/535-7710).
Messenger bag with subway graphics ($39.95 at New York Transit Museum Gallery &Store, Grand Central Terminal; 212/878-0106).
Haircut from Michael's Children's Haircutting Salon [This business is no longer in operation]
Chocolate in the shape of the Empire State Building ($6.50 at Li-Lac Chocolates, 40 8th Ave.; 212/242-7374; www.li-lacchocolates.com).