The Upper West Side
Welcome to the People's Republic
It's almost like a suburb within the city—a kid-centric community of extra-wide sidewalks and Saturday morning soccer games, of outings to the Museum of Natural History and sippy cups in every café. With Riverside Park as its front yard and Central Park as its back, the Upper West Side is surely one of the greenest swaths of Manhattan. And thanks to world-class institutions like Lincoln Center and Columbia University, it's also one of the brainiest. But there are no stiff entrance requirements here: just come as you are, BYO kids, and you'll blend right in.
Jenny Gersten, associate producer of the Public Theater, Mets fan, and that rarity in this city of transplants, a native New Yorker.
Willie Reale, writer for theater and television, best known for his play A Year With Frog and Toad (two Tony nominations) and lyrics for the Academy Award-nominated song from Dreamgirls, "Patience."
Gus, 8, piano player, Little Leaguer, and die-hard Yankees fan—"Sorry, Mom, the Bronx Bombers are the best!"
Leo, 4, a connoisseur of noodles and the New York City subway.
Their Upper West Side Story
"Willie and I joked we wouldn't fit in here until we had a stroller or a dog. After ruling out a dog—we were at the theater too much—a stroller it was!"
Gus and Leo are regulars at Riverside Park's ￼ animal-themed playgrounds: There are elephants at 76th Street, hippos you can climb inside at 91st, dinosaurs on 97th, and dolphins on 123rd, just north of Grant's Tomb.
In the glass-enclosed planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park W. at W. 79th St.; 212/769-5100; amnh.org), step on scales to find out what you'd weigh on Mars. Then it's on to the dinosaurs and dioramas.
Leo recommends the Children's Museum of Manhattan (212 W. 83rd St.; 212/721-1234; cmom.org)—that's him on the third floor, driving the New York City bus.
Willie founded the nonprofit 52nd Street Project (500 W. 52nd St.; 212/642-5052; 52project.org) to give children living in Hell's Kitchen, hard by the theater district, a chance to write and perform in plays of their own. Professional actors and directors—such as Frances McDormand and Oliver Platt—advise behind the scenes, but the shows are a chance to see homegrown kids doing their own brassy thing.
Budding Derek Jeters can take a swing at the Baseball Center NYC (202 W. 74th St.; 212/362-0344; thebaseballcenter.com), in the grand old Central Savings Bank building.
You want a chapter book for a first-grade boy who reads at second-grade level and likes…dwarf toads?The can't-be-stumped staff at the Bank Street Bookstore (610 W. 112th St.; 212/678-1654; bankstreetbooks.com) will know just the thing.
Penny Whistle Toys (448 Columbus Ave. between 80th and 81st Strs. ; 212/873-9090; pwtoys.com), which carries park-worthy yo-yos, bubble pipes, and pinwheels. Find plenty more amusements at West Side Kids (498 Amsterdam Ave. at W. 84th St.; 212/496-7282).
On 125th Street—a leisurely walk or a short subway ride uptown—the renewal of Harlem is in full swing. Jenny grabs duds for the kids at H&M and Old Navy.