Get off 57th Street! Don't get trapped in Times Square! To fully experience the Big Apple you have to explore its core: the neighborhoods where local families live, play, people-watch, and argue over who makes the best bagels. We asked four tuned-in clans around town (including Tiki Barber's) to lead us to their favorite hangouts. East side, west side, uptown and down, here's New York, New York, at its most fun, fun, fun

Ericka McConnell David Strah, stay-at-home father and author of the book Gay Dads
| Credit: Ericka McConnell

The Upper East Side

It's a Beautiful Day in Tiki Barber's Neighborhood

With its Park Avenue triplexes, brass-buttoned doormen, and Madison Avenue boutiques, the Upper East Side is the Apple at its most polished. And this pricey territory east of Fifth Avenue is certainly well situated: the restaurants, the museums, Central Park—it's all at your feet. Plenty of boldfaced types reside in these parts (keep your eyes peeled). But locals take the celebrities in their midst in stride. After all, if you live here—or even just visit—you have the satisfaction of knowing you've truly arrived.

Our Guides

Tiki Barber, recently retired New York Giants star running back, correspondent for NBC's Today show, coauthor (with brother Ronde) of children's books, and author of the just-published autobiography Tiki.
Ginny Barber, former fashion publicist, current full-time mom and charity volunteer.
AJ, 5, a natural athlete who outruns everyone on the playground track—except Dad.
Chason, 3, a preschooler whose favorite toys are his drums and electric guitar.

Home Base

A 3,000-square-foot apartment with a suite for Ginny's parents.

Why Tiki is New York's Biggest Fan

"Even though there are maybe four million residents in a ten-block radius, you see the same people over and over. I grew up in the south—in Roanoke, Virginia—so I'm used to greeting people on the street. That's one reason I love it here."


The Barber boys' favorite part of Central Park is the Zoo (Fifth Ave. at E. 64th St.; 212/439-6500;, where they visit the penguins and polar bears. But for just blowing off steam, AJ and Chason hit the lawn inside the 69th Street entrance. "Sometimes all boys need," says Ginny, "is a patch of grass."

At Make (1566 Second Ave.; 212/570-6868;, a decorate-your-own ceramics studio, you pick a plate or mug—or robot or frog—paint it, and they'll fire it. Not for kids only: Ginny and Tiki made coasters for each other on their eighth anniversary.


Before or after seeing an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave.; 212/535-7710;, or even if you skirt the galleries altogether (we won't tell!), head to the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden, a fifth-floor terrace offering fabulous views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline.

When AJ came home from preschool saying he wanted to go see the Jackson Pollocks at the Museum of Modern Art (11 W. 53rd St.; 212/708-9400;, just south of the Upper East Side, "our jaws were on the ground," says Tiki. He and Ginny quickly recovered, took the kids to see the Abstract Expressionist's works, and found the exact painting AJ had studied in class. "That's when you really feel glad you live in New York."


The Barber boys love greeting the uniformed doormen at enormous F.A.O. Schwarz (767 Fifth Ave.; 212/644-9400; Ginny is more likely to shop at packed- to-the-rafters Mary Arnold Toys (1010 Lexington Ave.; 212/744-8510), where she found padded hockey sticks after Tiki took the boys to a Rangers game.

Tiki is drawn to the Cigar Inn (1314 First Ave.; 212/717-7403; not so much for the smoking paraphernalia as for the men's-club atmosphere—there's a lounge area with leather chairs and a flat-screen TV where he often drops in to catch a Yankees game or movie.

Z Baby Company (996 Lexington Ave. at 72nd St.; 212/472-2229; is where local kids get kitted out in polo shirts, quilted jackets, and striped footed onesies from France.


Two things Café Luka (1319 First Ave.; 212/585-2205) has going for it: fresh-turkey sandwiches and unflappable waiters. Says Tiki: "Even if your kids are going berserk, everybody else's kids are going berserk, too."

After Giants home games, Ginny and Tiki used to go to Primola (1226 Second Ave.; 212/758-1775; dinner for two $90) "so Tiki could have his comfort food—veal with fontina and shaved truffles," says Ginny. Another Italian joint for when her folks, who live with them, are babysitting: Mediterraneo (1260 Second Ave.; 212/734-7407; dinner for two $65).

Ginny's mom is from Vietnam, and if she's cooking, the family happily eats in. But when they head out, Vermicelli (1492 Second Ave.; 212/288-8868; dinner for four $61)—which has Old Saigon ceiling fans and excellent pho—meets with her approval.

Ginny's father, who is Korean, leads the family south to the restaurants, bakeries, and groceries on 32nd Street, known locally as Koreatown. First stop: WonJo Restaurant (23 W. 32nd St.; 212/695-5815;; dinner for four from $80), a popular barbecue-your-own place.

Grace's Marketplace (1237 Third Ave.; 212/ 737-0600; has everything you need for a first-class Central Park picnic.


Han Ah Reum Asian Market (25 W. 32nd St.; 212/695-3283). "We buy mochi, the little desserts made of sweet red bean," says Ginny. "And we always get extra so there's some to take home."

Of course, the ice cream–loving Barber boys have made the pilgrimage to Serendipity 3 (225 E. 60th St.; 212/838-3531;; reservations recommended), a Tiffany lamp-decorated (and tourist-filled) landmark famous for its frozen hot chocolate. Have a foot-long hot dog before diving into a Golden Opulence sundae—one of which, at $1,000, made it into the Guinness World Records for being the priciest dessert.

If your kids remember just one place they visited in New York, Dylan's Candy Bar (1011 Third Ave.; 646/735-0078; will be it. Ginny's advice: Grab a couple of rotating lollies—and get out as fast as you can.


Loews Regency Hotel (540 Park Ave.; 212/759-4100;; doubles from $569) An Upper East Side classic that pulls out the stops for kids, with check-in gifts, a restaurant play area, and even a tuck-in butler who delivers milk and cookies.

Courtyard by Marriott (410 E. 92nd St.; 212/410-6777,; doubles from $299) A 16-floor tower that's a tad out of the way but has an indoor pool and is four blocks from the East River jogging path—where you just might spot a certain former football star.

The East Village

This Way to the Parade

The clubs, the head shops, the cheap walk-up apartments with bathtubs in the kitchens. Two decades ago the East Village was the last place you'd want to investigate with kids. But then the hipsters living in those tenements grew up—and started alternative public schools for their children, helped transform empty lots into community gardens, and opened galleries and cafés in the former no-man's-land of Alphabet City (where the numbered avenues give way to lettered ones). Today the area just north of the Lower East Side is alive, diverse—and a magnet for people who want to let their freak flag fly. Your teen will be ready to move in.

Our Guides

David Hershkovits, founder and editor-in-chief of Paper magazine, which for two decades has chronicled downtown life.
Brigitte Engler, a French-born artist with a studio overlooking Tompkins Square Park (check out her work at
Esther, 9, lover of guitar, yoga, and Webkinz.
Nissim, 5, born to ride his bike everywhere. Learns his tricks from Tompkins Square skateboarders.

Residency Requirement

Tolerance. "People know this as one of the freest neighborhoods in New York," says David. "You can do whatever you want, look however you want. Within limits, of course."


At refurbished, impeccably maintained Tompkins Square Park (from E. Seventh to 10th Sts., between Aves. A and B;, parents—not nannies—mind their kids at the playground, and the patrons of the two dog runs host a hilarious Halloween party attended by upwards of 400 costumed pups.


St. Mark's Place between Astor Place and Second Avenue—the seething strip of music stores, piercing parlors, and T-shirt shops that's a mecca for punksters (and suburban high-schoolers)—is an essential stop. But Brigitte and David's favorite block is Ninth Street between First and A, for local designers' boutiques and a mellower Village vibe.

Of the many quirky community gardens scattered around the neighborhood, El Jardin del Paraíso (Fifth St. between Aves. C and D) stands out. A willow in a far corner holds an octagonal tree house crafted by local artist Roderick Romero, who also built an arboreal hangout for Sting.

Learn about the area's immigrants at the Tenement Museum (108 Orchard St.; 212/431-0233;, where rooms have been restored to different periods. Says David: "Show your kids how their grandparents and great-grandparents might have lived."


The Hershkovits family gets kids' presents at Dinosaur Hill (306 E. Ninth St.; 212/473-5850;, which is loaded with wooden trucks, dollhouse furniture, and puppets from around the world. Sons + Daughters (Closed) has organic-cotton T-shirts and fair-trade building blocks. Giant Robot NY (437 E. Ninth St.; 212/674-4769; is both a gallery and a shop selling comics, toys, and notebooks designed or hand-selected by the creators of the hip Japanese-inspired magazine of the same name.

At the Little Stinkers Shoe Company (Closed), where Brigitte buys Nissim's shoes and boots, Nissam can doodle on the chalkboard walls while Brigitte browses collections by Morgan and Milo, Pedoodles, and See Kai Run.


David says the best thin-crust pizza is at Gruppo (186 Ave. B; 212/995-2100;

Samba over to Esperanto (145 Ave. C; 212/505-6559; dinner for four $90), a Brazilian spot with live music. After you finish your moqueca (seafood stew) and rice and beans, check out the fence across the street—it's sprouting flowers made from soda cans.

At Life Café (343 E. 10th St.; 212/477-8791;, as seen in Rent, the tables are laminated with vintage magazine covers and the kids' menu ranges from silver-dollar pancakes to baby burritos.

For a taste of the area's Ukrainian past, go to Veselka (144 Second Ave.; 212/228-9682), a diner with tender blintzes and murals outside and in.

Whenever Brigitte is in the mood for true French bistro food, she and her crew head to Casimir (103 Ave. B between 6th and 7th Sts. ; 212/358-9683; dinner for four from $90). Esther likes the duck confit.

At Takahachi (85 Ave. A between 5th and 6th Sts.; 212/505-6524; dinner for four from $75), the family's preferred Japanese restaurant, Nissim always orders miso soup and tofu steak.

A bagel shop might be an unlikely place to find great lentil soup, but it's here at the Bagel Zone (50 Ave. A between 3rd and 4th Sts.; 212/533-9948).

Mary's Dairy and Chocolate Bar (Closed) serves up excellent house-made ice cream—Esther gets Killer Chocolate.


Of the neighborhood's two century-old Italian pastry shops, A. Veniero's (342 E. 11th St.; 212/674-7070; is the bigger draw. But tiny De Robertis (176 First Ave.; 212/674-7137;, with its cases of biscotti, pignoli-nut cookies, and talc-white meringues, feels more authentic.

On the western border of the park, Café Pick Me Up (145 Ave. A between 9th and 10th Sts.; 212/673-7231) is a warren-like coffeehouse, with a low pressed-tin ceiling and mismatched wooden tables at which East Villagers nibble cookies and peer into laptops. "It's a second home for people here," says Brigitte.

If you're in the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon, stop by the Sweet Things Bake Shop (136 Ave. C; 212/982-1714; for granola, brownies, and hand-painted cookies made by the local Girls Club. Or order by phone or Web—and have your taste of the East Village shipped to you.


Hotel on Rivington (107 Rivington St.; 212/475-2600;; doubles from $395, including breakfast) A chic 110-room glass tower offering floor-to-ceiling downtown views.

East Village Bed & Coffee (110 Ave. C; 917/816-0071;; doubles from $110) Ten rooms (one especially for kids) and shared baths in a funky guesthouse. Find the wildly graffitied front door, and you're home.


Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is where people priced out of the East Village started migrating to in the 1990's, and it's now alive with galleries, boutiques, and good food. Take the subway or a cab, or, better yet, hoof it over the Williamsburg Bridge, which spans the East River (find the pedestrian entrance at Delancey Street) and affords unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline. On the Brooklyn side, head for the shops and galleries around Bedford Avenue, including Pierogi (177 N. Ninth St.; 718/599-2144;, which carries Brigitte's own gouache and ink drawings of insects, then cool your heels at Diner (85 Broadway; 718/486-3077; dinner for four from $80), for grass-fed top-round steak and cheeseburgers in a rehabbed 1929 dining car.


The Neighborhood Cocktail: Equal Parts Grit and Glamour

The art dealers started it all. Priced out of Soho in the 1990's, they migrated to the old industrial area north of West 14th Street and transformed warehouses and garages into stunning showcases for contemporary painting and sculpture. And because gallerygoers needed places to refuel, brunch spots sprang up. Hip clothing shops opened. And a 30-acre sports complex surfaced right on the Hudson River. Coming next: a cutting-edge park on an abandoned elevated railway. Despite all the changes, some streets are still paved with cobblestones—stick to the sidewalks with those Heelys!

Our Guides

David Strah, stay-at-home father and author of Gay Dads.
Barry Miguel, president of the Zac Posen fashion house-he gets the family in to see the fall and spring runway shows Midtown in Bryant Park.
Zev, 9, guitar player, skateboarder, and Lego master.
Summer, 6, aspiring actress-she recently played Dopey in Snow White.

Home Base

A white loft with a Keith Haring painting and a view of the busy loading docks of the Old Chelsea Station Post Office (where Zev had his sixth birthday party)

Residency Requirement

Discerning taste—in food (this was the first New York neighborhood to get a Whole Foods market) and fashion. "Every couple has at least one artsy type," says Barry. "The other might be an investment banker."


The neighborhood's western edge is the Hudson River Park (, a glorious waterfront strip of biking paths; on a Sunday afternoon you'll see Barry and the kids whizzing by.

The new Chelsea Waterside Park (23rd to 24th Sts., between West St. and 11th Ave.) packs in a basketball court, soccer field, dog run, picnic tables, and playground with fanciful Danish climbing structures—all on a traffic island.


Chelsea is now home to 300 art galleries(!), concentrated between 19th and 29th Streets, from 10th to 11th Avenues. Most dealers welcome kids—as long as they exhibit museum manners—but parents might want to take a first peek to make sure a current show's subject matter is appropriate.

Reserve a spot on one of art historian Dorothea Basile's Artime gallery walks for families (718/797-1573;; $25 for one adult and one child five and up), and ogle the scene with an insider.

The Miguel-Strah clan goes to the Rubin Museum of Art (150 W. 17th St.; 212/620-5000;—which has on display Buddhas, ritual dance masks, and woven textiles from the Himalayas—"for a nice stroll through a beautiful place," says David. "Plus, the kids' programs are great."

Playwright David Mamet and actor William H. Macy founded the Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Groves Theater (336 W. 20th St.; 212/645-1242;, which has family productions on weekend mornings in a renovated Gothic Revival parish house.


For an after-school treat, David squires Summer and a friend to Books of Wonder (18 W. 18th St.; 212/989-3270;, which shares a high-ceilinged space with a branch of the Cupcake Café—a combo that inspired the bookstore in You've Got Mail.

Yoya (636 Hudson St.; 646/336-6844; and sibling Yoyamart (15 Gansevoort St.; 212/242-5511) are ostensibly kids' stores, so why do parents get so excited here?Swoon over European fashions for wee ones at the former; get monkey-devil T-shirts, Japanese toys, and the world's coolest sneakers at the latter.


Hmm…should it be pretzel croissants or caramelized French toast?Whatever else you order at big, bustling City Bakery (3 W. 18th St.; 212/366-1414;, get the thick hot chocolate with house-made marshmallows—and check out the kids' play kitchen under the stairs.

Grab a frosted-blue aluminum seat at Pop Burger (58–60 Ninth Ave.; 212/414- 8686;, admire the Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings, and place your order. Two mini patties on fresh brioche rolls ($5) come snuggled in a tidy white box.

The Miguel-Strah family plops onto a banquette at El Cocotero (228 W. 18th St.; 212/206-8930;; dinner for four $66), a festive Venezuelan spot with rice and beans and passion-fruit juice for the kids, grilled-chicken salad for Daddy David and Daddy Barry, tres leches cake for all.

With its white tablecloths and seriously good Tuscan food, Da Umberto (107 W. 17th St.; 212/989-0303; dinner for four $120) is just right for a big night out. "It's where we taught our kids how to eat in a proper place with a napkin in their laps," David says. "Or, I should say, we tried to teach them.…"

At the Union Square Greenmarket (14th to 17th Sts., just east of Broadway; 212/788-7476;; open Mon., Wed., Fri., and Sat.), the granddaddy of the city's beloved farmers' markets, David and the kids graze on free samples of cider, sausages, and pumpkin bread while gathering just-picked apples and pears. Last stop: the playground in the middle of it all.


At Chelsea Market (75 Ninth Ave.; 212/652-2121;, a fabulous food hall in a repurposed 1890's Nabisco factory, you can watch the bakers at Amy's Bread, then pick up some of Eleni's Statue of Liberty–shaped cookies.

Started by defectors from the West Village's Magnolia Bakery, the retro-style Billy's Bakery (184 9th Ave.; 212/647-9946; tops red-velvet cupcakes with white peaks of cream-cheese frosting.


David, Barry, Zev, and Summer love hopping on the New York Water Taxi (; board at Pier 45, btw. W. 10th and Christopher Sts.), a river-going version of an old checker cab. Zip around the southern tip of Manhattan to DUMBO for a stroll along the Brookyn Heights Promenade, pizza at Grimaldi's, and a cone from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. Then catch a water taxi back.


Hotel Gansevoort (18 Ninth Ave.; 212/206-6700;; doubles from $635) A happening place just south of Chelsea that lures families with baby toiletries, use of Nintendo Wii consoles, and a rooftop pool. Rooms in the back are quieter.

Four Points by Sheraton (160 W. 25th St.; 212/627-1888;; doubles from $425) A 22-story tower in a prime location—ask for a view of the Empire State Building.

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.

Our Guides

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;, 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;—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; 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;, 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; will know just the thing.

Penny Whistle Toys (448 Columbus Ave. between 80th and 81st Strs. ; 212/873-9090;, 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.


Who needs the Yankees and Mets when you can watch The Coast of Utopia square off against Mary Poppins?Every Thursday afternoon the casts and crews of Broadway and Off-Broadway productions go head-to-head on the Heckscher softball fields (at W. 65th St.) in Central Park. Nearby: the carousel, and the Heckscher Playground, newly renovated with 14 swings and a wooden suspension bridge.


H&H Bagels (2239 Broadway; 212/595-8003; may be the best-known of the Broadway bakeries churning out the New York Jewish staple, but the Gersten-Reale clan says the poppy- and sesame-flecked creations at Absolute Bagels (2788 Broadway; 212/932-2052) are superior.

Chef Mitchel London's no-nonsense Fairway Café (2127 Broadway; 212/595-1888;, in one of the city's standout food markets, is where locals go for crêpe-thin pancakes before or after their weekly shopping.

Sure, you can brave the crowds at Zabar's (2245 Broadway; 212/496-1234; to see food-obsessed Upper West Siders in their native habitat. But if you want to avoid that nosh pit, consider Artie's Delicatessen (2290 Broadway; 212/579-5959;; lunch for four $27), where the hot dogs and pastrami sandwiches are everything they should be.

At Patsy's Pizzeria (61 W. 74th St.; 212/579-3000;; large pizza from $16), the Upper West Side branch of a New York mini-chain that originated in 1933, crisp, bubbling pies with blistered crusts are whisked from the coal-burning brick oven to the marble-top tables, and everything from salads to spaghetti can be ordered family-style.

What exactly is Spanish-Chinese cuisine?Try to figure it out at Flor de Mayo (484 Amsterdam Ave. at W. 83rd St.; 212/787-3388; dinner for four from $60), where the Peruvian chicken, avocado salad, and maduros (sweet fried plantains) can't be beat.


At just-opened Grom (2165 Broadway; 646/290-7233;, the first U.S. outpost of a Turin gelateria that uses organic ingredients, the flavors change seasonally, but the sensational cioccolato and crema are always on hand.

Across from St. John the Divine (the world's biggest neo-Gothic cathedral) and its gardens (yes, those are live peacocks!) flutter the red-and-white awnings of the Hungarian Pastry Shop (1030 Amsterdam Ave.; 212/866-4230). In this coffeehouse beloved by students from Columbia, five blocks north, order linzer tarts, grab a rickety table—and imagine a time when your own kids will be in college.

Cucumber sandwiches and cranberry-orange scones arrive on three-tiered stands—and the hosts wear fairy wings—at Alice's Tea Cup (102 W. 73rd St. between Amsterdam and Columbus Aves; 212/799-3006;, a Through the Looking-Glass-themed tea room on a quiet side street. "It's not my boys' thing," says Jenny, "but my nieces and I love it."

Turtles, almond bark, butter crunch—it's all at Mondel Chocolates (2913 Broadway at 114th St.; 212/864-2111;, a tiny mom-and-pop shop where the late Katharine Hepburn picked up her standing order once a month.


Hudson Hotel (356 W. 58th St.; 212/554-6000;; from $549) A mesmerizingly modern hotel steps from Central Park, with chessboards and a pool table in the library, a garden, and a restaurant modeled on an Ivy League dining hall.

Excelsior Hotel (45 W. 81st St.; 212/362-9200;; from $229) The hood's mahogany and brass traditional, a stone's throw from the Museum of Natural History.


The Gersten-Reale family rarely misses a show at the New Victory Theater (209 W. 42nd St.; 646/223-3020;, a 1900 palace featuring the most innovative children's comedy, drama, and dance from around the world—and not just because Jenny's mom, Cora Cahan, runs the place. From there they might mosey over to Daisy May's BBQ (623 11th Ave. at 46th St.; 212/977-1500; also a street cart at W. 50th St. and 6th Ave.;; dinner for four from $40). But if there's time for only one quick stop, it's the indoor Ferris wheel at Toys "R" Us Times Square (1514 Broadway; 646/366-8855; before blasting on Leo's favorite form of transport back to the Upper West Side.