New York with Kids: Finding Our Happy
New York City is one of the hardest places with kids I have ever been. Crowds. Dirt. Bright lights. Fences all around the few green spaces where you dream of sitting down and collecting yourself for 5 darn minutes. Steps up and down the subways that are overcrowded and can’t accommodate a stroller anyway. Taxis without car seats. Need a bathroom? Bwahahaha. I could go on. And on. And on.
New York is a difficult town. If you want me to put a positive spin on it, it’s a challenging juggernaut that requires the planning of a hausfrau and the energy of an Olympic nordic skier.
See? that’s the best I got.
Want to indoctrinate your kids into the bustle and possibility of New York without the hard parts? Follow my guide:
- Avoid crowds. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is more like plodding through a slow-moving amusement park line. Planning on heading to the top of a skyscraper to admire the views? No, just no. Go to sites early. The more popular, the earlier you should get in, get out, and keep happy. Do not overplan your day. Big open spaces are best reserved for afternoons, which brings me to…
- Central Park: Sure, I hate its fences, but there are still *some* places to sit.
Sometimes you have to walk for the good spots, which again, requires planning and difficulty. Hint: Don’t wander in from the Natural History Museum and expect to find a park. We ended up on (yet another) endless walk, stuck on the cross-street. We played Frogger. We stumbled across a fire hydrant that was flooding the street. So.many.obstacles. Can.not.cross. Thank you, nice park man. We are so weary and mean, and you looked on us with empathy anyway.
- For dog-hesitant kids (like mine!) Central Park allows dogs off-leash before 9:00 a.m. For dog lovers, this is the least crowded time of day and the perfect time to go enjoy! The turtle pond is an oasis.
- While we’re talking parks, Bryant Park is a great breather in Midtown, an otherwise difficult part of town. It also has a carousel that plays a strange little French tune and the best, easiest, public restrooms in New York.
- Dylan’s Candy Bar: Three floors of hard-to-find classics and not-so-classics. Cupcake ice cream booths. A sugary pick-me-up close to the park. They have giant, stuffed poop emoji pillows! Don’t you want that? I know I do.
- The Staten Island Ferry: Avoid commuting hours, and actually sit. 25 minutes of chair time is precious. Turn right around and ride it back (the trip is free) and enjoy a full hour of cruising while the kids check out Ellis Island, Governor’s Island, and the Statue of Liberty, as well as some great views of downtown and Battery Park. It’s a ride! It’s a mode of transportation!
- The Met and the Natural History Museum (which you’ll feel somewhat obligated to do with kids of all ages) have suggested entrance fees. Do not feel one little ounce guilty for undercutting their suggestions. Target big, famous things, and get our quickly. Museum fatigue is real. Bathrooms are rare and have long lines. Stroller rules abound, as do those forbidding food in purses, which is basically like making me leave the house for the day stripped of everything I need to survive. That said, my discretely buried water bottle and granola bars made it unscathed, so follow my lead.
- Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, on the edge of the park, is a good bet for those picnic-deprived. Long lines and difficult to maneuver escalators, hidden forks, and just plain chaos make it another one of those crowded adventures that make New York pretty tough. It’s still your best bet if the kids are too young or picky for the nearby, iconic, Carnegie Deli.
- Location, location, location: Trains at the end of a long day are not relaxing. They’re almost always packed and just plain tiring. Travel luxuriously, keep spirits high, and call a cab if it even remotely feels like you should. Spare little feet with realistic walking expectations.
- Now that you’re comfortable, grab a .99 cent slice of pizza and keep it coming.
- Broadway: There are always kid-friendly shows. Dress up. Do it right. Enjoy it.
- Walk the Brooklyn Promenade at night. The skyline is one of a kind. Heck, any pier will do. The water calms the city noise and lights, which come skipping, all sparkly and nicer, over to you. Brilliant.
- Tea helps make everyone calm, too. Try the Central Park Loeb’s Boathouse express café (surprisingly affordable) or the Plaza Hotel (surprisingly pricey, even for New York) to channel some of its famous fictional heroine, Eloise’s, gumption. Try Alice’s Cup to split the difference in price and “experience.”
- School-aged and need a break? Chelsea Piers has open gyms and drop-ins for a variety of activities. Sport enthusiasts shouldn’t miss it.
Making New York exciting means planning. There are spontaneous cities with kids, and I haven’t found this one to be on the list. Put the park on your daily itinerary, people watch, and picnic, picnic, picnic. New York with kids can be done, it just takes patience and a commitment to finding your happy attitude.