July 2, 2012

The 15 Greatest Things To Do In New York City By Age 15


Plus, Some Really Good Alternatives!

By Eric Messinger


I guess you could think of this as a list of greatest hits—the NYC places, institutions and experiences that offer children the biggest wows, the most fun and some truly impactful and inspiring learning moments. Of course, our children are so lucky to have all these things within a commuter’s reach. Hopefully, they’ll get to check off many of them over the course of their childhood.

(1) Times Square/Broadway
What is Times Square if not the grandest and gaudiest of all outdoor malls, with festive bursts of kid-heaven like the 16-story Hershey’s store, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, Toys“R”Us and Dave & Buster’s? Toss in a Broadway show like “Mary Poppins” or “The Lion King,” with great actors and dancers—and you’ll understand why a visit to Times Square/Broadway is still one of childhood’s most magical days. timessquarenyc.org 

Under-The-Radar Alternative: The Palisades Center
Did you know that one of the largest malls in the country, the Palisades Center, is a brief car ride away in West Nyack? Beyond the 400-plus stores, the mall has movie theaters and an IMAX, as well as an ice-skating rink, bowling alley, Ferris wheel, carousel, a Dave & Buster’s and all the fun eats you could imagine. palisadescenter.com

(2) Central Park
With the carousel, the zoo, picnicking, row boating, statue climbing, playgrounds galore, ice skating and simply walking around and enjoying the grand parade of humanity at its leisure, Central Park is our great green oasis of recreation and calm—and our best retort to questions about living in a city without a backyard. centralparknyc.org

Under-The-Radar Alternative: The City Parks Foundation
If you live in NYC with kids, you’ve probably been to a City Parks Foundation event. This organization is everywhere, hosting free events like sports clinics, concerts, puppet shows and educational programs for kids and adults to enjoy in the great outdoors. cityparksfoundation.org

(3) The Bronx Zoo
The great animal exhibits and attractions vary in geography and species, but all are full of jaw-dropping wonder, whether it’s the Congo Gorilla Forest, Himalayan Highlands or the Butterfly Gardens. On weekends, the zoo usually features special programming for kids that marries education and fun. bronxzoo.com

Under-The-Radar Alternative: The Staten Island Zoo
The zoo is a good reason to hop on the ferry and spend more time on Staten Island. It’s small and perfect for little kids who like to wander around its pretty environs. It has a petting zoo, pony rides and lots of fun animal facts posted all around the property. statenislandzoo.org

(4) The American Museum of Natural History
From the stars above us to the beginning of man, the Museum of Natural History takes kids on so many amazing journeys to the heart of our natural world, while bringing to life (so to speak) such incredible figures from our past and present as Tyrannosaurus Rex and the big, blue whale. The museum also does a great job of planting the seeds of wonder and of care for the environment in children. amnh.com

Under-The-Radar Alternative: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Speaking of the natural world, Jamaica Bay is the only wildlife refuge in the National Park system. It is the place to observe migrating birds, and its unique landscape contains rare native habitats like salt marshes, woods, several fresh and brackish water ponds and an open expanse of bay. There is a variety of ranger and partner-led programs, including presentations on seasonal wildlife, sunset tours, hikes, boat trips and family programs. nps.gov (search for “Jamaica Bay”)

(5) Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met’s collections are so vast and diverse that one of the best approaches is to let children roam around with you. The museum offers a bunch of free drop-in programs for families and, for many children, the most fun spot to drop in on is the museum shop. But at least you know that by the time you get there, they’ve gotten a world-class dose of art and culture! metmuseum.org

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: The Rubin Museum Of Art & Museum Of Arts And Design (MAD)
Almost all museums have some kind of programming for kids and families these days. Both the Rubin Museum of Art, which focuses on the Himalayas, and MAD, the Museum of Arts And Design, have become especially popular among families because of their commitment to kid-minded programming. rmanyc.org; madmuseum.org

(6)Yankee Stadium/Citi Field
We’re not going to try to settle any Yankees vs. Mets debates right here, except to say that there’s nothing like taking a kid to his or her first ball game. Eat hot dogs, enjoy that seventh inning stretch and pray really loudly for your hero to hit a homerun. yankees.mlb.com; newyork.mets.mlb.com

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: Staten Island Yankees/Brooklyn Cyclones/Long Island Ducks
As thrilling as it is to go to a big league ball game, a minor league game often has a more personal and zany charm, with lots of kids activities like baseball clinics and the ceremonial running of the bases after the team wins. milb.com (search for “Staten Island Yankees”); brooklyncyclones.com; liducks.com 

(7) Coney Island
It may not look or feel like Disney World, but Disney doesn’t have a genuine ocean, beach and a historic boardwalk at its front door. With the aquarium, new rides and amusements, classic oldies like the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, Nathan’s, the Brooklyn Cyclones and the holy troika of beach-boardwalk-ocean, a day in Coney is the best. coneyislandfunguide.com; wonderwheel.com

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: Carousels
There’s been a flourish of new carousels around the city including Jane’s Carousel in DUMBO and others in Flushing Meadows Park and Forest Park in Queens. Add to those the old regulars in Central Park, Prospect Park and Coney Island, and round and round we go! janescarousel.com; nycgovparks.org

(8) Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island
The immigration station on Ellis Island received over 12 million immigrants in its first 62 years open. And as our grandest symbol of freedom, Lady Liberty was the perfect welcoming committee of one. Kids should experience this history firsthand—and there are special exhibits and activities at both places to help. ellisisland.org; nps.gov (search for “Statue of Liberty”)

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: Ethnic Museums
In the same spirit of celebrating our heritage, a trip to NYC’s multitude of ethnic museums can open little eyes to a whole new world. The Tenement Museum, Asia Society and Museum, the Jewish Museum of New York, El Museo Del Barrio and MOCA all have excellent programs. Just a short trip from the city center, the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany and the African and American Museum in Hempstead, Long Island are also excellent. tenement.org; asiasociety.org; thejewishmuseum.org; elmuseo.org; mocanyc.org; irishamericanheritagemuseum.org; theaam.org

(9) Chinatown
Got some picky eaters on your hands? Take them down to Chinatown to get swept up the neighborhood’s ethnic hubbub while enjoying some dim sum. Bonus: Older kids can practice their communication skills by haggling with the hawkers, and parents can pick up some exotic fruit to take back from the wet markets.

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: Food Trucks
Go online and show kids the delectable splendor of our local food trucks, how many of them now have websites and how they use Twitter to communicate their whereabouts. Then plan a rendezvous or two! With over 3,000 food trucks and carts selling lobster rolls, Mexican barbecue, gourmet grilled cheese and more, you’re bound to introduce your child to some favorites and soon-to-be favorites.

(10)  FAO Schwarz/Toys“R”Us/American Girl Place
Being enveloped by larger-than-life stuffed animals at FAO Schwarz! Going for the Ferris wheel ride at Toys“R”Us! Having a Mommy & Me lunch date at American Girl Place! For a child, every day is a holiday day at our grandest mega-toy stores. fao.com; toysrus.com; americangirl.com 

Under-The-Radar Alternative: Madame Alexander Doll Company
There’s something about seeing how stuff is made that can captivate a child. During a visit to Madame Alexander, you’ll see a gallery of dolls and storyboards that span almost 100 years—and then the real fun: a behind-the-scenes tour that takes you through the design and production lines as well as the doll “hospital.” madamealexander.com

 (10) Big Apple Circus
The circus that bears our name and is our fun ambassador to kids all around the world makes it all happen—the clowns, acrobats, jugglers, contortionists and absurdly well-trained animals—in just one ring, under one tent, where every seat in the house is a good one. There’s something so small-town about the experience, we just love it! bigapplecircus.org

Under-The-Radar Alternative: The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus
Another NYC-born spectacle, the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus offers a truly unique hybrid of circus arts-vaudeville-Wild West-burlesque that they fine-tune in age-appropriate ways for the audience. bindlestiff.org

(12) New York Botanical Garden/Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Who says urbanites can’t get in touch with nature? Our two magnificent floral oases, the New York Botanical Garden (in the Bronx) and Brooklyn Botanic Garden are not only pleasant to look at, they offer all sorts of kids classes in gardening and science and family-minded special events. Mini green thumbs will love losing themselves amongst lush mazes, gargantuan flowers and other green curiosities. nybg.org; bbg.org

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: Flower District and The High Line
Blink and you might miss the leafy greens, bright blooms and creative containers in Chelsea’s Flower District on 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. But the true urban hideaway is 25 feet above ground, along the train track-turned-park High Line. Over 200 species of plants thrive in the first section alone; see if you can guess which 161 are native to New York. thehighline.org

(13) New York Hall of Science/Liberty Science Center/Intrepid Museum
Young Einsteins have a lot of local inspiration. Both the 450-exhibit New York Hall of Science and the 300,000-square-foot Liberty Science Center hold a lifetime’s worth of sensory adventures and interactive programs. For astronaut hopefuls, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum just became the new home for the Enterprise space shuttle. nysci.org; lsc.org; intrepidmuseum.org

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: Sony Wonder Technology Lab/Museum of the Moving Image
The whole family can channel their inner geeks—for free—at midtown’s Sony Wonder Technology Lab, where cutting-edge software lets you make your own computer game and project dance moves into a cool animation. In celebrating the history of movies, the Museum of the Moving Image has a lot of engaging exhibits about the technology that produces light and sound. sonywondertechlab.org; movingimage.us

(14) The New Victory Theater/Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM)
Don’t think of this as a tie or a draw; rather, view this as a celebration of two special and, in a way, complementary cultural institutions. There’s just nothing like the New Victory, which features live acts that are both family-friendly and kind of cutting-edge. In a similar spirit, CMOM does an incredible job of taking important concepts like the body and health and making them fun, accessible and understandable for children through interactive exhibits and activities. newvictory.org; cmom.org

Under-The-Radar Alternatives: Puppetworks & Our Great Libraries
NYC is blessed with a master puppeteer, Nicolas Coppola, who puts on amazing puppet versions of classic stories. And perhaps this goes without saying, but all around the city, the branch libraries as well as the big central ones offer an incredible mix of events and exhibitions for kids. And it’s always free. puppetworks.org; nypl.org

(15) Winter Holiday Fun
There’s a reason why so many holiday movies are set in the Big Apple. With glittering Christmas trees, fantastic store window displays and frosty skating rinks, the city becomes a winter wonderland every December. The Nutcracker performances, model train shows and endless opportunities to interact with what seems like a billion Santas are just some of the can’t-miss festivities.

Under-The-Radar Alternative: Spring
In springtime, the city feels friendly and inviting. Families start taking walks with their kids after dinner. The playgrounds fill up again. And this is a great time to do touristy stuff because there aren’t that many visitors around yet—they’re still in school.

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