A ropes course and rock climbing, a nautical carousel, beaches and cheap baseball—these are some of NYC’s under-the-radar attractions that will push those traditional NYC must-do (but haven’t-yet-done) experiences farther down the list.
We’ve included one “anchor” activity in each borough (along with some Plan Bs and dining options), so you needn’t travel far to make a day of it. Get out and explore!
Hit the Bronx for history, beaches, seafood, and parkland.
One of the most underrated sites around is the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, where you can go with low- to-no expectations and come away delighted.
Dating from the mid-1800s, Bartow-Pell is perhaps the last remaining Bronx manse built by New Yorkers escaping the ick of 19th-Century Manhattan. The 10-room Greek revival home is situated in Pelham Bay Park, amid gardens, a fountain, and carriage house. And while the mansion provides an interesting glimpse into how the one percent lived back then, its location in Pelham Bay Park is reason enough to make the trek.
At triple the size of Central Park, Pelham Bay Park is New York City’s largest park with playgrounds, bike paths, canoeing, golf (mini and regular golf), and pony rides. But one of its most vibrant and diverse sections is Orchard Beach. Built on the Long Island Sound in the 1930s, Orchard Beach has a mile-long boardwalk, swimming, and beach for constructing sand castles.
After exploring the mansion and the park, hop back in the car and head toward City Island. Just 15 miles from midtown, this charming finger of land offers a 1950s vibe and seemingly more seafood restaurants than seagulls. Two mainstays are Johnny’s Reef Restaurant and Tony’s Pier Restaurant at the southern tip of the island. You won’t get fine dining, but the umbrella drinks (for mom and dad, of course) are pretty tasty, so bring a designated driver.
Get a feel for the island’s seagoing past at the City Island Nautical Museum, a small, free museum that details the yacht and shipbuilding industry. It’s open weekends from 1-5pm.
Check out Williamsburg for food and fun.
Billed as the world’s first museum with exhibits you can taste, touch and smell, the Museum of Food and Drink helps visitors figure out why they eat, need and crave what they do. The “Flavor: Making It And Faking It” exhibition running through June demonstrates how smell contributes to taste. Since kids will only stay inside so long, head across Bayard Street to McCarren Park. The pool was redone recently and is well-run. There’s a shallow end for the short ones and deeper water for the older fish, and a playground next door.
Make your way south and west to The City Reliquary, a community museum that tells the story of NYC through everyday (sometimes scavenged) objects such as the original 2nd Ave Deli sign, fragments of iconic NYC buildings such as Hearst Tower and the Flatiron Building, and a comprehensive display of subway tokens. There’s even a backyard (with a tree house!). The museum hosts plays, concerts, and readings year-round. Annual events include Collector’s Night (June 10); Bike Fetish Day, a block party for bike nerds (July 16); and the Havemeyer Sugar Sweets Festival (Sept. 25), a bake sale that honors Williamsburg’s role in the 19th-Century sugar trade. The “Sonic City” exhibition (opens June 2) features musical instruments manufactured in NYC and will include a slate of outdoor summer events.
Hungry? Saltie, the sandwich shop next door, offers up unique combinations like scrambled eggs and ricotta or sardines with pickled eggs.
Head south and west, and you’ll soon you’ll be on Bedford Avenue, the main drag in Williamsburg. Keep south for the Brooklyn Bike Park under the Williamsburg Bridge.
It’s on the East River and rents out bikes pretty cheaply so anyone can zoom around the bouncy path. Head north on Kent Avenue to the East River State Park for the Saturday Smorgasburg, open now through November.
Or, if you go on Sunday, drive down to the Brooklyn Flea, which is back in DUMBO for the summer season at Pearl Plaza with about 75 vendors offering antiques, collectibles, and food. (It’s replacing the Williamsburg Flea site for now, which is being incorporated into Bushwick Inlet Park.)
This trip through southern Manhattan should appeal equally to young children and jaded tweens—but they’re going to have to work for it.
Start with a sobering walk through the Irish Hunger Memorial, a beautiful representation of the Irish landscape, the Great Potato Famine of the 19th Century, and the blight of hunger that still affects millions worldwide. Head to Teardrop Park on Warren Street—one of the most memorable playgrounds in the city for kids of all ages. Tucked among four apartment buildings, this secluded and natural playground offers almost two acres of sand boxes, spouting water, lush plants, rocks for climbing (and resting), and a slide that could be one of the longest in Manhattan. (Remember to pack a towel and a change of clothes.)
Perhaps the only way you’ll wrench the kids awaay from Teardrop Park is with food. Shoot across the island to Fulton Street for Seaport Smorgasburg, open Memorial Day Weekend through November 1. At this seasonal offshoot of the Brooklyn Flea, you’ll find eight food vendors sure to satisfy the most diverse constituencies. And if not, there’s a bar. So mom and dad won’t care after a tipple or two.
Not quite a mile south is the SeaGlass Carousel at Battery Park where some 30 cozy, rotating fish seats glow in a bioluminescent light. Time your visit for dusk when this unexpected delight is especially striking. (Tickets are $5 a pop.) Should you arrive too early for an evening ride, take in the nearby Gardens of Remembrance for victims of 9/11, peek out at Lady Liberty, and let the kids run around Castle Clinton while you rest on the grass.
Stick around for a free Shakespearean play from the New York Classical Theatre at Battery Park, and you’ll move with the actors five or six times as the play progresses. You may have some time between riding the glow fish and the Bard, so take a walk over City Pier A. This 19th Century municipal pier was recently refurbished and offers striking views of the Harbor. And drinks and snacks.
Queens will test your physical mettle, your mental wits, and your digestive tract.
Start at the Alley Pond Park Adventure Course, a team-building and problem-solving exercise that features ropes courses, a pseudo zip-line, and a climbing and bouldering wall. You work in groups of 10 with participants of all ages and abilities. The route lasts about two hours, with the morning session starting at 10am and the afternoon session at 1:30pm.
The course is free and open to the public on Sundays through the end of Novemb
er. Pre-registration is required to secure a spot in July and August, but it’s first-come, first-served in May and June as well as September through November.
After you’ve conquered the course, drive about five minutes to the Alley Pond Environmental Center, where you can walk wetland and wooded trails, check out tidal flats and ponds, and try to spy some of the 300+ species of wildlife. Weekend programs run for toddlers, young children, and teens.
For lunch, stop at Krave It Sandwich Shop & Eatery in Bayside for the wackiest menu you’ve seen. How about pizza with chicken and waffles? Or maybe one with meatballs and donuts (the Homer Simpson). There’s a decent vegetarian selection, and the pickle fries get raves.
Challenge Escape Rooms on Bell Boulevard in Bayside offer more team building and quick thinking. Using only your wits and materials in the locked room, you and up to nine others have an hour to find clues and complete puzzles to escape. There are two adventures, one where you have been infected with a deadly virus and need to find the vaccine; the other in a bakery that you must escape in order to enter a TV baking contest. Kids under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Some of Staten Island’s best activities are concentrated within about 25 miles on the northern part of the island.
Pick up a picnic breakfast of coffee and homemade Italian baked goods at the Royal Crown Bakery, a Staten Island institution on Hylan Avenue, before driving to Fort Wadsworth. The former military installation defended New York Harbor from the 1600s until 1994 when it became part of the National Park Service. Take a Ranger-guided summer tour to explore the catacomb-like tunnels, climb the 19th Century batteries, or scope out enemy shops at
the Overlook. Or, just drive around the base for dazzling views of the harbor, Manhattan, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
New York City has 520 miles of shoreline, and some of the best are at New Dorp or South Beach. Stroll the boardwalk, catch some waves or sun yourself while the kids spray each other with sand. Head to Denino’s Pizzeria and Tavern by way of Clove Lakes Park and Todt Hill Road to see where Staten Island’s old money slept.
While the island is known for its pizza, Denino’s is a standout. It’s hard to go wrong with anything, so take a load off in the dining room before heading across the way to Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices for dessert.
Young children will enjoy the Staten Island Children’s Museum at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Gardens. Oversized dominos, a mini fire station, different biomes, and a pirate ship are the perfect size for ages 2-9. The new garden terrace boasts a nature-inspired play area where kids can paint with water and gin up music to complement the hum of insects. Kids can drive a dogsled in the tundra, learn Morse code, host a radio show and use a wrecking ball.
If they have any juice left, head to the Richmond County Bank Ballpark to catch the Staten Island Yankees. Watch the farm team for those guys up north, while taking in hot dogs and stunning views of Lower Manhattan for a song.