NYC Summer Bucket List for Families

Fireworks on Coney Island; photo by Luna Park Coney Island

There are only a few weeks left of vacation. Before the old school routine starts up again, make sure you cross these warm-weather NYC must-dos off your summer bucket list before it’s too late.

Picnic In Central Park
Nothing says quintessential NYC summer more than a picnic in the park. Make it an adventure by letting the kids help pack. In the morning, set up a Sandwich Bar in the kitchen, complete with bread, cheese, meat, and other toppings. Have everyone customize their own sandwiches, then head over for a picnic experience that’s truly yours. If that’s not enough excitement, test how well your family knows each other’s tastes by making someone else’s sandwich instead.

Urban Art
Skip the indoor museums and check out some street art en plein air. Start with the walls of a 200,000-square-foot factory building at 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc. in Long Island City, where talented artists from all over the world gather, or head to Harlem’s Graffiti Hall of Fame, where new artists add to work dating back to the ‘80s. For an artsy day trip, Storm King Art Center in upstate New York offers over 100 sculptures across 500 acres of fields and woodlands, just a 75-minute drive away.

Hitting The Beach
We know saltwater splashing is a must during the summer, but what about conducting your own science experiment? Discover just how salty the sea is by painting some aluminum foil with oceanwater. First, color a few cups of water with  food coloring, then use an eyedropper to create some splotchy designs. Let them sit in the sun for a few hours while you enjoy the usual beachside activities (our favorite locations for doing just that include One Pleasant Beach on the Jersey Shore, Jones Beach in Long Island, and Jacob Riis Park just a few miles away from Rockaway Beach). In a few hours, you’ll see sparkling, colored salt crystals decorating your artwork after the water’s dried.

HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival; photo by Asterio Tecson

Miniature Golf
Looking for some action-packed but not-too-tiring fun? Challenge yourself to a game of mini golf! Brooklyn Crab’s 18-hole course features three cornhole courts to keep you busy on the green, and Pier 25 creates a beautiful background with two waterfalls, a fountain, and mini-gardens surrounding its course. For something just a little educational, little putters can learn all about gravity, speed, and angles at the New York Hall of Science’s Rocket Park in Queens, also home to two NASA rockets. Finally, the Figment 10-hole course is a summer-only, part-art installation playground that will challenge your chipping skills as well as your imagination. Feel free to forget you’re still in the city—just remember to putt for a hole-in-one.

Kids of all ages will appreciate the loud boom and beautiful sparks when it comes to fireworks. In case you missed it last month, Coney Island Boardwalk has a firework show every Friday at 9:30 pm through August 30 and after select baseball games at MCU Park on Saturdays. Also check out Pier 16 on August 4 or Midland Beach on August 17 for more spectacular displays.

Getting Wet
When it’s just too hot out, a little water fun can make all the difference.Visit Hudson River Park’s Pier 51 Playground to cool off in the midst of gigantic water gushers and buckets. Or relax in the shade of an umbrella while your kids go wild at the Chelsea Waterside Park, where they can run through sprinklers and fountains. You can find more of our favorite playgrounds with water features at newyorkfamily.com, but of course any old sprinklers anywhere will do—a game of tag, freeze dance, or catch is much more fun in the water.

Flavorful Fun
Your favorite summertime treat just got even better—lots of popular ice cream shops debut unique seasonal flavors in the summer. We recommend stopping by the famed Chinatown Ice Cream Factory for a scoop of peaches and cream or cherry pistachio, then top it off with red bean sauce or lychee. For those of you who are especially daring, Blue Marble offers sea salt caramel, banana cookie crumble, or horchata (a Latin drink made with rice milk and cinnamon). Otherwise, don’t forget the city’s other cult favorites, like Serendipity, Pop Bar, Jacques Torres, and more.

Outdoor Movies
NYC hosts outdoor movies almost any day of the week all summer long, so you can catch a free screening at your local park, rooftop, or waterside. Most screenings start at dusk, but some series also offer pre-show activities against the sunset. SummerScreen in McCarren Park offers live music before shows on Wednesdays, River Flicks for Kids at Pier 46 has PG options every Friday, and The Intrepid Summer Movie Series offers classics like “The Karate Kid” atop the giant ship’s deck. For more, look up options at other picturesque locations like Bryant Park, Riverside Park, South Street Seaport, and Coney and Roosevelt Islands. (See our August round-up of movies right here.)

5Pointz Aerosol Art Center; photo by Garrett Ziegler

Despite all the city lights, you can see stars in New York! Every Tuesday, the High Line sets up high-powered telescopes with on-site astronomy experts who can help you find the stars and planets. Want to learn more? Columbia Astronomy Public Outreach offers short lectures before 90 minutes of guided stargazing. Of course, many of our parks and zoos also yield great views. Bring your binoculars to Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1, Prospect Park, Inwood Hill’s Park Bear Rock Meadow, and even the Bronx Zoo.

Still want your toes in the sand but had enough ocean water? No problem! Hit up one of the city’s many great boardwalks and create a scavenger hunt to make a day of it. At the iconic Coney Island, make sure to enjoy some Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, hop on the Cyclone Roller Coaster at Luna Park, and ride the Polar Express on 12th Street. At the newly reconstructed Rockaways, you can cross off visiting reopened concessions like Rockaway Tacos, catching a surf, and maybe even writing a boardwalk haiku from your list.

With everything from speedboats to ferries to cruises, NYC is tons of fun when experienced by water. Circle Line is known for its loud music, sharp turns, and huge splashes, but for a more relaxing view of the island, we love hopping aboard the Audubon Summer EcoCruise, which takes seafarers under famous city bridges with a bird-watching focus. Liberty Landing Ferry is a great alternative to crowded streets, perfect for giving Hudson-loving families a whole new perspective of the city’s west side. Want to see NYC icons like the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and Empire State Building in one quick trip? A one-hour ride on the luxury yacht Zephyr floats you by all three.