11 Kid-Friendly Things To Do in NYC

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Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.
Words by Tracey C. Velt

New York City
11 Kid-Friendly Things to Do in NYC
Navigating “The Big Apple” Can Be a Fun Adventure For You and The Kids. 
Afraid that New York City (NYC) is too adult for a family vacate? No way! After spending the last six
months hauling my 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, around to her big brother’s football camps and college visits, it was time for a mommy-and-daughter trip. So, I persuaded a friend, Suzi McClain of Clermont, to come along. We had a jam-packed schedule with a ton of walking and shockingly few complaints from our kids, Sofia, Gracie (8) and Connor (10). The first order of business is always finding a hotel that is convenient. I like The Westin New York at Times Square (43rd Street and 8th Avenue) because it’s just off the beaten path, but close to the action of Times Square. We upgraded to a roomy suite so all five of us could stay together. After that, it was adventure time. Here are the top 11 things to do:
  1. American Girl Place
    A trip to NYC wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the American Girl (AG) store. It’s three floors of “Mommy, can I get this?” happiness. We had reservations at the American Girl Cafe ($26-plus per person) for a late lunch. We showed up about an hour before to do some shopping. Even Connor found a goody—Meatloaf, the AG dog. Lunch was in a perfectly pink cafe, where they set the dolls in special chairs at the table. I had a veggie sandwich, while Sofia noshed on chicken fingers. Both regular and children’s menus are available. Have a birthday to celebrate? Pay a little extra for the birthday package, and you get a cake and singing. Not in the frame of mind to drop big bucks on a meal? You can make an appointment to get your child’s doll’s hair done at the AG Salon. Kiddos can choose from tons of different styles. Prices range from $10 to $20 per hairstyle.
  2. Top of the Rock
    If you want beautiful views of the city, Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza) is the place to be. I think it’s better than the Empire State Building because there are three viewing levels with clear plastic barriers, rather than the walls and railings at the Empire State Building. Give the kids a history lesson by pointing out famous buildings and bridges. Plus, there are some great photo opps here. Prices range from $27 per adult to $17 per child.
  3. Serendipity 3
    Dining in the city is always a challenge. Many of the best restaurants for adults aren’t great for picky kids (or don’t even have kids menus!). While a bit touristy, Serendipity 3 is a perfect place to bring the kids. The décor is kitschy, and the menu is full of kiddie faves, such as mac and cheese and burgers. Or, skip dinner and go for dessert. While the frozen hot chocolate is a well-known favorite, I prefer the hot fudge sundae. Plan to share, as the portions are humongous.
  4. Ellen’s Stardust Diner

    Another touristy place well worth the trip is Ellen’s Stardust Diner. We chose to go there for breakfast. Portions are large, and the place is loud, in a good way. It’s a blast to see your waiter jump up on the back of the booth and belt out a show tune. Seriously, the waiters are super talented and take turns singing during your meal. Sofia and Gracie squealed with joy when a waitress sang Let It Go from the Disney movie Frozen. Did I mention that the wait staff members are all trying to make it big on Broadway? Quite a few of them succeed.
  5. Central Park 

    No trip to NYC would be complete without a trip to Central Park. At the entrance to the park, on Columbus Circle, there’s a huge park, so the kiddos can swing, slide and climb. Our kids had a ball navigating the huge rock at the end of the playground. If you want to spend a small fortune, take a

    carriage ride around the park.
  6. Brooklyn Bridge
    From Central Park, walk to 59th and Lexington to catch the subway down to the Brooklyn Bridge. A subway ride is always an experience for the kids, and the train drops you off right at the entrance to the bridge. About a mile long, the bridge is a fun walk. The cars running under our walkway fascinated our kids. The walk will generate a robust appetite, so plan to eat. Just over the bridge, in Brooklyn Heights (about a 10-minute walk), are some great eateries. Try the organic goodies at Siggy’s Good Food (76 Henry St.).
  7. Broadway Show
    My favorite part of the whole trip was the Broadway play we saw—Matilda. Based on the book by
    Roald Dahl, this fast-paced show featured lots of children singing and dancing. I recommend you carefully select a kid-friendly show and try to see a matinee, if possible. Evening shows start at 7:30 or 8. After a full day, the evening shows can be a bit late for little ones. Spring for the more expensive seats so the kids can really get in on the action. If possible, have your child preview the movie before you attend. My daughter watched the movie Matilda so she would have a better grasp of the show. It’s not vital, but it is helpful. In the past, we’ve seen Mary Poppins and Spider-Man. Our tickets in the front, center orchestra cost about $200 per person.


  8. Statue of Liberty
    Everyone I talked to told me the kids would be bored with this. They were wrong. We took a taxi down to Battery Park and hopped on the ferry—a fun 15-minute ride to the statue. For $18 (per adult) and $9 (per child 4 through 12 years old), you can take the ferry and walk (or ride the elevator) to the pedestal. For $3 more per person, you can access the crown. Access to “Lady Liberty’s” crown recently reopened after renovation, so we paid extra to walk up to the crown. Warning: There are no elevators up to the crown. It’s a very narrow, steep, winding walk—almost 300 stairs to the top. Our kids bounded up the stairs with just a few “Are we there yet?” comments. The crown is a very small area, big enough for the five of us to crouch together for a picture. After about two minutes, the kids were ready to walk back down. However, Sofia has announced that
    it was the best part of our trip. Don’t forget to go to the information booth and grab a junior ranger worksheet. Kids can fill out the worksheet, turn it in and get a junior ranger badge.
  9. Doughnut Plant 
    If you’re looking for a quick snack or after-dinner dessert, then hit up Doughnut Plant, with locations in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. The doughnuts are heavenly. I prefer the crème brûlée doughnut, while the kids liked the chocolate and glazed doughnuts.
  10. FAO Schwarz
    Not into American Girl dolls? Then head to the FAO Schwarz toy store. Say hello to the toy soldier at the front door; then head to the second floor to jump on the big piano made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie Big. Gracie decided on a stuffed lamb from Build-a-Bear with an adorable Statue of Liberty outfit. Connor bought a box of crazy and disgusting-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans and begged us to try such hideous flavors as baby wipes and barf. Sofia bought a Frozen Anna doll. Good times.
  11. American Museum of Natural History 
    Have your own night at the museum, and check out the dinosaur skeletons in this famous museum. Connor was our Indian specialist and told us all about the lifestyle of the American Indian. It’s easy to get lost in this huge museum, and the dioramas are incredible. Admission is free, although a donation is requested, generally around $12.50 for kids and $22 for adults. For an additional fee, I recommend a walk through The Butterfly Conservatory.



Best Breakfast Sarabeth’s Kitchen: I’m a sucker for the lemon and ricotta pancakes, while my daughter loves the eggs Benedict. Connor and Gracie both had the kids pancakes,w which are fluffy and delicious.

Best for Celeb Spotting: While not necessarily kid-friendly, this East Village restaurant is great for a parent night out. When I was there last, Jake Gyllenhaal and his girlfriend were dining at the table next to us. Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux had been in just a week before. The food is out of this world. Try the risotto; it’s to die for.

Best Pizza: John’s Pizzeria. With several locations, including one in Times Square, which was converted from a church, John’s Pizzeria had delish pizza and is close to the theaters. Great for an early dinner before heading to a show.



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