A Local Mom’s Insider Guide to Visiting New York With Kids
The Bump presents Where In the World Is The Bump, a series of summer travel guides featuring tips, favorite picks and insider know-how from local moms for families looking to visit their cities this season. From the best baby-friendly restaurants to preschooler-approved playgrounds, savvy packing lists and more, you’ll get all the honest, parent-proven advice you need to plan your trip.
I’m Ashlee, deputy editor of The Bump and mama to Vera, my music-loving, food-throwing 1-year-old. Along with my husband and our ginormous chocolate lab, we live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—not all that far from where I grew up, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
As a born-and-raised New Yorker, I (naturally) can’t recommend my city enough as a wonderful place for families to visit. It’s easy to get around, either by foot, cab or public transportation; the food options are endless and there’s a plethora of activities to choose from—trust me, there’ll be no shortage of stimulation. And when the little ones need to run around and let off steam, chances are there’s a park not too far away. Whether you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple with your baby, toddler or preschooler in tow, here are a few of my top recommendations for visiting New York with kids.
In this article:
Kid-friendly outdoor activities
There are so many restaurants to choose from in New York, and the best picks are of course going to depend on your cuisine and ambiance preferences, budget, where you are in the city and how old your kids are. The good news is that there really is something for everyone, for every type of meal. A few standouts, in my book:
Considered the Little Italy of the Bronx, Arthur Avenue is a destination in and of itself. It’s lined with restaurant after restaurant after bakery, offering some of the best cannoli of your life. If you’re planning to check out the New York Botanical Garden—and I recommend that you do—this is a great post-garden activity. Mario’s serves up authentic, mouth-watering Italian food family-style. It gets super-crowded (reservations are a good idea), so strollers aren’t allowed tableside in the main dining room—however, they have a secondary dining room that’s massive, with plenty of space to fit multiple strollers around the table or tucked off to the side, making it a prime choice for big groups. They also have high chairs and a service staff that loves cooing over babies. If your little one is a meat eater, their meatballs are a must.
In Manhattan, Almond is a great go-to. The trendy eatery is located in the Flatiron District and offers tasty French-inspired fare and a full bar. There’s lots of stroller parking and even space to wheel right up to your table, plus high chairs, booster seats and changing tables in the unisex bathroom, so Dad can be on diaper duty too. Local tip: The LEGO Store is located directly across the street, in case you want to steer your kiddos to (or maybe clear of) that corner.
Want to spice things up? Try Gabriela’s on the Upper West Side. Their Mexican menu is reliable and their tequila bar plentiful, but what earns this eatery a spot on my list is their baby-friendly attitude and amenities. They have room for strollers, available high chairs, a changing table in the bathroom and even a curtained off area for breastfeeding moms to nurse in private.
If you’re heading to Williamsburg and are in the mood for a drink, you’ll want to check out the beer hall Spritzenhaus. It’s a bar popular with Brooklyn’s young hipsters, but if you’re wondering if it’s truly baby-friendly, let me just say this was the favorite meet-up spot for my moms’ group. While you may not want to hang for late night, it’s perfect for an afternoon or early evening beer. The long, picnic-style tables can accommodate a crew, there’s plenty of stroller parking and you won’t get weird looks if baby gets hungry and you decide to breastfeed right there (personally tried and proven). Best of all, it has an impressive beer list and yummy cocktails to choose from. If your kiddo gets hungry, order up a German sausage on a pretzel bun. Plus, directly across the street is McCarren Park, offering 35 acres of grass, sports fields and a cute playground.
One of the best things to do in New York with kids is visit a museum—there are many specifically geared for the younger set, and if you have an infant, you basically get your pick of preeminent institutions. There’s a museum for everything in this city: art and design, natural history, science, space, transit, fire and even wax museums—you name it. You’ll have no trouble finding something that suits your and your kids’ tastes. A few that I personally love:
This was actually where we headed for Vera’s first-ever museum outing, when she was 6 weeks old. It’s a world-class museum dedicated to 20th century and contemporary art and is a must-see when in New York, with kids or without. They have rotating exhibitions, so check to see what’s on display when you’re in town. Strollers are allowed in the galleries at all times—in fact, they offer stroller tours on certain Saturday mornings specifically for parents with babies 0 to 18 months, as well as other family programs. There are changing tables in all of their unisex bathrooms. If you need to nurse, head to the fifth floor sitting area, which has comfy couches and a spectacular view—or if your older kiddos need to get their wiggles out, head to one of the outdoor patios.
Full disclosure: I haven’t actually been to the Color Factory yet. I’ve been waiting for Vera to start walking, which I think will up her enjoyment, but it’s billed as being suitable for all ages. She’s finally tottering around, so I can’t wait to book my tickets. They’re pricey, at $38 (kids under 2 are free), but it’s one of the buzziest (and most Instagrammable) New York experiences right now. Color Factory is an interactive exhibit in SoHo celebrating color, and play is encouraged. There’s everything from a blue-hued ball pit (Vera’s going to love this) to a conveyor belt of multi-colored macaroon cookies (Mama’s going to love this), a rainbow hallway where you can pick out a colorful button to wear, a music room, a balloon room, a dance room and so much more. Note that strollers aren’t allowed in the exhibit, but there’s a place to park them.
For toddlers and preschoolers, the Children’s Museum in Manhattan is tons of fun. There are five floors of exhibits, where kids can make music, create colorful shadows while they get down on the dance floor, go “shopping” for fruits and veggies and even play in the seasonal H20 exhibit. There’s also the Brooklyn Children Museum in Crown Heights. While some of their exhibits feel a little worn, they have a neat “Totally Tots” area with nine different sensory play spaces, including an awesome hands-on water and sand station.
You may not think of New York as a super-outdoorsy place, but there are actually loads of ways you and your kiddos and get outside and have some fun. I’ve already mentioned the New York Botanical Garden and McCarren Park as awesome kid-friendly spots, but here are a few more to consider.
What local guide to New York would be complete without mention of our crown jewel, Central Park? It basically served as my backyard growing up, and is an idyllic place to take a walk with a stroller. The place is huge and you won’t get to see every part of it in a single visit. Some parts you may want to make a point of checking out include Sheep Meadow, a swath of grass where you and the kids can lounge or frolic (or make a pit-stop at the nearby bathrooms); Conservatory Water where people sail miniature boats and the Alice in Wonderland statue next door, which kids love to climb on; the Central Park Zoo; the carousel; and the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater for a cute puppet show. Some of the best playgrounds are the Tarr-Coyne Tots Playground at West 68th street (designed specifically for toddlers!), which has sprinklers, sand tables and lots of stuff to climb on; Heckscher Playground](http://www.centralparknyc.org/things-to-see-and-do/attractions/heckscher-playground.html) at West 63rd street, a massive playground that’s great for preschoolers; and Ancient Playground at East 85th street, which has cool pyramids that I climbed as a school-age kid but that are good for preschoolers and up.
I love taking the ferry over to Governor’s Island. The boat ride is stroller-friendly, as are the looping walkways and grassy lawns on the island. We packed a picnic and headed here when Vera was a few months old. If you’re with older kids, you can rent bikes, or stop by The Yard, an awesome adventure playground with upcycled items, tools and loose pieces of wood that let kids embrace healthy risk. When you need a break, grab a drink at Island Oyster, a chic outdoor bar with a great cocktail menu for Mom and Dad and lawn games for the kids. Tip: Instead of waiting in the crazy-long ferry line to get back to Manhattan, slide into the separate line for those with bikes and strollers—it’s always way shorter!
Hopefully you packed your bathing suits, because you can totally hit the beach while you’re in New York. It’s not exactly Turks & Caicos, but Jacob Riis is a clean, family-friendly beach with lifeguards, a boardwalk, bathrooms, a restaurant and food trucks, plus a grassy area with grills. Located out on Far Rockaway, you’ll need a car to get here, but if you can swing it, it’s a pleasant escape from the hustle and heat of Manhattan.
When exploring New York with kids, in addition to all the standard stuff, definitely consider bringing the following:
• A travel stroller and car seat that can be used with just a seat belt (via a European belt path), so you can jump in a cab with baby (for older toddlers, you can order an Uber with a forward-facing car seat in it)
• If you’re traveling with older kids and plan on taking subways and buses, a lightweight stroller that folds easily will help
• Don’t forget a baby carrier—it can be way easier to navigate crowded streets, public transit and even duck into a crowded restaurant without a bulky stroller
• Hand sanitizer and wipes, because New York is not free of grime
• Toys that suction to tables, so your little one has some entertainment when you’re eating out. Also pacifier clips, because if that paci or toy falls onto a subway platform, it’s pretty much done for
• If you’re planning to be here for several days and take public transit, consider getting a 7-day Metrocard (from any station vending machine)—it’ll grant you unlimited access to subways and buses while you’re here and can be a big money-saver
• Many of New York City’s subway stations have elevators, but whether they’re actually in service is sort of a gamble. If you don’t want to get stuck with your stroller, you can head to the MTA website and check a station’s elevator status
• Download the Via ride share app—it’s by far the cheapest way to take cabs around the city
I hope you guys have a blast exploring New York!
Published May 2019