Summertime is upon us and I have yet to enroll my NYC toddler in any summer camps nor have I booked a multi-leg European vacation (mon Dieu, say it isn't so!). However, I have some other tricks up my sleeve that come in the form of free entertainment courtesy of this great city we call the "Big Apple", along with a few other fine cities within arm's reach. In the coming weeks I will post other fun summer activities, which we have on our roster, that are either free or just plain kind to your wallet! In the meantime, here is a preview of what's to come based on some of the fun things we did, saw, and ate last year! Start planning now. Click the images for links.
Citi Summer in the Square, Union Square
Every Thursday from June through August, Union Square hosts free performances and activities that are fun for the whole family. Last year we watched The Very Hungry Caterpillar, participated in a giant bubble show, saw Cinderella Samba, had our faces painted, read books in the tented outdoor library, and more! Check out this year's line up here.
Movie Night, A La Mode Shoppe
A La Mode Shoppe deserves a post on its own. Since it opened three years ago, we have been enjoying their Partly Cloudy (cotton candy flavor with mini marshmallows) among the other classic and inventive flavors. They host a variety of events and kids' activities including art and music classes; but our favorite is the free movie nights that they host on Fridays in the summertime. Free popcorn included! Check out their schedule of events here.
Governor's Island Teaching Garden, Governor's Island
Curious G watered mint plants (her fave!), learned about worms and soil (another fave!), and observed some hens playing tag last year at this urban farm located on Governor's Island. Look out for our Governor's Island outing post this summer, when we will probably play mini golf, ride a quad bike while enjoying the panoramic views of Manhattan, slide down the slides at Slide Hill, amble through the maze, ride the zip line, indulge in the food truck fare, and run around the Parade Ground lawn once again (we've been going every summer since Curious G was 5 months old). The ferry is free before 11:30 A.M., and this year you can even go glamping! Fore more information on Governor's Island click here and to jump to the ferry info click here.
Le Carrousel, Bryant Park
Le Carrousel is only $3 a ride and gives your kids a chance to pick a whimsical animal to ride on while listening to old French songs that play over the old speakers. Last summer they hosted daily events including story times and art sessions right next to the carousel. Click here for the schedule. This is also a great stop pre or post story time at the famed Children's Center at the 42nd Street library. In the summertime, Bryant Park also offers a fun schedule of free events like outdoor concerts and movies on the lawn on a daily basis.
Preschool Art, Battery Park City
On Thursday mornings in Battery Park City, kids can let their imaginations run wild as they create their own masterpieces in Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City. The park scenery is enough to inspire, and artists and teachers are on hand to guide the kids through projects! Take a romp through the lawn or the awesome playground complete with kid powered merry go round before or after. Stay tuned for our Battery Park City post because it is one of our very favorite spots to explore during the summer. Click here for the full Preschool Art schedule. Preschool open playtimes are also hosted on the lawn Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings.
Family Festival, The High Line
This is another fun and free event! Check out the schedule for this year's line up here. Last year we attended a Latin influenced family festival where Curious G danced on stage with a children's dance troupe, made colorful South American face masks, and learned about a variety of plant roots. Click here for some of our favorite ways to spend a day at the Highline. Spoiler alert; there’s a lot of food involved!
Smorgasburg, Saturdays in Williamsburg (now also Sundays in Prospect Park)
This is one of the OG open air food courts, if not THE OG open air food court that has launched dozens of other food halls and food courts throughout NYC. Our favorites last year were the Ring Ding Bar, a Thai street food vendor that had amazing roti, and an ice cream stand that had amazing turmeric scoops. The vendor line up changes yearly, but here is a preview for this year. After loading up on all your hearts desire, mosey on over to the cute playground and let the kids run free. Then park yourself on some rocks or sand on the "beach" area to stare out into the urban abyss while luxuriating in your food coma.
The Garden, The Standard East Village
Need to just chill for a moment? Trying to meet up with a grown up friend with your kids in tow? The Garden in the East Village Standard is one of many little outdoor oases in our great city of NY. Grab a chair, order a drink and some yummy nachos and let your kids play on the astroturf-lined ground while you bask in some semi-downtime. I did, and it was fun. For more restaurant ideas, check out our Yum and Yummer restaurant list.
The Children's Center at 42nd Street, New York Public Library
As two bona fide bookworms we hold the NYPLs very dear to our hearts, and in the summertime they are a great place to chill out (literally while enjoying some literature). Catch a story time, open play, arts and crafts session, or even a movie night while meeting other kids from the neighborhood. Free WiFi is a bonus! Our favorite library branches include the 53rd St location and Battery Park City. Look out for our future posts featuring all the fabulous locations! Click here to search for free events hosted by the NYPL.
Victorian Gardens at Wollman Rink, Central Park
Enjoy all of the thrills and fun of a good old fashion carnival in the heart of Manhattan. Children under 36 inches enter the park for free, and additional admission information can be found here. Last year, Curious G had her first ride on a ferris wheel, mini roller coaster, tea cup, and enjoyed more rides than I could ever have stomached. Lucky for me, she was tall enough to ride solo on most of them.
Eggloo, East Village and Chinatown
There’s always room for ice cream! That’s our family motto (Click here for our ice cream post!). One of our favorite ice cream shops, Eggloo, has a new East Village outpost across the street from Tompkins Square Park, and we love the original location across from Columbus Park in Chinatown. The prize here is a freshly pressed Hong Kong style waffle cake “cone” that holds exotic flavors of ice cream (cherry blossom! Nutella! eggnog! Blue Earl Grey!). They also serve ice cream sandwiches enveloped in Asian fusion (a.k.a. green tea white chocolate and red bean among other flavors) cookies and bubble tea made with house brewed tea. Check out the full menu here. We love the black sesame ice cream drizzled with condensed milk and topped with mochi and strawberries in a waffle cone.
The Arthur Ross Terrace, The American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side
The Museum of Natural History is so vast that we have barely scratched the surface three years into the game. We have yet to experience the Planetarium as a family, but Curious G can spend hours just roaming through the ocean life section, weighing herself a thousand times on the moon scale, or just checking out the dinosaur fossils. Click here for museum information. This particular photo was taken in the Arthur Ross Terrace sprinkler park outside the Rose Center for Earth and Space by the Columbus Ave and 80th Street entrance. The sprinklers are surrounded by a fresh lawn and ample seating...and you can access this park without paying museum admission!
The Conservatory Garden, Central Park
If you are craving the blooming beauty of European Gardens within Manhattan, spend some time in Central Park's Conservatory Garden (entrance off Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets). Six acres are divided into three smaller gardens where you will find an English, a French, and an Italian style garden. Picturesque and serene, it’s the perfect mini escape from the concrete jungle.
MoMA PS 1, Long Island City
While I have fond memories of drinking and dancing at many Warm Ups in the MoMA PS 1 courtyard back in the day (check out the schedule here for this year's musical line up), nowadays I’m less party and more toddler rangling. Last year MoMA PS 1 showcased the most stunning immersive installation outside by Jenny Sabin Studio, and even had a Virtual Reality experience, and sculptures that Curious G was allowed to climb on! We look forward to seeing what they have in store this year. Check out our Long Island City post. It’s about Gantry Plaza State Park and involves a beautiful waterfront that offers views, playgrounds, and endless photo ops.
Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, Harlem
This museum feeds the imagination with storytellers that will have your kids hanging off the edge of their seats, cheering, and dancing like nobody is watching! Their art lab provides space to create both art and music. Their special daytime and evening events are a must-do this summer. Click here for the calendar of events. Kids under 8 enter for free and adult admission is $7.
ChaCha Matcha, Nolita and NoMad
Cool off and boost your energy with an iced Matcha Latte with your choice of milk and level of caffeine strength while your little one chows down on soft serve and a variety of other pastries. Snap a few pics for the 'gram while you’re there because this place is a social media dream ripe with neon photo ops.
Roosevelt Island Tram, Midtown Manhattan to Roosevelt Island
The actual tram ride to and from Roosevelt Island, itself, provides breathtaking city and river vistas. It also feels like a real amusement park ride while you are descending! No need to buy a ticket; use your Metrocard to ride. Roosevelt Island is a fun place to explore new parks and playgrounds. You can even take a dip in one of the pools (memberships required), walk to the Northern tip of the island to visit the lighthouse, and run around the lawn where Kanye staged his Yeezy fashion show a couple of years ago. Stay tuned for our Roosevelt Island post!
St. Catherine's Park, Upper East Side
NYC is full of public playgrounds in every neighborhood, where you can cool off in the sprinklers and make a new friend or two on the jungle gym. Curious G can easily spend two hours at the playground on any given sunny day. Some of our favorites are St. Catherine's Park and John Jay (Stay tuned for playground reviews)!
Lido Beach, Long Island, NY
Clear water, check! Soft powdery sand, check! Space to spread out and work on your sandcastle building skills, check! Bypass the crowds of Jones Beach and save yourself from sitting in hours of traffic when you spend a day relaxing and playing at Lido Beach. This beach is a hidden gem. There is no admission fee for the beach but parking runs around $25.
Berry Picking, Various Locations
Did you know that raspberry bushes are very thorny? I didn’t either, until we went berry picking last summer. We picked blueberries, raspberries and cherries in Pennsylvania, but you can take a 1.5 drive to Alstede Farms, and enjoy pony rides, bouncy houses, farm animals other activities after berry picking. We went apple picking there in the Fall and had a blast. For the Alstede Farms harvest schedule click here.
Dia:Beacon, Beacon, NY
Dia:Beacon warrants a day trip to idyllic Beacon, NY. Housed in a former Nabisco box printing factory, the sprawling grounds of the Dia Museum will inspire you to uproot your family from the confines of city life and renovate a farmhouse upstate to call your own (high ceilings and natural light abound here!). The museum's space and the peacefulness create such a grounding experience for viewing large scale works of art from Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Dan Flavin, and other recognizable artists. Some of the highlights are Richard Irwin's garden complete with massive geometrically perfect hedges that welcome you the moment you arrive and the basement echo chamber where Dan Flavin's haunting neon sculptures are displayed. Click here for our Car Trip: Beacon edition post.
Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia, PA
This is hands down our favorite children’s museum on the East coast. Go there and see why. Click here for a preview and more information. If you want to make a weekend out of it, make stops at Sesame Place, Crayola Experience, Longwood Gardens; and stay overnight in Philly. Stay tuned for our post about fun things to do in Pennsylvania; a must read if you are craving a weekend getaway with the kids.
City Island, Harrisburg, PA
Harrisburg’s sleepy capital comes alive in the summertime and it’s a great time to venture over to City Island, where you can ride a choo choo train around the island, play mini golf, watch a baseball game, ride the carousel, and relax on the beach. The stroll over the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge to get there is a fun adventure on its own.