Most everyone who knows me knows how much I love NYC. While I have been fortunate to see many international cities over my 40+ years, none tops my first love. It really is the greatest city in the world.
In fact, one of the best things for me about living in Maine is access to the big apple. When we first moved here nearly six years ago, I was so overwhelmed and sad and lonely that I piled my barely 4 year and not yet 2 year old twins in the car and drove down to stay with one of my best friends in New York for a week. And while I’ve grown to really appreciate small town life and all that comes with it, I still get restless. Some people are energized by being in and enjoying nature. But I feel so revived and alive when I’m in an urban environment!
I try to get down to the city a few times a year. Sometimes I’m able to meet up with girlfriends or family from down south, occasionally my husband and I are able to escape for a few days, but more likely, if I’m in the city, my kids are there too. And despite what you might think, NYC is fantastic for kids. If it were more affordable I would absolutely love to raise my kids there. But for now, we enjoy it as visitors (not tourists!) and try to make it home when we are there.
I would certainly not call myself an expert on the city but I do visit enough to have opinions on what I think works with kids. Because I get asked fairly frequently about where to stay, eat, etc… I thought I’d share some of my go to’s.
WHERE TO STAY:
While most people look for hotels in the theater district, I prefer staying in neighborhoods when we visit the city. My first choice with kids is on the Upper West Side. I’m sure the nostalgic factor is a huge part of this, as that is where I lived, but it truly is such a family friendly environment.
We have stayed at The Lucerne several times, located on W 79th. The 1/9 Subway is literally at the end of the block, which will get you to Times Square in heartbeat, and you are just a short walk away from The Museum of Natural History and Central Park. A slightly longer walk takes you down to Lincoln Center, and then Columbus Circle just beyond.
Midtown East is another great neighborhood in my opinion, if you are looking for something a little more centrally located. There are often good deals on hotels in the this area, including The Affinia Hotels (there are a few) which a number of my friends have stayed with their children. If you are up for a splurge, I love the hotels on park.
WHERE TO EAT:
Our family really moves all around the city so I have ideas from a number of areas, but here are some of my top family friendly choices – many of which have multiple locations, including sit down and on the go spots that still are quite enjoyable for mom and dad.
- Sarabeth’s Kitchen – this is my favorite place to brunch. I’ve eaten at both the Upper East and Upper West locations. They are both adorable and have fantastic food. We were able to score a reservation at the Upper East Side on a Sunday morning and that made it doable with children. Otherwise, expect long lines and tight quarters! I haven’t dined at the other locations so I’m not sure about space and wait times.
- The Smith – such a classic brasserie – loud to mask any noisy kids and great food. There are multiple locations but I’ve only dined at the one across from Lincoln Center. While I love Balthazar, I think The Smith is better with kids. (Takes reservations.)
- Otto Enoteca – located near the east village, this Mario Batali owned brick oven pizzeria is anything but boring. The salads and sides are as good as the pizza. We love eating here with the kids and then walking west where the adults can hop into Stumptown Coffee for a latte (West 4th) and then head to Washington Square Park for people watching and overall entertainment. (Takes reservations.)
- Patsy’s – Another casual pizzeria we like in several locations
- Maison Kayser – Super cute french bakery in multiple locations. We like to grab coffee and pastries from the one on 76th and Broadway when we are staying on the UWS.
- Gray’s Papaya – Don’t judge! Just keeping it real! It’s not a sit down and not my first choice for a meal, but we do usually grab the kids a hot dog from the UWS location at some point during the trip. There’s a hole in the wall taco shop just a ways down on the same side of the street (72nd) and the adults usually get a few tacos there – – so cheap and so fantastic, followed up by a Tasti D-Lite ice cream for everyone. Sometimes, little people get hangry and we can feed everyone fast and cheap and keep the show moving.
- Cosi – this is another spot we hit when we don’t have the time or energy for a long sit down meal. There are several locations in the mid-t0wn area but note they are often closed on the weekends as they cater more to the business lunch crowd. They have great flatbread sandwiches, soups and salads at reasonable prices.
- Pellegrino – This is our favorite spot to eat at in Little Italy. It’s a little bit like stepping in a time warp, decor-wise, but let’s be real, we go for the food! They have the best grilled chicken salad I’ve ever had and of course everyone loves the pasta. We usually hit Ferrara around the corner for an italian treat (cannoli anyone?) for dessert.
*My list doesn’t include the classic tourist spots like Carmine’s, Carnegie Deli, John’s Pizza, etc… but those are great options if you are looking for the traditional tourist experience.
**If you are staying on the east side, you have to go to Bloomingdale’s for a classic frozen yogurt. There is a great bathroom right on the same level and we love to hit Bloomie’s in the afternoon for a sweet treat!
WHAT TO DO WITH KIDS:
- Central Park – Weather permitting, this is hands down, our kids’ favorite spot in the city. There are little mini play areas throughout the park and we have hit most all of them! We have picnicked in the park as well as gone to the zoo.
- Museums – Whether you go and the amount of time you spend will largely depend on the age and attentiveness of your kids. We haven’t done too much with our kids yet, other than the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History
- Eataly – Eataly is a fantastic food hall that we love to hit up. We don’t usually go at meal time but you can get snacks and samples and mill about – it’s just a neat place to experience. Our kids don’t love it for long, but there is a great photo op with the Flatiron Building nearby, a park just across the street and a Lego store right next door that make for great bribes for good behavior!!! (we have walked from here down to Otto for lunch and it has worked out great.)
- The High Line – The High Line is a park built on an elevated section of an old New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. It’s relatively new (opened in 2014) and is another fantastic spot for kids to move about more freely without worry of traffic. We always go to the High Line unless it’s a bitter cold day.
- Grand Central Terminal – In the same way as Eataly, GCT is a no cost experience that every kid will enjoy. Avoid it during rush hours, not to worry, it is always buzzing with activity so you will still experience the fun of it. There are plenty of shops and food stalls here as well if you need a pick me up.
- American Girl Store – if you have girls, you know the drill 😉
- Rockefeller Center – I love Rockefeller Center! Maybe it’s because after we became commuters I walked through there every day getting to work and it brings back so many fond memories. At Christmas it’s an absolute must stop spot for the tree, but throughout the year, I love to walk through there and it’s a good spot with kids, because there’s space to move around a little more. There are some quick and casual food options underground but I like to hit the little pastry shop across from the Today Show windows for a coffee and a snack for the kids.
- Broadway – We don’t go to shows with our kids very often because let’s be honest, it’s expensive! But we have scored 1/2 price tickets for TKTS. If you are up for the expense, there are almost always several kid-friendly musicals available. While a matinee takes up a large portion of the day, it’s a better option for younger kids, as the evening shows often don’t end until 10:30-11:00.
*The Circle Line or a Double-decker bus tour can be a fun option if you are tired or want the full-on tourist experience.
**If you plan to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, count on that taking a full day. And let me know how it goes, we haven’t done that with our kids yet.
Oh my goodness, this is far from exhaustive and so much of what you plan will be weather dependent, but I think it’s a good start. There are so many other things I’d love to highlight but if you are planning a trip, drop me a note and I’ll give suggestions if I can!