Oh, New York. I had a love affair with that city once. It didn’t last long. Like so many photo graduates, I moved there soon after college, worked for a bit and then moved on. Until we arrived in NYC with kids for a recent visit, my boys had no idea there mom used to live in this mythic land. They only knew Manhattan from movies and TV shows.
Free and Loose in NYC with Kids
When I first told the kids that we were going to New York, the first thing they said was “the Statue of Liberty is there!” and “Baby Hulk!” Yup. Everything YOU know and love about the city, right?
In case you don’t know who “Baby Hulk” is, it’s a mural an artist painted back in 2015. My boys saw a photo on Instagram shortly after it went up. They have been obsessed with it ever since. Sadly we never got down to it (at Houston and Bowery). We did see the Statue of Liberty though… from afar.
My boys were on the right track with their thinking though. They didn’t know what the “must-see list” was for a family vacation to New York with kids looked like. They hadn’t read a guidebook or searched the internet for a Top 10 list. I was free to wander however I saw fit.
DON’T DO THE NORMAL NYC TOURIST THINGS
We didn’t do the usual tourist things in NYC with kids. We didn’t get anywhere close to Time Square, normally the first stop for families. The stress of bringing my insane 5 year old up there was too much for me. Instead, we looked for the random events, museums, parks, and sights everyone else on Instagram wasn’t posting. My advice to you– Don’t ignore all of the best sites the city has to offer. They are there for a reason, but don’t just stick to the usual, well trodden path either.
HIT CENTRAL PARK
Being short on time, I let our New York CityPASS booklets pick our itinerary. I really didn’t need them though. There is plenty of free stuff to do in the city. We spent our entire first day just walking around Central Park. Rain was in the forecast, so I wanted the boys outside as much as possible.
We dropped our car and bags at our hotel—the Hotel Henri—and took the subway up to 59th street. The Plaza Food Hall had everything we need to refuel with gelato and Lady M crepe cake while wondering through Central Park. We stalked a wedding party taking photos at every major film location in the lower half of the park (or did they stalk us? We seemed to follow each other a lot). The boys and I ran into a roller skating dance club having their weekly meet up. We watched row boats on the lake, ate soft pretzels on a bench, but most important of all, we sailed model boats. This is one thing my oldest really wanted to do. Naturally, I just couldn’t say no. I wanted to sail them too! For about $11 each the boys had their New York (30 minute) moment.
SEE SOME FRIENDS
Day one was complete, but we had one more full day in the city. What were we to do? I thought I had my plan. Museums in the morning, meet up with friends in the afternoon. The weather, and our moods, changed our mind. That’s the beauty of travel, you can change your itinerary if you want.
We woke up the next morning and it was pouring rain. I called a friend and said “let’s meet for breakfast.” The boys and I found umbrellas, got soaked anyway on our way to the subway and headed downtown towards Battery Park and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Read more about our visit to the World Trade Center Memorial
We ran towards Brookfield Place, a massive shopping center with an eating gallery—Hudson Eats—that was perfect for meeting up with mom friends where our kids wouldn’t be a big disturbance. Sprinkles Cupcakes, Black Seed Bagels and more were available, but best of all, Stumptown Coffee was being poured. Few! This mama needed a hot brew to warm her up. How was it cold (65 degrees!) and rainy in July in NYC?!
HEAD UPTOWN FOR MUSEUM-A-POLOOZA
OK, so you can’t go to NYC without going to at least ONE museum, right? We used our New York CityPASS booklets to go to the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Two heavy hitters, but well worth it.
Learn more about CityPASS HERE.
Want to know a secret? First, go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds at the museums OR go late in the day. We arrived at the American Museum of Natural History around 2pm and the security line was out the door. We cut through Central Park, wandered through the Met for an hour, and headed back to the natural history museum around 3:30pm. Boom! No line. We only had two hours to explore, but for us we had the time we needed to see what we wanted to see. Yes, we could have used more time, but that was OK.
With our New York CityPASSes we skipped the long lines for tickets, got access to the Planetarium and didn’t stress about getting our full money’s worth from our ticket. Another reason I love the CityPASS booklets.
WHERE TO STAY IN NEW YORK WITH KIDS
- Westin New York Grand Central Hotel, 212 E 42nd St, New York, NY 10017. Read our full review of the Westin Grand Central now.
- Hotel Henri, 37 W 24th St, New York, NY 10010. Read more about the Hotel Henri and our New England Road Trip.
- Best Western Plus Hospitality House, 145 E 49th St, New York, NY 10017.
Grab the best rates and availability at New York City hotels now!
New York City Destination Guide
New York City Hotels
- Park Central Hotel New York: Great for leisure or travel, Park Central Hotel New York is situated near Central Park, Rockefeller Center and Times Square.
- Yotel New York: A first class experience with an affordable price. Beautifully designed smart suites await.
- Stewart Hotel: An upscale hotel with lavish guest rooms. Dog/pet-friendly with free high speed internet.
Looking for more? Search for the best NYC hotels on Booking.com!