Saturday, November 19, 2011

5 Fabulously Fun-Filled Days in NYC with Children

NY is fantastic city. I must admit though, I’d lived there when I was in my 20’s, and after living out my Sex and the City life, a la Carrie not Miranda, I had some reservation about taking my 3 year old boy to the city that never sleeps.

So, imagine my surprise, when my little boy LOVED the city, not only all the wonderful activities and sites catered for children, but simple things like standing in the middle of Time Square at night looking all the bright lights or just climbing rocks in Central Park.

Whether you're visiting New York City for the day or a week, the city offers everything you and your child need to have an incredible time, and here's how we spent 5 fun-filled days.

***** Day 1 *****

Nothing will impress a child and make an impression on his/her mind like a trip to FAO Schwarz (5th Ave & 57th St), as it is simply the happiest place in Manhattan, and going through a store full of toys and seeing the delight in children faces will also allow you to feel like a kid again … if not, getting on the piano from the movie “Big” will definitely do it.

Then, pick up lunch at one of the many gourmet delis nearby, my favorite being Mangia (on W. 57th btw 5th Ave & Ave Of The Americas), and head over to Central Park for a picnic. Especially on a beautiful sunny day, you couldn’t find a more picturesque restaurant or cafe (my favorite spot is near the 57th & 5th Ave entrance across from the Plaza Hotel).

After lunch, we took a bus (M1, M2, M3, M4 and M5 goes straight down 5th Ave until 42nd St) to the NY Public Library (on 42nd St & 5th Ave). It was one of my favorite spots in NY while living there, and it was absolutely wonderful to share the experience with my little boy. Also, there is a children’s book reading in the afternoon usually around 4pm at the Children’s section (entrance on 42nd St btw 5th & 6th Ave).

For dinner, we headed over to Man Doo Bar in Koreatown, an area that is less known than Chinatown, but offers a great selection of restaurants within 2 block radius.

One of the things that really surprised me was that as our hotel was situated close to Time Square, we thought it would be nice to walk through the area on our first night just to get a glimpse of the place that epitomizes NY. Then, just as we were crossing 46th St & Broadway, my little boy shouted, “Stop!” When we looked towards the direction of his glance, who did we see but a big red furry Elmo waving at my son. And he was not the only one, as there were Buzz Lightyear and Big Bird walking few feet away from us.

I was absolutely stunned that a place that was infamous for its strip clubs and XXX videos was now a home to a slew of big fuzzy puppet characters from Sesame Street and Pixar Movies. Time Square had become an entertainment hub for children, and the entire area has been Disneyfied.

So, there we were, standing on Time Square with our “friends” from Sesame Street ... it was an incredibly cool way to end our first day in NYC.

***** Day 2 *****
One of the best thing about staying at a hotel in midtown (on the west side) is that we had great access to public transportation, and on subway, it took us only 10 minutes to get to just about everywhere we wanted to go.
Our first stop on 2nd day was the American  Museum of Natural History. AMNH is absolutely ginormous, and we could have stayed there the entire day. However, it was a gorgeous autuum day, and as impressive as the museum was, we didn’t want to spend the entire day indoors.

So, after lunch at the museum café (which turned out to be our only big disappointment when it came to food in NYC), we headed out to the park.

First stop, the Belvedere Castle, which is literally right across the street from AMNH. There were more adults than children when we were there, and I must admit, visiting a castle in the middle of the city was something that interested me more than my little boy.  Also, it provides the best and highest views of the park and its cityscape. 

Then, we headed over to the Alice in Wonderland sculpture (E. 74th entrance), which was exactly as I'd remembered it to be. I'd seen the statue so many times while living in NY and rollerblading through the park, and there we were back with our own little one. It was absolutely unreal, and it was wonderful to see the delight in my sons eyes as he climbed and discovered every inch of the sculpture.
Afterwards, we went over to the boat pond (Kerb Conservatory next to the sculpture) and rented a sailboat ($11 per ½ hour), which was something I'd always wanted to do while living there, and although I'm not really sure whether my son fully grasp the concept of sailing, he did have a great time pushing the remote and watching the boat go "wiggly".

For dinner, we headed over to Hell’s Kitchen, which was also close to our hotel and happens to have a great selection of moderately priced restaurants. However, make sure to avoid the pre-theater dinner crowd (which clears around 7pm), as it’ll be easier to get seated and get serviced. Two of my favorite restaurants in that area are: Breeze and Uncle Nick’s (see list of My Favorites in NYC for more detail).

***** Day 3 *****
Living in San Francisco, I never get to see the seasons change and experience beautiful crisp sunny autumn days anymore, and these are perfect days to be in NYC … and in Central Park. So, we headed back to the park (the entrance at the Columbus Circle), which again took us less than 10 minutes via subway.
We were heading towards the Heckscher Playground (west side of the park near the 67th St entrance) but got sidetracked by a rock … a very big rock. I was absolutely surprised and delighted that one of the things my little boy enjoyed most was climbing rocks in the park, and there we were, on top of a big ole rock looking up at the magnificent skyline of Manhattan above and the beautiful nature of the Central Park below us … I was beginning to see that my son was definitely on to something.

Then again, the wonderful thing about Central Park is that you can always find something new, fun and interesting where ever you go, and there are plenty of hidden treasures to be discovered while just strolling. My other recommendations: Central Park Zoo, Tisch Chilren's Zoo, and seeing the Delacorte Clock (north gate of the Zoo).

Then, we headed to le Pain Quotidien (W 69th St near Sheep Meadow), where we found a variety of French sandwiches and light dishes. The meal was good, but what I enjoyed more was the atmosphere and sitting out in the middle of the park.

After lunch, we took a cab (as it was always easier to take a cab across town) to the High Line Park. After a fun-filled morning at the Central Park, I think the High Line was bit of a letdown for our boy; however, it absolutely blew me away. This marvelous new park was once an elevated structure for freight trains, and its conversion into a public space/park shows ingenuity of NYC and its ability to constantly reinventing itself.

We sat at the southern edge of the park near the coffee stand above the Chelsea Food Market and watch the sunset over the Hudson, which was one of the most unforgettable experience of my life. Afterwards, we headed over to East Village (walk or cab it depending on which exit you decide to take from the High Line), and although there are many great restaurants in that area, I've always enjoy going to Banjara. And of course, no trip to NYC would be complete without indulging in scrumptious desserts at Veniero's.

***** Day 4 *****
Lower Manhattan is not the most child-friendly area in the city. Between the hustle and bustle of the Wall Street workers and Occupy Wall Streeters, certain areas can be downright crazy to get around. However, if you take the larger streets (like John & Maiden Lane), you’ll be able to get around rather swiftly and comfortably with a stroller, and you’d be surprised that there are quite a few wonderful sights for children to discover.

Imagination Playground is without a doubt one of the places that my son enjoyed the most during our trip. It is a breakthrough play space concept conceived and designed by internationally acclaimed architect David Rockwell. The mission of Imagination Playground is to encourage child-directed, unstructured creative “free play,” the kind of play that experts say is critical to a child’s intellectual, social, physical and emotional development. However, with all the child psychology aside, it is one rockin' place for children, and the great thing is that you don't even have to bring any of your own toys, as the playground provides all the extra toys that a child needs … even sand toys!

Also, the location near the South Street Seaport is absolutely perfect, as you can grab lunch to go at one of the many top-notched delis in the area or sit down at one of the restaurants and eateries on Pier 17.

You can also take a boat ride around Manhattan from there, or easily walk to the City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge (about 10 min walk).

Then, after watching the sunset from the Brooklyn Bridge, we headed over to Chinatown for dinner, and although this was one of the most challenging area to maneuver through with a stroller, the meal at our favorite hangout, Peking Duck was definitely worth a trip.

But what we loved most about being in that area was having scrumptious desserts at one of the Italian gelaterias in Little Italy, which was a fantastic way to end the day!

***** Day 5 *****

If FAO Schwarz was a great place to start off our trip, then, Toys R Us Flagship store at Time Square was definitely the right place to spend our last day in NYC. The place was off the hook! I mean, a Ferris wheel INSIDE THE STORE?!? It doesn’t get cooler than that! Well, of course gazillions of toys and Legos built in the shape and seemingly the actual size of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty helps also.

If you’re able to drag your child(ren) out of the store, with a lot of coaxing and false promise to return as we did, you can grab lunch at one of the many delis in Midtown or head up to Hell’s Kitchen where a lot of restaurants offer great lunch specials and deals.

After lunch, we headed uptown to the Hippo Playground at Hudson Park, which is a sweet neighborhood playgrounds.  Also, I couldn’t resist going back to our old ‘hood.

Playgrounds in NYC are not just your ordinary, run of the mill play spaces that provide few slides, monkey bars and swings, they are mini-theme parks, amusement parks and extraordinary play spaces DESIGNED for little people. And the best part of it all is that they're FREE and are located in the most ideal locations in the city. For a list of playgrounds in NYC.

***** Word to the wise *****
There are many options of getting from the airport to the city. However, with a child, especially young children under the age of 5, you would save yourself a lot of hassle if you take a cab. Nowadays, the taxis from the airports have fixed rate (from JFK, $45+$6 toll); so, even if you encounter heavy traffic, you can rest assure that you won’t be bankrupt by the time you get to the hotel.

There are also numerous options when comes to hotels in NYC, and in the last decade, I’ve stayed in over a dozen of them, in all price range and locations throughout the city. However, I’ve never encountered such courtesy and hospitality as I have at the Staybridge Hotel. I’d initially chosen the hotel as it had amenities that we were look for and needed while traveling with a young child, but what I didn’t expect was that the staff at the hotel surpassed my expectation when it came to their level of service and courtesy they offered not only to me but also to our little boy.

Also, the suites are absolutely perfect for parents traveling with their children, as every room is equipped with full kitchen and utensils, and they offer a complementary full breakfast every day.

It was a perfect hotel in an ideal location, and I would definitely stay there again on our next trip to NYC.


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