Lonely Planet recently named Queens the number one travel destination for 2015 and if you’re a resident of the borough, you certainly can see why and it’s not just because the U.S. Open is held in Flushing Meadows. If you’re one of the many Manhattanites and Brooklynites who has yet to explore Queens, check out our list of cool playgrounds, shops and restaurants to visit this year.

FlushMeadowsCoronaPark

photo: Daniel Avila

Parks & Playgrounds

1. Flushing Meadows Corona Park (and Fantasy Forest)
We’ll just outline a handful of things this famous park (the largest in Queens) offers: amusement park rides at Fantasy Forest, recreational space for activities such as soccer, tennis and baseball, six — yes, six! — playgrounds, a promenade, BBQ areas, dog runs, handball courts, an ice rink, a football field, a pool, a marina, zoo, paddleboat/kayak rentals, a model aircraft field (How cool is that?) and tons of additional attractions. Oh, and don’t forget to remind the kids Men in Black was filmed here. Grand Central Pkwy. (Whitestone Exwy. bet. 111 St. and College Point Blvd., Park Drive E.) Flushing Meadows/Corona

2. Queens County Farm Museum
The words “Queens” and “farm” don’t really go together, but it’s true — there is indeed a farm in Queens and it’s fantastic for adults and kids alike. This place is a must-visit, so add it to your 2015 to-do list immediately. NYC’s largest, undisturbed farmland is open daily, has free admission, and offers seasonal events such as Easter Egg hunts, carnivals, craft fairs, corn field labyrinths, pumpkin picking, children’s fall festivals, and more. And yes, there are plenty of animals on-site, of course (say hello to the pigs, hens, goats, cows and sheep!) and tours of the grounds available. (Note: There are some paid admission dates; check Website for details.) 73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Glen Oaks

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photo: courtesy NYC Parks

3. Forest Park
Want proof that there are legit horse trails — and horseback riding lessons available — in Queens? Head over to Forest Park, but it may take a while since you’ll be distracted by the park’s beauty and amazing amenities. Home to 500 plus acres of natural land, besides the horses at Lynn’s Riding School, kids will cherish the cool carousel, tennis courts, live music at the The George Seuffert, Sr. Bandshell, and sporting sections for baseball, soccer, etc. Park Rangers can tell you all about the park’s rich history and the Jackson Pond Playground features a sprinkler area, climbing gym, and game tables. Myrtle Ave., Union Turnpike, Park Lane South bet. Brooklyn-Queens County Line and Park Lane; Forest Hills/Kew Gardens/Richmond Hill

4. Gantry Plaza State Park
This is the Queens hotspot for absolutely amazing views of Manhattan and the famous Pepsi-Co sign. (Plus, you’ll never know if you’ll spot a celeb — film crews are often spotted shooting here.) Along this Long Island City Boardwalk there are plenty of chairs and benches for relaxation, two outdoor cafes, playgrounds chock-full of bucket swings and jungle gyms with sprinklers in the summer, grassy sporting areas, picnic tables, a dog run, and much more. Note: No grilling or cooking is permitted. 4-09 47th Rd., Long Island City

NorthAmericanPorcupine

photo: Julie Larsen Maher

Places to Play and Explore

5. Queens Zoo
This zoo is great; not just because of the animals, but because it’s small and cozy and you can “do it all” in one afternoon. The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo is open every day of the year. Animals are native to North and South America and include bison, bears, pumas, deer, porcupines (see above) and more. Visitors can check out the daily sea lion demos at 11:15 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.  There’s also a petting zoo, discovery center and private party options. 53-51 111th St., Corona

6. Museum of the Moving Image
This impressive museum is currently curating a new, permanent gallery and exhibition dedicated to the works of Sesame Street mastermind, Jim Henson, expected to open later in the year. In the meantime, core exhibition Behind the Screen, is an immersive look at how movies, television shows, and video games are made, marketed, and shown. There are fun hands-on experiences throughout where kids can create short animated videos, record their voices into famous movie scenes, make a flipbook of themselves, and more. Currently, the Museum has over 1,400 artifacts on display, including an original Yoda from the Star Wars films and classic arcade games that are playable. 36-01 35 Ave., Astoria

Rockaway photo: Malcolm Pickney

7. Rockaway Beaches
It’s easy to forget that Queens is technically located on Long Island, which means it has beaches! When the weather warms up, take a day trip out to Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk. You can enjoy the picnic areas, bucket swings and jungle gym with slides, roller hockey, handball, and many more fun-in-the-sun amenities besides the surf and sand. Good to know: surfing is legal between 67-69 Street and 87-92 Street, in case you have a budding athlete in your fam. Thankfully, sections of the Rockaway Beach and Boardwalk have been greatly restored since Hurricane Sandy, but do keep in mind some repairs are still occurring. For public transportation directions to Rockaway Beach, click here. (Best route for most Manhattanites: A to Broad Channel, transfer to the S to Rockaway Park-Beach 116th St.) For more info about where the playgrounds are located click here. Beach 3 St. to Beach 153 St. and Boardwalk to Atlantic Ocean, the Rockaways

8. World Ice Arena
At Flushing Meadows Corona Park is an ice rink called World Ice Arena. There are public skate session times every day, and on-location lessons and programs available for kids include ice skating for beginners, hockey, speed skating, Theatre on Ice and more. There are lockers you can rent for the afternoon, a full service food cafe, and skates for kids of all ages and skill levels can be rented for $5.00. (Note: Check their website for weekday/weekend admission fees.) 13135 Avery Ave., Flushing

9. BounceU
Because Queens tends to have more commercial space than Manhattan, it’s home to many indoor play spaces such as BounceU, located in College Point. A place where inflatables come to life, this spot is a gem for when your kid needs to blow off some energy. Head on over to this bounce house mecca for an afternoon of jumping for joy – literally. There’s also a rock-climbing wall, a gigantic inflatable slide, and cool “special effects” lighting. Check their site for open (public) bounce times. 132-25 14th Ave., College Point

TinyYouPic

photo:  courtesy Tiny You staff

10. Tiny You
A whimsical children’s boutique, Tiny You has Queens storefronts in both Long Island City and Sunnyside. Owned by a local mama, both shops sell distinctive clothing, shoes, accessories, and one-of-a-kind gifts. There will be new additions from local artisans sold this spring, so keep an eye out for locally-made merchandise. Also new this year will be international items from the Netherlands, Australia and more. 46-21 Skillman Ave., Sunnyside; 10-50 Jackson Ave., Long Island City

11. A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts
This “everything but the kitchen sink” store is a wonderful place to buy crafts materials and whimsical baking doodads. It’s a total mecca for creativity and sells polymer clay, scrapbook paper and stickers, cake decorating kits, yarn, mirrors, mason jars, ribbons, frames, and tons of other crafty goodies. Basically, if your kid has a school project to work on, this is the must-go-to place in Queens for supplies. Bonus: coupons for A.C. Moore are available weekly on the store’s website. 89-89 Union Turnpike, Glendale

12. Hall of Science
There are so many amazing events and exhibits at the New York Hall of Science that even if your little girls and guys are not science-oriented they’ll enjoy themselves. There are frequent screenings of Disney’s Frozen in 3D, “Kitchen Chemistry” cooking classes, 3D Design workshops for parents and kids (ages 9+) to take together, Sand Play sessions, and more. This summer, a new exhibit ‘Connected Worlds” will open in which museum visitors will explore sustainability through a series of imaginative and immersive environments. 47-01 111th St., Corona

SkyView

photo:  courtesy SkyView Center

13. The Shops at Skyview Center
Not “just another mall,” SkyView Center in Flushing has tons of shops and attractions for kids. First thing you should know: It has a Chuck E. Cheese–’nuff said! Just a hop, skip, and a jump off the 7 subway line, at SkyView there’s also a Carter’s Babies and Kids, The Children’s Place, Old Navy and Osh Kosh B’Gosh. The Shops at SkyView Center partners with Queens Botanical Garden to put on arts & crafts activities for children once a month, such as DIY bird feeder or bracelets. Also, a monthly concert series, features local bands and consistently has a strong family turnout. SkyView also has bigger holiday events for Christmas and The Chinese New Year. 40-24 College Point Blvd., Flushing

RockawayTaco

 photo: Elizabeth Lloyd

Restaurants

14. Rockaway Taco
A visitor on Yelp.com was correct when they said to “never judge a book by it’s cover” when visiting this little stand in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Rockaway Taco is a fun and colorful place for kids that makes simple, fresh food that kids and adults can enjoy. Try the simple quesadillas with soft latin white cheese, black beans, and guacamole. The vibe is laid-back and inviting and the staff doesn’t mind if you come in right off the beach with sandy feet to place your order! (There’s a small section of outdoor seating with colorful benches and cool graffiti on the walls) Cash only; ATM on premises. 95-19 Rockaway Beach Blvd., Rockaway

15. Pizza Classica
Yes, we all know Brooklyn and Manhattan are known for their pizza, but don’t forget Queens! Parents rave about Pizza Classica, a more formal, but super-inviting restaurant known for its family-style Italian dishes (spaghetti and meatballs, pasta primavera) in which everyone shares the meal. But if you want to order solo, there’s a long list of zesty Italian faves and staples such as brick oven pizza, wraps, paninis, soups and baked pastas. And yes, they have good ol’ regular cheese slices as well. (It’s in the same shopping area as A.C. Moore, so you can buy crafts then continue to spoil yourself.) 89-89 Union Turnpike, Glendale

16. Thirsty Koala
An all-natural Australian eatery, if you’re looking for a cultural culinary experience with your kids, check out Astoria’s Thirsty Koala, operated and run by Astoria residents, one of whom emigrated from Australia. The employees understand that busy parents want to give their kids food that’s tasty and good for them. There are no microwaves or processed foods here, wait staff is sensitive to dietary restrictions and offer an extensive gluten-free menu. The meats are grass-fed and grass-finished and Tasty Koala uses seasonal organics and non-GMOs. Kiddie menu choices include beef or chicken sliders and grilled chicken breast strips. 35-12 Ditmars Blvd., Astoria

EddiesSweet

photo: Boris Miller

17. Eddie’s Sweet Shop
This famous old-fashioned ice cream parlor is a Forest Hills staple and has been in the neighborhood for decades. Eddie’s is known for its glorious ice cream sundaes, and when you walk in, you’ll feel like you just stepped into a 1960’s soda fountain; the original vintage setting remains. You can sit at the bar counter or at one of the old-fashioned tables or booths; it’s the original layout with booths from the 1960s. Homemade ice cream flavors include traditional as well as unique, such as Maple Walnut. They also sell vintage candy and other sweet treats such as seasonal pumpkin ice cream pies. Occasionally Eddie’s brings in children’s book authors or hosts other kid-friendly events, so check out their Facebook page for more info. Cash only! Note: It can get very crowded here on weekends, so plan a visit  with that in mind. 105-29 Metropolitan Ave. #1, Forest Hills

Why do you think Queens is a top destination for families to visit in 2015?

–Rachel Sokol

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