Information, as they say, is power, and in New York, having the 411 can make all the difference in the world (i.e., the closest public bathroom, a killer cheap open play, the best park nearby). Presenting, our Destination Guide series, featuring tips and tricks for enjoying some of the city’s top spots to visit with kids. First up: The Children’s Museum of Arts. Whether you’ve never been to this massive 10,000-square-foot hotbed of kid creativity or you’re a Ball Pond pro, we’re here to help your trip go off without a hitch, from can’t-miss highlights, to where to stash the stroller to where to get a bite to eat in the ‘hood.

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photo: via Dave H. on Yelp

What It Is

It may be tucked away in the western fringes of SoHo, but at 10,000 square feet, the sprawling Children’s Museum of the Arts is hardly a hidden gem.  A hands-on art museum dedicated to engaging young artists ages 10 months to 15 years in viewing, making, and sharing art, there’s a steady flow of kids painting, playing, gluing and glittering to their heart’s content there on any given day.

The CMA features an ongoing roster of activities, exhibits, workshops and classes year round, ensuring it’s never the same museum twice. Staffers are friendly, always nearby and—the best part—super patient. And given its size and superb layout, it rarely feels crowded, even on its busiest days. Check out the museum’s comprehensive FAQ here for even more info.

The Children’s Museum of the Arts
103 Charlton St.
SoHo
212-274-0986
Online: cmany.org

For the Little Artist: Children's Museum of the Arts

photo: Children’s Museum of the Arts

Getting in

Talk about first impressions: The museum’s entrance is bright, airy and surprisingly calm, considering the googly-eyed-and-flubber awesomeness that awaits inside. There’s no security to pass through, so just plunk down your $11/person admission to get started. On a budget? Visit any Thursday from 4-6 p.m., when you can pay as you wish.

Bathrooms are up the stairs on the right should the need arise (and it will), and free stroller parking is available in the “Keepy Lounge” just off the left of the entrance. You’ll have to collapse your wheels and store them in a cubby before you enter the museum, though, so make sure your storage basket is relatively empty when you leave the house.

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Clay Bar photo: Children’s Museum of the Arts Facebook page

The Big Draws

The museum is full of opportunities for creativity and fun, but two of the most popular spots are the Clay Bar, where kids can order up and play with clay of all colors, and the Ball Pond, which is pretty much what it sounds like.

Located on the second level, the Clay Bar fills up quickly, so head there first and sign up for a 35-minute time slot. (Otherwise, good luck nabbing an empty chair at this star attraction.) And whatever your artist’s age, no trip to the museum is complete without a round in the Ball Pond. Each age group gets 20 minutes to roll around in a pool of exercise balls, and it’s probably not a surprise to learn that this spot is also very popular. (Sometimes older or younger kids join the fray, so supervision is a must.)

Still, like any good New Yorker, the CMA knows how to deal with crowds, so the system of managing the demand for both attractions with time slots helps to keep long waits and expectations in check. And, once max capacity is reached—which, heads up, happens often during school holidays—staffers blast the news via Twitter to save would-be visitors the trip. (Genius!)

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photo: via Children’s Museum of the Arts Facebook page

Create. Get Messy. Repeat.

If painting is more of your kid’s thing, make a beeline for the family art studio on the second level. The cavernous, sun-drenched room is tricked out with floor-to-ceiling windows, a neat row of easels, activity tables and a smattering of interesting still lifes, like an aloe plant and a skeleton, for inspiration. You’ll want to tackle this early on so your mini Matisse’s work has time to dry before you leave — and be sure to grab a complementary paper bag when you get there to hold all of their creations.Your purse will thank you.

When the hard work is over and the pieces are tucked away in the drying racks, march your messy artists to the oversized hand washing station. They’ll love controlling the fat streams of water with the foot pump and squeezing soap out of a condiment container; you’ll appreciate the paint-free fingers.

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For Petite Picassos

Have a toddler or preschooler? Settle into the WEE Arts Studio on the ground level, where busy hands can pluck and squish chunks of flubber from a wall, swirl dreamy watercolor paints across paper, build towers out of padded blocks, or enthusiastically cover entire sheets of paper with stamps. Be sure to stick around for a free mini workshop, where enthusiastic CMA teachers lead kids in drumming, singing or story time.

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photo: via Westville NYC Facebook page

Where to Eat

All that art-making works up an appetite.We recommend these family-friendly spots worth checking out before or after the painting party.

If the string cheese and raisins you packed aren’t cutting it, take the hungry troops up the block Westville for fresh, in-season food in a casual, roomy environment The menu runs the gamut from healthy (grilled salmon, more veggie sides than you shake a stick at) to decadent (hot dogs and Bassetts ice cream). Translation? There’s something for every appetite.

333 Hudson St.
212-776-1404
Online: westvillenyc.com

 

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photo: via Jacques Torres Chocolate Facebook page

 

Dig Into Dessert

Of course, you could always skip the ‘scream and head over to Jacques Torres Chocolate  for one of its famous gooey, chunky chocolate chip cookies. Ask to have it warmed up, and be sure to load up on napkins. It’s almost impossible to eat without making a mess. Seating is limited, but try to nab the sofa near the back of the store. It’ll give you and your pint-sized posse plenty of room to spread out.

350 Hudson St.
212-414-2462
Online: mrchocolate.com

 

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Photo credit: Richelle L. via Yelp

Shake the Sillies Out

If the kid somehow still has energy to burn off, make the six-minute walk uptown to the James J. Walker Park at Hudson and Clarkson Streets, where they can jump, stomp and slide on the playground, catch a ball game or snuggle with you on a park bench in the shade. Note: There’s also a public bathroom on-site, one of the few in the area.

 

Hudson Park Library

Photo credit: Hudson Park Library via Facebook

Wind Down

Cap off your adventure with a stop at the nearby Hudson Park Library  There’s no elevator and the stairs are steep, but the children’s section on the second floor is well worth the trip. Besides a large selection of books, there are lots of toys and a a calendar chock-full of kid’s programs, including movies and story time.

66 Leroy St.
212-243-6876
Online: nypl.org

 

What part of the Children’s Museum of the Arts do your kids like best? Tell us in the comments!

— Bonnie Vengrow