In the days before you had kids, you may have considered Bryant Park to be “lovely” and “romantic,” a place for solitary reading or a secret rendezvous, certainly not a destination for moms and children to romp and roam (think of those dainty French folding chairs after all). Well, we’re about to change your mind about this Midtown green space. Bryant Park and the surrounding area are full of one-of-kind experiences for you and your kids – if you know where to look, and of course, we do.
Baby’s First Exhibition
Before you hit the park, start your journey at the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, which shares the block with Bryant Park. Enter the library’s side entrance on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, breeze through security (they check your bags only when you leave), and turn right to the Children’s Center. (The bathrooms are on the left – keep this in mind if you have an emergency later while in the park.)
As New Yorkers, we want to raise our children to appreciate art and artifacts. Here’s a great training ground to do that. Did you know the library has the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends that belonged to the real Christopher Robin on display in the Children’s Center? The stuffed animals, which ignited A.A. Milne’s imagination, are encased in a glass box, just like King Tut. The display is in a separate, stand-alone room in the middle of the library, a private escape where children can sneak off to, sit on the floor, and read, as Pooh watches over them.
While you’re there, don’t forget to get each of your kids a library card. There’s no longer an age requirement for obtaining one. “Your baby can be two days old, and you can get one for her,” the librarian told us.
Who Needs a Playground?
After checking out books with your kids’ new library card, exit the library on 42nd Street and take the long, tulip-lined ramp (stroller or not) to Bryant Park. What’s so special about Bryant Park is that – although our heart belongs to New York City – we feel like we’re in Paris as soon as we enter the park, which was designed in the French classical style.
Now, we’ve got some serious news for you. Take a deep breath and exhale slowly: there’s no playground. But before you panic, we’ve found new and different things for your kids to do. Head over to the 40th Street side of the park and buy tickets ($2.00) for Le Carrousel. Although this merry-go-around may be smaller (just 14 horses, bunnies and frogs) than other carousels around the city, this one feels more magical, perhaps because of the old-fashioned ticket booth or the accompanying French cabaret music.
If your kids are too big (or cool) for little kid rides, challenge them to one of the board games, which are set up on tables next to the carousel. Scrabble, dominoes, Chinese checkers, Jenga, and Apples to Apples are all available for free, while the chess and backgammon games cost $3.00 and $4.00, respectively, per half hour. All the games are made of high-quality material, no cheap or broken pieces here.
Want the kids to move the bones a bit? Check out the ping pong tables on the 42nd Street side of the park. If you end up spending more time hunting for out-of-control pitched ping pong balls, sit on the sidelines and watch some local experts show you how it’s done. Paddles and balls are provided free of charge, but you need to reserve a time slot with a park attendant.
Throughout the week, the park consistently offers “only in New York” types of happenings, such as pétanque tournaments; free juggling, fencing, and even fly fishing lessons; and mini-classical music recitals.
By now, you and the kids have gotten a bit hungry. Fortunately, there are plenty of choices: ‘wichcraft and Southwest Porch (not much food but serves beer and wine for thirsty mommies) are located within the park on the 6th Avenue side. Le Pain Quotidien (70 West 40th Street) and Pax Wholesome (80 West 40th Street) are just south of the park.
Next Stop: Japan
You’ve had a taste of France at Bryant Park, and now it’s time to go to Japan. Kinokuniya (1073 6th Avenue), which is right across from the park, is like a teleport to Tokyo. This 3-floor bookstore is jam-packed with all things Japanese, ranging from super-cute change purses to large tomes on Asian fashion to toys that are all the rage in the land of the rising sun.
Head to the back of the store (by the way, bathrooms are on the first floor), and take the escalator upstairs to the manga and anime section. Show your kids how hip you are and direct them to the English manga for children area. All the top serial collections are here, like One Piece, Bakuman, and (our personal favorite) Yotsuba.
Finish off your day at the bookstore’s Cafe Zaiya on the second floor. Sample Asian treats, like red bean pastries or sesame cookies, and sip a green tea frappe. Sit at the large windows overlooking the park and behold your new go-to destination: Bryant Park.
(Photos courtesy of Bryant Park Corporation, Katie Noah Gibson, Alice Perry)