Whether it’s freezing temps, a rainy day, or the need for fully-kid-friendly room, sometimes you just need an indoor play space. NYC is full of them, and like children and snowflakes, no two are exactly alike. You’ll find sprawling fantastical spots, sporty places to climb, jump and roll, members clubs with benefits, low-key drop-ins for little ones, and more. Read on to find your NYC play space match! (And don’t miss our list of the best 2019 NYC holiday activities right here!)
For a Fresh Spot in Union Square: Union Square Play
Opened in the fall of 2018, Union Square Play sees you. All of its classes, with the exception of a new moms group with co-founder Jennie Monness, are drop-in, space permitting. (If you need to plan, you can also register for classes up to four weeks in advance.) In addition to numerous singalongs of all styles, classes, which aim to be thoughtful and engaging versus entertaining and overstimulating, include Mandarin, Spanish, yoga, sensory art, sensory play, music, building, and more. You can see the full calendar here, filled with summer options; it's even more robust come fall. Open play in a welcoming space filled with toys and materials selected to encourage self-directed and creative play, is available for $30 for an all day pass, or $150 for unlimited use each month.
36 E. 18th St.
For Fun in Forest Hills: Little Bear Play Cafe
One of the newest play spots in the city, Little Bear Play Cafe is a big, clean, and modern space that offers small play structures for climbing, exploring, and sliding (into a small ball pit) as well as areas for lower-key fun, like a train table, play kitchen, and LEGO and block area. Designed for kids ages six and younger, as the name implies, you can get a bit to eat here, too, with menu options ranging from yogurt parfaits to lots of toasts (avocado, Nutella, etc.) The cafe also operates as a spot for adults to relax a bit. Little Bear also hosts drop-in multi-lingual Storytime Tuesday (9:15 a.m. for kids 0-2, and 10 a.m. for ages 3 and up), and will be hosting art classes with The Art Table Studio this summer. (You can register for a full session, or see if you can drop-in day of.) Socks are required, and all kids must have their temperature taken upon entry.
100-26 Queens Blvd.
For a Trippy and Fun Playscape: Twinkle
"I'm bored -- what's there to do?" says every kid at least once in the winter. Your answer? Twinkle, a 4,500-square-foot creative play wonderland in the heart of Williamsburg. This play space is loaded with nine exhibits designed for the under-six set, everything from the "Red Hot Fire Truck" (complete with hoses that spray real water) to "Graffiti Room" (a fully padded room for dancing and tumbling) to "How to Feed Your Dragon," (which houses four colorful, 15-foot-tall dragons). Afterward, take a well-deserved break together in the inviting lounge area. Additional activities include storytime (with puppet special guest) on Wednesdays at 11 a.m., and a craft hour on Mondays at 4 p.m. and Thursdays at 11 a.m. First time visitors pay $25; after that it's $35 to drop-in. You can also get a membership for $185.
144 Frost St.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 8-11:30 a.m.; Sun., 8 -11:30 a.m.
$35/child and adult; memberships start at $300 for three months
For Fun on the Upper East Side: The Playroom NYC
Run by two Upper East Side sister (and moms), The Playroom NYC offers 3,000 square feet of fun in the form of a climbing structure, dress-up and stage area, play bodega and pre-walker space. You can drop-in any time, and pay the one-time fee of $35 (with $15 reentry fee if you want to leave and come back), get a multi-play pack (5 passes for $135, 10 for $250, etc.) or get a membership for unlimited play, which start at $250 for a month. A shoe- and nut-free facility, The Playroom NYC also hosts birthday parties, classes and special events like movie night.
1439 1st Ave.
Upper East Side
To Kick It in Bed-Stuy: The PSU Clubhouse
Astroturf never looked so good! This Bed-Stuy space is a hot spot for soccer for kids and adults alike. In addition to open play, held September through June, The PSU Clubhouse hosts birthday parties, classes, soccer viewing parties, and even date night events. Open play happens for kids three and under from 10 a.m.-1:30p.m. Mon., Thurs. and Fri. (A "full-day", three hours, is $20.) You can even do drop-OFF for kids one year and older, although space is tight—six kids per session. Diversions for kids include ride-on toys, a bounce house, balls, a slide, and more. There's also a cafe seating area, and free wifi.
Note!: This is a CARD ONLY establishment—no cash. Register in advance online or show up and some one can help you. Questions? E-mail Coach Kayla at Specialevents@parkslopeunited.com.
2600 Jefferson Ave.
For an Asia-Inspired Play space in Queens
Opened in 2018 by a local mom, Mini Play Land is fashioned after similar play spaces she saw in Asia. Measuring 3,000 square feet, the Long Island City, Queens play space features several moving play structures (a small dolphin carousel, for example), as well as stuff to climb, soft bouncy surfaces for exploring, mazes, a trampoline, slides, and yes, a ball pit. Drop in for unlimited play on weekdays for $15; two hours of play on weekends for $20. Check out our full review here!
5-28 49th Ave
Long Island City
To Play Like the Swedes: The Heimbold Family Children's Play and Learning Center
It's probably not a shocker that Park Avenue's Scandinavia House has one of the most aesthetically pleasing play spaces in the city. The Heimbold Family Children's Play and Learning Center is only open to the public on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (for a modest $15/child fee), but it's worth the trip. The bright and playful space features two distinct yet complementary areas – an activity room and a sensory room. Highlights include a reading theater, sensory tunnel, custom LEGO corner, landscaped BRIO train table, indoor climbing corner, mushroom house, a “please touch” wall, light landscape, and imported Scandinavian educational elements. If you fall in love (which you might) you can gain access to the space all week long by joining Scandinavia House. One note: kids must be walking one their own to play here.
58 Park Ave.
For an NYC playscape: Apple Seeds
Need a sure-fire way to entertain the under five set? Head straight to Apple Seeds near Madison Square Park. You'll need to shell out for a membership to play here (i.e., there's no drop-in for a one-time fee), but you get a lot of bang for your buck: unlimited access to the bright and airy play spaces and guest passes which make for the easiest play date ever. Apple Seeds is stocked with sensory-rich features custom-made for the curious and energetic. You'll find a well-padded play area where babies can practice cruising; a tricked-out gym with a basketball net and soft equipment for climbing and belly flopping; a build-your-own-adventure LEGO table, and a miniature cityscape where kids can race through an apartment building, run a deli and (because this is New York) drive a cab.
Note that while the Upper West Side location of Apple Seeds has closed, the music class "Songs for Seeds" program that took place there will now happen at the West Side Collegiate Church on 77th St & West End. (Classes are Tuesdays & Thursdays at 9:30am, 10:30am & 11:30am.)
10 W. 25th St.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sat.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Cost: Family membership plans start at $136/month + tax
For Every Kid in the Family: Bounce 'N Play
This Queens kid destination is a favorite for obvious reasons. Bounce 'N Play's features include a special toddler area for younger patrons; an oversized playground for children three to 13 years old, and a jungle gym, slides, play sets and a rock climbing wall for older ones. But what really won us over were the specially-tailored open play sessions, like one for kids ages six and under, one for all ages, and one for the whole family on Wednesday evenings (which includes a buffet!). It also frequently hosts Open Bounce when school is out. Check the online calendar to find the best session for you and your troop. Open play is $14/child.
20-21 Steinway St.
For Recurring Play Dates: 14th Street Y
Kids ages six months to three years can run, jump, slide and play in the Y's indoor padded playroom. Sessions are typically held on Sundays in 1 1/2 hour slots, and classes are $85 for five for members and $100 for five for non-members. Drop-in rate is $25. Call for the latest scheduling info.
344 E. 14th St.
For Major Convenience: New York Kids Club
You may have noticed New York Kids Clubs popping up all over the city. These mega kids' emporiums offer a huge variety classes for kids ages two months to 12 years, covering fitness, art, music, language and more. What we love about the New York Kids Club is its huge gym with padded obstacle courses, a balance beam, trampoline and sets of bars.
The space also hosts special events on select afternoons and weekends, giving kids another chance to blow off some steam with classmates. Mini partygoers play in the gym, make crafts and dance to live performers, then gobble up pizza served on pint-sized tables. Open play is unstructured but supervised, so you can relax (a bit!) while your children jump, climb and run to their heart's content. You’ll need to enroll in a class to use the open play passes—they're sold in packs of 10, 20 or 30—but considering there are more than a dozen courses offered each winter, chances are there's something perfect for your little movers and shakers.
For Modern Play in DUMBO: Recess DUMBO
A 2,200-square-foot play space for kids six months to six years of age, Recess DUMBO features a custom-designed modern and streamlined playscape of wood, rope, slides and more. Young ones get their own tiny slide and climbing area, as well as books and soft toys for early exploration. Bigger kids can duck inside a cubby with a ladder to another level, slide down a fireman pole, knock around a wall of pool noodles and even scale to a height and ring a bell at the top. Drop-in is $30, and memberships are available as well. A separate room here hosts classes, singalongs and more, and recess also hosts a "Recess for Parents" on select Fridays and Saturdays (drop off the kid/s and have a night off) as well as a drop-off option during the day so you can get stuff done.
81 Washington St.
For the Sporty Tot: Little Athletes Exploration Center
The Little Athletes Exploration Center is a great Chelsea indoor play space. Located in Chelsea Piers, the center has drop-in play for kids ages six months to four years old. We love the two-story climbing gym filled with sensory play items, and the ball pit that we so wish we could dive into ourselves. Everything is padded and soft, so your wee ones can go wild without hurting themselves. The center is generally open seven days a week, but we suggest you call in advance for the daily schedule, as times often change.
Chelsea Piers, Pier 62
23rd Street and Hudson River Park
Hours: Mon.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m.
For the Hipster Baby: PLAY Greenpoint
If you open a play space in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, it had better be spectacular. And PLAY, located at the intersection of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, across the street from McCarren Park, really delivers. In fact, we named it one of the best play spaces in the world. The 3,000-square-foot facility has all the ingredients of a kid-approved good time: a sizable tumbling gym for mastering the somersault, a music and arts studio to get creative juices flowing, loud noisemakers that would never see the light of day in your apartment and a locally-made playset with slides (because Brooklyn). Separate from the happy chaos is a specially cordoned-off area just for babies that’s all rounded edges, cushiony surfaces, floor-to-ceiling windows and age-appropriate toys and books. Drop in for $15/kid ($10 for siblings) or get a bulk pass ($120 for 10) or monthly membership for $100. Open play is seven days a week, except for days hosting parties and private events. PLAY also offers after school classes, enrichment classes, play groups for little ones, holiday camps, movie nights, and special events. We recommend calling ahead before heading over.
33 Nassau Ave.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
To Play in the House of Music: TLB Music
Of course, they do music at TLB Music (and classes, and camps, and parties...) but you can also just drop in and play here! You'll find eco-friendly, developmental toys and activities for babies, toddlers and kids up to six years old. Fun can be had with a clubhouse, rock-climbing mountain, big and little slides, a play kitchen with food, puzzles, large soft blocks, a train table, and more. While you don't need a reservation, it's best to call on very cold, hot, rainy or snowy days, as they do book up. Play is $20 for members, and $25 for non-members. (You can also book out the whole space at certain times during the week if you want to have a play date with friends.)
266 E. 78th St.
Upper East Side
For the Older Set: Kids 'N Shape
Have your ninjas-in-training turned the sofa into a booby-trapped bridge one time too many? Set them loose on the indoor playground at Kids ‘N Shape, a play space which specializes in unstructured fitness play—or, to put it another way, all the cool stuff you wish you got to do in P.E. class. (Not coincidentally, the family-owned business—now with locations in Howard Beach and Tottenville—was started in 1989 by a longtime gym teacher and coach.) Don’t be surprised if your high-energy charges are torn between wobbling around the bounce house, racing through a 40-foot inflatable obstacle course, diving into a ball and foam pit, or whizzing down a zip line. (For us, it’s the zip line, hands down.) More high tech diversions include an XBox Kinect for virtual boxing or bowling. But it's best to keep younger ones at home—open play here is designed for ages six to 12. Availability is first come, first served, with a maximum of 50 kids per session. Check the online calendar for detailed open play times and book. Rate is $12/child for two hour sessions.
162-26 Cross Bay Blvd.
153 Main St.
For More Than A Kid Can Do in a Day: KidzRock
Staten Island’s KidzRock just may be the place where dreams come true. Literally. The cavernous 5,000-square-foot facility houses separate play areas where your pint-sized pretenders can style hair, run a farmer’s market, serve up sushi or — our favorite — sing karaoke on stage with a drum kit and guitar, lights and TVs (so they can see themselves on the big screen, naturally). But sometimes, singing isn’t enough, and your mini American Idol just needs to run the sillies out. For that, KidzRock offers get-physical activities like a rock climbing wall, floor games and a two-tiered play structure that’s all slides, tubes and nets. Open play is available every day, but weekends can get busy — and open play is off during private parties — so we recommend calling ahead.
8 Johnson St.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
main photo: Kids N Shape
— Bonnie Vengrow