NYC is the place for fun, pop-up experiences, but how do you decide which one’s for you and the kids? (And worth the cash?) From immersive, sensory experiences, to fun museums and the latest interactive Instagram spot, these are the best places to get seriously selfie in NYC with the family. Read on to find your match!

photo: Mimi O'Connor

Cosmic Camp: An Intergalactic Family Adventure

The ever-changing store/experience that is CAMP is switching it up again at its flagship Flatiron location. Starting September 6, behind the magic bookcase (i.e., the "real entrance") you'll find Cosmic Camp. This hour-long interactive, immersive experience occupying all 8,000 square feet, is a space-themed installation featuring game-based challenges. You get to name your team, and a cool wristband keeps track of your points as you test your skills. (See how you compare with other teams when you return to Earth!) Match patterns, operate a remote-controlled buggy, do the Floor is Lava thing, and even participate in a live game show! Advance ticketing is required to manage the number of visitors, and the surfaces are cleaned between each session. Masks are required. Recommended for kids ages three and up. And yes, it would make a great birthday party. 

Through Oct. 31
Tickets: $35/person 
110 Fifth Ave. 
Flatiron
917-997-0439
Online: camp.com

photo: Michael Brosilow

Immersive Van Gogh

This high tech, immersive exploration of the Dutch painter's work doesn't debut until June 10,  but the exhibit has been selling out in cities nationwide. Created with world-renowned master of digital art, Italy’s Massimiliano Siccardi, the hour-long, walk-through experience is made up of 60,600 frames of video, 90,000,000 pixels, and 500,000+ cubic feet of projections. Producers describe it as "merging state-of-the-art technology, theatrical storytelling and world-class animation." Covid-19 safety precautions are in place; you can read about them here

Opens June 10
Tickets: starting at $39.99
Pier 36
299 South St. 
Lower East Side 
Online: vangoghnyc.com

 

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Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

No, you aren't crazy: there are two "immersive Van Gogh" experiences in NYC this summer. This one, produced by Exhibition Hub, is entitled "Van Gogh, The Immersive Experience." Staged downtown near the Financial District, this 20,000-square-foot light and sound spectacular features two-story, 360-degree projections of the artist's most compelling works and an original score. This exhibit also includes a Virtual Reality component, that guides you on a 10-minute journey through “A day in the Life of the Artist." During the VR experience, visitors "walk alongside Van Gogh" and learn the inspiration behind eight of his iconic works, including "Vincent’s Bedroom at Arles" and "Starry Night Over The Rhone River." 

June 5- Oct.
Tickets: Adults/$36 and up; kids/$19.90 and up, seniors, students & military/$21.50 and up. Packages are available as well.
Skylight on Vesey
300 Vesey St. 
Financial District
Online: vangoghexpo.com

The Friends Experience

We'd be very surprised if your young kids were into this one (presumably, your toddler is not binge-watchinng Friends yet.) But, The Friends Experience would make a great moms group outing or date night destination. Superfans of the long-running sitcom can enter into its world, visiting replicas of Central Perk, Monica and Rachel's living room, Chandler and Joey's place (yes, you can sit in the armchairs) and even the staircase of the famous "Pivot!" scene, complete with couch askew just so. In addition to the recreated sets with interactive elements, The Friends Experience features iconic props, trivia and unknown facts, and photo ops galore spread out over its two floors, including one on the orange couch by the fountain from the show's opening sequence. 

And yes, you can grab a coffee or pastry from Central Perk, which is open to the public for grab and go drinks and bites. (A visit to the coffee shop is included with admission.) The shop features treats from Breads Bakery and BCakeNY. Got Covid-19 concerns? Don't worry: it's "Monica clean." 

Tickets: $45 (Private group reservations are available for $375.) 
130 E. 23rd St. 
Flatiron District
Online: friendstheexperience.com

Little Island @Pier 55

Little Island @Pier 55 opened in late-May, and it's coming to an Instagram feed near you. This free floating park in the Hudson River looks great whether you're on the shore or enjoying its undulating 2.4 acres. Little Island offers visitors green space for lounging, an amphitheater, varied food and drink at The Play Ground (finger food, sandwiches, salads, beer and cocktails), as well as performances of all kinds thanks to acts curated by Artists in Residence. (Those officially start June 14.) Ongoing programming for kids happens here, too, from local artists and museums such as The Children's Museum of Art and the New Victory Theater. See programming for kids here, and performances scheduled for the Amphitheater here. Important things to know: Make a reservation for timed entry to avoid long lines. No bikes are allowed. It's open 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. Read health and safety information here.

Hudson River Park
10th Avenue and W. 13th St. 
Meatpacking District
Online: littleisland.org

photo: Sloomoo Institute

Sloomoo Institute

If you missed your chance to visit this shrine to slime when it opened pre-pandemic, you can still get some slime time in. It's slightly altered (people play with their own slimes, not a collective vat, as was done previously), and you get to take slime home. Expect artisanal, scented slime, interactive activities, a massive DIY slime bar, slime experiments, an immersive ASMR tunnel, a lake of slime to walk on, and more. Advanced tickets are timed, masks are required, staff is in masks and gloves, and capacity is reduced. Dress in your get messy clothes and prepare to open your wallet: it's $39 a ticket. A percentage of sales goes to mental health charities.  

Sloomoo Institute 
475 Broadway
Soho
1-888-718-4253
Online: sloomooinstitute.com

Color Factory

Color Factory is a vibrant and interactive experience that celebrates hues of all kinds in myriad ways. One of the first immersive experiences to bring a massive ball pit to NYC, it paused for Covid-19, but is back. (And yes, you can still go in the ball pit. Read all about safety and sanitizing here.) It's sprucing up the show from May 17-27 and then will reopen for the summer season. Masks are required at all times. 

Color Factory NYC features 20,000 square feet and 16 installations of Technicolor, Instagram-friendly fun, such as ombré floating balloons with wishes for the world written by students at 826NYC, a walkable infographic leading you to your “secret color”, a palette of colorful treats featuring a custom macaron, a unique activity on color and human connection, and a luminous dance floor. Rooms are collaborations with artists and partners including OH HAPPY DAY, Leah Rosenberg, Erin Jang, and Roz Chast. Everyone gets to choose a quirky souvenir (made by to artist partners) on their way out. 

Tickets: $38; kids 3-12, $28, 2 and under are free (Tickets must be purchased in advance)
Closed Tues. & Wed. 
251 Spring St.
Soho
Online: colorfactory.co

photo: ARTECHOUSE NYC Ling_A

ARTECHOUSE NYC: Geometric Properties

 ARTECHOUSE NYC, New York’s first permanent art space dedicated solely to immersive digital art, opened its 2021 exhibition season with Geometric Properties. Created by Julius Horsthuis, an award-winning visual and fractal artist based out of Amsterdam, the immersive audio-visual installation is described as "a mind-bending journey through the infinite geometric patterns of fractal worlds, [taking] us on an exploration from our recent past to an ideal future — one that returns to nature and math as a source for inspiration." (It looks pretty cool, too!)

Tickets: $24/adults; $17/ages 4-17; free/children under the age of 4; $20/Students, Seniors, Military & First Responders:​$20
March 1 - Oct. 31
439 W. 15th St. 
Chelsea
Online: artechouse.com

photo: Museum of Ice Cream NYC

The Museum of Ice Cream

Yes, the Museum of Ice Cream is open! An immersive walk-through experience dedicated to the sweet treat, the MOIC opened a permanent NYC flagship in December of 2019, but shut down in March of 2020. It's back, and COVID-19 precautions are in place, including a new ventilation system, mask and glove requirements, deep cleanings at the beginning and end of every day, cleaning surfaces following any touching by visitors, capacity reduction, etc. You can read all safety measures here.

You must reserve tickets in advance, and the museum is open Thursday through Sunday now. 

The Museum of Ice Cream
558 Broadway
SoHo
Online: museumoficecream.com

photo: Museum of Illusions

Museum of Illusions

Unlike the other installations featured here, The Museum of Illusions is not passing through. Created in Zagreb, Croatia (with additional outposts in Vienna, Kuala Lumpur, and beyond) the museum is less technicolor extravaganza, and more exercise for your brain (in a good way). But don’t worry: fun photo ops still abound.

Visitors can explore more than 70 elements and experiences that include "illusionistic rooms", optical illusions, and puzzles. Every "piece" in the museum is accompanied by a clear and concise explanation of what is causing or creating the illusion; mathematical, biological, and psychological concepts are all touched upon, as are perception, vision, and how the human brain works.

This museum is an outstanding (and very fun) way to engage kids with complex scientific principles, and help them understand through experience. The well-curated gift shop allows you to take home some of the brain-bending fun. PS: Looking for a fun indoor birthday party idea? You can host one here.

Ongoing
Tickets: $19/adults; $15/kids six - 15; $17/students, seniors, military; $53/family of four
Daily, 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.
77 Eighth Ave.
Chelsea
212-645-3230
Online: newyork.museumofillusions.us

—Mimi O’Connor

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