Photo: Kristin Van de Water

Oh, how I love a good staycation. And living in New York City as a stay-at-home mom of four kids provides the perfect occasion for exploring what this amazing city has to offer. During the school year, we don’t venture far beyond our neighborhood, but this summer we expanded our radius and fell in love with the Big Apple all over again. Read on for some of our favorite local spots.

Kid-Friendly Museums

New York City is brimming with family-friendly STEM, art, and children’s museums, perfect for when the cold, rain or humidity sends you indoors.

American Museum of Natural History – In addition to the Discovery Room (go there first to pick up free timed-entry tickets), the giant whale hanging from the ceiling, and plenty of dinosaur bones, don’t miss the splash pad on the Arthur Ross Terrace. This outdoor area is free to the public. Enter at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue and take the elevator up one level.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum* – Play in kid-sized shops like a pizzeria, market, and a travel agency in World Brooklyn.

Children’s Museum of Manhattan – For preschool-aged kids, head straight to the 3rd floor for sand, balls, tunnels, letters, puzzles, climbing, grocery shopping, a firetruck, and more.

Children’s Museum of the Arts – Check out the weekday drop-in art classes for ages 5 and under and stay for regular museum hours. Sign up early for the Clay Bar and dress for mess!

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum – Design furniture, wallpaper, and buildings with interactive pens and tables. Enjoy a snack on whimsical chairs in the garden, which is open to the public free of charge.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum* – Explore a Cold War-era submarine (go early before the long line), take the helm on the captain’s bridge, and see vintage aircraft close-up.

Liberty Science Center* – Navigate a giant spider’s web. Spot the Statue of Liberty as you approach the museum in New Jersy.

Long Island Children’s Museum* – Explore the outdoor sensory garden.

Metropolitan Museum of Art – Take a step back in time to medieval Europe at the Met Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. My kids call this “the castle.” At the Met 5th Avenue, peek at the armored horses on your way to the American Wing courtyard (great skylight, fountain, and smoothies at the café). Wave at the crocodile as you exit through the Temple of Dendur. The museum has a pay-what-you-wish ticket policy for New York State residents.

National Museum of Math* – Ride bikes with square wheels, solve logic puzzles, and jump on interactive floor screens.

New York Hall of Science* – Experiment in the Maker Space. Pair the museum with a stop at the adjacent Queens Zoo and Fantasy Forest Amusement Park.

New York Transit Museum* – Climb aboard vintage trains in an old Brooklyn train station. Time your visit for living history performances.

Staten Island Children’s Museum* – Try on an exoskeleton.

*Association of Science and Technology Centers members travelling to NYC received free admission to these museums through the ASTC travel passport program.


Outdoor Adventures

When the weather is nice, set out on foot, bike, or subway to explore these sections of the city, which are sure to please kids and parents alike.

East River – Take the scenic route under the Brooklyn Bridge on a Hornblower ferry. Several routes along the East River (with free transfers) connect The Bronx, Manhattan (visit old ships at the South Street Seaport and relax on bench swings on the revamped Pier 17), Queens, Brooklyn ($2 Jane’s Carousel rides in DUMBO), and Governor’s Island—all for the price of a subway ride. Purchase tickets through the app, on the pier, or on board for travelers 44” and taller. Ride inside for the snack bar and air-conditioned comfort or upstairs for fresh air and great waterfront views.

Hudson River – Rent bikes in Battery Park or unlock a Citi Bike and ride along the Hudson River Greenway. For elevated views, skip over to the Highline, former train tracks that have been redeveloped into a park that runs from W 34th Street to Gansewoort Street in the Meatpacking District between 10th and 12th Avenues. Stop along the Hudson for Chelsea Waterside Park at W 23rd Street, refreshments at the Boat Basin at W 79th Street, and Hippo Playground in Riverside Park near W 91st Street (great shade in the summer and sledding hill to the east in the winter).

Coney Island – Ride the Q train out to Coney Island to take in the boardwalk, play at the beach, scarf a Nathan’s Famous hotdog, and pet a shark at the New York Aquarium.

The New York Botanical Garden – The annual holiday train show in the Bronx is breathtaking and well worth the price of admission. Kids and parents alike will love to see model trains zooming through miniature NYC landmarks crafted entirely out of plant material.

Northern Central Park – Meander through the Conservatory Garden at E 105th Street along 5th Avenue. Kids will love chasing butterflies, watching feathered friends in the birdbath, and running along tree-lined paths. Bathrooms and drinking fountains are near the elevated terrace. Walk west to take a hike through the winding North Woods. Bonus points if you happen upon the waterfall.

Mid Central Park – Rent remote-controlled sailboats in the Conservatory Water ($11/30 minutes). Enter at E 72nd Street and walk northwest down the hill. Watch the weather, as the rental shop closes on rainy days. Be sure to check out the Alice in Wonderland statue on the north end of the pond. Snacks, bathrooms, and a sandbox are next to the sailboat rentals. Walk west to the Loeb Boathouse to relax with a cheese plate on the patio and to rent rowboats ($15/hour). Walk northwest toward 79th Street to enjoy the vista from Belvedere Castle, share secrets at the “whisper bench” in the Shakespeare Garden, spot turtles from the pier beside Delacorte Theater at Turtle Pond, and watch a show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater.

Southern Central Park – In winter, ice skate at Wollman Rink. In summer, visit the Central Park Carousel ($3.25 per ride) and Victorian Gardens amusement park. From the pathway near the Central Park Zoo, you can spot the sea lions sunbathing and catch the musical Delacorte Clock on the hour. Its animal sculptures spin to nursery rhymes, with a shorted performance on the half-hour. Walk west to Heckscher Playground (the oldest in Central Park) to get those wiggles out year-round.

What’s your favorite New York City kid spot? Post it in the comments below!