The truth is that there is never enough time to explore all of the fabulous things to do in New York City with kids. Combined, this short list of eclectic options including sweet treats, retail therapy, and sightseeing make NYC a favorite destination of my 7-year-old.
Eloise at the Plaza
Have an Eloise fan? Head on over to The Plaza Hotel’s Eloise at the Plaza store where kids can not only browse everything Eloise but have an opportunity to play dress up and flip through books in the reading room. And if this isn’t enough, remember that The Plaza Hotel has a (very pink) Eloise suite available for booking that was designed by none other than Betsey Johnson.
Momofuku Milk Bar
Like sweets? Make this trendy dessert heaven a must-stop. While it’s not uncommon to wait in line at Momofuku Milk Bar, Pastry Chef Christina Tossi’s eclectic creations are worth the wait. Think milk strained from a bowl of corn flakes that is transformed into soft serve ice cream, birthday cake truffles that taste like gooey cake batter with sprinkles, and much more. Oh, and the corn cookies are to-die-for. There are several locations around Manhattan, but the Midtown store is near Bergdorf Goodman.
Empire State Building Observation Deck
Word to the wise: Buy tickets in advance to skip the otherwise very long ticket lines. Get there early, too, because crowded observation decks are difficult for children to navigate. Consider the express options which will rocket you straight to the observation deck of your choice, skipping additional queues. Yes, even after entering, you’ll wait in line for elevators, touristy photo ops and the like before getting to the observation decks. Have quarters handy so kids can look through the binoculars and remember it can be windy and colder than it is on the ground.
American Girl Place
Stopping into an American Girl store is novel to my 7-year-old since there isn’t one in San Diego. American Girl Place NYC is located on 5th Avenue and laid out much like other American Girl stores with the hair salon, ear piercing, and cafe.
Should you choose to dine in the cafe, make a reservation in advance. Loaner dolls are available there if you don’t want to pack one. I think the dining experiences are good value for what you get with lunch at three courses, including a drink for around $25. Read more about our experience with both afternoon tea and lunch at American Girl Place NYC.
The world’s largest Build-A-Bear store is located just steps away from American Girl on 5th Avenue. It’s two stories, with much of the same gear on both floors, but your kids will think it’s spectacular. It’s allure really is that it’s just big, but Build-A-Bear fans can score NYC-themed clothing as a souvenir or a bear to stuff and take home.
While this option, in particular, isn’t my dream, she tagged along to shops I wanted to visit on 5th Avenue, so I promised a stop in here.
Though your kids may not have seen the movie Big where Tom Hanks dances on the store’s giant floor piano, they’ll still love a visit. After all, FAO Schwarz was the first toy store in America and has been in the same 5th Avenue location for over 55 years. The FAO Cafe inside features New York City favorites like Crumbs Bake Shop and Sigmund Pretzel Shop, making it a nice place to stop with the kids for a quick snack.
The truth of the matter is that kids hear about 9/11 in the media and at school, as much as parental instincts may want to shield them from this horrible day, they’re going to hear about it. We took our daughter to the 9/11 Memorial during our last trip to New York City and while we explained to her in great detail what happened, visiting the memorial wasn’t scary for her. It helps that the 9/11 Memorial itself is just beautiful with cascading water into the basement of where each of the Twin Towers stood and names of all who perished inscribed in granite along the side.
The 9/11 Memorial has a Youth and Family Tour for families traveling with children. The tour includes the Museum, the Memorial, and an interactive activity for ticket holders. Visitor passes aren’t required anymore so you can stop by at your leisure. The 9/11 Memorial Museum has an entrance fee, but it wasn’t yet open during the time of our early visit.
Plan to spend lots of time at Central Park with the kids. Between the Central Park Zoo, carousel and natural beauty, it’s a fantastic place to let kids burn off steam. The southwest corner of the park by Mandarin Oriental New York has the 10-acre Heckscher playground and meadow with swings, tire swings, slides, synthetic turf, water features, entertaining squirrels and plenty to climb on.
In winter, plan on ice skating (cash only, we learned) while boating, biking, and kayaking in the summer are must-dos.
Toys ‘R Us
Lure your jetsetter to Times Square by allowing a stop into the Toys ‘R Us international flagship store. It’s enormous at over 110,000 square feet of toys, a Ferris wheel to ride, character appearances, life-sized Barbie playhouse and so much more spread out over multiple floors.
American Museum of Natural History
We absolutely love this museum, and there’s no better place in the country for a dinosaur enthusiast. So many dinosaurs and other fossils and so little time! It was incredibly crowded during our summer Saturday visit last time, but it didn’t hamper our experience. Again, you can and should buy tickets in advance. Also, consider purchasing the kids guide to the American Museum of Natural History.
Winter Ice Skating
A quintessential New York City holiday moment includes ice skating in Rockefeller Center. It was reasonably easy for us to buy tickets and rent ice skates though a line can form during busy times. They moderate how many people can skate at one time. This famous rink is so often on TV during the holidays that it was so amazing to do it in real life. The number of selfie sticks on ice validated that I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.
But Rockefeller Center isn’t the only seasonal outdoor rink. The Trump Ice Skating rink in Central Park (cash only) is near the Heckscher playground, and there is also the Bryant Park rink, too.
Matilda the Musical
We saw boys, girls, and adults of all ages loving Matilda the Musical at the Shubert Theater in Times Square. Based on the popular Roald Dahl book, Matilda is the story of an unwanted young girl who finds love through the power of the written word and a caring teacher. The talent and dedication exhibited by the young actors are both mind-blowing and inspiring, while the translation of the book into witty musical form is brilliant. Highly recommend, but see our Matilda review for seating advice.
Scratch the itch for a perfect macaroon at one of New York City’s two Ladurée tea houses: Soho and Madison Avenue. Aside from Miami, these are the only ones in the United States so far. The history of this famous Parisian icon dates back to 1862 and I, like many, have enjoyed macarons and cafe au lait at their flagship Paris store on Rue Royal. There is no macaron as exquisite as the ones made by Ladurée. They are sold in beautiful boxes for transport home and the only thing I’ve ever had stolen out of my checked luggage (true story). My 7-year-old agrees.
While some believe the cupcakes are over-rated, my daughter likes them. However, I go for the epic banana pudding at Magnolia Bakery. If you like banana cream pie, for example, this creamy, layered pudding in a cup will rock your world. I think there is condensed milk in the pudding part.
I suggest this for those who have Japanese heritage or enjoy beautiful wagashi desserts. When she was five years old, my daughter made me walk 20 minutes from our hotel in Ginza (an epic journey for such a long age) to Minamoto Kitchoan just to eat a Fukuwatashi Senbei cookie. This time it was only a few blocks away from our Midtown East digs at Four Seasons Hotel New York. The desserts are that good if you like Japanese-style desserts and beautifully packaged for souvenirs.
What does your jetsetting kid like to do in New York City?