25 things to do this winter with NYC kids
Here's how to lift your family's spirits when the temperature drops.
Thu Jan 14 2010
February can be a tough month for New York City kids. Sure, there are heart-shaped lollipops to look forward to on Valentine's Day, and public-schoolers get a weeklong break. But the rest of the month? Bleh. The only glitz left over from the holidays is that stray strand of tinsel clinging to the back of your sofa, and the first signs of spring—like the return of Mister Softee and Little League—are still a couple of looong, chilly months away. You could sit around in your overheated apartment waiting for the ground to thaw, or you could try one of these activities guaranteed to add a blast of sunshine to even the most brutal winter day.
1. Splash around in an indoor pool
Dig out that Tinker Bell suit—there are plenty of heated pools around the city where little ones can swim like it's the middle of July. Check out your local Y: If you don't want to spring for an annual fee, you can ask about a one-week trial membership, or find a friend who'll sign your crew in as her guests. Another option is to buy a pass to the city's public pools ($150 per year for adults, free for kids under the age of 18), and take your pick from a bunch of indoor oases (go to nycgovparks.org/facilities/pools for information). For a fancier splurge, buy a one-day pass to Asphalt Green, which has family swim hours on the weekends (adults $35, kids $10).
2. See a Broadway show—cheap!
For music-loving families (ahem, those of us who swoon over television shows like American Idol and Glee), there is no sound more thrilling than an orchestra tuning up before the curtain rises. With tourist season behind us, it's easier than ever to score inexpensive seats for some of the biggest hits on the Great White Way. Don't hold your breath for The Lion King or Wicked, but other kid faves—think Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia! and In the Heights—frequently show up on the half-price TKTS board, plus there are a bunch of websites that offer discounted tickets.
3. Smell the flowers
The trees around town may be naked for the next few months, but there's plenty of lush flora (and fauna) sprouting inside city greenhouses. The fairy-tale-like Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden (Kazimiroff Blvd at Bedford Park Blvd, Bronx; 718-817-8700) has an extensive collection of palm trees, cacti and aquatic plants. Or go a little farther off the beaten path to the Rusk Institute's Glass Garden (34th St between First Ave and the East River, 212-263-6058). The indoor paradise has tropical plants, trees and vines, plus frogs, turtles, fish, a bunny and a friendly parrot, which is rumored to dance a little jig when it hears the "Happy Birthday" song.
4. Have a traveling shindig
Remember back in college, when a keg party would move from dorm room to dorm room? Simply substitute juice boxes for beer, and you've got a cheerful way to spend the day without ever putting on gloves and hats. Get in touch with other families in your building to plan the celebration: The kids can start out eating pancakes in 9M, move to 12K for an arts-and-crafts project, watch DVDs in 3L and have a board-game tournament in 7G. (Plastic cups full of beer or wine for parents are optional.)
5. Play games at a carnival
The Coney Island boardwalk may be desolate at this time of year, but luckily, there's a toasty indoor version at Bowlmor Lanes' Carnival on Saturdays starting at 1pm (110 University Pl between 12th and 13th Sts, 212-255-8188). The recent addition has classic games such as "toss the Ping-Pong ball in the fishbowl" (win a real goldfish!) and "pop the balloon by squirting water in the clown's mouth." Cotton candy, hot dogs and popcorn are available for kids, and family-friendly content plays continuously on TV screens during the day. Just keep in mind that the space turns into an R-rated nightclub after dark.
6. Pretend you're a celeb
Movie stars (even fake ones) generate lots of heat, so dress your little starlet in her fanciest threads and hang out in a hotel lounge sipping Shirley Temples and pretending to duck the paparazzi. Taylor Swift wanna-bes can visit the Marriott Marquis (1535 Broadway at 46th St, 212-704-8900); the touristy-glitzy Broadway Lounge overlooks the crowds in Times Square. Mini-fashionistas should head to the lounge at the SoHo Grand (310 West Broadway between Canal and Grand Sts, 212-965-3000). Bring the camera: Brangelina and J. Lo have been spotted there.
7. Visit a crafting mecca
It's pretty hard to spark art- project inspiration if all you have is a couple of cotton balls and half a box of Crayolas. Our advice: Take a family trip to the new Michaels megastore on the Upper West Side (808 Columbus Ave between 97th and 100th Sts, 212-865-0813) or Lee's Art Shop in midtown (220 W 57th St between Broadway and Seventh Ave, 212-247-0110). At both, you can spend hours rummaging aisles of colored paper, pipe cleaners, yarn, clay, stencils, candle-making kits and beads. If you're not sure what to do with all that raw material, don't fret. The stores also have craft kits and how-to books to get you going.
8. Grab a slice
Several of our favorite pizza joints have prominent pie-making counters where children can watch the big guys work the dough, sprinkle on toppings and shovel the pan into a raging fire. Thin-crust pizzas crafted at a central station are the highlight of trendy Lucali (575 Henry St between Carroll St and 1st Pl, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-858-4086). Kids can quiz the masters on what makes a pizza authentically Neapolitan at Keste (271 Bleecker St at Morton St, 212-243-1500). At Park Slope's Two Boots (514 Second St between Seventh and Eighth Aves, Brooklyn; 718-499-3253), the pizza guys will give youngsters their own ball of dough if they ask. And on Monday and Tuesday nights at Jimmy Max on Staten Island (280 Watchogue Rd between Livermore and Dickie Aves, 718-983-6715), little ones are invited to make their own pizzas for free with the purchase of an adult pie.
9. Go mall-walking
Sure, we city folks may sometimes mock the burbs and their sterile mall culture, but those indoor wonderlands—complete with shopping, food and merry-go-rounds—can be a godsend in the bitter weather. For the true experience, head to the Queens Center Mall (90-15 Queens Blvd between 90th St and 59th Ave, Elmhurst; shopqueenscenter.com). In addition to the staples (Applebee's, Gap), the complex boasts an indoor playground with climbing structures shaped like musical instruments.
10. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Febrero
With their brightly colored decorations and bowls of chips and salsa, Mexican cocinas are some of the happiest places in town. For pure kitsch, try Tortilla Flats (767 Washington St at 12th St, 212-243-1053). Its recession-friendly children's menu features the Dino-platter—a taco, enchilada or burrito plus rice and beans, for $3. Just be sure to go early to avoid the tequila-shooting crowds. If you're looking for something a bit quieter, visit La Palapa (77 St. Marks Pl between First and Second Aves, 212-777-2537). Parents love the blood-orange margaritas, and kids clamor for the limeade aguas frescas and sweet plantains with cream.