Timeout New York Kids

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Essential NYC for kids

50 things a kid's gotta do before he hits 5 feet

Alice in Wonderland Statue

Alice in Wonderland Statue Photograph: Sara Cedar Miller/Central Park Conservancy

11. Climb Alice in Wonderland
Left hand here, right foot there—now hoist! Sit in Alice's lap, swing from her arm, stare down the Cheshire Cat, or pat the White Rabbit. In a city full of climbing walls rigged with fancy harnesses, this old-fashioned Children's Everest still appeals. Plus, it's one of our town's best photo ops. North end of Conservatory Water; enter park from Fifth Ave at 74th St (centralparknyc.org)

Photograph: Sara Cedar Miller/Central Park Conservancy

12. Hang out at the Penguin House
For decades, the beloved attraction has reigned supreme at the Central Park Zoo. No wonder; the slippery little guys are awfully cute. But they also present an unexpected learning opportunity for young romantics: The exhibit is the home of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins that hooked up for six years as a gay couple, even raising their own chick from an adopted egg. The pair eventually broke up, and Silo mated with a female, but not before a kids' book, And Tango Makes Three, was written about the very New York family.

13. Dine at a non-child-friendly restaurant
Youngsters may find the idea of going out to a nice restaurant with their parents about as enticing as getting dressed up to visit a great-aunt. But that first impression will quickly fade as they encounter the adventure that awaits beyond the table manners and cloth napkins. For one thing, they'll discover there are foods, like mussels and lamb chops, that you're actually supposed to eat with your hands. Consider it a date night for the entire family. You get to do more than consume your offspring's leftovers at the kitchen counter, and they get to feel part of the grown-up world for a night.

14. Frolic at Wave Hill in the Bronx
Without any prompting, kids automatically respond to the natural beauty of this 28-acre former estate whose vista of the Palisades, across the Hudson River, is one of New York City's most stunning views. They frolic past the huge trees on its spacious lawns, inspect the miniature blossoms of alpine plants (these peak in late winter) and gambol along winding pathways through beds as colorful as the biggest box of crayons. Imaginative planting is a hallmark at Wave Hill (where else will tots see curly parsley used as an ornamental border?), and the unexpected combinations of colors and species keep the scene playful. In the dark water of the Aquatic Garden young visitors can get a fleeting glimpse of fish; a small conservatory bears flowering vines and artfully massed pots of greenery, hanging plants of unusual textures and a cactus collection. Trails through ten acres of woodland allow for private reverie and perhaps a sighting of a Baltimore oriole, just one of the bird species that stop here during their migration. Family art projects are on offer every weekend in the Ecology Building. Upstairs, in the Wave Hill House, built in 1843, is the caf, where soup, sandwiches and sweet treats await eager snackers. Carry your tray outdoors to one of the tables on the terrace, where your child can share brownie crumbs with alert sparrows. Humans aren't the only ones that flock to this place. 249th St and Independence Ave, Bronx (718-549-3200, wavehill.org

Photograph: Sara Cedar Miller/Central Park Conservancy

15. Play at FAO Schwarz
Many people visit New York City exclusively for FAO Schwarz, the grand children's store that has been serving awed kids and generous parents for more than a century. New Yorkers often prefer their own neighborhood shops, but this is where dreams can come to life—like the toy soldier that stands guard shaking hands with young shoppers, and the enormous stuffed elephants and giraffes that children can fearlessly pet. Most people head straight to the 22-foot-long floor piano that Tom Hanks famously tinkled in Big. Continual demonstrations of the latest gadgets, electric and wooden trains, a Barbie runway and couture clothing, adult-size Lego figures, and the baby nursery contribute to the pleasant pandemonium. It's hard to escape without making a purchase, but that's a small price to pay for a lifetime memory. 767 Fifth Ave at 58th St (212-644-9400, fao.com)

Photograph: Courtesy of The Cloisters

16. Time travel with the Unicorn Tapestries
To kids, they're apt to come across as a room-size graphic novel: a seven-panel episode in which men and dogs pursue a mythological beast. The symbolism they evoke—the animal's magical, purifying horn, the tamed bridegroom, Christ's ascension—is a bit abstruse for little ones; luckily, love of the 500-year-old tapestries does not hang on those details. Opulently woven of wool, silk, and gilded and silver threads, the works collectively known as "The Unicorn Tapestries" have graced a hushed gallery in the Cloisters ever since the museum opened its heavy wooden doors in 1938. The high-style costumes, spears and background castles conjure medieval times. Yet the facial expressions and gestures of the people depicted mirror those of our own era. The rabbits, dogs and stag resemble the animals we know, and 85 of the 101 species of plants (strawberries, iris, holly, oak) have been identified by modern scholars. In many ways, mythology aside, their world is ours. The Cloisters, 99 Margaret Corbin Dr, Fort Tryon Park (212-923-3700, metmuseum.org)

17. The Manhattan Cupcake War
Every borough has a fave bakery or two, but when it comes to cupcake craziness, Manhattan takes the cake. So, depending on your parental preference, drag Junior along to queue up with the masses at Magnolia (for locations see magnoliabakery.com) for a bite of Sex and the City–accredited goodness; pass off the bake-sale-esque sprinkled cuties from Billy's Bakery (for locations see billysbakerynyc.com) as your own; admire the floral icing artistry and stick-o-buttah richness at Cupcake Caf (for locations see cupcakecafe-nyc.com); or succumb to sugary catatonia of the candy-encrusted variety at Crumbs (for locations see crumbsbakeshop.com). The sweetest one of all? Oh, we couldn't possibly say, so subjective and hotly debated is this issue, even among our staff.

18. Chill to Gustafer Yellowgold in concert
As the Dead is to hippies, Gustafer Yellowgold is to tots, albeit without the acid. Little, yellow and different, Gustafer is an emigr from the sun who resides on Earth with three friends—a pterodactyl named Forrest Applecrumbie, a dragon named Asparagus and a pet eel, Slimothy. The appealing crew comes to life in the form of dreamy animation projected on a giant screen behind Morgan Taylor, the singer-songwriter who created them. For a schedule of live shows, visit www.gustaferyellowgold.com)

19. Lose yourself at Books of Wonder
Relive your knee-high days in the company of your own little ones at this repository of childhood memories past and present. You'll find old friends here—Carle, Sendak, Wise Brown—and make new discoveries. The cheery space also hosts a popular weekly storytime and A-list author appearances. Grab a buttercream-frosted treat at the in-store branch of Cupcake Caf (see "The Manhattan Cupcake War," above) to share with your tot, and get lost in Oz, Narnia or Hogwarts. 18 W 18th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-989-3270, booksofwonder.com)

20. Amble through Prospect Park
Rumor has it that Manhattan boasts a large swath of greenery somewhere or other—but frankly, we're too busy in Brooklyn's Prospect Park to check it out. Let's not mince words: Prospect Park might be the single best place in New York. The Long Meadow is perfect for running around and flying kites. Those in the mood to read or nap can head to the quieter Nethermead, a rolling meadow, while budding explorers can check out the Ravine's rugged paths and waterfalls. The park's nooks and crannies also conceal a small zoo, a carousel (which rotates at a good clip, so fasten your tykes' saddle belts), tours on an electric boat and seven different playgrounds, along with seasonal events like the Halloween Haunted Walk & Carnival and Hawk Weekend, where your kids can have a meaningful—and safe!—encounter with one of those fearsome but supercool predators. Finally, Prospect Park is bordered on the west by Park Slope, considered by many to be the most kid-friendly 'hood in the city.

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