Timeout New York Kids

Make the most of your city

Essential NYC for kids

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

Photograph: Courtesy of the Queens Museum of Art

41. Smell the roses at the Everett Children's Adventure Garden
Sure, the giant topiary caterpillars are goofy fun, and the indoor Discovery Center, where kids can press plants and examine them with microscopes, makes science inviting. But the genius of the New York Botanical Garden's oasis for children is in the flora. As they romp through its 12 acres, little explorers encounter attention-grabbing natural phenomena: a golden birch's papery flaking bark; a pot of mimosa, the "sensitive plant," whose leaves and stems collapse dramatically when touched. Strategically placed markers beckon tots to employ their senses. look! reads a sign near a tree's elaborate exposed root system. The layout and landscaping of all the "rooms" in this year-round garden-within-a-garden (conveniently located near the main entrance, visitor center and caf) beguile budding botanists. Leaves both feathery and leathery, of all shapes and sizes, unobtrusively demonstrate nature's diversity. Youngsters gravitate to the Boulder Maze to climb a winding path or clamber up the rocks. The chairs in a story circle have been cut from logs, a bridge spans a tiny pond filled with water hyacinth, and a path leads visitors above a waterfall. Simple displays share life-cycle lessons. About pollen's "big job," a sign asks, "Why is something so small so important?" Judging from the shrieks and giggles floating through the air here, the Bronx institution knows all about the importance of its littlest guests and how to engage them. New York Botanical Garden, Kazimiroff Blvd at Fordham Rd, Bronx (718-817-8700, nybg.org)

42. Staten Island Yankees vs. the Brooklyn Cyclones
The fields, bats and balls are all regulation size, but everything else about these two waterfront stadiums is mini and manageable, including the ticket and food prices. There are no nosebleed seats, which means a foul ball is within everyone's reach. And your eyes will keep drifting from the action to the starkly beautiful bay view each venue affords. Still, when it comes time to take ourselves out to the ball game, we go Yankees. The Cyclones' Coney Island location (brooklyncyclones.com) may allow a pre-game plummet on the team's namesake roller coaster, but the unhurried voyage to see the Yanks (siyanks.com) on the Staten Island Ferry—which practically deposits you onto first base—is just the start of a languid, small-town experience we New Yorkers occasionally need to keep sane.

43. Gorge on hot dogs and juice at Papaya King
Adult food snobs may tsk-tsk, but small fries know fast food. At this long-standing establishment, Manhattan's first frank-and-tropical-drink dive, the "original special" comes with two well-done dogs with toppings and a 16-oz all-natural juice for $5. Papaya King, 179 E 86th St between Lexington and Third Aves (212-369-0648, papayaking.com). See website for other locations.

44. Pass out paper towels to New York City Marathon runners
As exhausted runners in the New York City Marathon sprint their way through Central Park toward the finish line on a November Sunday, kids can become part of the action by standing on the sidelines with outstretched arms, offering sheets of paper towel. By the time the gleaming athletes have reached this part of the route, they'll be ready for a good wiping down. Find a spot along Park Drive, between 86th and 90th Sts. (nycmarathon.org)

45. Fly high in trapeze school
Let suburban youth sign up for soccer and ballet lessons—daring New Yorkers as young as five can let off steam on the flying trapeze. It takes urban chutzpah to slip on a waist harness and climb a rickety ladder up to the platform on high, then lean out over the open space to grab the trapeze. If that sounds extreme, consider that city kids have their choice of trapeze schools: Espaa-Streb Trapeze Academy (51 North 1st St, Williamsburg; 718-384-6491, streb.org) and Trapeze School New York (outdoors in Hudson River Park at Pier 40, West St at Houston St, or indoors at 518 W 30th St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves; 212-242-8769, newyork.trapezeschool.com). The look on their faces? Pure exhilaration.

46. Liberty Science Center vs. the New York Hall of Science
Adults who grew up in the city have a soft spot for the New York Hall of Science, located in the 1964 New York World's Fair grounds in Queens. But the newer Liberty Science Center, which was totally refurbished in 2007, succeeds beautifully in its stated aim to reinvent the science-museum-going experience. An interactive, heat-sensitive "cave painting" allows tykes to add their handprints to the mural like real Cro-Mags. (Talk about "It's so simple, a caveman can do it"!) Then there's the giant blue nose that sneezes spray at visitors. And let's not forget the I-beam jungle gym, which lets kids "walk the steel" just like a construction worker building a skyscraper. Winner by a nose: Liberty Science.

47. Get a sugar rush at Dylan's Candy Bar
A sweet retreat to rival Willy Wonka's, this three-floor confectionary paradise stocks every candy you've ever heard of—and plenty you haven't. Kids can have their photo snapped with Chocolate, a costumed bunny, while they munch on samples, plan how they're going to fill their pick-and-mix bags, and hatch a plot for getting locked in overnight. 1011 Third Ave at 60th St (646-735-0078, dylanscandybar.com)

48. Discover performance art at the New Vic
When this stunning theater reopened in 1995 (the first to be renovated as part of the redevelopment of Times Square), it was the only joint in town devoted exclusively to family entertainment. The city has acquired a few more since then, yet the New Victory still offers the best children's programming in the five boroughs. It consistently hosts top dance and theater companies from around the world at prices that clobber its Broadway counterparts. Past highlights have included break-dancers, Romanian gymnasts and a production of Macbeth featuring three-foot-high marionettes. The New Vic stocks booster seats for tiny theatergoers, and should your young one get antsy midshow, lobby televisions broadcast the performance, meaning neither of you has to miss a thing. 209 W 42nd St between Seventh and Eighth Aves (646-223-3010, newvictory.org)

49. Attend the U.S. Open
Every August, tennis aficionados from around the world descend on the Billie Jean King Center in Queens, where 20 ground-level courts host games all day long throughout the tournament. Families can easily bop back and forth between matches, pop over to the food village for a snack, or stroll through the park and enjoy the exciting state-fair atmosphere. If your kid can't wait to see Federer go after the title again, head over for the tournament's early rounds for a great view of some big names as they play on the smaller courts. Check the website for a schedule of all the matches, as well as the date of the annual Arthur Ashe Kids' Day—a free all-day event featuring tennis clinics and games to kick off the tournament. USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Queens (718-760-6200, usopen.org)

Photograph: Inzia Reale-Castello

50. Ride the 59th Street Tram
Although the tram is currently closed for renovations, once it reopens, kids will again be able to get a kick out of taking a $2 trip on the red airborne trolley with its bird's-eye views of Manhattan. We recommend riding at midday, when the "special seat," located between the conductor's stand and the tram's bench, and specifically earmarked for little ones, is usually freed up. From Manhattan: N, R, W, 4, 5, 6 to Lexington Ave–59th St; board at Tram Plaza, Second Ave at 60th St. From Queens: F to Roosevelt Island (rioc.com)

By Jennifer Cegielski, David Fear, Jennifer Kelly Geddes, Howard Halle, Rory Halperin, Dorothy Irwin, Julia Israel, Carolyn Juris, Christy Purington, Amy Richards, Katharine Rust, Maureen Shelly, Elisabeth Vincentelli, Marci Weisler 

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