From top notch museums to kid-friendly restaurants and playspaces, we present our annual don't miss list of New York's best things to do with the family. This year, new spots like J&R Jr. and Field Station Dinosuars made our list, as well as old-time favorites like the New Victory Theater, Chelsea Piers and the Tisch Children's Zoo in Central Park. Read on for picks from our editors and writers and then schedule a day out with the family.
New York's best things to do with the family 2012
Bound to be at the top of any kid tourist’s must-see list is the iconic American Museum of Natural History, made famous for a new generation by the 2006 adventure comedy Night at the Museum and now getting much attention once again for the October unveiling of its massive redo of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, including the famous rotunda. The AMNH’s two dinosaur halls, filled with astonishing fossil specimens; Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, with its mammoth blue whale; Hall of Biodiversity, exploring the incredible range of creatures and plants evolution has wrought; ethereal Rose Center for Earth and Space; and extraordinary natural history dioramas, broken into regions, are legendary. But the place draws just as many oohs and aahs from local children, who are known to spend countless rainy weekends revisiting their favorite natural treasures as if they owned them. Come to think of it, they kind of do. • 212-769-5100, amnh.org.—Lee Magill
A longtime destination for little ones with a penchant for ships, planes and spacecraft, the Intrepid gave families one more reason to visit with the opening of its Space Shuttle Pavilion this summer. Once inside, kids will get an almost tangible feel for outer space as they make their way under the Enterprise, which sits just ten feet off the ground. As they tread up the elevated viewing platform to the shuttle’s nose, they’ll even catch a rare glimpse of the astronaut’s life—and just how confined their quarters are when they’re in orbit. (Note: The Intrepid is currently closed due to Hurricane Sandy.) • 877-957-7447, intrepidmuseum.org.—Lindsey Thomas
At this hybrid eatery and play space, young diners chow down on anything from Mini Moxie mac and cheese to alphabet vegetable soup. The restaurant’s dining area has wooden booths, a Steampunky play area filled with shiny pipes, dials and levers, plus chalkboards and TVs showing cartoons. Head upstairs and for a fee of $2.50 per child, or $5 for two or more children, your kids can get their mitts on foosball, a play kitchen, a dress-up wardrobe, and boxes of board games, toy cars and other childhood miscellany. (The $2.50 fee is waived for every $15 you spend on food and drinks.) The downside: You’ll have a fight on your hands when it’s time to put down the toys to eat. • 718-923-9710, themoxiespot.com.—Clare Lambe
Even Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted would be astonished at the staying power of their 1860s creation, which is arguably the most beloved tourist attraction in New York City. A historic carousel, a small zoo with a separate, excellent petting zoo, and a beautiful skating rink–cum–amusement park alone make it worth a visit, and that’s just in its southernmost six blocks. Even for families on a strict budget, Central Park is a boon, sporting a fairy tale castle where kids can borrow a field kit, a nature center where they can practice catch-and-release fishing, treasured spots like Bethesda Fountain and the Egyptian obelisk, and some of the best-designed, fun playgrounds in the city, including one with a 45-foot marble slide that teaches kids that good things are worth waiting for. Best of all, though, the green space offers city children a taste of the country, oxygenated air, countless trees and expansive grass lawns included. • centralparknyc.org—Lee Magill
Every bit as beautiful as its older sibling, Prospect Park is less than half as crowded, giving the green space a charm of its own. The Audubon Society chose its historic boathouse as the site of its first-ever urban outpost (it opened in 2002), and it remains a paean to all things nature education, with family workshops and exploratory walks galore. But the park has its own children’s corner, too, made up of a super-fast carousel, a zoo with excellent offerings for kids (a hands-on barnyard and a fence-less, winding nature trail among them) and the historic 18th century–built Lefferts House, which hosts back-in-the-day happenings like potato planting, candlestick making and sack races on a regular basis. Families with a yen for hiking especially love the park’s diverse network of well-maintained trails, several of which lead to the magically remote-feeling Ravine, a forested spot Olmsted and Vaux prized for its authentic natural beauty. • prospectpark.org—Lee Magill
Despite the growth of Brooklyn Bridge Park, we still love Battery Park City’s string of green spaces the best, from the sprawling lawn at Nelson A. Rockefeller Park to the waterfront gazebo at South Cove and the bike- and pedestrian-friendly esplanade that links them. A playground with a pedal carousel, a duck pond and the hidden wonders of Teardrop Park are concentrated in the middle, near North Cove’s cluster of outdoor eateries and ice-cream spots, making it an ideal kid destination. And though not technically part of BPC, the amenity-rich, newly revamped Pier 25 might as well be considered icing on the cake. • bpcparks.org—Lee Magill