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The rocky, wooded hills of Riverdale ally this corner of the Bronx more closely with Westchester County, just to the north, than with the rest of NYC. Very generally, the three-square-mile section spans from the Harlem River to the city line, near 263rd Street, and from Broadway to the Hudson. Its not-quite-city, not-quite-burb character explains its appeal to the growing number of families who move there—and makes it an equally fine choice for day-trippers.
Check it out
From the mid-1800s, wealthy Manhattan industrialists came to the area to summer in villas on bucolic grounds. Perhaps the best known of these estates is Wave Hill (675 W 252nd St, 718-549-3200, wavehill.org), the public garden and arts center, which offers stunning views of the Palisades and weekend crafts programs for families (see Cool places). If you head to Wave Hill via Metro-North, stop at the Riverdale Waterfront Promenade and Fishing Access Site, a shore-hugging strip adjoining the Riverdale station. As gulls patrol the water, your transportation-besotted tyke can scan sailboats from the riverbank, then turn to see a train zoom past.
Residential development surged after the Henry Hudson Parkway was built in the 1930s. (Also linking Riverdale and Manhattan are the BxM1 and BxM2 express buses, and local Bx7, Bx10 and Bx20 buses that connect with the 1 train on Broadway at 231st Street; any of those options will get you from midtown to Riverdale within an hour.) Today, high-rise apartments overlook the remaining single-family homes. Just east of the parkway is Fieldston, a century-old private community of some 250 posh abodes. The variety of housing stock mirrors the section's ethnic and economic diversity. Education constitutes another rich mix; private schools such as Horace Mann and the Ethical Culture Fieldston School hold class close to their public counterparts.
What local families do
The Citizens' Committee for Children of New York, an advocacy group, reports that Riverdale has about 750 more kids per square mile than tot-laden Park Slope, which means your youngster will be in good company at spots like McLaughlin Playground (Greystone Ave between 238th and 240th Sts) and Seton Park (Independence Ave at 232nd St). Among the nine acres of Henry Hudson Park (Independence Ave at Kappock St) is Paul's Park; named after Paul Cymerman, an elderly gent who voluntarily spiffed up this play space designated for toddlers, it is stocked with the usual equipment plus a fleet of plastic ride-on toys.
The nabe's eastern boundary is dominated by 1,146-acre Van Cortlandt Park. The Riverdale Equestrian Center (near Broadway at 254th St) offers lessons during which kids can take to the park's miles of riding trails. Manhattan College's 2,000-seat stadium, Gaelic Park (W 240th St at Broadway), is the place to see hurling, an Irish spin on field hockey (for schedule, go to ny-gaa.org/schedule.html). Follow up Sunday games with a concert of rousing Irish tunes at nearby An Beal Bocht Cafe (455 W 238th St, 718-884-7127, anbealbochtcafe.com).
Shops and boutiques
Commercial offerings are a tad meager, earning the locale its nickname "River-dull," but the essentials are served with genuine neighborly warmth. Children can get their locks cropped, buy a finger puppet and take an art class at Someplace Special (490 W 238th St, 718-432-6622, someplacespecialforkids.com). D.J. Drugs (3741--5 Riverdale Ave, 718-549-6709) has a full aisle of toys—everything from bubbles to Gund stuffed animals. Magnum Comics & Cards (3723 Riverdale Ave, 718-884-0714) stocks just what it says plus superhero collectibles; at Baby It's You (3727 Riverdale Ave, 718-796-4199) you'll find Language Little dolls and apparel from Kidorable.
There are more than half a dozen bakeries in the neighborhood. At Palombo (3700 Riverdale Ave, 718-549-5500) kids choose from heaps of Italian pastries, then carry away their selections in individual paper sacks. Mother's (548 W 235th St, 718-796-5676) boasts trays of tempting black-and-whites.
Johnson Avenue and environs present a trove of affordable eateries. Order a hot dog at the counter of Liebman's Delicatessen (552 W 235th St, 718-548-4534, liebmansdeli.com), or dig into a brick-oven pie at Nonno Tony's (554 W 235th St, 718-884-5700). As you eat, savor the personal service: The folks at the Blue Bay diner (3533 Johnson Ave, 718-884-6476) even greet local young'uns by name.