New York City: Urbanite’s Paradise offers something
even for suburban dwellers
By Susan Kerr
Many people thought my parents were crazy to raise a family of five kids in New York City. Yet the reasons why they chose to live in the Big Apple are the same as why so many families love to visit. In our mass-produced world, New York offers a one-of-a-kind experience, showing what is best and worst in humankind—often on the same block.
THUMBS UP FOR FAMILIES
Whether your child is in a stroller or working on college applications, New York is a great family destination. Although I live now in San Francisco, I’ve taken dozens of trips with my own daughters to visit Manhattan. Here are some tips and secrets from a "native" tourist.
First, don’t be intimidated. Sure, it’s bigger than anything else you’ve seen, and the people walk and talk faster, but New York actually is a very tourist- friendly city and surprisingly navigable. Don’t be afraid to ride the subways or busses as long as you use common sense (e.g. no riding at off hours to non- tourist areas). Subways are the quickest way around (particularly to go to lower Manhattan) and in the summer may even have the best air conditioning.
Rides on subways or busses are $2, but kids shorter than 44 inches are free ( www.mta.nyc.ny.us ) and stations offer multi-use "metrocards" that can significantly reduce the fees. If your kids are new to urban life, tell them beforehand not to stare or point at people or strike up conversations with folks they don’t know, good advice even back at home.
One of the best mass transit deals in the country is the free Staten Island Ferry. Departing at half-hour intervals, the ferry makes the trip from lower Manhattan to Staten Island and back, passing close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island . Kids love the massive ferry, and it doesn’t lock you into a whole day activity.
If you absolutely must get off at those two sites, take the Circle Line boat ride, but be warned: only attempt this if you are patient and adore lines. Although you can buy tickets ahead ( www.circlelinedowntown.com ), the site says to show up two hours before your scheduled departure since it is first come first serve onto the boats. While I have fond memories of doing the trip when my oldest daughter was five, we’ve never repeated it in decade since as the lines have been too daunting.
Either before or after your boat rides, enjoy walking through Battery Park. This offers great vistas of Lady Liberty as well as many stands offering cheap but fun tourist gear. It’s also close to Wall Street, so if your kids are older, a walk to the New York Stock Exchange building is worthwhile. For security reasons, the NYSE no longer offers tours.
For many families, the subject of 9/11 and Ground Zero will come up. This is a personal decision for each family. Having lost friends at the site, I went to see it soon after the disaster but consciously decided not to bring my kids. What will go into the space is the subject of intense debate, so currently it remains a construction site although there are viewing walls that offer glimpses in.
But New York wouldn’t be New York without skyscrapers, and you should include them in your trip. The Empire State Building offers an impressive observatory on the Eighty-sixth floor (remember all the tear jerker movies!) and now you can also preorder tickets at www.esbnyc.com . Most office buildings have become very strict about allowing visitors, so don’t plan on just waltzing in somewhere else.
A great recently-opened little museum on big sites is the Skyscraper Museum, also near Battery Park (www.skyscraper.org ). Housed in a small, modern site, this museum offers a nice historical look at New York’s vertical obsession. Even younger school age kids can get a kick out of looking at some of the impressive pictures and models.
Obviously New York offers a museum for just about everything. It’s almost a rule to have to go to the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art , but don’t plan on conquering them all. Instead pick something your child is interested in.
Typically, kids love the Egyptian exhibits at the Met, complete with a huge temple (when you enter the museum, go immediately to the right). One little known fact about the Met is although it recommends an entry fee, it’s just that, a recommendation. As long as you pay something, they let you in. As a teenager, my friends and I would each give a nickel, but as an adult, I’m a bit more generous!
If your kids are older than 10 (the minimum age for admittance) and aren’t tired of classical art, the Frick Museum , not far from the Met, is an absolute must. Set in a mansion taking up a full block on Fifth Avenue, this beautiful establishment not only has stunning artwork but offers a glimpse into what life as a rich steel baron was once like ( www.frick.org ).
For younger kids, try the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (www.cmom.org ), which is located on the upper west side at Eighty-Third Street. Not only will you visit a real neighborhood, but your kids get a fun, interactive learning experience designed just for them. You can finish with a visit to either of New York’s two great parks: Central Park or Riverside Park. While the first is better known, Riverside Park offers lovely views of the Hudson River and is packed with playgrounds and greenery.
If you do go to Central Park, don’t forget a visit to the zoo. Try to visit on the hour so you can enjoy the beautiful Delacorte clock by the entrance. One of my fondest childhood memories was watching this huge musical clock with turning, dancing animals, an experience I try to share with my girls when we visit. Not too far away is a wonderful carousel.
Although it doesn’t compare to Hollywood studio tours, the NBC tour at Rockefeller Center is fun (www.rockefellercenter.com ). While no one under six is allowed, this tour takes you into the Saturday Night Live set and various studios. The building also has a great gift shop for all sorts of NBC paraphernalia. Likewise, MTV now has its own gift shop in Times Square, but my kids thought it was pretty limited and not worth the time. Still, no first-time trip to New York would be complete without a visit to Times Square.
Which brings us to the real thing to do in New York: shopping. Although Fifth Avenue has lost some of its glamour (most high class shops are elsewhere), it’s still a wonderful experience. If you want to pick up some cheap knock-off purses (imitation Kate Spade and Louis Vuitton are favorite targets) or pashima scarves or hats, then shop at any of the stands on the streets in the mid-50s and Fifth Avenue.
While many of the stores are what you’d find in a big suburban mall, here they tend to be bigger. There are huge Nike and Disney stores, as well as the NBA store for basketball fans. For my girls, the big attraction is H&M (several locations in New York, see www.hm.com ), the huge European clothing emporium that soon will come to the Bay Area.
If you have a younger daughter, there’s little chance you’ll get to bypass the American Girl Store. I dragged my two teenaged daughters in there last month, but it took a lot of effort to drag them out! As every girl under the age of 11 walking around midtown seems to carry an American Girl shopping bag, they may single handedly be keeping the U.S. economy going. This also is a favorite spot for kids’ birthday parties, but be warned: plan well ahead. Reservations are harder to get at the store’s café than most five star restaurants (see www.americangirlplace.com ).
No matter what time of year you go, or what ages you’re traveling with, New York is sure to offer something for everyone.
www.americangirlplace.com - for the American Girl Store and other info.
www.hm.com - the site for the H&M clothing store.
www.esbnyc - loads of info and ticket purchase for the Empire State Building
www.circlelinedowntown.com - schedules for the Circle Line boat rides.
www.mta.nyc.ny.us - schedules for the mass transit system of New York.
Susan Kerr is a regular contributor to BAFT and travels to New York frequently.
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