They say children show you things in life you never imagined. I always thought that meant how fuming mad I never imagined I could get until I had children. Recently I returned to the city that made me an adult for the first time with my daughter. It turns out the greatest city on Earth that I called home for 7 years has places I never imagined until I experienced NYC as Dad.
I went to college at NYU and vowed to never leave Manhattan before being tricked into leaving it for La-La land. I fell in love with the world’s greatest metropolis the first time that my Dad took me at age 12. So when my Mother said she wanted to take my first-born for her 13th birthday, I demanded to chaperone.
There are the well-known parts of Manhattan that all people should see. There are always new parts to see every time one returns to the ever-changing megalopolis. But also there are places one might never know existed until seeing through a child’s eyes. As a poor college student turned starving artist, it’s amazing how many places I never visited in all the years I “suffered” there. Here’s a must-see list of everywhere I dragged my tween and hobbling Mother in a nonstop 3 day visit to the city that has it all for all ages.
1. Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island – All the locals told me not to waste my precious time on New York’s #1 attraction and I’m so glad I ignored them. In my years as a snobby New Yorker I even worked across the street from the tours and never bothered to visit these landmarks. Sure, it could take three hours to do it all. But you could brave the butt-crack huddled masses, run through both islands and be at Ground Zero in one hour. We did. Exhale.
2. Time Square – When I moved to NYC as a teenager I held my breath walking down 42nd Street. Residents laughed when they heard new Mayor Rudy Giuliani vowed to clean up the infamous block. A whole new world! Once lined with peep shows now it’s more like Main Street Disneyland. Where I once clung tightly to my wallet, I now waved my $600 IPhone freely taking pictures of my little girl on the big screen in the middle of charming Time Square.
3. Broadway Show– You’ll need to go to Time Square to get discounted tickets at TKTS. When I first visited NYC “Cats” was the only kid-friendly show. Suck it, Rum Tum Tugger. Once Disney realized we’d pay twice as much to watch grass dance in Lion King, the choices for kids’ shows are plentiful. We saw Matilda. It had lasers and a talented cast of all ages.
4. Rockefeller Center/Top of the Rock – Among the new New York changes I harshly discovered, was that attractions could be sold out. Sure, in my day you’d wait in line but now the most crowded city has gotten too crowded. Seeing the city from the Empire State Building is incredible but I thought I’d cleverly beat the common tourists and take in the view at the Top of The Rock. I am dumb. On a Thursday it was sold-out. And the NBC tour was closed for remodeling. On our first day Mom’s feet hurt and she loudly doubted my ability to tour guide. I won back her trust with the rest of this list but take heed and pre-buy for the popular attractions though it may kill your spontaneity.
5. Serendipity – The best way to earn back the trust of your tour group, young and old, is with sweets. Serendipity is a local favorite Upper East Side eatery that I never knew about in all my college years having the munchies.
6. Dylan’s Candy – Just down the street from Serendipity is three floors of glamorous candy. If it’s too much sugar for one day, it’s still a great place to buy souvenirs for bitter siblings who weren’t invited on the trip. You can take the stomach-ache home to them.
7. Central Park– What’s a better place to burn off sugar than magical Central Park? As many times as I have strolled through this massive urban escape, I always discover a new area. This visit I discovered the amazing Belvedere Castle and Shakespeare Garden near the Museum of Natural History entrance of the Upper West Side. (Or as my daughter sees it, where “Jessie” lives.) Seriously, this enchanting area was a big slap in my face that pre-children, I missed out on a lot of Manhattan’s free treasures being a starving artist.
8. Museum of Natural History – Speaking of free treasures, I hear the home of the “Night at the Museum” franchise is pay what you can. I would’ve paid anything to skip the long line on a Saturday but we knew we wouldn’t fit a proper visit into our short trip. Surprisingly, the gift store you can’t visit without a ticket. We got some pics and moved on.
9. FAO Schwartz – I hear it’s going to move from its iconic location below Central Park. If it’s still there, it is a must for parents to take their kids. They have the giant piano from “Big” and I think I spotted a toy hidden in the back for under $20.
10. Plaza Hotel/Eloise– Just across the street from FAO, you have to walk through the Plaza Hotel. They have a picture of Eloise in the lobby and high tea in the Oak Room would be legendary for any age girl. Boys will be impressed with the cars waiting in the valet outside.
11. The Subway– My daughter was nervous about the city’s dirty underbelly. I didn’t help her by selling it as not only the fastest way to get around, but a great place to view rats and pee between cars when you’re a drunken 20-something. Well, during the day you can see some unique acts and hear great stories from people asking for your spare change.
12. Ground Zero– Finally, we are downtown. My old stomping ground, but just like the rest of the world, now a totally different experience with kids. I was not excited to visit Ground Zero but knew it had to be done. I discovered my little girl existed in her Momma’s belly coincidentally on the very morning of 9/11. I had to return with my amazing grown teen to prove how life perseveres. The museum I hear is incredible and the lines are proof of that. We paid respect at the flowing memorials and moved on to fit in more of Lower Manhattan.
13. Soho/Chinatown– From bargaining over handbags to gawking at boutique price tags, one could spend all day in these few blocks. If the line for the only free bathroom at Starbucks is too long (it is), any block could host one of the best restaurants or galleries you’ll wander into to use a bathroom. You can’t make it here by being average.
14. High Line– And now another part of the city that is completely transformed in the last decade. The meat-packing district used to be where American Psycho went to find victims. Fiction but very believable at one time. Now it houses a huge Apple Store and more hipsters than you can shake a selfie stick at. High Line preservationists saved the old cable car tracks and have built gardens in its remains. It’s an urban botanical museum unique to NYC with great views and architecture.
15. Little Italy – I tried to assign my daughter the Godfather trilogy as a prerequisite to our trip. But it brought on too many questions about which actor was the Godfather, what does he do, and what are they going to do to that horsey? Instead all ages can appreciate an amazing authentic meal, shopping, true Italian New Yorkers and gelato.
16. Trap Room- On the Lower East my old college chum is one of the few I know with kids still making it in the city. He does this running successful extravagant Haunted Houses for Halloween and now Escape The Room NYC. What’s a trap room you say? Well, despite my daughter’s fears it’s a fun attraction, not scary, where a group try to solve puzzles to escape the, again, not scary room before your time runs out. Or you die. Kidding. It was super fun and challenging and my tween was smarter at solving the clues than I was. It’s a big hit from celebs to office parties so book ahead.
17. Greenwich Village- Such culture and history. I never take for granted what a unique campus I grew up on. On this afternoon with my child Washington Square was no longer a place to avoid Rastafarian weed dealers, but an amazing square full of street performers and curious young people happy to share life. And probably some drug dealers. I didn’t check the usual spots.
18. Brooklyn Bridge/Dumbo Park– Before we leave Lower Manhattan I can’t leave Brooklyn out. Though I did leave it out this trip. I have however walked the Brooklyn Bridge and gone with kids to Dumbo Park home of one of America’s olest, Jane Carousel. Walk to Brooklyn for amazing views and see where the real Manhattanites live. Great experience for the older kid who can walk without whining. (It does happen. At age 13 it seems.)
19. Macy’s– You’d think “The World’s Biggest Store” might have more room to shop. I felt like I was lost in another city within the city. It still has the original, and first ever, wood escalators, but younger kids will only be impressed with the seasonal windows outside.
20. Street Fairs – On the good weather weekends you’re bound to come across one but they’re also worth seeking out. A literal smorgasbord of New York’s most ethnic foods and merchandise. If only I had two weeks here!
21. Churches/Architecture– It doesn’t have to be a well-known church nor skyscraper to be impressive. Just pop into the lobby of any unsuspecting average looking church or old building and you will be inspired. Also don’t forget to look up for gargoyles which I never noticed in all my years as a resident.
22. Taxi! – The art of hailing a taxi is a valuable lesson for a child. Your mother’s bad foot will appreciate one of the few skills you learned through 4 years of college. Lucking out with a good talkative New York cabbie can be better than any tour. Unlike my good ol’ days there, now you have to turn off the cab’s TV or your child will miss New York while watching commercials.
Don’t take it from me. Here’s the review from my teen’s words.
“I loved everything about NYC its hard to choose my favorites. Overall I just loved experiencing the area and culture. Just walking around Times Square and seeing the city was amazing. The areas I loved was Soho because of the cute buildings and design of the area with the special roads and cool buildings. Central park was gorgeous. I could spend days their and never get bored. My dad even found places like belvidir castle that he’s never seen in all his years in NYC. I also liked the escape NYC room, that was really fun. Broadway of course was amazing! The actors do a great job and its fantastic. The character and culture in New York is the experience that never leaves you. I just liked walking around the different areas like Soho, West central Park, Lower Manhatten, Lower eastside were all great places.”
My teenage product and I had a blast and learned a lot. There’s still an endless amount of things we couldn’t fit into this short visit. Leave a comment of something you think a parent shouldn’t miss. Then share this list with anyone thinking of taking their child to the greatest city for all ages.
Making a child happy is harder than being a New Yorker. But now I know; if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere!