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Children's Museum of Manhattan

Spring Break in NYC with the Family: 3 Easy Itineraries

Do your kids prefer a day of nature or one immersed in art? Or, perhaps you're a family of explorers? However you roll, we've got a New York City itinerary made just for you

Ah, New York City in the spring. After a long, deep freeze, the city roars to life again — days are longer, coats are lighter and boots (snow boots anyway) are optional. Spring is one of the best times of year to take the family to explore the Big Apple, and to make things a bit easier, we’ve whipped up three, two-day itineraries for families of all stripes. Whether you and your family prefer trips big on exploration, nature or art, we’ve figured out the best way to see New York City.

 

Captains Bridge on the Intrepid

Captains Bridge on the Intrepid (Photo: Courtesy of the Intrepid)

Exploration, Day 1
The Intrepid Sea, Space & Air Museum complex, centered around the namesake 900-foot-long aircraft carrier docked in the Hudson, will fascinate children who love planes, submarines or anything mechanical. The Space Shuttle Pavilion, reopened in July 2013 after sustaining damage from Hurricane Sandy, is a highlight as it houses the prototype NASA orbiter,  Enterprise, which visitors can walk under, next to and even get nose-to-nose with. There’s even a Soyuz TMA-6 space capsule if you want to see just how cramped things get in space. Outside, on the deck of the World War II-era aircraft carrier, you’ll find about two dozen restored planes — everything from helicopters, fighter jets and even an A-12 Blackbird spy plane — while docked to one side is the USS Growler, which is open for tours. And that’s not even counting the 13,000-square-foot Exploreum Hall and its variety of hands-on exhibits such as a flight simulator. One thing’s for certain: Your kids won’t be bored, but it may be hard to get them to leave. Pier 86, 12th Ave. and W. 46th Street, 212-245-0072, get tickets

 

Circle Line

Circle Line (Photo: Scott Barrow/Circle Line)

After the Intrepid, take a quick tour of the city by boat at nearby Pier 83. The Liberty Cruise Circle Line Sightseeing tour is a quick 75 minutes, and it whisks by famous NYC icons, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the 9/11 Memorial and Freedom Tower — with plenty of time for photo ops along the way. This boat tour is ideal for families who want to see everything on a tight schedule or who have kids who don’t have attention span to handle a longer cruise. Pier 83 at 12th Avenue and W. 42nd Street, 800-220-6282, get tickets

As for food options, head to Gotham Market West before or after your excursion. It’s a New York-i-fied food court with some of the west side’s better eats — everything from ramen at Ivan Ramen to overstuffed sandwiches at Court Street Grocers to fancy small plates at The Cannibal. And like at a food court, diners can order at individual vendors and still sit together, a happy solution for a family with different tastes. 600 11th Ave., 212-582-7940, gothamwestmarket.com

 

Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History (Photo: D. Finnin/AMNH)

Exploration, Day 2
The American Museum of Natural History does big natural wonders — like the 45-foot tall Barosaurus skeleton replica in its main hall and the 94-foot-long blue whale suspended from the ceiling in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life — just as well as it does small — the 3D movie Mysteries of the Unseen World, which focuses on phenomena that are invisible to the eye, plays through June 29, 2014. And though hoards of kids populate its many wings, there are just as many adults oohing and ahhing over everything from dino fossils on the fourth floor to sparkling gem stones in the less-visited Guggenheim Hall of Minerals. Through May 26, 2014, guests can walk through the Butterfly Conservatory, a vivarium filled with 500 live, free-flying tropical butterflies from Central, South, and North America, Africa and Asia. You’ll likely spend enough time at the museum that you’ll need to avail yourself of its serviceable cafeteria — all the more time for dino bones. Central Park West at 79th Street, 212-769-5100, get tickets

 

Museum of Math

The square-wheeled tricycles at the Museum of Mathematics (Photo: Courtesy of the Museum of Mathematics)

After a morning filled with creatures both ancient and fluttering, venture downtown to the Museum of Mathematics for a whole different kind of exploration. The 19,000-square‐foot, hands-on museum has exhibits meant to engage visitors ages 5 and up. Whether your kids try building the fastest track, traversing the light-up squares or constructing three-dimensional objects, expect they’ll learn some cool mathematical concepts without even realizing that all the lights, shapes and sounds they’re playing with are also educational. 11 E. 26th St., 212-542-0566, momath.org

Once you’ve exhausted being inside, head across the street to Madison Square Park. While the kids play out all that learning, you can stand on line at the original Shake Shack to see first-hand where the burger and “concrete” (another kind of milkshake) madness began. Madison Avenue and 23rd Street, 212-889-6600, shakeshack.com

 

Brooklyn Botanic Garden cherry Esplanade

Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Cherry Esplanade in full bloom(Photo: Antonio M. Rosario/ Brooklyn Botanic Garden)

Nature, Day 1
The 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden is famous for its annual Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura Matsuri, which runs April 26 and 27 this year. Dating back to the early 1980s, the festival plays host to more than 60 events and performances that celebrate traditional and contemporary Japanese culture through music, food, art and dance. The Cherry Esplanade, a broad green field bordered by two alleys of double-flowering cherry blossom trees, is best seen at the end of April for peak bloom (check the blossom status on the BBG website for the most up-to-date info). For even more blossoms, take a stroll down the Cherry Walk path east of Cherry Esplanade and behind the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden to walk under an umbrella of 42 varieties of blossoming cherries, which tend to bloom earlier. Visit the gardens any time during spring to experience its beauty — the eye-popping tulips, carpet of grape hyacinths, shocks of yellow forsythia and cascades of wisteria are among the highlights. Another favorite for families is the Fragrance Garden, as a walk through it ignites the senses, and visitors of all ages are encouraged to touch and smell the plants. 150 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn, 718-623-7200, bbg.org

 

Brooklyn Bridge Park Carousel

Brooklyn Bridge Park Carousel (Photo: iStockphoto)

While in Brooklyn, spend the afternoon in Brooklyn Bridge Park, an 85-acre park that spans 1.3 miles along the Brooklyn side of the East River. The park is divided into sections, but it’s best to start with Pier 1 on the Dumbo side. With two landscaped lawns overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and the harbor, it’s a great spot to picnic and snap some pics against the spectacular Manhattan skyline. Take older kids to the nautical-themed playground and the youngsters to the toddler playground before taking a spin on Jane’s Carousel, a restored 1922 carousel situated right on the waterfront. Then, take a stroll up the new Squibb Park Bridge, a pedestrian suspension bridge snaking 450 feet through the air, which is designed to bounce with every step. If your crew still has some energy to burn, head back down and take the path to Pier 6, which has four different playgrounds for different moods — there’s Swing Valley, Slide Mountain, Sandbox Village and a Water Lab (open seasonally; bring a bathing suit).  334 Furman St., Brooklyn, 718-222-9939, brooklynbridgepark.org

If you can hold off the hunger until you get to Brooklyn Bridge Park, there are seasonal food operations sprinkled throughout (pizza, ice cream, sandwiches). If not, walk up Eastern Parkway from the Botanic Garden to the Brooklyn Central Library, which has a casual cafe catered by Brooklyn favorites, The Pines, Vinegar Hill House and Four and Twenty Blackbirds, opening March 14, 2014. 10 Grand Army Plaza, 718-230-2100, bklynpubliclibrary.org

 

Central Park Alice in Wonderland statue

Central Park Alice in Wonderland statue (Photo: iStockphoto)

Nature, Day 2
Central Park is an NYC icon that simply can’t be missed. The 840-acre park opened in 1857 and is now the backyard for pretty much all New Yorkers. While the park appears to be natural, with beautiful trees and undulating hills, its shape is the design of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who conceived several man-made lakes, ponds and walking paths as part of the idyllic look. Central Park is also home to two ice-skating rinks, the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Conservatory Garden (a great spot for cherry blossom-spotting in spring), a four-acre nature preserve and a 106-acre reservoir, which is another great cherry blossom photo opportunity in April. Kids will enjoy visiting Belvedere Castle, the best location for elevated views of the park and cityscape, and looking for slumbering turtles on the rocks below.

Another Central Park favorite for kids is the Alice in Wonderland statue; it was built in 1959 and has been a climbing favorite ever since — years of love and tiny hands have literally polished parts of the surface smooth. Before leaving the park for an early bedtime, visit the historic carousel with its 57 horses, one of the largest in the country. It’s the fourth to stand in its place since 1871. The current carousel was crafted in 1908, abandoned in an old trolley terminal in Coney Island, and refurbished for its new home in Central Park following the destruction of the third carousel by fire in 1950. If all of these wonders aren’t enough to occupy your kids, drop by one of the 21 enclosed playgrounds scattered around the park — the Heckscher Playground is a favorite. Central Park runs from 59th to 110th streets and between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, 212-310-6600, centralparknyc.org

Central Park covers a lot of ground, but wherever you are when you get hungry, there’s likely a location of the favored Sarabeth’s chain nearby. There are three within walking distance of the park, and pancakes are served weekdays until 3:30pm, weekends until 4pm. Multiple locations, sarabethsrestaurants.com

 

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art facade (Photo: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Art, Day 1
Take mini-Picassos to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the United States, and one of the 10 largest in the world, containing more than 2 million works of art. If you’re visiting with little ones, drop by for the free toddler story time in the Nolen Library. The Met also hosts programs for preschool and school-aged kids that include sketching and discussions, and special programs for teens (search family programs). Even if you skip specific programing, children of all ages will enjoy walking through the large halls of the museum, especially the soaring Leon Levy and Shelby White Court, a two-story atrium filled with Greek and Roman statues, and the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, dating back to the reign of Augustus Caesar in 15 B.C. Older kids gravitate to the large collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, including a large selection of Edgar Degas paintings and sculptures (budding ballerinas will particularly take to his dancers). The Claude Monet collection, encompassing some of his more famous works such as Haystacks, Rouen Cathedral and his water lilies, is another must-see. Request a family guide at the museum entrance to enhance your time there. 1000 5th Ave., 212-535-7710, get tickets

Fuel up in a most New York way by grabbing a giant pastrami sandwich at the Pastrami Queen, a lesser-known but still excellent classic kosher deli uptown. Knishes, matzo ball soup, dumplings and corned beef are all here, but most opt for the namesake sandwich, which can easily be shared. 1125 Lexington Ave., 212-734-1500, pastramiqueen.com

 

Little Prince at the Morgan Library

Little Prince at the Morgan Library

If you can fit in one more exhibition after your day at the Met, take the family to see the The Little Prince: A New York Story at the Morgan Library & Museum (through April 27, 2014). The 70-year-old novella has fascinated generation after generation of children. Not only is it the most read and most translated book in the French language, but it’s also one of the best-selling books of all time. This exhibition is better suited to older children, who would appreciate seeing 25 of the original manuscript pages and all 43 of author and illustrator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s earliest drawings for the book. Also on display are rare printed editions from the Morgan’s collection, personal letters, photographs and artifacts. 225 Madison Ave., 212-685-0008, themorgan.org

For dinner, walk down Broadway and head to either Hill Country Barbecue Market or Hill Country Chicken. The neighboring sister establishments are large, clattering restaurants where rowdy children will go unheard — regardless, they won’t be loud for long as kid-favorites like mac and cheese, chicken and barbecue are delightfully good. Hill Country Barbecue Market, 30 W. 26th St., 212-255-4544, hillcountryny.com; Hill Country Chicken, 212-257-6446 ,1123 Broadway, hillcountrychicken.com

 

MoMA

‘The Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh at the MoMA. 1889. Oil on canvas. (Photo: © 2004 The Museum of Modern Ar)

Art, Day 2
The Museum of Modern Art in Midtown is home to modern and contemporary art works from the late 19th century to current day. Founded in 1929, MoMA is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world and is home to an eclectic collection of paintings, drawings, ceramics, film, sculptures, photography and books. While suitable for visitors of all ages, the museum hosts family programs for kids 4 through 14 including workshops, films, art-making and gallery talks. Be sure to take a stroll through the Painting and Sculpture 1 gallery on the fifth floor to see famous works by Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet, including more water lilies. Take a snack break outdoors in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden and enjoy the water feature and rotating sculptures. The garden is also free to the public daily from 9am to 10:30am. 11 West 53rd Street, 212-708-9400, get tickets

For lunch nearby MoMA, try La Bonne Soupe, a bustling bistro where adults can snag soup, bread, salad, dessert and beverage available for just under $20 and kids 4 to 10 can choose a hamburger, cheeseburger or chicken tenders, plus fries and dessert for a cool $12.50. 48 W 55th St., 212-586-7650, labonnesoupe.com

 

Children's Museum of Manhattan

Children’s Museum of the Arts (Photo: Courtesy of the Children’s Museum of the Arts)

Your next (and last) stop is the Children’s Museum of the Arts in TriBeCa, a nonprofit arts facility and hands-on museum for children that opened in 2011. Your first order of business should be to head to the Clay Bar to sign up for a time slot to experiment with clay, and then it’s off to the Ball Pond to check the timing of the age-specific slots, so your little ones can experience what it’s like to jump in a room full of giant bouncy balls. Leave the rest of your stay for enjoying art-making in the studios, overseen by the experience CMA staff. There’s space for kids from toddlerhood through 15 to experiment with paint, glue and many other materials. While those creations are drying, check out the special exhibit for spring 2014, Cabinets of Wonder: The Art of Collecting. The exhibition presents the work of contemporary artists who collect and re-display familiar objects from nature and every day life (dried flowers, etc). It encourages children to consider the items that they themselves collect, and what makes the items meaningful to them. 103 Charlton St., 212-274-0986, cmany.org

Cap the day off with a meal at Max Tribeca, an affordable Italian spot with its roster of red-sauce dishes like gnocchi and lasagna for the tykes and homemade black ink spaghetti and shrimp for more adventurous adult palates. 181 Duane St., 212-966-5939, max-ny.com

For more on what to do in New York City with the family:

14 Fabulous Kid-Friendly Restaurants in NYC
Top 10 Family-Friendly Hotels in NYC
Favorite Family-Friendly Tours
50 Free Things to Do in NYC
8 Best Indoor Play Spaces in NYC for Kids
10 Things Every Kid Should See Before College
10 Broadway Musicals that Make the Grade for Kids of All Ages
Best Museums for Kids

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