Offbeat New York

New York City Fun for Kids

Kids of all ages love New York City-it's a place full of the world's greatest toy stores, ballerinas, space shows, tigers, dinosaurs, parks, ships, speedboat rides, circuses, great stuff to eat, hands-on museums, behind-the-scenes tours and so much more that they might mistake this world-class city for a giant theme park. Here are some best bets in the Big Apple, great for toddlers, teens, and the little ones in between.

Not Your Everyday Museums
New York City's many cultural treasures include the American Museum of Natural History (79th St. at Central Park West, 212/769-5100) whose rearing dinosaurs, wild-animal dioramas, 94-foot whale, and cool shows at the Rose Center for Earth and Space will keep them busy all day long. And now, there's another reason to visit... ice skating. Come enjoy the American Museum of Natural History's new state-of-the-art skating rink made from a recyclable synthetic surface. Open seasonally so check before you go. It's Located on the Arthur Ross Terrace on the Museum's north side, The Polar Rink offers magnificent views of the glowing Rose Center for Earth and Space and is surrounded by Theodore Roosevelt Park. Skaters will glide around a 17-foot-tall polar bear festooned with pine boughs and twinkling lights.

In Queens the New York Hall of Science (47-01 111th St., 718/699-0005) features 400 interactive exhibits and an outdoor science playground.

For a multimedia experience, consider the The Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio ( 25 W. 52nd St., 212/621-6800), the Museum of the Moving Image (35 Ave. at 36 St., Queens 718/784-0077), and the Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art (594 Broadway, 212/245-0072).

At Madame Tussaud's (234 W. 42nd St., 800/246-8872) in Times Square, visitors can get up close and personal with more than 175 amazingly lifelike wax figures of top celebrities and world leaders.

All aboard the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum (12th Ave. at 46th St., 212/245-0072), a converted World War II aircraft carrier that features multiple displays on two of its decks. One favorite kids' feature, "The Navy Flight Simulator," lets them virtually land a fighter jet in the middle of the ocean. There's also a submarine to tour and a Concorde to see. Note: The Intrepid has reopened

Around town there are so many places to learn the ways of the world. Experience ancient civilization at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy., 718/638-5000), home to a rich collection of Egyptian antiquities; or explore Eastern traditions at the Asia Society and Museum (725 Park Ave., 212/517-ASIA).

At the Ellis Island Immigration Museum (212/363-3206) retrace the steps of the 12 million people who came to America in the early 20th century, and no visit to New York is complete without either a visit to the Statue of Liberty, or a wave as you take the ferry either to Staten Island, or to Ellis Island. Learn more about the immigrant experience at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (90 Orchard St., 212/431-0023), where great guides bring the building's former tenants to life. Study American history at the Fraunces Tavern Museum (54 Pearl St., 212/425-1778), which is in a restored tavern where George Washington bade farewell to his troops.

Fire and police museums are a draw for family members young and old. At the Midtown FDNY Fire Zone (34 W. 51st St., 212/ 698-4520), the city's fire-safety learning center, kids can climb onto a real fire truck, try on bunker gear, and meet New York's Bravest. Downtown, the renovated 1904 firehouse that has become the New York City Fire Museum (278 Spring St., 212/691-1303) presents the history of firefighting through its collection of historic NYC Fire Department artifacts including uniforms, tools, and fire engines. At the New York City Police Museum (100 Old Slip, 212/480-3100), headquartered in the city's First Precinct stationhouse, visitors can learn how detectives look for clues, tour the Hall of Heroes, and see exhibits on old police uniforms, cars, and motorcycles and NYC's notorious criminals.

Of course, you can't go wrong at the Brooklyn Children's Museum (145 Brooklyn Ave., 718/735-4400), the Children's Museum of Manhattan (The Tisch Building, 212 W. 83rd St., 212/721-1234), and the Staten Island Children's Museum (1000 Richmond Terrace, 718/273-2060).

More Family Fun
Two quintessential New York attractions are Rockefeller and Top of the Rock. Of course, the venerable the Empire State Building (350 Fifth Ave., 212/7363-3100. On the second floor of the Empire State Building, travel over, under, and through some of New York City's most spectacular attractions with the virtual New York Skyride.

Every borough has a zoo -- the biggest and most famous is the Bronx Zoo (2300 Southern Blvd., 718/220-5100), with more than 6,000 animals in beautiful settings. There's also the Prospect Park Zoo (450 Flatbush Ave., 718/399-7339) in Brooklyn; Queens Zoo (53-51 111th St., Queens, 718/271-1500); Staten Island Zoo (614 Broadway, 718/442-3101), and the Central Park Zoo (830 Fifth Ave., 212/ 439-6500).

Cruise the rivers on a sailboat, speedboat, water taxi, ferry, catamaran, or yacht; take the free Staten Island Ferry, or a ride on Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise's (Pier 83, W. 42nd St. and 12th Ave., 212/563-3200).

The South Street Seaport (19 Fulton St., 212/732-8275) is a 12-square-block historic district that includes the South Street Seaport Museum (12 Front St., 212/748-8600), ships to tour or cruise in, shops of all sorts to browse, and many concerts and other family-friendly events.

Older kids will love to see the sets of their favorites TV shows. Take a behind-the-scenes tour at the NBC Experience Store/Studio Tours (Corner of Rockefeller Plaza and W. 49th St., 212/664-3700) or Inside CNN (10 Columbus Circle, 866/4CNNNYC).

Shopping and Dining
Adventures await around town with cool stores and fun places to eat. Toy shopping is a thrill at Toys "R" Us Times Square (1514 Broadway, 800-TOYSRUS) with its indoor Ferris wheel, two-story Barbie dollhouse, and model T-Rex that hisses and sways. FAO Schwarz (767 Fifth Ave., 212/644-4900), the 143-year-old toy emporium, has just had a dramatic renovation. It now features an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor in the center o f the store, exclusive toys like Madame Alexander dolls made on the spot to a child's specification, a Hot Wheels factory, an older kids' rec room with arcade games and Vespa scooters, and, of course, its stunning menagerie of stuffed animals.

Kids with a passion for reading will adore Books of Wonder (18 W. 18th St., 212/989-3270), New York's largest and oldest children's bookstore.

The Great Outdoors
Take in the beauty of botanical gardens and the charm of our parks: New York is the greenest large city in America based on percentage of parkland. P arents can rent boats at lakes in Central Park, Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Queens' Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Staten Island's Clove Lakes Park. (Information on seasonal park activities is at nycgovparks.org, or enjoy the gardens at Wave Hill (675 W. 252nd St.) in the Bronx. Kids can mount the beautifully carved horses that grace carousels in Central Park, Bryant Park, and Riverbank State Park in Manhattan, Forest and Flushing Meadows-Corona parks, Greenbelt-Willowbrook Park in Staten Island, and Prospect Park.

From Belvedere Castle, a stone mini-fortress set high on a hill, kids get a wonderful panoramic view of Central Park. Prospect Park's Lake and Central Park's Harlem Meer are stocked for catch-and-release fishing. (Fishing tackle is lent out at Central Park's Charles A. Dana Discovery Center.) From a pier in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay, step aboard a deep-sea fishing boat.

Teens can go rock climbing, hit golf balls, bowl, swim, and much more at Chelsea Piers (23rd St. and the Hudson River). They can rent bikes and explore with (or without) a guide; go in-line skating; and ride the half-pipe in skateboard parks in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens.

That's Entertainment
New York City's entertainment opportunities are endless. Sports fans will not be disappointed with big-league teams (the Yankees, Mets, and Knicks); minor-league baseball (the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees); the New York Liberty women's basketball team; and more.

For budding patrons of the arts, Carnegie Hall (881 Seventh Ave., 212/247-7800) and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (70 Lincoln Center Plaza) offer engaging children's programming year round.

Then, of course, there's theater. The Manhattan Children's Theatre (380 Broadway, 212/226-4085), TADA! Youth Theater (15 W. 28th St., 212/252-1619), Camp Broadway (145 W. 45th St., 212/575-2929), Paper Bag Players and All Stars Project (212/941-1234), among others, introduce children to the pleasure of live performance.

The beautifully renovated New Victory Theater (229 W. 42nd St., 646/223-3010) was built by Oscar Hammerstein in 1900. Today it offers families high-quality, affordable productions of dance, theater, new vaudeville, and circus from around the world. Its Junior VicTeens and VicTeens programs (for kids 11-plus and teenagers, respectively) provide parent-free seating in a special section, as well as pre- and post-show events like dinner, dances, and discussions with cast members.

Read about all the attractions and places to visit at New York City Attractions

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