Brooklyn Botanic Garden

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Spring in New York always feels like a small miracle, and watching the city shrug off the monotone grays of winter as it assumes the riotous colors of spring never gets old. Most any park or tree-lined street will do for soaking up the beauty of the budding season, but for a full immersion a visit to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden will not disappoint.

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Best known for its collection of cherry trees, April and early May mean crowds of people walking and sitting under the blossom-laden branches, pale pink and white petals drifting down and littering the ground like confetti. The display of cherry trees here is one of the largest outside of Japan, and when the trees along Cherry Esplanade and Cherry Walk are at their peak the scene is magical.

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The gardens have year-round appeal, however, and distinct zones within the garden are great fun to explore. We love strolling through Japanese Garden to watch koi in the pond, and wandering the quiet wooded trails in the Native Flora Garden. A special effort has been made throughout the garden to engage children, and the field guides provided for free at entrances help direct children in their discovery of the vegetation around them, prompting them to observe and draw plants that appeal to them and to take note of some of the other living things (cardinals! ducks!) who call the garden home. The newly-expanded Discovery Garden is excellent, with a number of interactive hands-on experiences allowing children to explore marsh, woodland, and meadow environments.

As members, we stop by frequently (twice last week alone!), and in some ways the garden feels like a communal backyard for those of us who crave a little patch of green. I’m carefully watching the real-time cherry blossom tracker, waiting for peak bloom and looking forward to our next visit.

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Brooklyn Bridge

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New York can sometimes feel almost too popular for its own good, with long lines, crowds, or lengthy waits at key attractions and sights. The Brooklyn Bridge is no exception: to walk its span on a warm and sunny day is to feel that everyone in the city – both resident and visitor alike – had the same idea at the same time. But rising early has its rewards, and today’s relatively empty bridge on a glorious spring morning felt like a true prize.

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Spanning the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the country. Now a much-loved and instantly-recognizable landmark, the bridge can be experienced up close by utilizing a pedestrian walkway that runs between and above the Manhattan- and Brooklyn-bound lanes of vehicle traffic. A little over a mile in length, the walkway offers pedestrians, runners, and cyclists sweeping views from New York Harbor and Lower Manhattan northward to the Manhattan Bridge and Midtown.

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While you can cross the bridge in either direction (or go half way then double back), I prefer the view walking toward Manhattan, the stone towers and steel cables framing the skyscrapers of the financial district to your left and the skyline of Midtown to your right. Stairs near the intersection of Prospect and Washington Streets in Brooklyn provide access to the walkway and allow you to skip the less scenic bit of the path that runs at street-level into Downtown Brooklyn. Once on the walkway, notice the thick white line painted on the ground, clearly marking the space reserved for cyclists on the north side of the walkway from that reserved for pedestrians on the south side. (Many cyclists use the bridge for commuting rather than sightseeing, and can be rather impatient when pedestrians wander into their space). Foot and bike traffic aside, however, you’ll see instantly why this walk is so popular. Happy strolling!

Community Gardens

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Tucked into vacant lots and unused corners of the city, New York’s Community Gardens can feel like a real discovery when you happen upon them. Two months ago we exited the subway at 2nd Avenue on our way to brunch and came face-to-face with the Liz Christy Community Garden. How I’ve missed it all these years I have no idea! Even in mid-winter the respite it offered from traffic-thronged Houston Street was a welcome one, and we spent 15 minutes walking its serpentine pathways and watching fish in the pond. A volunteer gardener kindly welcomed us to stay as long as we wished, and if we hadn’t had a reservation to make we wouldn’t have pressed on quite so quickly.

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Springing up as a positive reaction to New York’s urban decline in the 1960s and 70s, community gardens offered residents a way to invest in improving their surrounding neighborhoods. Now used both as green spaces and sites for urban agriculture, the community gardens are often beloved neighborhood fixtures and real labors of love.

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Friends who live on the Upper West Side adore their local garden, and this past weekend we stopped by during a visit with them. Known for its tulip display, the annual Tulip Festival at the West Side Community Garden was in full swing, and neighbors sat on every available bench, soaking in the warm spring sunshine and enjoying the flowers. Community gardens have a way of making New York feel more approachable in scale – more like a collection of distinct neighborhoods than a huge metropolis with a population approaching 9 million people. I know we’ll be more mindful and aware as we wander from now on, keeping our eyes peeled for these little strongholds of civic pride and collaboration. Here’s to more happy moments of discovery as we encounter more community gardens around the city!

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Washington Square Park

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Nestled in the heart of Greenwich Village (‘the Village,’ to New Yorkers), and marking the southern end of Fifth Avenue is Washington Square Park.  With its recognizable arch and and large central fountain, the park has a storied history, and has evolved since its first use a public burial ground to a vibrant community space that constantly hums with activity. Whether as a diversion or a destination in its own right, the park provides a perfect window to the microcosm that is New York life, along with a number of opportunities for play and exploration.

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Major restoration and renovation work on the park concluded not long ago and introduced a fantastic new play space to the park’s southwest corner. Undulating mounds covered in artificial turf are topped and crossed by a web-like climbing structure and a long stretch of monkey bars. Older children test their stamina swinging across the gully spanned by the monkey bars while toddlers climb over and under the web, and roll down the little hills. When we were last there even infants joined in the fun, delighting in crawling over the rolling turf. The park includes two other play spaces, including one scaled for toddlers.

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Beyond the playgrounds, we love watching dogs big and small race and play in the dog run and listening to the myriad of musicians who use the park as their own personal stage. On hot summer days the fountain becomes a giant wading pool, and I can’t wait for summer visits to splash and people watch, soaking up the beauty of this city.

Tip: Make sure to check out Washington Mews, a block north of the park. Now privately-owned by New York University, whose buildings ring all four sides of the park, the quaint cobblestone lane is lined by former carriage houses used by the owners of the gracious homes on the north side of the park. It makes for a lovely and quiet place to stroll in the middle of a busy neighborhood.

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East River Ferry

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Before moving to Brooklyn we lived in Midtown Manhattan, far enough from both the Hudson and East Rivers flanking the sides of the island that sometimes long stretches of time passed without a glimpse of the water. The opposite is true of our life now in Brooklyn, where we can see the East River from our apartment and our walks frequently take us along the waterfront, the shape of the skyline on the opposite shore becoming ever more ingrained in our visual memory. A whole new perspective is gained when viewing the city from the water, though, and my very favorite way to do this is to take a ride on the East River Ferry.

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Serving seven terminals along the shores of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the East River Ferry is loved by both resident commuters and visitors alike. Its route takes it from 34th Street in Manhattan over to Long Island City in Queens before proceeding south to the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Williamsburg (two stops), and DUMBO and then finishing back across the river in Manhattan at Wall Street. (The same trip is then repeated north along the river, and in the summer months an eighth stop is added at Governor’s Island). Traveling directly under three of New York’s iconic bridges, the views from the ferry are spectacular, and riding on the open-air upper deck is incredibly refreshing. I never tire of scanning the shoreline as the boat motors up or downriver, searching for familiar places from a new vantage point.

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What sets the East River Ferry apart from boat tours around Manhattan is the nature of the stops themselves: right in the heart of vibrant neighborhoods, you can find excellent restaurants, shops, and green spaces within a few blocks of the terminal locations, making the ferry a convenient way to explore and travel between Brooklyn’s waterfront communities. At only $4 a ride ($6 on weekends, children five and under are free), riding the ferry also provides some of the least expensive entertainment in the city. A sunset cruise northward, with Lower Manhattan and the bridges receding behind you and the midtown skyline  – Empire State and Chrysler Buildings prominently on display – looming large as you pull into 34th Street is a memorable experience.

A few notes:

  • You must purchase tickets prior to boarding, either at vending machines located at all terminal locations or through the East River Ferry’s mobile app.
  • Strollers remain on the lower deck you enter on.
  • Weekend afternoons can be busy, but travel outside of peak commuting times on weekdays or on weekend mornings is much quieter.
  • There is a free shuttle bus in Manhattan to/from the 34th Street terminal during morning and evening peak hours on weekdays.

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Top of the Rock

Tenement Museum

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Our family visited the Tenement Museum (103 Orchard Street) last weekend. Situated on the Lower East Side, the tenement building was home to thousands of working class immigrants between 1869 and 1935.  Through extensive research, 6 family apartments have been restored and now serve as a time capsule of the living conditions of its former inhabitants.  The museum is only available via guided tour, either of the restored apartments or of the surrounding neighborhood.  (I suggest purchasing tickets at least a day in advance, as they sell out quickly.)

We visited the Confino apartment. Hosted by 14-year old Victoria Confino, this tour is tailored to a younger audience (5 years +).  Our tour group acted as a large new immigrant family, having just arrived on Ellis Island.  The children were able to ask Victoria questions as we sat in her tiny cramped space, and she answered (in character), helping the little ones understand what it might have been like to arrive in a new country, learn a different language and way of life, and try to make ends meet.  As we peaked around the apartment, the children were allowed to touch everything!

The museum shop has a nice collection of books about New York.  Optimistically, I picked up this 1940s classic, in the hopes of making an impression on my willful 4-year old.

Cofino Family Kitchen

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New York Historical Society

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The New York Historical Society is a surprisingly awesome place to visit with kids.  There’s less mania than the big museums, and we’ve had great luck with their special exhibits, which cater to adults and children alike.  This winter we visited their annual train exhibit as well as Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York and Superheros in Gotham.  The Silicon City exhibit tells the story of New York’s role in the digital revolution, including typewriters and rotary phones for the kids to play with, which made me feel very old!  The Superhero exhibit walked us through the birth of several comic book superheroes – Spider Man, Bat Man, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, Super Man, Iron Man – displaying original costumes and running movie reels, not to mention the Batmobile in the lobby.  Last year, we checked out Madeline in New York, exhibiting Ludwig Bemelmans’ original drawings from all six Madeline books as well as his drawings of the Ritz Hotel in New York where he lived.  The Madeline books are in heavy rotation in our household, so this was a thrilling afternoon!  There is also a Children’s History Museum in the lower level, including a cozy library containing stories about the history of New York City.  (Toddlers would enjoy the free story time on Sundays starting at 11:30 am.)

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Whitney Museum of American Art

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We recently took our children to the new Whitney Museum of American Art and we were truly impressed. After spending 50 years in the Upper East Side, the Whitney Museum has recently moved to its new location in the cool and cosmopolitan Meatpacking District. The magnificent new building, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is located between the High Line and the Hudson River.
With scenic views of the city and stunning views of the Hudson, the new space offers an increased collection of contemporary art and scheduled programming.

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Art museums can be intimidating for families, but the new Whitney is a very family-friendly place featuring a new dedicated space for education, the Laurie M.Tisch Education Center, where visitors can enrich their experiences at the Museum enjoying activities and hands-on learning experiences. The Museum also offers a wide variety of programmes for families and children of all ages (family tours, multimedia guides for kids, sensory-friendly guided tours for kids on the autism spectrum, art-making workshops and other special events). They even offer Stroller Tours for families with babies up to 18 months, where ¨crying babies are welcomed! (an excellent initiative for new parents).

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Check out its website, which contains very useful information to make the most of your visit (social narratives, tips, suggestions and guides for teachers, and activities based on the museum´s collection). And, if you can’t visit the museum, you can also check the Whitney´s collection online. Over 21,000 works are available to the public, an incredible tool for parents and teachers!.

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From the outdoor gallery terraces, its excellent collection, great exhibits and innovative children programmes, the new Whitney Museum offers unique opportunities to expose children to art from a very young age and to inspire creative thinking.

If you would like to grab something to eat after your visit, check out the Gansevoort Market or the Chelsea Market, you won´t be disappointed, and don´t forget to go for a stroll on the marvelous High Line!

Location:
Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014

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Top of the Rock

If you are looking for that take-your-breath-away New York City view,  Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center is really as good as it gets.  With three levels of wrap-around walking terraces set atop one of the most spectaular Art Deco buildings in the world — it really is a must visit if you are in town, and I found it an especially easy place to take children (kids under five are free!)  After a recent visit  I also thought it was a far superior option to the Empire State Building (which I have heard is kind of a run down mess inside).  It’s kind of nice to have a photo OF the Empire State Building in the background with a view that is equally as nice in a less cramped and hectic setting. One of my favorite parts of the whole visit was the ride in the elevator… that alone was worth the trip (I won’t ruin the surprise as to why but it was way cool!)  And as if it couldn’t get any better… it’s right next door to Rockefeller center where there are tons of places to eat afterwards with kids.  If you are going to do the NYC tourist thing – I say by all means, this is a must for the photo books and kids will dig it.

Area: Midtown Manhattan

(Image from Pure Contemporary)

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East River Ferry

Chelsea Piers

Chelsea Piers

A huge three-pier complex on the West Side Highway, Chelsea Piers is New York’s answer to suburban living. The sprawling sporting and entertainment paradise has it all – a multi-story golf driving range, swimming pool, world-class gym, Olympic sized skating rink, bowling alley, sun deck, skate park, a kids ball pit, a playground and a spa to mention just a few…ok…breathe. Although it’s not all that easy to get to, there are plenty of taxis waiting outside to get you home again and I would suggest just taking a taxi there for your sanity (subway stop is a few LONG blocks away). Check out the website for more information – they have tons of stuff going on year round for kids: summer camps, birthday parties and sports and dance classes galore.  This summer they also have an old-fashioned carousel set up which is always a good time.  I haven’t been in a while but I seem to recall that they also have a Brewery on-site which is always a bonus.

CONTACT DETAILS:

Chelsea Piers
62 Chelsea Piers
New York, NY 10011
(212) 336-6666

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The Highline

You can’t help but LOVE New York City if you take an early evening stroll on The Highline. Not only is the people-watching fantastic but the whole experience will just make you feel cool. The Highline was the old elevated subway system in NYC and after years of sitting dilapidated and unused it has been transformed into an uber-chic above-ground promenade. The park itself snakes up 10th Avenue and not only offers amazing city views but also tons of places to sit and relax. Although there is not a playground up there they do offer programs for children and have just launched “Wild Wednesdays” which offer free programs for kids ages 5 and up (be sure to check out the stuff for Adults as well). And as if it couldn’t get any better, New York’s coolest bars and restaurants line the streets underneath. I would highly recommend Sunday brunch or drinks at the Standard Grill which sits just at the starting point of the park. It would also be a great date spot fyi!

(image from Flickr)

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Pearl River Mart

One of my very favorite things to do in NYC is to take a stroll around Chinatown. The experience is transporting on many levels and it offers the closest thing that NYC has to an “open air” market. From the fish markets to the exotic fruit and vegetable stands you will see stuff that will both entice and, quite frankly, might even scare you a little. I have been known to stand and gawk outside of the fish markets because I am just so amazed at the sight of live fish, crabs and even turtles flailing around. You don’t see that stuff in your ordinary state-side supermarket.

And then there is the shopping… although not technically in Chinatown-proper anymore, one of my very favorite places is Pearl River Mart which is essentially a gigantic Chinese department store. There are tons of amazing things inside – housewares, silk fabrics, rows and rows of ornate dishes, brocade jewelry boxes, exotic foods and incredible paper goods. I love picking up gifts here for my kids and for friends alike. They have these amazing streamers (pictured) and lanterns that I nab for birthday parties or even just adding a little flair to a room.

(Image from Flickr) (more…)

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The Eloise Store at the Plaza

The Eloise Store, located in the iconic Plaza Hotel, is devoted entirely to the storybook character Eloise — a precocious little six-year-old who grew up in the hotel. The store is tucked in the back of what is essentially a ghost-town of uber-luxury boutiques. The pristine pink and black space is inviting and there are several areas for young children to role-play, including a little stage with dress-up clothing, a huge tea party room (which will eventually serve food) and a comfy media space with bean-bag chairs to watch Eloise on a big screen. The store is just starting to host birthday parties in the spring which I am sure will be a huge hit and possibly the main draw of the space. If you are an Eloise fan, you will adore the nostalgia of it and as expected, there are a ton of themed items to purchase (note: there was screaming and tears when we left). I think it’s a perfect place to take a young lady for a special day out (think 4yr-7rs). Little girls will love it.

Eloise Store At the Plaza
Lower Lobby of the Plaza Hotel, 59th and 5th Ave

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Things to do on a beautiful sunny day. NYC museums!

So recently I had a really terrible idea. It was pouring horizontal rain, freezing cold AND the schools were all closed for spring break… and for some reason, I decided it would be a truly excellent idea to take one of my girls to the Planetarium at the Natural History Museum. The good news was that I got our tickets the night before on-line (which you should ALWAYS do if available) … the bad news is that I spent the morning in a complete state of nature with what seemed like all of human kind. Uggh!

Despite the human jigsaw puzzle, we had a great time but the whole experience served as a gentle reminder that a rainy day visit to a museum is really not such a great idea after all as chances are that every single other human being alive has the same idea. Here are some of my favorite museums in the city… (more…)

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Art, food and a place to sit

newmuseum_kaufmanI do love New York but there are also a lot of things that I really hate about it.the lack of parks and open spaces, and the complete absence of places to just sit down. The other day I took my girls to the New Museum on the Bowery. I have been wanting to go since it opened and there was an exhibition by Urs Fisher which looked bizarre and cool. There was, after all, a croissant hanging from the ceiling on fishing wire with a butterfly on it! Anyway– the exhibition was indeed cool but the best discovery of the day was the little cafeteria with tables and chairs that they had in the back of the main lobby. It’s a nice place to sit (for free!) and shockingly, it was very kid friendly — they even serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So for those roaming around Soho or the East Village with a stroller looking for a place to just sit for a few minutes — stop in. Admission is free for everyone under 18.

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