3 Days in New York with Kids

by Brian on November 1, 2007

in Just For Fun

On our recent trip to my brother’s wedding, we stopped off in New York before heading to California. We had three days and three kids who had never spent any time in Manhattan before. We packed it in and had a great time. Here’s some of what we did:

Bike Riding in Central Park

Entirely man-made, Central Park is strikingly beautiful and, because it’s mostly flat, superb for bike riding. If you go on a Sunday, the park’s roads are closed off to vehicular traffic, creating a haven for bikers and joggers. You can circle the entire perimeter of the park on two wheels in about an hour and a half at a leisurely pace.

We were lucky that our day in Central Park was clear and warm. However, that also meant that the bike rental shop, near the boathouse, was completely sold out of bikes when we arrived just after noon. We found a shop a 20-minute walk away called Pedal Pushers at 2nd Avenue and 69th Street that was well supplied and very friendly. Our bike ride was cited by most of our family as one of the high points of the trip. The only tricky part was riding in traffic the few blocks from Pedal Pushers to and from the park.

Pedal Pushers
1306 Second Ave (@E 69th St)
(212) 288-5592 or toll free (877) 257-9437
$5.99 per hour (up to $24.99 for a day). Helmets an extra $3.99 each.

Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum

My grandfather and his sisters came through Ellis Island in the early 1900s, so a visit to this gateway to the U.S. was a historical education for our kids. The island is now a museum run by the National Park Service. It has a good audio tour and a number of rooms with relics from the 60 or so years from 1892 to 1954 the island was operational. More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island during that time. The tour was more interesting for our older kids – 9-year-old Aviv got a bit bored and frustrated near the end of the hour and a half walk through.

You get to Ellis Island on the Statue Cruises boat from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan and it includes a free stopover to view the Statue of Liberty – there’s an audio tour there too. The boat leaves every half hour, so you can stop over for thirty minutes at Lady Liberty and hop back on. A scheduling tip: the lines for the boat (which includes a tight security check akin to getting on a plane) can get long midday, so arrive early.

We followed up our historical New York experience with a fascinating visit to the lesser-known Tenement Museum which is located on Orchard Street Street in New York’s Lower East Side. The museum (which must be booked in advance) currently runs three tours – “Getting By,” “Piecing it Together” and the “Confino Living History Tour” – all of which lead groups of 20 or so people on a one-hour walk through a restored tenement building. A personable guide tells the stories of how immigrants lived in the early part of the 20th Century. Although the tour tries to present a variety of nationalities, a look at the list of residents in the building shows mostly Jewish names and a spreadsheet showing working hours indicates that a good 2/3 didn’t work on Saturdays.

For us, the visit was important because my grandfather and his sisters lived on Orchard Street – maybe in that very same building. It’s fascinating to retrace their first steps in a new country.

Ellis Island
(212) 363-3200
Open daily 9:15 AM to 5:00 PM. Closed Dec. 25. Extended hours in the summer
No entrance fee, but the Statue Cruises ferry costs $11.50 for adults, $4.50 for kids ages 3 to 17. Boats leave Battery Park in Manhattan every 30 minutes on the half hour.

Tenement Museum
108 Orchard Street at Delancey
Advanced reservations highly recommended: call (866) 811-4111 or book online at http://www.tenement.org. Same day tours can be reserved after 11:00 AM. Tours run every 40 minutes from 1:00 PM until 5:00 PM.
Single tour ticket prices: $17 adults, $13 students. There are discounts for booking multiple tours.

Paley Center for Media (formerly The Museum of Television and Radio)

I have wanted to visit the Museum of Television and Radio for 15 years, ever since I missed one of the crucial concluding episodes of that classic angst written TV drama thirtysomething, the one where Michael finally quits and tells evil boss Miles Drentell that “it doesn’t always have to be the best, but it has to be yours.”

The Paley Center for Media (as its now been renamed) is not a museum in the conventional sense. You start off in a room filled with computers attached to a massive database of some 120,000 TV shows. You pick up to 2 shows, then are ushered into another room filled with cubicle-sized watching stations. You type in your show number and it instantly appears on the screen in front of you. For parents, this is an opportunity to wax nostalgic (I also watched an episode of my favorite kids show, The Banana Splits). Amir watched episodes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Aviv viewed Goosebumps and an animated video Tin Tin. Everyone was in boob tube heaven.

Paley Center for Media.
25 West 52 Street
(212) 621-6600
Open Tuesday – Sunday noon to 6:00 PM, Thursday until 8:00 PM.
$10 adults, $8 students, $5 for children under 13.

The American Museum of Natural History

New York’s Natural History Museum is considered to be the best of its kind. A massive structure along Central Park, the museum contains exhibits on everything from geology to human evolution. The dinosaur room, with its huge reconstructed dinosaur skeletons is a perennial kid-friendly favorite.

For our family though, it was the Hayden Planetarium that scored top marks. Maybe it was because our kids had never been to a planetarium before, but they were utterly fascinated. The show, narrated by Robert Redford, chronicles the creation of stars, planets and the universe itself through “cosmic collisions,” past present and future. The entire planetarium shakes as a meteor hits earth, stunning NASA imagery shows the violent face of our sun. As we were exiting the show, Amir turned to me and said “it was too short.” That’s high praise from a teenager.

Outside the planetarium are additional exhibits showing a timeline of events since the Big Bang and the relative sizes and distances from Earth of various celestial bodies. The show runs every half hour from 10:30 AM until 4:30 PM (Wednesday starting at 11:00 AM) and Friday until 7:00 PM.

American Museum of Natural History
Main Entrance: 79th Street at Central Park West
(212) 313-7278
Open 10:00 AM – 5:45 PM
General Admission $19 adults, $12.50 children. With planetarium $26 adults, $17 children


No trip to New York would be complete without a Broadway show and we indulged this expensive passion with the family friendly musical Hairspray. Rather than pay full price, we had two options: stand in line at the TKTS half price ticket booth in Times Square and hope that a show we wanted to see had tickets available that day, or buy them online before we took off.

We opted for the latter. Do a Google search for the show you want and add “discount tickets” – you’ll come up with several different organizations selling orchestra and mezzanine tickets for around $50 each. Hairspray was available through Playbill (the site requires play seekers to sign up for a free membership and receive daily emails before Playbill will open up the pearly half price gates).

After a show, visit the three floor M&Ms World headquarters in Times Square for some chocolately fun. You’ll never believe how many shapes, sizes and flavors M&Ms come in!

M&M’s World
1600 Broadway
(212) 295-3850

The Millburn Hotel

When does a hotel become an attraction of its own? When it’s ranked 2nd for “Top Ten Family Friendly Hotels” in the authoritative guide “New York with Kids.” What that means in practical terms is that the hotel has a decent if not extensive lending library of kid-oriented DVDs and provides free access to PlayStation II video game consoles in the room (there’s also cable with HBO and wireless Internet access).

The upshot for my wife Jody and me was that we were able to leave the kids in the hotel by themselves happily playing games and watching videos while we treated ourselves to a gourmet meal at Le Marais, a kosher French steakhouse in midtown Manhattan. When you travel with kids, you don’t get a lot of alone time with your spouse. Our night out, courtesy of the Millburn, was worth every penny of Manhattan’s notorious high hotel rates.

Millburn Hotel
242 West 76th Street (between West End and Broadway)
(212) 362-1006 or toll free (800) 833-9622
Suites and individual rooms available; our one bedroom suite ran $369 a night plus tax and local hotel fees.

Madras Mahal Indian Restaurant

On Lexington Avenue, between 26th and 27th Streets, there are no less than 5 Indian vegetarian restaurants, two of them even being kosher. Our kids love Indian food (see my column on eTested – Restaurant Reviews) and at lunch time, several of the restaurants on this block offer all you can eat buffets. Madras Mahal, the kosher establishment where we ate, charged just $8.95 each for a sumptuous meal consisting of Indian bread, dosa (a lentil-rice filled crepe), several curries, rice, a bean soup and rice pudding for dessert. Everyone was satiated and our pocket books weren’t drained.

Madras Mahal
104 Lexington Ave
(212) 684-4010
Buffet open 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM daily

The Empire State Building

No visit to New York would be complete without a trip up to the top of the Empire State Building. We were warned that the lines would be long as there were separate queues to buy tickets, go through security and wait for the next elevator, but when we arrived at 9:00 AM, the waits were relatively short and we were up on the 86th floor in short order.

We ordered a couple of audio tours where Joe the Taxi Driver explained what we were looking at – helpful if you’re not a native. A tip: the audio headset has jacks for two headphones – bring your own and more than one person can share a headset at the same time.

As you’re waiting in line, various Empire State Building barkers will try to sell you on the optional “Skyride” motion simulator. Don’t be taken in. We were, and it was a waste of time and money at best, and a nauseating jolt of a ride for some in our party. It’s expensive and the only time during our trip we felt we had truly overspent unnecessarily.

Empire State Building
350 Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets
(212) 736-3100
Open 8:00 AM to 2:00 AM (last elevators go up at 1:45 AM)
$18 adults, $13 Youth (12-17), $12 child (6-11)

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