When my kids were little, no day was too cold or too hot for the playground. If you are bringing a baby or toddler to New York, you can spend a good part of your day outside, with plenty of places to dip into if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Before heading all the way downtown, stop at Friend of a Farmer, one of the best breakfast (8 a.m. on weekdays) and brunch (starts at 9:30 a.m. on weekends) places in the city. The restaurant is at 77 Irving Place, between 18th and 19th Streets, so it is not technically downtown if you are a below 14th purist, but the pumpkin or blueberry pancakes are so good, you will forgive the transgression. Eggs are perfect, whether in an omelet, or atop crab cakes; splurge for the basket of fresh baked breads, which may be enough to fill small tummies (there is also a children’s menu). Try to get here right when it opens. You’ve been warned.
Getting there: 4, 5, 6, N, R or Q to 14th Street – Union Square, then a couple of blocks east.
Note: do not confuse the station with 14th Street on the F, which is a couple of blocks west, or 14th Street on the A, C, or E, even further out of the way.
The Gramercy Park neighborhood, home to Friend of a Farmer, also has the city’s only private park, accessed by a key. It is one of the most magical places in NYC, but since it is not open to the public, head back to the train and take the 4, 5, or 6 train to Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall. The M22 bus can take you close to the park, but you can walk a few blocks west (keep the Brooklyn Bridge behind you) to Battery Park City.
Battery Park City has several playgrounds, some bucket swings, a huge climbing structure, and a kid-powered bike carousel. If your child is too little to reach the pedals, he can go for a ride, courtesy of a big kid. The grass here is well manicured and clean, and you can borrow balls, Hula Hoops, and board games from a park house on the North End, and play in the grass. If your kids like boats, you can sit and watch them go by.
The World Financial Center is also great for kids (mine learned to climb stairs at the grand marble staircase), and the huge, glass-enclosed expanse is perfect for running around when the weather doesn’t cooperate. It is also filled with shops and cafés. Columbus Bakery has great bread, sandwiches, muffins and prepared salads. Cosi has sandwiches on flatbread and Ed’s Lobster Bar has lobster rolls for sophisticated palates (if you’ve had lobster rolls in Maine, remember that New York prices for this delicacy are astronomically higher).
The World Financial Center also has a branch of the decadent Ciao Bella Gelato; my kids love it, but my visiting nephew threw his away in disgust. So if your kids prefer Good Humor, save yourself the $4.
Indulge your child’s creativity at The Children’s Museum of the Arts in Soho.
The museum offers our self-guided art projects, including painting, collage, and sculpture and daily Guided Workshops, in small groups with teaching artists. There is also a Performing Arts Gallery, with costumes, props, and musical instruments and Creative Play stations, including a Light Table, computers, soft blocks and Flubber. The ball pond, filled with soft gym balls, is great for kids to get some physical exercise.
Though my kids loved this place, when Hallie was 3 or 4 and her sister, only 19 months younger, was in an ‘oral’ stage, taking the two of them here required unbelievable vigilance. Sela could spot a button or other choke-able object across the room, and sprint there while I tried to help Hallie with a glue stick. If your kid puts things in her mouth, you may want to save the museum for later years.
Getting there: The museum is at 182 Lafayette Street, between Broome and Grand. Go back to the Brooklyn Bridge subway and take the 6 train to Spring Street. Walk 2 blocks south on Lafayette.
You can also take the M5L bus from Church St and Liberty St toward Washington Heights. Get off at Ave Of The Americas and White St, go east on White and turn left at Lafayette.
Snack, a casual Greek restaurant, specializes in meze that kids adore: hummus, grape leaves, spinach pie, pita bread. You can make a meal from these, or expand your kid’s palate with a lasagna-like pastitsio, a meat & macaroni casserole, or vegetarian mousaka in a rich béchamel sauce. If your kids like soup, there is always a vegetarian soup, or the classic Greek chicken broth, egg and orzo soup, avgolemono.
Snack is at 105 Thompson Street near Prince Street. To get back to your hotel, take the F, B or D from Broadway – Lafayette Street, or the R from Prince Street and Broadway.