Children’s Museum of Manhattan (Upper West Side) is a five-floor wonderland for little ones (and a lifesaver on rainy days!). The interactive exhibits include a tongue you can slide down; a fire truck you can pretend to drive and a dragon you feed books to. Toby's obsessed with the outdoor water area with toy boats and fishing rods. (In the photo above, doesn't he look like Merrywether from Sleeping Beauty in his smock?)
Bonus tip: If you work up an appetite, head around the corner to Hampton Chutney for Indian dosas and yummy sandwiches. They have high chairs and a window seat with toys and books.
Central Park (Upper West Side). At this enormous (843 acres!) park, you can explore the children's zoo (with adorable sea lions), ride a carousel, take rowboats onto the lake, ride rental bikes (with child seats) around the loop on weekends, and play with charming toy sailboats. But, if you feel wanderlusty, you don't need to plan anything: Just walk around, and you'll come across street musicians, grassy lawns, playgrounds and ice-cream stands. And it's not just a wonderful place on sunny afternoons; in the fall, the changing leaves are gorgeous, in the winter, you can take kids ice skating and sledding, and in the spring, the cherry blossoms and magnolia trees are in full bloom.
Bonus tip: On certain summer evenings, you can bring a blanket and watch movies in the park; find the schedule here.
The American Museum of Natural History (Upper West Side). This huge museum is mindblowing for little ones, with animal exhibits, dinosaurs and a family-friendly Discovery Room, where you can play with flashlights and dig for fossils. My favorite room is the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life with a model of a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. It's dark and peaceful and magical—and if your kids are six or older, they can sleep over!
Bonus tips: The entry fee is a suggested donation, which is great for families on a budget. For lunch, walk across the street to the wildly popular Shake Shack for delicious burgers and milkshakes.
Pier 25 Playground (Tribeca). New York Magazine featured a list of the city's 19 best playgrounds, but our favorite by far is Pier 25. Jutting out onto the Hudson River, the pier has a giant sandbox, swings, climbing structures and tons of sprinklers. (These photos don't do it justice!) It's gorgeous on warm evenings; as you watch the purple sunset over the river with the sand in your toes, you'll feel like you're on a beachy vacation.
Bonus tips: The pier also has mini golf, volleyball courts and a soccer field. If you get hungry, walk a few blocks south to the Whole Foods, where you can enjoy your dinner in the family seating area upstairs, which has kids' toys and a play kitchen.
Children's Museum of Art (West Village). This bright, airy museum has two big art rooms, where kids can draw, paint, play with homemade playdough, and assemble crafts. But the coolest part of the museum? The ball pit! Toby used to be timid but now he dives right in there! It's amazing.
Bonus tips: The museum offers pay-as-you-wish admission on Thursdays from 4-6pm. Also, on Saturdays and Sundays, the museum has free-with-admission music sessions at 11:30am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm in the main arts room. Two guys play guitars, and all the kids drum on bongos! Toby adores it.
Brooklyn Bridge Park & Jane's Carousel (Dumbo, Brooklyn). One breathtaking way to spend an afternoon is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to the waterfront park underneath. The views of the Manhattan skyline are stunning, and there are fantastic playgrounds, a historic carousel and an ice-cream shop.
Bonus tip: If you're up for more adventures, walk over to Pier 6 (about a 15-minute walk along the water), which has the COOLEST playgrounds, including Swing Valley, Slide Mountain and the Water Lab (pictured above).
Transit Museum (Brooklyn Heights). Housed in an old subway station, this museum is Toby's dream come true: It's full of vintage subway cars, old subway maps and a bus you can pretend to drive. Whenever we go here, he literally runs around the entire time in a state of giddy joy. (My favorite part are the retro subway ads.)
Bonus tip: On Saturdays and Sundays, the museum has free-with-admission kids classes at 1:30pm, like build-your-own-bridge and shadow-puppet storytelling.
Washington Square Park (Greenwich Village). At this historic park, you'll find old guys playing chess, two great playgrounds, and a giant fountain that you can wade in on hot summer days (apparently, it's perfectly clean, and kids flip out over it). But Toby's favorite part is the street musicians dotting every path, from jazz quartets to guitar players to pianists. Bonus tip: If you work up an appetite, just head half a block south to Peanut Butter & Co., and don't forget your camera: The iconic arch makes a great backdrop for family photos. (We also took this photo there!)
What about you? Any favorite activities or playgrounds for kids in New York City? We're still working on our list, so I'd love to hear!!!
P.S. The rest of the Cup of Jo Guide to NYC, including a secret playground and how not to look like a tourist.
(Top photo of Toby, with graphic design by HipHipGinGin for Cup of Jo. Children's Museum of Manhattan photos by New York Daily News and me; Central Park photos from the Village Voice, Gotham Girl Photography, Marvelous Kiddo and myself; Transit Museum photos by Zach Summer, Elissa Englund and me; Natural History Museum photos by Hither & Thither, Zirkel, Marvelous Kiddo; Brooklyn Bridge photo by us; Jane's Carousel photo by New York Magazine; sunset photo by Chris Schoenbohm; Children's Museum of Art photos by Sharon and me; Washington Square Park photos by us, Kate Spade and Whitney)