Advice from folks whoâve been there By the MiniTime Community
Times Square in NYC (Flickr: Mihai Bojin)
Why Go: Ask a group of New York parents for their take on raising a family in the Big Apple, and chances are excellent that youâll get an earful. How everything is done bigger, bolder, and better in New York City. How they wouldnât, couldnât, not ever in a million years, imagine living anywhere else but âThe City.â
This is a fantastic time to visit, locals are quick to say. And theyâre right. Crime is down. (In fact, New York City is the safest large city in the US, according to the latest FBI crime statistics.) Tourism is way up. And, hey! Donât believe what anybody tells you about how expensive life is in Manhattan. You just gotta have some insider information and learn how to work the system. After all, real New Yorkers know where to get a fabulous $2 hot dog. Half-price theater tickets. And an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty from the absolutely free Staten Island Ferry.
See, in this town, taking a bite of the Big Apple is the same as taking a bite of life. And, as one famous New Yorker used to say, âHow sweet it is!â
Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square (1568 Broadway, entrance on Seventh Ave. at 47th St.; 800/222-TREE or 212/719-1600; suites from $349). This branch of the all-suite chain has âa super location in the heart of the theater districtâ (and near the mammoth Toys R Us megastore) and accommodations large enough for your family to really spread out. A standard suite contains a living room with sofabed and a spacious bedroom, separate bathroom and vanity area, two TVs with movies and Playstation, and a wet bar with a small fridge and microwave. Fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies are served upon arrival.
Hilton Garden Inn (63 W. 35th St., between Fifth and Sixth aves; 212/594-3310; rooms from $279). Location is key. âYou are just steps from Macyâs Herald Square, the Empire State Building, and midtown Manhattan. This hotel is new and rooms are in very good condition. In-room amenities include high-speed Internet access, flatscreen TV, microwave, mini refrigerator, coffee maker, and hair dryer. The beds are incredibly comfortable and the hotel is so quiet.â There is a little restaurant and bar downstairs, plus a helpful on-site concierge.
Hotel Metro (45 W. 35th St., between Fifth and Sixth aves; 800/356-3870 or 212/947-2500; family rooms from $255). This central midtown find offers âa cool vibe and larger rooms than you usually get for the price,â including some family rooms that are actually two-room suites. The hotelâs rooftop terrace offers a stellar view of the Empire State Building and rates include a complimentary breakfast buffet.
Travel Inn Hotel (515 42nd St., at 10th Ave.; 800/869-4630 or 695-7171; $125-$300/night, depending on dates). This midtown hotel is âa great find. You get a fantastic location and very reasonable rates.â Most rooms feature mini refrigerators and microwaves, âwhich makes it easy to keep food costs low,â plus you can expect a flatscreen TV, well-equipped fitness room, and âvery nice indoor pool.â Another huge plus: âThis is the only midtown hotel I know of that offers free parking. This alone will save you hundreds of dollars in just a few nights.â
(MORE: Find a family-friendly hotel in NYC.)
Get Your Bearings
New York City is made up of five boroughs, but out-of-towners overwhelmingly stick to the smallest, Manhattan, where most major sights and attractions are located. Manhattan is a finger-shaped island that juts southwest into New York Bay, with Harlem to the north, the Hudson River to the west and the East River to the east. Getting oriented is a snap because most of Manhattanâs streets are laid out on a logical grid system. Streets run east-west. Starting with 1st Street, just north of Houston Street (pronounced âHouse-tonâ), streets are numbered consecutively as you head north.
Avenues run north-south (or uptown-downtown). Most are numbered, with First Avenue on the far east and Twelfth Avenue on the far west. Fifth Avenue divides the East Side from the West Side. Be aware that, for some reason, many avenues have two names. Avenue of the Americas is also known as Sixth Avenue. North of 59th Street, Eighth Avenue becomes Central Park West, Ninth Avenue becomes Columbus, and Tenth Avenue becomes Amsterdam. The only major avenue that does not run north-south is Broadway, which carves a diagonal northwest-southeast path across the island. As it crosses major avenues, it creates squares. For example, Times Square is the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue.
Youâll need a good map to explore Lower Manhattan, below 14th Street, because these oldest neighborhoodsâSoHo, Greenwich Village, TriBeCa, Wall Street, Chinatown, Little Italyâsprang up before the grid system.
Tip: New Yorkers (and savvy tourists) always give addresses with cross streets. The exact number of a building is less important than the block itâs on. Your cab driver will appreciate hearing it this way: â201 West 83rd, between Amsterdam and Broadway.â
Whether it’s your first time in New York, or you’ve been there before and looking for a more specific type of visit this time around, we have some fantastic suggested itineraries our family travel experts have created for you.
For your first visit in New York with the kids, top attractions of the city are a must. See which ones travel expert Rowena Carr-Allinson recommends: 2 Days in New York with Kids – Top Attractions.
If the kids love art and are interested in the city’s vibrant culture, she also has some terrific suggestions: 2 Days of Culture in NYC for All Ages.
And lastly, outdoor lovers will be happy to know the city has a plethora of activities outdoors and expert Karen Hayoun has some wonderful ideas on how you can spend your visit: 3 Days Outdoors in NYC with Little and Big Kids.
Best way to get around:
Walking. âYou canât appreciate New York from the inside of a subway or a cab. Getting to know one neighborhood on foot will make you feel like a local.â Always be aware of traffic flow and whatâs happening around you. âBesides car traffic, also watch out for bicyclists, who can reach crazy speeds and donât always follow traffic rules.â
NYC Subway ($2 fare; kids under 44″ tall ride for free). âSay what you want about the subway, but itâs the fastest way around town.â âThe Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards are the best way to buy subway fares for a family. You can swipe it up to four times in a row, for up to four people traveling together. And remember, little kids ride for freeâjust tell them to slide under the turnstile!â
Yellow Taxi ($2.50 initial fare plus $2/mile). âRiding in a yellow cab is must when you visit the Big Apple. My kids were amazed that there was a TV in our cab!â
NY Water Taxi (Stops at Hunterâs Point, E. 34th Street, Red Hook, Brooklynâs Fulton Ferry Landing, South St. Seaport, Pier 11 at Wall St., Pier A in Battery Park, the World Financial Center, Pier 45, Chelsea Piers, and Pier 84, W. 44th St.; 742-1969; 1-day pass: $20/adult, $15/child. 2-day pass: $25/adult, $15/child). Big yellow catamarans carrying up to 74 passengers provide a hop-on, hop-off water ferry service. Boats pick up twice an hour at each stop, going in each direction. âA fun and stress-free way to get around, especially in the summertime.â
Ride a Carriage in Central Park (Flickr: Tomas Fano)
Best local tour:
New York Splash Tours (Times Square, Broadway between 47th and 48th sts; 888/8-DUCK-0; $29/adult, $20/child 3-11; operates mid-March through October; min age: 3). This one-hour tour takes place aboard an ambibious âduck boatâ manned by a captain and first mate who double as tour guides. First, thereâs a quick tour of the Times Square district, followed by a splashdown and cruise in the Hudson River, and finally a motion-simulated ride recreating Hudsonâs voyage. âThis was a hoot! Quite touristy but also very popular with New Yorkers.â âBe one of the first to board and sit in the front rows if you want to be sprayed.â Tip: There are no bathrooms on the boat, so do a bathroom run before you board.â
Shark Boat (Pier 16, South St. Seaport; 866/925-4631; $21/adult, $15/child; must be 40″ tall; daily Memorial Day to Labor Day). This 149-seat speedboat with a friendly shark face painted on the bow zips around New York harbor, taking in the sights for about 40 windswept minutes. âYou literally roar out of the South Street Seaport and get to the foot of the Statue of Liberty in minutes.â âThis was exhilarating. Be prepared to get very wet! A great way to cool off when itâs 90 degrees in August!â Tip: Youâll save $2 per ticket if you buy in advance online.
Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises (Departing from Pier 83, at W. 42nd St. and Twelfth Ave. Also departing from Pier 16 at South St. Seaport, 207 Front St.; 563-3200; $20-$29.50/adult, $12-$17/kids under 12, depending on cruise length). An oldie but goodie. This famous cruise line has been around forever, and now offers four itineraries of varying lengths, ranging from 75 minutes to three hours. âThe commentary can be somewhat canned, but these cruises are an excellent way to see the city from a different perspective. You get truly wonderful skyline vistas from the water.â
Venetian Gondola Tour around Central Park Lake (Boathouse, 72nd St. and Park Drive N.; 517-2233; $30/ride for up to 6 people; must reserve in advance). Andres, Central Parkâs very own gondolier, can take your family on a 30-minute spin around Central Park Lake. âRelaxing and very beautiful, especially on a lazy summer afternoon or evening.â âWhat a fantastic memory of New York to cherish.â
Horse & Carriage Rides (Central Park South, between Fifth and Sixth aves; 736-0680; $34/20 mins., $10 for each additional 15 min., $6-$10 tip). âThough pricey, nothing beats a ride in a horse-drawn carriage around Central Park on a summerâs evening.â âThe wait can be a few minutes or an hour, depending on when you go. The worst time is early evening.â
On Location Tours (Location and length of tour varies; 209-3370; $18-$42/person, depending on tour). This company specializes tours that visit sights made famous in film and television, such as recognizable locations from Sex and the City, the Sopranos, and Gossip Girl. âWe took the âNew York TV & Movie Sites Tour,â which lasted over three hours and visited locations from TV shows and movies filmed in NYC, like Friends, Ghostbusters, When Harry Met Sally, Sex and the City, and many more. It was a ton of fun and good value.â
Staten Island Ferry (Flickr: nycstreets)
Empire State Building (350 Fifth Ave., at 34th St.; 736-3100; $19/adult, $17/teen 12-17, $13/child 6-11; see combo ticket with NY Skyride, below). The views from the observation platform on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building are âfabulously incomparable.â âOne of those things you just gotta do when youâre in New York. On a clear day, you can see all the way to New Jersey.â The best time to go? âDusk, when the lights all over the city come on. Itâs a magical moment.â
Staten Island Ferry (Departs from Whitehall Ferry Terminal, southern tip of Manhattan; 718/727-2508; free). It may not be glamorous, but this famous ferry, which turned 100 in 2006, âis New Yorkâs best freebie.â The hour-long roundtrip from Manhattan to Staten Island âtakes you into New York Harbor for a terrific up-close view of the Statue of Liberty, for free, which is a real New York thing to do.â âThis is important: Donât take one of the newer white boats. Make sure you get on one of the old orange-and-green boats, so you can go out on the decks! The new boats have enclosed decks and the experience is just not the same.â
Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza, 49th St., between Fifth and Sixth aves; 698-2000; observation deck: $17.50/adult, $11.25/child 6-12). You know it as the home of NBC and the famous ice-skating rink, and 30 Rockefeller Center has something else going for it: Fabulous views of the city from its three-floor observation deck on floors 67, 69, and 70. âImpressive, 360-degree views, and a very classy place!â âGet there early in the morning and wave to the âToday Showâ!â âIf you visit at sunset, the views are incredible but thereâs a downside: Adult ticket prices go up $10!â
Gantry Plaza State Park (Hunterâs Point, Long Island City, Queens). Take the 7 train to the Vernon-Jackson Avenue station, then walk along 48th Avenue to the river. The waterfront has been âmasterfully developed into a lovely park with spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline.â âBe sure to take a photo of the giant Pepsi signâa remnant from the days when the bottling plant was there.â Otherwise, âgrab an ice cream cone and enjoy the view!â
Sheep Meadow (Central Park, west side between 66th and 69th sts.). The great expanse of green grass is every kidâs delight, but parents will likely revel in the view. âI could never get tired of seeing the skyline rise above the meadow. To me, this is quintessential New York.â
Soak Up the Local Scene
Best weekend family hangout:
Central Park. âMore specifically, the southeast section of Central Park, along Fifth Avenue from 59th Street to 74th Street, is known as the âchildrenâs section.â The Central Park Zoo and Tisch Childrenâs Zoo are in this area, as is the Dairy (information booth), Carousel (at about 64th St.; $1.50/ride), the boat pond and the beloved statues of Hans Christian Anderson and Alice in Wonderland. The statue of Balto is also on the east side of the park, about level with 67th Street.â At the boat pond, you can rent remote-controlled boats from a concession stand and race them, just like in âStuart Little.â
Best sightseeing attraction:
South Street Seaport (At Water and South sts; 748-8600). New Yorkâs answer to Faneuil Hall is a complex of restaurants, bars, and shopping, set on and around Pier 17, near the Brooklyn Bridge. âIn the summer, itâs especially fun due to the street performers, outdoor concerts, and al fresco dining.â âKids always like watching the different kinds of boats passing by.â
NY Skyride (2nd floor of Empire State Building, 350 Fifth Ave., entrance on 33rd St.; 279-9777; online prices: $25.50/adult, $18.50/teen 12-17, $17.50/child 6-11; combo ticket with Empire State Building Observatory: $38/adult, $30/teen 12-17, $29/child 6-11). This virtual aerial tour over New York takes place in a special high-def IMAX-style theater with motion-simulated seats and is narrated by actor Kevin Bacon. âItâs a really thrilling ride, whether youâre a native New Yorker or a tourist.â The whole experience takes 25 minutes but the skyride itself is âover much too quickly, in just 12 minutes.â In the remaining time, visitors watch two other short, static films about the Empire State Building and other New York attractions. âIf you buy a combo ticket for the NY Skyride and Empire State Building Observatory, you not only save money but you can skip the long line for the observatory after the film.â
(MORE: Read reviews written by parents on kid-friendly attractions in NYC.)
Let the Fun Shine In
Central Park. Take your pick or do them all: The zoo (see Best Animal Experience, below), the carousel, or a ride on a Venetian gondola around Central Park Lake (see Best Local Tour, above).
Tompkins Square Park (East Village, bordered by Ave. A, 7th St., Ave. B, and 10th St.). More than a decade of gentrification has cleaned up this once-dodgey 16-acre park, but âit still has a pleasingly edgy East Village vibe.â Along with plenty of green, leafy spaces, there are three large, modern playgrounds with rubbery ground cover, basketball courts, sprinklers, and paths for jogging and Rollerblading.
Best picnic area:
Wagner Park (North of Battery Park, just west of Battery Pl.; 267-9700). Near the bottom of Manhattan, this âawesome little parkâ overlooks the Hudson River. âThere is a nice mix of open lawns, meticulously-tended flowering gardens, and walking pathsâ but âthe main selling point is the killer view of the Statue of Liberty.â
Riverside Park. This West Side gem stretches four miles along the Hudson from 72nd Street to 158th Street. âNice paths wind past gardens and through tree-dotted lawns, and the river views are simply wonderful. Plus, there always seems to be a puppet show, concert, or other fun kidsâ event going on at Pier 1 in Riverside Park South.â
Heckscher Playground (Midwest Central Park, at around 62nd St.). This âvery impressiveâ playground is the largest in Central Park. There is a âgreat little area just for toddlers, with sandboxes, small climbing frames, and a swingset with toddler-sized bucket seats.â During the dog days of summer, âfun sprinklers spout from various climbing frames to cool everyone off.â On the west side, there is a âlarge boulder-like mountain that older kids can play on.â
Imagination Playground (South Street Seaport, John St. between South and Front Sts). Need a place to burn off energy downtown? Head to this colorful, new playground with modular equipment that lets kids create as they play. âThis is an awesome place to relax and cool off on a hot summer day. There are a lot of interactive water fountains and sprayers. Next time, I am going to bring an extra change of clothes for my son.â
River Run Playground (West 83rd St. and Riverside Dr.). âThereâs a really nice replica of the Hudson River here, with plaques showing all the towns that line its banks. The playground has all the standard equipment, plus a fun whirl-go-round, on which you have to hold on tight to fight centrifugal force. On a hot summerâs day, the best place to cool off is the big splashpad with jetsprays and sprinklers.â
Central Park Zoo (Flickr: La Citta Vita)
Walk on the Wild Side
Best animal experience:
Bronx Zoo (830 Fifth Ave., at 64th St.; 439-6500; $8/adult, $3/child 3-12; free for kids under 3). The granddaddy of American zoos was founded in 1899 and remains the largest urban animal park in the US. âYou could easily spend several days exploringâ the more than 4,000 animals living on its 265 acres. The Wild Asia Complex is perhaps the most intriguing areas of the zoo, with its enormous enclosures of free-roaming Serbian tigers, red pandas, and Congo gorillas. From April to October, the Childrenâs Zoo is open, winning over the youngest visitors with its âwell-executed petting zoo,â camel rides, and Skyfari aerial tram. âCome early morning on a weekday to beat the crowds and the heat.â
Central Park Zoo/Tisch Childrenâs Zoo (830 Fifth Ave., at 64th St.; 439-6500; $8/adult, $3/child 3-12; free for kids under 3). Sea lions and polar bears and monkeysâoh my! This âcute little zooâ within Central Park is a sure-fire hit with young and old. âIt takes about 90 minutes to walk through and see everything.â âLeave extra time for the adorable sea lions and the large penguin enclosure.â The tri-level Tropic Zone is âanother real highlight, with its rainforest creatures like snakes, exotic birds, and cheeky Colobus monkeys.â For the under-5 set, the Tisch Childrenâs Zoo offers plenty of opportunity for petting goats, pigs, llamas, and more.
Staten Island Zoo (614 Broadway, Staten Island; 718/442-3100; $8/adult, $5/child 3-14; free for kids under 3; free for all on Wednesday afternoons). âGetting there is half the fun! Take the ferry for free, then bus S48.â Besides the well-regarded reptile wing, families love the petting zoo and intimate exhibits that let kids get up close to the animals.
Feed Your Culture Vulture
Coolest place to catch a movie:
Movies with a View at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Empire-Fulton State Park, Brooklyn; Thursday evenings in July and August). By subway, take the A or C to High Street; the 2 or 3 to Clark Street; or the F to York Street. âThis free summer film series is a huge hit with families. The movies are great, and the backdrop is Manhattan.â
Best museum for kids:
American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West, at 79th St.; 769-5100; admission to museum and Rose Center: $15/adult, $8.50/child 2-12; museum admission plus Cosmic Collision film: $22/adult, $13/child 2-12). This enormous museum is âchock-a-block with interesting and impressive exhibits about the universe.â The hottest ticket is the Robert Redford-narrated, IMAX-style space show, âCosmic Collison,â playing in the Hayden Planetarium in the museumâs Rose Center for Earth & Space. And from October to May, âdonât miss the marvelous Butterfly Conservatory,â a walk-in enclosure housing some 500 colorful tropical butterflies. âIf you want to see the butterflies, go online and get a ticket package that includes admission to the conservatory.â Last but not least, check out the schedule of special childrenâs programs âthat make learning about the world into a super experience.â
New York Hall of Science (47-01 111th St., Queens; 718/699-0005; Hall admission $11/adult, $8/child 2-17; Science Playground fee: additional $4/person). You have to take the 7 Train from Manhattan into neighboring Queens (Get off at 111th St. stop in Flushing Meadow, then walk three blocks south) to get to this âamazing interactive science museumâ with âthe best collection of hands-on exhibits for kids in the city.â There is also a âreally great preschool area and a super outdoor science playgroundâ thatâs open March to December, weather permitting, to children of all ages with adult supervision. âMy 9-year-oldâs favorite section is the astronomy discovery lab.â Tip: From September to June, admission is free from 2pm to 5pm on Fridays and 10am to 11am on Sundays.
Sony Wonder Lab (56th St., at Madison Ave.; 833-8100). This technology and entertainment workshop âis all about interactive, creative learning. Itâs a museum for all the sensesâyou watch HD, make your own movies, create your own electronic music, and play awesome video games!â âMy boys love this museum and itâs free. Just get timed-entry tickets in advance by going online or calling ahead.â
Ellis Island (Ferry from Castle Clinton, at southern tip of Battery Park; 363-3200; free admission. Ferry: $12/adult, $5/child 4-12). From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island processed some 12 million immigrants. Today, 4 out of 10 Americans can trace their lineage to someone who came through. To visit, you take a ferry from Battery Park to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, then âyou enter the immigration hall through the baggage room, as immigrants did,â before proceeding to the grand registry room with its vaulted ceiling. âThe site does a good job in relating the immigrantsâ experience through photos and personal artifacts. It is really quite moving.â
Childrenâs Museum of Manhattan (212 W. 83rd, between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.; 721-1234; $9/person; free for babies under 1 year). This interactive museum delivers a lot of hands-on fun for preschoolers and young elementary-school kids. There is âa really fun workshop on how to make videosâ and âcool science exhibits about the human body.â Toddlers and preschoolers have their own section. Note: Admission is free on the first Friday of each month from 5pm to 8pm.
Best theater for kids:
Theaterworks NYC (121 Christopher St., between Bleecker and Hudson sts; 279-4200; $25/seat). This theater company is known for taking its highly-acclaimed shows on the road. On weekends, however, it plays to the home crowd in its Greenwich Village theater. These wonderful shows are often based on childrenâs classics such as Junie B. Jones, Charlotteâs Web and Harold and the Purple Crayon. âTop-notch family-friendly theater at a great price!â
New Victory Theater (209 W. 42nd St., between Seventh and Eighth aves; 646/223-3010; $13-$35/seat). This cozy 500-seat theater provides a âreal Broadway experience just for kidsâ in this âbeautiful landmark theater with not a bad seat in the house.â Productions tend to be âeasy-to-follow, wonderfully-acted fareâ and the staff is known for its helpfulness, âeven bringing booster seats to small children who canât see.â
Shakespeare in the Park (Delacorte Theater, Central Park. Closest park entrances are at 81st St. and Central Park West or 70th St. and Fifth Ave.; 539-8500; season runs end-May to mid-August). All summer long, every evening except Monday, Joe Pappâs award-winning Public Theater company puts on excellent, FREE performances of works by Shakespeare and modern playwrights in Central Parkâs amphitheater. âThis is one of those must-experiences if you visit New York during the summer.â âKids love outdoor setting, and itâs a wonderful way to bring a little culture into your visit.âTip: Free tickets to same-day performances are available at the Delacorte Theater beginning at 1pm, âbut you should line up at least 45 minutes early.â There is a two-ticket limit per person.
CafÃ© Lalo (201 W. 83rd St., between Amsterdam and Broadway; 804-9024; cash only). âWe always go here for breakfast. It is tight on space but loaded with charm, and there are great desserts. It is close to the American Museum of Natural History.â
Shake Shack (Madison Square Park, corner of Madison Ave. and 23rd St.; 889-6600). âThe best burgers in the cityâ and âdelectable shakesâ are served al fresco under the trees in this pretty leafy park. âThe best midtown burgers, and the dogs are good, too!â
3rd Ave Blue 9 Burger (92 Third Ave., near 12th St; 979-0053). A favorite of NYU students, this East Village counter-service eatery is famous for its âcheap, never frozen, and cooked-to-order burgers, great fries, and awesome shakes.â âDonât expect ambience,â just âvery good and affordable fast food under fluorescent lights.â
Paulâs Place (131 Second Ave., near St. Markâs Pl.; 529-3033). Another East Village favorite, this diner has a âterrific menu featuring more than 20 delectable burgers-to-goâ that are âperfect for a picnic in Tompkins Square Park, just a few blocks away.â
Katzâs Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St., at Ludlow St.; 254-2246). Opened by Russian immigrants in 1888, this is âstill the best deli because has always remained authentically old-style.â âOrder something quintessentially New York, like a reuben made with the best corned beef youâll ever experience.â
Best event dining:
Jekyll & Hyde Club (1409 Ave. of the Americas, between 57th and 58th sts; 541-9505). This haunted house-cum-restaurant serves up a full menu of American casual fare (think BBQ wings, burgers, salads) with a cast of characters that includes ghouls, skeletons, and mad scientists. âIt is fun but a little spooky for some kids.â âMy whole family really gets a kick out of this place, but itâs best for kids 7 and up.â
Johnâs Pizzeria (260 W 44th St., at 8th Ave.; 391-7560). Housed in a deconsecrated church, Johnâs delivers a wow experience complete with stained-glass windows, religious sconces, and a lovely stained-glass rosette on the ceiling. âThe pizza here is fabulousâmy kids said it was the best theyâve ever hadâand the setting is just so cool.â âAwesome pizza, a very memorable building, and a big step up from the usual greasy pizza place!â
Lombardiâs Pizzeria (32 Spring St., at Mott St.; 941-7994). It all began here, folks. Americaâs first pizzeria opened in 1905 in Little Italy. The âbest pizza in the cityâ is still baked in coal-fired ovens today.
Rayâs Pizza (27 Prince St., between Elizabeth and Mott sts; 966-1960). There are dozens of New York pizza joints named Rayâs. You got your Famous Rayâs, World Famous Rayâs, Original Rayâs, Famous Original Rayâs, Real Rayâs and even the One and Only Famous Rayâs. âFuggedabout all those. This one is the original, founded circa 1959, and itâs always been streaks better than all those pretenders.â
Joeâs Pizza (7 Carmine St., at Bleecker St.; 255-3946). This popular place is âgreat for a quick slice when youâre in the Villageâ and is known for its âthin crust and perfect cheesiness.â It gets crowded, so âbe prepared to eat your slice outside, standing up, the New York way.â
Ellenâs Stardust Diner (1650 Broadway, at 51st St.; 956-5151). This 1950s retro diner is âso much fun! The waiters burst out into song periodically during your meal and perform a variety show. The food is good, too!â
Best hot dogs:
Grayâs Papaya (2090 Broadway, at 72nd St.; 799-0243). A genuine New York institution, âGrayâs is legendary for its great, cheap grilled dogs and yummy papaya drinks.â âThis is all about cheap hot dogs. There is no place to sit and eat. It is very gritty, but good for food-on-the-go, and the kids like it.â It is âdefinitely one of those New York things to doâ to âask for your dog covered in the onion mixâvery addictive!â
Crif Dogs (113 St. Markâs Pl., between Ave. A and First Ave.; 614-2728). Go for the âel-cheapo $2 dogs, served with any topping you want.â âMy personal favorite is the âChihuahua,â which comes with bacon, avocado, and sour cream.â
Cowgirl (519 Hudson St., at W. 10th St.; 633-1133). Do your kids love Mexican food? OlÃ©! This popular place has a fun âKidtown menuâ that features Tex-Mex favorites, chicken tenders, and drinks like sarsparilla and lemonade. âThe Mexican food is delicious, and the western decor and country music make for a really fun atmosphere. Thereâs a âGeneral Storeâ where you can buy inexpensive cowboy hats and penny candy.â âCome on the weekendâthe brunches are great!â
Serendipity 3 (225 E. 60th St., between Second and Third aves; 858-3531). This iconic Upper East Side place (Andy Warhol and Jackie O. were both fans) is an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and sweets shop. âThe food is just so-so. Everyone is there for the amazing desserts.â The most famous item on the menu is the frozen hot chocolate, âa decadent cross between a chocolate milk shake and a slushie that is completely out of this world.â âAll the desserts are to-die-for, especially those that involve chocolate fudge or chocolate sauce.â âThe drink concoctions are amazing, but the food is awful. If you do eat here, stick to the hamburgers.â
Aliceâs Tea Shop (102 W. 73rd St., at Columbus Ave.; 799-3006. Also: 156 E. 64th St., at Lexington Ave.; 486-9200). Parents love the great teas and a light, healthy menu. Kids love the heavenly desserts and fairy-tale setting. âVery cute place. Makes me wish I had girls….â
CaffÃ© Palermo (148 Mulberry St., between Grand and Hester sts; 431-4205). This cozy cafÃ© in Little Italy makes âthe best cannolis ever, crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, the way they are supposed to be.â You can sit inside, or âgrab a table on the sidewalk and do some New York peoplewatching.â
Best ice cream:
Tasti D-lite (3rd Ave. and 29th St., plus two dozen other locations in Manhattan). âAwesome ice cream, fluffy and light frozen yogurt, and fantastic milkshakes.â
FAO Schwarz (767 Fifth Ave., at 58th St.; 644-9400). âSimply the best, most wonderful toy store on the planet.â âThe displays are incredible, and the collection of overized stuffed animals will leave you speechless.â âPlan to spend a few hours here, as there are many toys for kids to not only look at, but play with. Our favorite is the giant keyboard from the movie âBig.ââ âA traditionalistâs dream store, full of old-fashioned classics.â
Toys âRâ Us (Times Square, 1514 Broadway, at 44th St.; 800/TOYSRUS). There are several branches of Toys âRâ Us in New York City, but the one in Times Square is the most spectacular. Aside from the huge collection of toys, this store is famous for the 60-foot Ferris wheel that operates just inside the entrance and the 20-foot animatronic T-Rex from âJurassic Parkâ that towers over shoppers. âGet there early if you want to ride the Ferris wheel, since the line gets longer as the day goes on. It costs $4 to ride.â Everything is done in a big way here: The âRâ Zone is 5,000-square-feet of video games and electronic entertainment, while Barbieâs Dollhouse is two entire floors dedicated to the famous mini blonde. âYou could spend a day here. All my kids could say, over and over, was âWow!ââ
American Girl Place (609 Fifth Ave., at 49th St.; 371-2220). This megastore is a 43,000-square-foot shrine to the American Girl series, with a cafÃ©, theater, and bookstore. âBook ahead if you want to have a meal in the cafÃ©â and âdonât forget to have your daughter bring her own doll if she wants to get a doll makeover at the salon.â
Grand Slam (Times Square, Broadway between 46th and 47th sts.; 708-9400). âThis is the all-under-one-roof place to shop for New York souvenirs. We got Yankees gear, FDNY shirts, and a Broadway street sign. The prices were much lower than I was expecting for such an obviously touristy store.â
MoMA Store (Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St., between Fifth and Sixth aves; 708-9400). This shop is full of âreally fun, interesting, designer items you wonât find anywhere else.â The selection includes âstylish accessories for kidsâs bedrooms, childrenâs clothing, and toys.â
NBA Store (666 Fifth Ave., at 52nd St.; 515-6221). This triple-story emporium has NBA merchandise for every team and is âa must stop for every kid who loves hoops.â âCheck the web site before you come to find out if and when player appearances are scheduled. You might be able to snag an autograph or signed item.â
Dylanâs Candy Bar (1011 Third Ave.; 646/735-0078). Who knew candy could be so groovy? âThere is something very Willy Wonka about this place where colorful packaging and imagination run wild. A must for every sweet tooth in your family!â âYou canât actually eat here. It is just an awesome candy store.â