This Sunday, more than 80,000 people will descend on MetLife stadium for the Super Bowl and roughly 500,000 visitors are expected to come into NYC to take part in the pregame festivities. While I can't imagine a worse time to visit, it does once again highlight how much demand there is for NYC. So while I am not suggesting you go today, I do encourage you to think about visiting for a few days with your kids at a future date. It really can be a wonderful and educational trip for families. I might be biased as I was born and raised there but I don't think so.
Having grown up there and visiting as often as I do, I am often asked what our top picks are for families visiting the Big Apple. Here are the things I love to show my kids anytime I bring them to my hometown:
Central Park - What is more synonymous with NYC then Central Park. This 840 acre park feels like it was just magically dropped right in the middle of the bustling city. During the winter, nothing is more fun than renting skates and taking a few turns around the ice at Wollman Rink. On a warm day, I love to take my kids to the Central Park Carousel and then grab an ice cream and wander along the winding paths. A stop to let your kids climb the Alice in Wonderland Statue by the 77th street boat pond on the East Side is always a must. And, if you happen to be visiting between May and September, you'll want to check out Victoria Gardens, a charming traditional amusement park with rides geared for kids ages 2-12. (Victoria Gardens replaces Wollman Rink in the summer months).
American Museum of Natural History - You're most likely going to need a few hours to really see everything that you want to see in here. Through August 14, they're featuring an interactive exhibit called The Power of Poison. This exhibit explores poison's role in history and how it is used as a lethal weapon, a defense against predators and also as a critical component in medicines. Among other things, you'll see cool poisonous frogs, learn why we say "mad as a hatter" and understand how howler monkeys can eat poison and not feel it's effect. All of my kids (ages 12,7 and 4) were captivated by this exhibit and no one ever uttered the words "Can we go now?" (Score!). The museum also has huge areas dedicated to dinosaurs, animals, space and the not to be missed butterfly conservatory.
Dylan's Candy Bar - Yes it's always crowded with throngs of tourists but my kids still want to make a pit stop at this candy emporium every time we visit the city. Parents will love seeing many of their nostalgic favorites while the kids will probably relish in the newer candy novelties and Dylan's branded candies. There's a candy café where you can sit and enjoy ice cream creations and let your kids take a selfie to show their friends.
Lester's - If you have a daughter between the ages of 7 and 12 and she's dying to come home with something to remember her trip to The Big Apple by, then bring her to Lester's. This is an uber-popular clothing store for babies, toddlers, and tweens. The clothes are very on trend. They also have a large selection of novelty items and fun accessories for lockers, desks and camp bunks.
Top of the Rock - I know that you're supposed to go to the top of the Empire State building but I actually think Top of the Rock is more fun for kids. It's typically less crowded and it still has one of the best views of the city. In fact, you can clearly see Central Park from the three floors of observation decks here, which is not possible from the Empire State building. The elevator ride up to the top floors is also quite a thrill. And an added benefit is that you'll be in the famous 30 Rockefeller Center home of NBC, TODAY and SNL.
FAO Schwartz - If you only visit one toy store during your stay, then this is the one to go to. There is no store like it in the world. You probably remember the giant piano from the movie "Big," but you'll be amazed at how much else there is to see and experience in here. Upstairs, you'll find the giant piano but they also have a lovely book area where you can sit and linger with your kids for a moment of quiet. Throughout the store, their friendly staff is typically demonstrating paper airplanes, magic tricks and so many other toys. They've also added a "create your own Muppet bar" in the back. Just set expectations with your kids before you head in, otherwise they'll ask for everything and prices can get lofty.
Locals wants to spend as little time as possible in Times Square, but it seems like visitors always want to come and see it. Here are a few places that are worth battling the crowds to experience.
Toys 'R' Us Times Square - There are two real reasons to come to this toy store. First, is the enormous dinosaur on the second floor that roars. All kids seem to really like it. The second reason is the cool two story indoor Ferris wheel. I suggest that you go early if you are hoping to ride it though because otherwise you'll be waiting in a long line.
The Bubble Show - All kids are enamored of bubbles and you will be too when you see The Gazillion Bubble show. Fan Yang, the creator of the show, will amaze you with what can be done with simple bubble solution. If you want a really fun experience then try and book seats in the front row, but I caution you, you will get wet. At the beginning of the show, your kids can have their picture taken from inside an actual bubble (for an additional charge) which is cool.
The Art of the Brick - Back by popular demand, this amazing Lego show is returning to the Times Square Discovery Center on Feb 14. Artist Nathan Sawaya recreated over 50 famous pieces of art out of Lego bricks like the Mona Lisa and American Gothic. In some works, like Lady Liberty, he puts his own creative interpretation into his artistry. He also creates incredible original works like the 20-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton made out of 80,000 Lego bricks. If you don't already have a Lego enthusiast, you will after taking them to see this.
The Ride - This is a cool and alternative way to experience NYC. The Ride is an interactive bus tour of NYC guided by two "hosts" who are really more like performers. You sit on the bus, stadium style, with all passengers facing out one side. As the bus travels throughout midtown you'll see hidden performances throughout the city. It's a really unique way to experience and engage with NYC street life. Check their website for hours of operation.
Math Museum - This relatively new museum is a great place to take the kids for a couple of hours. I promise you that I'm no math wizard so don't worry if your kids aren't total math geeks. MoMath, as it's now referred to, is a kid friendly interactive museum illustrating how math comes into play in our daily lives. If you're expecting flashcards and multiplication tables think again. Throughout the two floors there are puzzles to solve, games to play and cool building materials to try. There's also a roller coaster demonstration and my kids' favorite: the bike with square wheels. Neither one could believe what a smooth ride it was.
The High Line - What was once an old elevated train track is now one of the more beautiful and serene parts of NYC. Let your kids run a few steps ahead as you take a stroll through this beautiful park. Along the way there are stops for hot chocolate and something stronger if you wish. The High line park runs on Manhattan's West Side from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street.
Chelsea Market - After walking the High Line and doing a bit of shopping in the nearby Meatpacking district this is a fun place to stop in and refuel. This urban food hall and mall is housed in the old National Biscuit factory. You'll find vendors selling soups, seafood, awesome Thai dishes and a vast assortment of authentic Italian delicacies. My kids always ask to stop in and pick up a sweet treat at the famous Eleni's cookies and Fat Witch Bakery. This is a great place to grab breakfast or lunch or in the nice weather even a picnic-to-go.
Via Quadronna - I feel like I'm giving away an insider secret with this one. Tucked away on east 73rd street is this wonderful café and paninoteca where all the locals go. After running around with the kids all day you deserve to rest your tired feet and enjoy one of the best cappuccinos and lattes this side of the Atlantic. They also have a huge selection of made-to-order Panini's. I do have to warn you though that this place is tiny. So if you have a huge stroller with a lot of stuff or a large party then I suggest you grab something to go as you head into the park or to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which are both nearby.
Serafina - There are seven of these totally kid friendly, great quality Italian restaurants throughout the city, making it a great choice for families. It doesn't matter where you're staying or what's on your itinerary, you are bound to be near one of them. They serve great thin crust pizzas, hearty pastas. If you're looking for something lighter they also have a number of delicious salads on their menu. They are very accommodating to children and are happy to rush out a kid-sized portion of pasta to satisfy hungry stomachs.
Shake Shack - Danny Meyers calls this his take on a "roadside" burger stand. Let me be clear, this is not like any burger that I've had when I've been on the road. Shake Shack consistently delivers delicious burgers, hot dogs, crispy fries and unbelievable shakes (about which I know a thing or two). You'll place your order and be given a ticket. You'll then have to jockey for a table. But once you get your food it will all be worth it. With six locations in Manhattan, this is another great option for a quick lunch (the location in Madison Square Park is the only one without indoor seating though). There is one near the Math Museum, Natural History Museum and The Times Square Discovery Center (not that I'm trying to talk you into going or anything).
You'll notice that I didn't suggest a specific hotel. New York is an incredibly expensive city so I suggest that you look online and try and find a deal on a room. Anywhere in Midtown would be very convenient but Downtown would also be fun and possibly less crowded. Besides, you won't be spending much time in your room anyway with so much to see and do.
Have a great trip! I'd love to hear about your Big Apple adventures.
Chrissy Jones is a local Chicago mom blogger with three children (12,7 & 4). Her blog Beyondthepark.com showcases the best special events, activities, restaurants and products for Chicago families.
See more of Chrissy's stories here.