Ah, cultural mecca that it is... New York! We've also had a wonderful travelling there with our small child, which was a nice surprise.
Since 1983, which was my first visit to New York, I have always been surprised and pleased at how friendly and outgoing the people are. Yup, you heard me. Friendly and outgoing. Call me a California WASP refugee, but I'd rather have someone be extremely frank with me than waste my time with fake solicitousness. In fact, I like New Yorkers so much that I married one!
Places to visit on the upper west side
From my email archives -- cannot remember the source, sorry.
Midtown is busy, but uptown (from the Upper West Side through Central Park to the Upper East Side) is a lot calmer. Its great family neighborhoods, filled with world-class museums and restaurants, surround Central Park--an 843-acre oasis where you can find gardens and lawns, a statue of Alice in Wonderland and even polar bears and penguins in a compact yet remarkably diverse zoo (The children's zoo is at 5th Avenue and 64th Street and even includes a cow! Phone: 212-861-6030).
H and H Bagels and Zabars: Carb Capitals of NY
Any journey uptown should begin at 2239 Broadway, the address of H & H Bagels (at 80th Street; 212-595-8000), whose motto, "Like no other bagel in the world," is--trust me--not an exaggeration. [Katenote: these are wonderful bagels. You can even have them sent to you in California. They stay good for several days. Incredible.] There is no place to sit down at H and H, but you can buy your bagels by the bag, still warm from the ovens, and haul them along with you. Nearby is Zabar's (2245 Broadway; 212-787-2000), the jewel of delicatessens. Zabar's is half a block long, not very deep, and stuffed with everything. I prefer it to the food halls of Harrods and in Berlin, although it doesn't have the sausage diversity as Germany. Zabar's has a little restaurant attached to it, if you just want coffee and a snack.
Musums in Uptown
Some of the museums in the area are:
American Museum of Natural History (West 79th
Street and Central Park West; 212-769-5100).
Although I'm not extremely fond of it for VERY young children (ha! tell that to a New Yorker. This place is said to be the kid's mecca), the Museum of Natural History si very cool. It's got a big dinosaur hall and lots of wooly mammoths behind glass, and now the planetarium is attached. You have to telephone to schedule showings for planetarium or IMAX stuff, but it's cool.
Walking east from the planetarium you'll cross the street and come to Central Park, New York's great backyard--but with a whole lot more going on than croquet and a barbecue. Someone referred the first-rate puppet shows at The Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater, where they recently saw a very funny update of "Cinderella" ($5 for adults; $4 for kids under 12; for reservations call 212-988-9093). The Shakespeare Garden is filled with plantings mentioned by Shakespeare and fun to walk in.
But I have been referred to, as a main destination, Belvedere Castle, which is a miniature granite fortress. The nature center inside contains tanks of turtles, fish and other native park creatures, while climbing to the turrets affords a great view of the park. One of the park's many playgrounds (at 68th Street near 5th Avenue) boasts the Rock Slide--a long, curving chute set into the rocks. Her kids like to
slide down on pieces of cardboard for extra speed, then gambol on
the massive rock outcroppings nearby.
Just a 10-block walk north is the Metropolitan Museum of Art (5th
Avenue at 82nd Street; 212-535-7710), a place that might not exactly
scream out as a family destination. But this is a great place for
kids: Within its four full city blocks are all manner of amazing
halls and rooms, displaying everything from suits of armor to the
complete Temple of Dendur, which was moved piece by piece from Egypt to save it from the rising Nile during the construction of the Aswan Dam. There's even a sculpture garden on the roof in case the kids need a place outdoors to unwind. Kids love the giant marble statue of the Greek hero
Notes from Mary
An online friend sent me a wonderful summary, which I found very useful. Here it is:
As for things to do in NYC for kids: my kids got a huge charge out of the ToysRUs in Times Square. It has a full size ferris wheel inside which of course we had to ride (there is a charge, I forget how much - $2?). And of course they are very open to letting the kids run around and play w/ the toys. Also check out the sreet vendors in that area...great Kate Spade knock-off purses that look just like the real thing for around $15 depending on your bargaining skills. My kids also liked the FAO Schwartz toy store at 5th and 58th but keep in mind that this is a very expensive toy store, smaller than TRU and...no ferris wheel.
Here's a link called Central Park for Kids, which contains information about all types of things that kids can do. There is a beautiful children's zoo in Central Park, right inside the Park at the 59th Street entrance. There is a charge around $3 for you (I think your son would be free) and it includes the petting zoo which is outside the Zoo about 500 feet down a path. There is also a working carousel on the West side of the Park in the 60s (?) which is also a nice thing for the kids. This is all walkable w/in a day if you are up for city trekking. New Yorkers are very used to walking, but you could always hop into a cab if it gets too much. There is also a place to rent rowboats in the Park at around 72nd Street on the East side at the Boathouse. (ask anyone where it is). There is a restaurant here and a great small man made lake to take your boat out in. We took the 2 older kids (5 and 3), myself and the babysitter (I think I may never travel w/out a babysitter again) and DH stayed out w the baby (then 10 months). We all had a great time. And there is also Fairway a big produce/cheese/bread/milk market at 74th and Broadway which is WONDERFUL but not specifically health food, just GOOD food. And Zabar's at around 79th and Broadway which is a gastronomical experience of terrific deli and prepared foods but not exactly health food conscious. [Ed. note: Did you know that Zabars has an online store?] H&H bagels is right down the street on Broadway for great bagels and Ess-A-Bagel at around 21st and First on the Lower East Side also has terrific bagels but they are HUGE, a meal in a bagel. [Ed. note: You can call H and H and have them ship bagels to you in California or wherever, or you can go through a store called NewYorkFirst online store (which specializes in NY gifts) and buy their bagel package.
Our kids also just loved travelling on the subways and buses. There is just so much to see when on the bus, and the subways are like travelling on a spaceship to a young child (ok we tend to use our imaginative powers alot to get through any potentially scary situation...). Having lived in NY for A LONG TIME this mode of travelling, even w/ kids is very comfortable to us, I dont know if you feel the same. But w/ just one child it should be relatively easy and it is unequivocally the fastest way to get around the city. You can get an all day subway pass for $4 which allows transfers to buses (w/ some restrictions) and it is a great deal.
There are also usually street fairs going on this time of year and they offer alot of entertainment of the people-watching variety. Not to mention the street food.
As for kid friendly restaurants (which I know you didnt ask about but is always an issue for us) we like America at around 18th and 6th (sorry its hard to remember exact locations of anything in NY). Its BIG the staff is extremely child friendly and the menu is enormous, kind of like a spiffed-up diner. Always lots of strollers parked in the vestibule on the w/e's.
Oh there is also a very nice children's park on the Lower East Side around 8th street and Ave B, maybe Ave A? (Very far East). If you are in the neighborhood stroll by, it is a pretty neat bohemian sort of area that has gone through a lot of gentrification recently so there are lots of cafes and such.
Anyway, I hope this has some helpful info, and I hope you get it in time to help. And keep in mind the BEST thing about NY in my mind is that just walking around is entertaining. You don't have to spend a dime, or go to anywhere specific.
Health food stores
[Ed. note: In my travels with a wheat, dairy, chocolate, tomato, pineapple, and nut-allergic child, I needed to know where I could find alternative food. Here's info from friends about health food stores in Manhatten.]
There are health food stores everywhere in NY...There's a Whole Foods on Sixth Avenue and W 24th Street.
Also, there was one on W 13th betweeh 7th and 8th (I think it was
called the whole yoga center or something like that). I lived in
Greenwich Village until 95 so I don't know if the store is still there. They had all types of flour there in big bins that you scooped into a plastic bags.
Weatherly natural foods, 8th and 54th.
Health food stores listed in New York Marketplace by
Zagats: LifeThyme 6th Ave. bet 8th and 9th street - My favorite
Commodities Natural 165 1st Ave at 10th St. - really good
Integral Yoga Natural Foods13th St & 8th Ave. - really good
As for health food stores there are a few on the Lower East Side that I used to frequent and I believe are still there, but I dont remember the names. One is on Third Avenue around 17th Street, on the SouthWest corner. It had a full health food salad bar (lots of tofu and soy dishes, all vegetarian) and all kinds of brand name health food products. There is also a coop type store, I cant remember exactly where but it is lower around maybe 12th Street on I think 2nd Avenue? (maybe 1st) and has lots of bulk items and organic produce.
Luxury places to stay
We enjoyed the Plaza Athenee. The rooms were better than most, the service was positively cozy,and it felt like a nice little hotel. For years, I stayed at the Plaza hotel. Lord knows why, since in the late nineties many of the rooms hadn't been renovated, and if you're not careful you'll get a real hell-hole of a room, but I just liked the location overlooking the park. And the tea. I'm a sucker for a nice lobby restaurant. At any rate, I don't think I'd really recommend it, although I would probably stay there again (and would probably move rooms a few times.) The walls are a bit thin..
Non-luxury places to stay
My friend Mary sent me this suggestion:
"The last time we went (August) we stayed at the Embassy Suites downtown. It is located right next to Ground Zero in the Wall Street area. I prefer this area over Times Square for many reasons, not the least of which it is pretty much off the tourist map, despite the proximity to GZ, or maybe because of it - I don't know. Times Square is just too busy for me. There are subways and buses w/in walking distance, there is a beautiful walking promenade on the Hudson w/ a view of the Statue of Liberty, and a dock where many corporate sailboats and yachts are parked for your son's and yours (some of the yachts are pretty spectacular!) viewing pleasure. In front of the hotel is the Irish Famine Monument which makes a great running/climbing experience for the kids (not to mention an intellectual one for the adults - my mother was full blooded Irish straight-off-the-boat). And the hotel has a SUMPTUOUS full breakfast cooked-to-order included. Anyway that's my $.02. At $209./night not cheap (and this was a special rate) but w/in reason for Manhattan for a family of 6 (includes the babysitter)."
Things to do
I just stumbled onto a website called WUNY (for What's up, NY?), on which people seem to log events that are happening that day in NYC. It's based upon the UPOC mobile service. If you go to the site, you see things like a supermodel contest and alternate side parking rules being suspended. This only seems to be useful if you're right in the middle of the city, but I figured I'd keep it anyway.