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Enjoy New York City With the Family — Without the Tourist Traps

Jan. 30, 2019
9 min read
Lower Manhattan New York City
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New York City is a must-visit destination for a lot of families. The famed tourist destinations are virtually endless -- Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Times Square, the World Trade Center and Broadway. And, family-friendly activities in NYC can actually be affordable, if you know where to look.

But not everyone wants to spend their vacation navigating crowds and tour buses and visiting the same sights everyone else sees. Sometimes, it’s best to fly under the radar, especially in a city like the New York where you have the opportunity to live like the locals do. So when you want to bring the kids and relax, explore and dine like a Manhattanite, here are a few of TPG's favorite neighborhoods. Armed with these tips on what to do and where to eat, your family can get to know the Big Apple without falling into its tourist traps.

At Home in Tribeca

This neighborhood, the triangle below Canal Street in Lower Manhattan, is popular with young families and is typically quiet on weekends. If you’re traveling with babies or children, Tribeca is ideal. There’s no shortage of brunch spots where parents can enjoy a good meal with the little ones quite welcome. Bubby’s on Hudson Street has biscuits and award-winning pancakes that will ensure your little campers are happy. Brunch and breakfast begins at 8am daily. Locals do love it, though, so make an early reservation if you’re hoping to avoid a wait for Sunday brunch.

Maman, which means “mother” in French, is a restaurant and bakery inspired by the founders’ favorite childhood memories in the kitchen. It serves coffee and mouthwatering desserts. With a few locations around the city, its Tribeca home is perfect for dine-in, takeout or events (like a cookie-decorating class). The children’s menu offers bites like quiche, grilled cheese and milk and cookies and also teaches children how to speak French! Je t’aime, New York!

Children and parents enjoy a teatime brunch at Maman in Tribeca, New York City. (Photo courtesy of Maman)

When the weather’s nice (or if you’re bundled up), Tribeca has some beautiful parks. One of our favorites is the 1.61-acre Washington Market Park, which is bounded by Greenwich, Chambers and West streets. It has a playground and a splash-and-play area to cool kids down on those hot summer days. It’s also right around the corner from Whole Foods if you want to pick up a picnic to enjoy in the park.

If the family needs an indoor respite, Boomerang Toys, a mom-and-pop toy shop at 119 Broadway, will be sure to have something to keep the kids busy.

The Brooklyn Robot Foundry also has digs in Tribeca and will build S.T.E.M (science, tech, engineering, mathematics) skills for children as young as 18 months through the teen years -- it even has some robot-building classes for adults.

Dumbo's City Views, Art and the Outdoors

What better way to take in the city sights of Manhattan than from its neighboring borough? Brooklyn’s cool factor is killer right now and it has become a beacon for travelers, hipsters and even devout Manhattanites who move across the river.

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The Dumbo neighborhood is lined with trendy cobblestone streets with stunning waterfront views, public parks and shopping that's ideal for families with kids of any age.

Walk the paved public space that stretches from Brooklyn Bridge Park. This is especially great during nice weather days as it boasts riverfront barbecue grills and shaded seating for picnics, playgrounds and opportunities to kayak, stroll or skate -- plus there is fishing and ice cream at Pier 15. Rock climbing enthusiasts (or beginners) can check out the park's Boulders in its Main Street section. It's the largest outdoor rock-climbing facility in North America and tickets start at just $9 per person.

From the park, it's an easy walk to the River Ferry port (a water taxi that will take you and the whole fam to Williamsburg, Wall Street and all around the city for just over a dollar per ticket).

This path is the perfect vantage point to spy majestic skyscrapers across the water. It continues under the Brooklyn Bridge until you reach the 1922 Jane’s Carousel, restored for children to ride. Should the family enjoy bike rides, Citi Bikes, can be rented from many of Dumbo's (and the rest of New York City's) bicycle ports. The best part is, you can return them at a different port and really see the city like a local. Single rides are $3 per trip, a one-day pass is $12 for unlimited rides and a three-day pass costs $24.

Brooklyn Bridge
A view of the Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River Ferry from the 1 Hotel rooftop. (Photo by Erica Chayes Wida)

Also near Brooklyn Bridge Park is SPARK, a fresh space by the Brooklyn Children’s Museum designed for kids ages 6 months to 6 years to enjoy exhibits, art classes and design workshops; music programs; and drop-in play. It’s pay-as-you-wish on Thursdays from 1 to 6pm or $15 per child otherwise.

Hungry? Head over to the beloved Grimaldi’s Brick Oven Pizzeria. Because what family vacation to NYC is complete without a New York slice? And of course -- here are our top card picks when eating out.

The Dumbo Food trucks line up most days in a lot located at 56 Jay Street. There's plenty of variety and it's easy for each member of the family to score exactly what they're craving.

Dance and Dine at the Seaport District

Adjacent to Wall Street and the city’s bustling Financial District is one of New York’s newest, oldest neighborhoods. This designated historic area is one of New York’s first ports and houses some gorgeous old architecture and mercantile, mostly renovated into trendy new restaurants and apartments. To learn about the city's history, bring the family to the South Street Seaport Museum. In the winter, tickets are just $5 and free for kids under 2. Summertime admission is more costly at $12 per adult, $8 for seniors or students, $6 for kids 2–17 and free for those under 2. This cultural institution provides interactive insights into the art through its buildings, exhibits and actual ships.

If you have young children, don't miss the chance to bring them to renowned architect David Rockwell's Imagination Playground where kids get to become architects of their own plays places. The playground has wagons, fabric, giant foam blocks, crates, sand, water and trinkets that will help them build their minds, muscles and ... you guessed it: imagination!

Pier 17 is a hub you’ll want to check out. The building sits out on the water and its roof transforms for family fun throughout the seasons. During winter, it becomes an outdoor skating rink with panoramic views. (Rink admission starts at $22 and includes skate rentals.) And, beginning just last summer, it's home to The Rooftop at Pier 17’s Summer Concert Series, where A-list acts like Carrie Underwood and Kings of Leon headline. Ticket prices vary.

This New York City Pier in one of the original ports transforms into a rooftop concert venue. (Photo courtesy of The Howard Hughes Corporation)

For dining, the pier’s R17 opened its doors in late fall. The menu is a bit more suited to families with older kids, and come spring, will house an outdoor patio with cabanas to really kick back and drink in the views.

There are plenty of other places to eat in this authentic part of New York City, such as 10 Corso Como, an international gallery, boutique and family-style Italian restaurant with roots in Milan, or casual tacos at Luchadores, an order-at-the-counter spot for Mexican fare that replaces summer’s outdoor seating with an igloo full of heaters and picnic tables.

Enjoy family-style meatballs and Italian fare at this Milanese restaurant in New York's Seaport District. Credit: Teddy Wolff.
Enjoy family-style meatballs and Italian fare at this Milanese restaurant in New York's Seaport District. (Photo by Teddy Wolff)

Bottom Line

Take our advice and explore some parts of New York City that other tourists miss. Trust us: You and the kids will feel like locals in no time.

Planning a trip to New York City? Read these additional resources:

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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