Don't Get (Tourist) Trapped: How Your Family Can Visit New York Like a Local

Want to show your kids a good time in NYC? Go where the locals go and check out these New York attractions that are favorites to native New Yorkers.

Those who live in NYC know that the real sign of spring isn't blooming flowers, it's sidewalks sprouting with kids. Delirious after winter months spent cooped up in apartments, parents reliably (and gratefully) flee to the outdoors as soon as the first 50-degree day rolls around. But even when it's cold outside, every family has its own favorite destinations worth stepping out for. Take a lesson from their habits and find out how New Yorkers keep their children entertained in the city that never sleeps!

Pick a Children's Museum

Local parents know that they can always count on the city's wide variety of kid-oriented museums for a stimulating day of learning. The city’s two flagship museums are the Children's Museum of Manhattan and the National Museum of Mathematics also known as MoMath.

The Children's Museum features 40,000 square feet packed with activities geared towards kids under seven years old, with themes like Dora the Explorer and mass sing-a-longs. The "Gross Biology" program, in particular, is often the topic du jour in local elementary classrooms.

MoMath is great for older children, featuring nearly 40 interactive exhibits like a laser "wall of fire" and a hands-on "design your own 3D-printed sculpture" activity.

Catch an Outdoor Movie with a Manhattan Skyline Backdrop

Outdoor movies are a magnet for many New Yorkers in the summer months. Both Central Park and Prospect Park regularly host outdoor screenings of great animation and other kids' movies. For the most breathtaking views, keep an eye on the riverside parks in Brooklyn for a night under the stars with the lights of Manhattan sparkling in the water.

Hit the Beach(es)

Nearly a dozen beaches dot the city’s five boroughs, but my personal favorite has always been Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn. It's less busy than its nearby neighbor on Coney Island, and packed with features like volleyball courts, climbing playgrounds and barbecue pits. To mix a beach day with a ferry ride that'll excite the kids, grab the Staten Island Ferry to Midland Beach Park, or take the SeaStreak to Sandy Hook for some truly excellent seashell beach combing.

Visit Coney Island

Of course, while the sand and sea is fine enough at Coney Island, the real attraction is the delicious food and amusement park – even for the grown-ups. Just make sure that any older kids you have who're desperate to ride the historic Coney Island Cyclone do it before they load up on hot dogs and cotton candy!

While the boardwalk businesses hibernate during the cold months, there are still plenty of other activities to do in the area. The New York Aquarium is based in Coney Island, and hosts activities like animal feedings year-round. Its 4D Theatre is famous among local kids for showing 3D movies spiced up with "you are there" tricks like splashing water and other sensory effects. Finish with a trip to Abe Stark Skating Rink to round out a day of winter fun.

Rent a Beach House

With all the skyscrapers, it's easy for New Yorkers to forget we live on the ocean, so we like to remind ourselves as much as possible during the summer, and one of our favorite ways is by spending a week at a beach house.

The beach towns up Long Island may have a reputation as posh havens for the moneyed old guard, but the truth is tons of average families own beach homes that they rent at reasonable rates to short-term visitors. A Long Island town like Montauk is a great choice to serve as a "home base", allowing you to laze on the beach one day, then take a short rental car trip (less than three hours!) into the city the next. Having a beach-side bungalow to decompress in is particularly appealing if you're easily burnt out by the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

Keep an Eye out for Stellar Playgrounds and Parks

No matter what activities you plan around the city, keep an eye out for good playgrounds near your destination. The city has had a renaissance in playgrounds over the last decade, and now hosts dozens of exciting options. From the cutting-edge spider web and spinning egg contraptions at Gantry Plaza State Park, to the encouraged-to-be-climbed sculptures at Tom Otterness Playground, there are plenty of inventive ways for your family to explore the parks together.

Park playgrounds are just as fun when the snow's falling, but the sledding hills are the real attractions. To keep things safe and carefree, the NYC Parks Department publishes a list of approved sledding locations on its website every year. Try to scope out the hill beforehand, because weekend and holiday vendors often set up shop in Prospect and Central Parks to sell or rent sleds on-location. Otherwise, there's often a store selling sleds in the immediate area.

There a million things to do in NYC, but don’t spend too much time inside when you're visiting the Big Apple with kids. Take these hints and do as the locals do by heading outside at every opportunity!

About the Author

By: Stephen A.

Stephen is a freelance writer based in New York. He's lived in the city for 12 years, and has escaped the crowds of Manhattan for a quiet neighborhood near Coney Island. Over the years, he has become well acquainted with ushering nephews, nieces and friends’ kids around the city.