The Curious Kid’s Guide to NYC

Fun and family-friendly NYC activities and restaurants that will encourage kids to learn and explore.

Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Curiosity is the spark of creation, but the benefits of curiosity are not limited to the intellectual.

In NYC, artistic and intellectual venues are world renowned from art galleries to opera houses, but there are also wonderful, kid-friendly, creative activities custom-made for the young ones. We’ve gathered some of the best spots to play, shop and eat that will stimulate those developing minds.

Playful Exploration

National Museum of the American Indian

Discover the original innovators of the Americas at the National Museum of the American Indian, located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. The museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions—including music and dance performances, films and symposia—explore the diversity of Native peoples.

Kids will love the ImagiNATIONS Activity Center (which officially opens May 17th) where they can explore Native scientific discoveries and inventions that continue to affect the modern world. For example:

  • The Amazonian people invented a chemical process more than 3,500 years ago to make rubber like we use in basketballs and sneakers.

  • Over generations, Native Americans harnessed the potential of natural grasses, trees, bushes and even cactus to breed edible crops. Today four of the top 10 crops that feed the world originally came from Native American farmers: corn, potatoes, cassava and tomatoes.

  • The cross section of a finished igloo is not a half-circle, but a catenary arch—the perfect geometry to prevent bulging or cave-ins because it uses compression to distribute the weight of the ice blocks.

  • Some Inka bridges spanned gorges 150 feet across at a time when the longest bridge in Spain only spanned 95 feet.

At the imagiNATIONS Activity Center kids will learn through a variety of interactive workshops where the exploration is made more fun by solving puzzles, performing experiments and playing state-of-the-art farming computer simulations to keep families alive the way the Haudenosaunee people of what is now New York did.

Young and curious inventors can also learn Mayan math. The Maya had an elegant way of doing math that uses only three symbols to represent all the numbers. Visitors can choose to learn this on a computer or using shells, beans and sticks the way Mayan merchants did. But there is a catch—Maya math used Base 20 instead of Base 10.

Do you have an aspiring architect in the family? Kids can perform experiments to find out which bridge design stands up better in an earthquake—is it a stone arch or a suspension bridge? They can learn engineering principles modern bridge builders still use today. Above this activity hangs a full-scale replica of an Inka suspension bridge made by the bridge-builders of Qeswachaka, Peru.

Kids playing with the exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian

The Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo of the Wildlife Conservation Society is the premier place to study and appreciate the world's many creatures. Home to more than 6,000 animals, the zoo spans 265 acres that re-create the diverse natural habitats of its numerous residents. Open year-round, it’s a great experience in any season. Kids can experience 4-D theater—movies played with added sensory effects, feed penguins and sea lions as well as take camel rides (seasonal). During the winter, be sure to stop by Tiger Mountain or Himalayan Highlands to see big cats enjoying the chilly outdoors—then head to the World of Reptiles or Jungle World for a warm up with tropical wildlife. 

One World Observatory

Kids will get an adrenaline rush when the One World Observatory elevator shoots them up 102 stories in 47 seconds. During the ride, they’ll discover the transformation of New York City from unsettled lands to today’s forest of skyscrapers. Also, consider adding the One World Explorer to your visit. This one-of-a-kind view-enhancing, iPad experience, offers virtual helicopter tours of New York’s most iconic landmarks. Over forty of New York’s most important and interesting sights are highlighted for video content, including a section of special interest to kids.

SeaGlass Carousel

The SeaGlass Carousel is a fish-themed carousel in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. The 2,575-square-foot pavilion—a huge chambered nautilus—features seating on 30 massive fiberglass fish internally illuminated with color-changing LED light fixtures and integrated audio systems, each fish is designed to recall the bioluminescence found deep in the ocean. Kids will be floored by the carousel’s innovative design which eliminates the center pole of a traditional carousel. Instead, a “floating effect” is created by the four turntables driven by electric motors housed below the floor. Even the underwater atmosphere is created through LED color-changing lighting combined with “water effect” light projectors.

Brainiac Shopping

Kidding Around

Voted “Best Indie Toy Store in NYC” by New York Magazine, Kidding Around boasts an eclectic range of toys, dolls and games chosen for its capacity to inspire creativity. From stuffed animals to wooden train sets and dollhouses, there is an endless selection of toys that will make an ordinary trip to the toy store an unforgettable one. Proprietor Christina Clark fills the front of her store with easily accessible $5-and-under options—or, as Clark calls them, “restaurant toys.” For toddlers, there’s a selection of Haba blocks and shape-sorters and nearly an entire wall of Corolle dolls, along with book for all ages, puzzles and all the essential gear (strollers, changes of clothing). 

Legoland

The best place to shop for Lego sets is at NYC’s local Lego store, where Brick Specialists with extensive knowledge can make your shopping trip fun and easy. Whether you’re picking out a gift, looking for the latest set, or bringing in your LEGO fan for a special treat, Brick Specialists can help you find a set that’s the perfect fit.  

Teich Toys and Books

Located in the heart of NYC’s West Village, Teich Toys and Books (pronounced tie-sh) serve as a community hub for imagination and creativity and showcases a unique selection of classic toys, games and art supplies. This family run toy store offers engaging and inspiring products for visitors of all ages. Eye-catching window displays attract locals and visitors alike, while an interior life-sized wooden toy train allows children an interactive experience. A train depot houses the store’s extensive book selection and reading area. 

M&M’s World Store

M&M’s World Times Square is a two-story chocolate heaven with a color wall packed with thousands of kids’ favorite milk, peanut and specialty M&M’s candies. Come in and try the personalized printer, which will allow visitors to create customized M&M’s right in the store. Choose from 15 different colors and one mix blend, as well as select two images and create two customized messages to be printed on M&M’s in about two minutes.

Interior Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain

Kooky Treats

Alice’s Tea Cup 

If your tot has ever dreamed of taking tea with the Mad Hatter and March Hare, then this restaurant is worth a trip down the rabbit hole to Alice's Tea Cup. Little kids flock to this fantasy-come-true tea shop with three locations in the city. At this light-hearted dreamland, and you’ll find kids wearing borrowed fairy wings (also available for purchase) as they indulge in breakfast, brunch or a lunch menu featuring soups, salads, sandwiches and scones. There’s also full tea service as well as “Alice’s menu for the small,” boasting Granny Smith apple slices, cookies and milk and carrot sticks (feel free to bring baby along: the restaurant also offers a “puree of the day”).  Two other locations are on East 64th St. between Lexington and Third Aves., and East 81st St. between Second and Third Aves.

Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain

Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain is housed in a beautiful restored apothecary, it's “retro” to the core. Fun for all ages, the nostalgic and seasonal ice cream flavors are a lot of fun at this homage to old-school soda shops. Stop into this neighborhood spot for grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs and other diner staples, but leave room for one of 16 different sundaes as well as egg creams, milkshakes and ice cream floats.

Serendipity 3

The menu at Serendipity 3, a whimsical NYC staple is sure to delight all ages—from the famous frozen “hot chocolate,” strawberry supreme and pink ice to the pies and banana splits, every sweet tooth will be satisfied. Kids can choose from six different burgers and a variety of sandwiches like the ultimate BLT on challah bread. Their long list of “drugstore sundaes” include the “Can’t Say No” sundae, a cool concoction of humble pie, ice cream, banana and hot fudge topped with whipped cream.

Ellen’s Stardust Diner

Bring your little entertainers to the multi-level ‘50s-themed diner Ellen’s Stardust Diner with its famous singing servers and extensive menu of American classics. Join in the boisterous fun as the wait staff perform Broadway hits from Les Misérables, Hamilton, Wicked, Grease, Mamma Mia and more on a catwalk stage. There’s an insane amount of talent with performers from Broadway and off-Broadway production working there in between gigs; you’re essentially getting a Broadway review for the price of a cheeseburger and you can’t beat that.

Farah Lopez
About the author

Farah Lopez is the Marketing Editor and a French-Canadian transplant living in SoBro (South Bronx). Follow her food-o...