Beyond The Brooklyn Bridge - My Family Travels

New York's most populous borough and the star of countless TV shows, Brooklyn has multi-ethnic neighborhoods, world famous attractions and great restaurants. It is the most sprawling and richly diverse borough of New York City, has an international appeal, and is a great destination for all ages. Need I say more?  Complete with historic buildings, world-class cultural institutions, and unique ethnic enclaves, it brandishes its own distinct charm and sets itself apart from NY, NY. 

Brooklyn: A World of Neighborhoods

Cross the East River and enter the burough via the Brooklyn Bridge, an architectural wonder designed by John Roebling in 1893. With its iconic Gothic arches, it's a spectacular sight day or night. From there you can access the new, continually expanding and picturesque Broolyn Bridge Park from the neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

Discover the charm of New York's first protected historic district among the ivy-covered brownstones of Brooklyn Heights. Take a step back in time while viewing the area’s turn-of-the-century brick row-houses, wood-frame Federal houses, converted fire stations and carriage houses. Stroll along Montague, Pierrepont, Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple Streets, once home to such literary greats as Thomas Wolfe, Walt Whitman (Brooklyn’s most famous poet), Henry Miller and Truman Capote. You can catch a fiery sunset from the Promenade, a waterfront walkway with stunning views of Lower Manhattan.

Diversity drives the energy of Sunset Park, home to one of New York City’s three Chinatowns, a large number of Italians, Irish, and Finns, as well as a huge Latin community. Explore Brighton Beach, known as “Little Odessa,” a thriving Russian émigré community with traditional bathhouses, shops and restaurants. Here, neighborhood stores sell borscht, blini’s and red caviar.

Catch the beat in Sheepshead Bay, which by day bustles with fishermen selling their catch off the docks and by night the action of strollers, diners, street music and mimes liven the streets.

Williamsburg marries its young street style and carefree vibes with its waterfront scene at the Brooklyn Flea. It's both food and family friendly. Nearby Greenpoint is an old Polish immigrant neighborhood.  Indulge your inner carnivore at one of the most renowned steakhouses in all of the five boroughs: Peter Luger's steakhouse.

Atlantic Avenue – in between Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill – is not to be missed. Storefronts ranging from Barneys Co-Op (194 Atlantic Avenue) and Urban Outfitters to Middle Eastern restaurants and a houkah bars, Sahadi's specialty grocery store and Damascus Middle Eastern bakery.

Red Hook is home to IKEA and the destination of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, gateway to New York City for thousands of cruise passengers and the home port of the Queen Mary 2. Valentino Pier Park and the Beard Street Pier walkway with its magnificent vistas of New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty are the perfect starting points for sightseeing.

Brooklyn Attractions for Kids of All Ages

Prospect Park, the jewel of Brooklyn, is a world away from the city. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux who also designed Central Park, it is a place where woodland paths meander along the sides of a waterfall, and joggers and horseback riders can roam to their hearts’ content. Families can partake in a wide array of activities from ice skating, horseback riding and sports. Don’t miss stopping at the nation’s first urban Audubon Center, housed inside a 1905 Art Deco boathouse, or taking a ride on the vintage, hand-carved 1912 Carousel. Touting over 300 years of history, the Park is the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Brooklyn, and where the 18th-century Lefferts Dutch Farmhouse now stands as a museum where admission for adults is $3 and free for children under 16.

At the Prospect Park Zoo (718/399-7339) families can immerse themselves in the exciting and incredible world of animals. It’s home to 100 different species and five year-round exhibits: Animals in our Lives, Barn and Garden, Sea Lion Court, Discovery Trail and Animal Lifestyles. Each of the exhibits features programs and activities – on specific days, at set times – to keep little ones entertained and busy. 

No matter what the season, something is in bloom in the 52-acre Brooklyn Botanic Garden (718/623-7200). Take a stroll and enjoy the serenity of the Japanese Hill and Pond or the fragrant Cranford Rose Garden. Catch the kids in action for wonderful family photos as they explore the Children's Discovery Gardens. Don’t miss the Steinhardt Conservatory containing the world famous C.V. Starr Bonsai Museum. Admission is free on Tuesday and Saturday morning, and there is a small fee the rest of the week.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum (718/-735-4400) was the world’s first museum for children when it opened in 1899. It’s a magical world of family fun where children can discover a place created entirely for them. You can stop here any day and find imaginative, interactive programming from art projects and animal meet-and-greets, to seasonal celebrations. Programs also tie in to special workshops throughout the 10 galleries. Kids try musical instruments from across the globe, study plants, and get to test their “culinary” and “business” skills in the pizza shop and diner. The adults will enjoy viewing the wonderful black and white photos from the turn of the 20th century that are displayed around the inside entrance. There is a small admission fee.

The recently opened Jewish Children’s Museum (718/467-0600) is designed to engage, entertain and educate children, parents and grandparents of all backgrounds. Families can learn about Jewish history and traditions in an interactive environment. Permanent exhibits in this unique institution include a kosher supermarket and a discovery synagogue.

Every family should include a visit to The Brooklyn Museum (718/638-5000), a monumental Beaux Art building that’s one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. Its world-renowned permanent collections include more than one million objects from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art. "Family Guide" activity books are available to young people (ages 8 and up) to use as they explore the various exhibits. The guide contains activities to do at each stop, along with questions to think about and discuss. The popular “First Saturday” program offers free art and entertainment from 5pm to closing on the first Saturday of each month. There is a suggested admission fee for the museum, and audio tours are also offered for a small fee.

A world stage for the performing arts, the Fort Greene Brooklyn Academy of Music (718/ 636-4111) has small and large theatres full of pulsating international performances. Contemporary drama and performance art take center stage here at BAM, where frequent special performances especially geared for children let their imaginations run wild. BAM isn't the only place to catch a show in Brooklyn, though. The likes of Jay-Z & Co. have brought The Barlcays Center to the borough. It will host shows ranging from Disney on Ice to home court games of the Brooklyn Nets. 

Coney Island appeals to the young at heart with its legendary boardwalk and Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and if you come around the 4th of July you can catch the annual hot dog eating contest. Despite the obvious wear and tear this poor neighborhood has experienced, Astroland Amusement Park (718/265-210), home of the world famous Cyclone Roller Coaster since 1927, is still the center of a full Family Park offering 35 rides and attractions. Don't miss a chance to head up the stairs to stroll the famous elevated boardwalk, site of the annual Mermaid parade and the starting point for the Polar Bear Club of swimmers that relish the Atlantic waves every day of the year. The family's thrill seekers will head for the landmark Deno’s WonderWheel (718/372-2592) and the really adventurous family members will love the new 100-foot-high Super Shot Drop Tower. And for those with younger children, Astroland is also home to 17 children's rides, such as Dizzy Dragons.

Also, recently added to Coney Island are the Brooklyn Cyclones, a New York Mets minor league baseball team. Tickets are affordable and the games, played at Keyspan Park, offer more than just a baseball game. Kids are entertained by the mascots, Sandy the Seagull and Pee Wee, and adults can enjoy a nice ocean breeze, a view of the water and the famous landmark, the Parachute. If you are lucky enough to catch a game on a Friday night make sure to stick around for fireworks at 9:30.

The New York Aquarium (718/265-3474) is right next door and the perfect place to head. From sharks to sea otters and seahorses, the wildlife at the Aquarium reflects the diversity of marine life itself. Plan to watch the fascinating marine demonstrations, take part in the hands-on exhibits and up-close creature encounters, and then visit the rocky marine habitat of the walruses, penguins and seals. The children will especially enjoy the Aquatheater show, starring the amazing sea lions.

Brooklyn Trip Planning Details

If seeing all the sights Brooklyn has to offer has you famished, sit down at one of the many great restaurants throughout the borough where grabbing a bite to eat is a breeze. Some of the more famous places to relish include Junior’s (718/852-5257) in downtown Brooklyn, a legendary landmark eatery since 1950, with an oven that works its magic on the world-famous rich and seductively smooth textured cheesecake in sensational flavors from plain to Black Forest.

Lundy’s (718/891-1796) in Sheepshead Bay is a must for luscious seafood and their signature mouthwatering lobster. And, if you’re looking for the perfect USDA you’ll find it at Peter Luger Steak House (718/387-7400) in Williamsburg – in business since 1897 and the granddaddy of fine dining.

The Brooklyn Renaissance Center in the heart of the bustling downtown Brooklyn Civic Center is the site of the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (888/436-3759), which was built in 1998. The upscale, full service hotel is the perfect springboard to enjoy the sights of Brooklyn. The main building has 376 spacious and comfortably furnished guest rooms, including 21 suites, many with connecting rooms. The newly constructed adjacent tower includes 280 additional modern guest rooms. There’s a state-of-the-art fully equipped health club and a 75-foot lap pool. The Archives, the hotel’s restaurant, features a diverse family-friendly menu drawn from Brooklyn’s culinary influences. A unique exhibit of historical memorabilia and photos is beautifully displayed in glass cases, letting you take a peek into Brooklyn’s past.

Getting around the borough is not as easy as it seems because things are spread out, taxis are scarce (but available by phone) and the public bus system is complex. For fun tours exploring the best of Brooklyn, Gray Line New York takes you on the Brooklyn Loop via Gray Line Trolley, with hop-on hop-off service.

The Heart of Brooklyn (888/550-6972) runs a free Trolley between many of the area highlights on Saturdays, Sundays and all federal holidays from noon to 6pm. Another great value is the Brooklyn Pass (877/714-1999), which offers a bargain two-day pass for admission to Brooklyn’s top attractions.

Special thanks to Mel and Ronnie Greenberg for contributing to the story.

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