Summer in the city’s hot, lazy and humid days can drive away tourists quicker than a rising dollar, but that leaves the rest of us to enjoy the uncrowded wonders — many of them free — that New York is famous for. Here’s a look at 10 favorite summer experiences that your family will savor together all year.
Classic and Classy Harbor Cruising
There are lots of waterborne options to tour the New York harbors, but few as pleasant as Classic Harbor Line, a small company founded by boat builders to bring back classic sailing and motor yachts to the city. Learned architectural guides from the AIA lead passengers through an insightful but not too heavy look at the ever-changing skyline on the basic two-hour sail; tour rates begin at $46. For a more exclusive and quite special night at sea, join the Sushi Sail with Chef Morividmoto departing Chelsea Piers at 7pm; the $124 price tag includes several plates of sushi tastings with sake pairings, all prepared by the Iron Chef himself.
Sunbathing in Madison Square Park
Tucked between the famous Flatiron and Empire State Buildings, Madison Square Park at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue is a popular destination for both New Yorkers and visitors. This summer, the park’s Mad.Sq.Art project is showcasing a striking sculpture called “Fata Morgana” by artist Teresita Fernandez. The 500-foot sculpted gold mirror is hanging over the park’s central lawn; kids will love seeing their gilded reflections. Don’t forget to pause for a burger at Shake Shack, the chain’s flagship stand that reopened in May — totally identical to the 2004 original — after a major renovation.
Touring the 9/11 Spaces
It doesn’t cost a penny to be impacted by the two reflecting pools and cascading waterfalls that comprise the 9/11 Memorial. Together, the black, full-acre ponds filling the footprints of the former Twin Towers showcase the names of the nearly 3,000 who died in the 1993 and 2001 attacks. These voids are surrounded by a grove of Swamp white oaks that represent rebirth in the face of such loss. You’ll be surprised by how moving the site is to all ages. With older children, book ahead for timed entry tickets to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, an extraordinary display of artifacts and recollections from the attack. (Museum tickets are now included on the New York City CityPASS.)
Art and Views at the New Whitney Museum
Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the new glass and steel Whitney at Gansevoort in Meatpacking includes approximately 50,000 square feet of brilliant indoor galleries and 33% more in outdoor space and terraces accentuating the art and spectacular skyline views. Two floors of wide open gallery show off the Whitney’s contemporary American art collection to full advantage, but if you don’t want to pay to visit some of your old favorites, tour the free ground floor gallery instead. Children under 18 admitted free always; pay-what-you-wish tickets are available at the admissions desk Fridays from 7–9:30 pm. We love that the museum is open till 10pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, stretching your sightseeing hours by a lot. Check their website for the free Saturday family tours.
Dine with a View, Pricey. Drink with a View, Priceless.
Mad46 at the Roosevelt Hotel, The Empire Rooftop Bar across from Lincoln Center, Rare View on the penthouse of the Shelburne Hotel –- all are classic New York venues for an al fresco drink with a side of thrilling skyline views. The new St. Cloud atop The Knickerbocker Hotel is the real Cloud 9, thanks to the swoonable (some would say overwhelming) visual chatter of Times Square LEDs and livestreaming billboards. St. Cloud is high enough at 16 to be tranquil, yet low enough so that other Times Square skyscrapers feel romantically far away. The sophisticated barfood (think entree-sized Nieman Ranch hot dogs and Ahi tuna tacos) comes from celebrated chef Charlie Palmer. Book ahead for a comfy bar table near the green walls and DJ, or a “sky pod” that seats eight within a railing of ornate copper medallions dating to the original hotel’s splendor of 1906. The quieter west side of the roof welcomes smokers in the Nat Sherman Lounge. The St. Cloud intends to stay open daily 4pm-midnight from March to November (heat lamps outdoors and indoor seating) and welcomes hotel guests and visitors under age 21until 9pm. Your kids will never forget it; book ahead.
Check out Family Travel Forum’s video about The Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City
Eat your Way through South Street Seaport
It’s much smaller with the Fulton Fish Market gone and with Pier 17 closed for construction, but South Street Seaport is actually a classier place than the last time we visited. Gone are many of the low-rent souvenir shops in favor of interesting food and clothing boutiques, and a pedestrian zone overtaken by Smorgasburg, the successful food market concept from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Seaport Studios at 19 Fulton Street is a contemporary two-story loft filled with fashion, jewelry and accessories curated by the editorial team of WWD magazine. Start with a cup of Via Quadronno coffee and enjoy the few objets on display from designers such as Rochambeau for menswear, Manebi for sophisticated espadrilles, and Union Surfboards for custom made rides. A larger creative inventory can be found at adjacent storefronts like Limelight, a sneaker palace; and Rialto Jean Project, a shop selling vintage Levi’s that have been hand-painted by Erin Feniger to support art therapy programs for Los Angeles kids.
Free Concerts at Riverside Tennis Club
Tennis, great music and Hudson River views; it’s tough to find a better summer combination in Manhattan. The 10 clay courts and gardens maintained by the Riverside Clay Tennis Association are part of the New York City Park and Recreation public tennis court system, and are free to play for all Parks Department pass holders, or $15 for visitors who purchase a day pass. Each summer, this active community of volunteers puts down their raquettes to produce a concert series on Saturday nights at 7pm. From Afro-Cuban jazz to reggae music, a Mid Eastern belly dancer to Indian raga, every weekend brings a special musical dessert to accompany a beautiful, breezy picnic spot. If you’ve never explored Riverside Park before, walk north to 104th Street to the fun, very casual Ellington’s outdoor cafe located on two levels by the sand volleyball courts. If you don’t want sand in the sheets, send the kids instead to a fenced-in dog run across the way.
Take a Walking Tour of Central Park
You may have spent time bike riding or roller blading in Central Park, but nothing beats a guided tour departing regularly from many points in the park. Older kids and their grownups will appreciate any of the park’s scheduled themed tours; many have a $15 fee. We love the more general — and free — history-oriented tours. These 90-minute excursions take off at 6pm for a Sunset Tour, or on various days and times to look more closely at the southern end of the park (of “Home Alone” fame), the north woods, Conservatory Gardens or other distinct areas. If your guide is like my colorful Uncle Orrin (and may even be my Uncle Orrin), you are sure to learn something unique about one of the city’s true highlights.
Discover Williamsburg Flea, Dine on Smorgasburg
There’s a lot more to being a hipster than strolling Bedford Street in Williamsburg, but the folks who brought you Brooklyn Flea — a collection that’s grown to more than 100 vendors and 30 food stalls — have branched out to present the best of Brooklyn’s eclectic food and thrift scene at Smorgasburgs around town. They are constantly moving so you’ll want to check their website, but look for the flea markets in Fort Lee and Park Slope on Saturday, and in Williamsburg Sunday; and the Smorgasburg movable food courts in Queens and Williamsburg on Saturday, in Brooklyn Bridge Park Sunday, and at Central Parks Summer Stage concerts and around town (like at South Street Seaport) in between. The cross-cultural happening of pork bellies, cold-pressed coffee, fish tacos and vegan donuts described by Time Out as New Yorks’ best pickup scene, moves indoors between November and April.
Embrace Flower Power in the Bronx
A lovely place to get outdoors and stay there is the New York Botanical Gardens, that 250-acre bastion of soil and scent off Pelham Parkway in the Bronx. Through November 1, 2015, in addition to its one million living plants and rolling picnic lawns, the NYBG will feature “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life,” a fascinating look at the Mexican artist’s home and garden. The Enid Haupt glass conservatory has been transformed by the blue stucco walls of Casa Azul, decorated with Kahlo and husband Diego Rivera’s collection of indigenous Mexican flowers. A Poetry Walk celebrating the work of Octavio Paz leads to the NYBG Library, where there’s a small exhibit of Kahlo’s floral paintings, bringing this encounter full circle. Even though they won’t understand everything, young children are thrilled by the spaces, the warm tacos coming from the Kahlo food truck, and the many other children’s programs at the garden. Admission is $8-$20 depending on age; under 2 free.
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