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Toddler in Tow? Where to Go for a Family-Friendly NYC Vacation.

Family Travel
by Olivia Liveng Apr 27, 2024

In my mid-20s, the streets of Manhattan served as the backdrop for adventures to dive bars and late-night restaurant runs. But since then, the borough has transformed for me into a vastly different playground, one more suited to strollers and early bedtimes than 2 AM bodega runs.

After years away (and a move to Denmark), I’ve returned to New York on multiple occasions — not as a resident, but as a tourist, with my baby and Danish husband in tow. The once-familiar city seemed almost completely new when we began looking at it through a family-friendly lens, navigating its bustling avenues and quiet corners as a small family of three.

NYC family with one kid

Photo: fernandoalonsostockfilms/Shutterstock

Visiting NYC now is a chance for our toddler to discover the city that never sleeps — fitting, as our kiddo never seems to sleep, either. Gone are the impromptu late nights, as my version of New York City is now a place that meets our family’s needs for fun, safety, and, perhaps surprisingly,  relaxation.

So if you’re looking for the same family-friendly NYC we’ve discovered, one where you can strap on the BabyBjörn and be in good company, read on. You may be surprised by how different the city can be.

Family-friendly offerings on the Upper East Side

family-friendly NYC met egypt

Kids can walk through a real Egyptian temple on the Upper East Side of NYC. Photo: Creativity Lover/Shutterstock

The Upper East is east of Central Park, stretching from around 59th Street to 96th Street. The area is famous for its opulence, with elegant pre-war apartment buildings and luxury boutiques lining Madison Avenue. It’s also home to the “Museum Mile” on Fifth Avenue, packed with world-renowned institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. It’s not really known for nightlife, making it a good base for visiting families with young kids.

What to do with kids

Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, perfect for strolling with a stroller during less-crowded hours and on family days. The sprawling museum has art-making workshops and child-centric gallery tours, and the newly opened 81st Street Studio enhances the experience by providing a whimsical, creative space where babies and young toddlers can engage in multi-sensory activities, including musical exploration.

Carl Schurz Park, on the East River, is a green area with expansive playgrounds segmented by age groups, with scenic paths ideal for the inevitable midday stroller nap. It’s less crowded than Central Park, but at 15 acres, it’s plenty big enough to fill an afternoon.

For a more laid-back day, take a stroll along Madison Avenue. Many shops are surprisingly baby-friendly, and window shopping can be a relaxing way for parents and kids to spend a family-friendly afternoon in NYC. There are also plenty of cafes and rest stops ideal for a break (or diaper change). Changing a poopy diaper somehow seems slightly more glamorous in a Neiman Marcus bathroom. Don’t ask me why.

When it’s time to eat, the Carnegie Diner & Cafe is the classic New Yaaarker diner experience, and just so happens to be exceptionally family friendly. It’s a very down-to-earth diner, with a kid’s menu, high chairs, and classic American comfort food that appeals to all ages, including picky toddlers.

Family-friendly offerings in the West Village and Meatpacking District

hudson river park family-friendly nyc

Photo: MNAphotography/Shutterstock

Next to one another on the southwestern edge of Manhattan, the West Village and Meatpacking District offer mix of history and trendy vibes. The West Village, below 14th Street, is known for its tree-lined streets, historic brick townhouses, and a bohemian atmosphere. Lots of NYU students live around the West Village, giving it a young vibe.

Just north of the West Village is the Meatpacking District, which has undergone a dramatic transformation. Once a center for meat processing plants and not known for being the nicest part of town, it’s now a chic destination with cobblestone streets lined with high-end shops, trendy restaurants, and stylish bars.

What to do with kids

Hudson River Park is home to one of Manhattan’s most expansive playgrounds, aptly located on the Hudson River. This playground offers a variety of equipment suitable for toddlers, including safe climbing structures, swings, and water features perfect for splashing around on warm days.

Chelsea Market is best described as an immersive sensory experience, and it appeals to all ages, making it a superb choice for a family day out, especially when the weather isn’t ideal. It’s easy to navigate with a stroller and offers an array of treats from storefronts ranging from artisanal bakeries to ice cream shops, delighting young taste buds and making it easy for parents who need to occasionally find treats as a baby-friendly bribe.

Many of NYC’s best museums are unexpectedly family friendly, including the Whitney Museum of American Art. Thanks to stroller tours and open studio sessions tailored to families, art is accessible and engaging for young children. The family programs are a chance to immerse little ones in unique cultural and artistic activities while the parents can enjoy a moment of peace amid contemporary and modern art installations. And if your little ones are inspired to bring out their inner artists, you can follow along with the Whitney’s at-home art projects, designed for kids and families.

Gab’s NYC, new to grace the West Village, is known for its welcoming vibe and spacious and colorful dining area. The menu changes seasonally and focuses on sustainable, locally sourced ingredients, making it ideal for families looking to enjoy a relaxed, toddler-friendly meal with a slightly upscale twist.

Family-friendly offerings in Midtown

family friendly nyc - fao toy store

NYC’s FAO Schwarz is a 20,000-square-foot toy store. Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

Midtown is NYC’s central business district and home to iconic skyscrapers like the Empire State Building. It’s also the home of the bright lights and Broadway theaters near Times Square, and Grand Central Terminal. While the exact southern boundary can vary, Midtown generally stretches from 34th Street to 59th Street, encompassing the east-to-west width of Manhattan.

 What to do with kids

While it may not boast the vast diversity of its Bronx counterpart, the Central Park Zoo is pretty rad in its own right. It has a vibrant assortment of wildlife, from vibrant tropical birds to sea lions. The Tisch Children’s Zoo is a delight, allowing toddlers to interact with and feed friendly domestic animals in an engaging, hands-on environment. And the zoo’s prime location in Central Park provides actual serenity in Zoo York. And trust me, parents will appreciate that, too.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is yet another family-friendly NYC museum, transforming art appreciation into a child-friendly activity with interactive art sessions, as well as audio guides that talk about complex artwork in ways kids can understand.

FAO Schwarz at Rockefeller Center is more than your typical toy store, offering families interactive experiences in the enormous store. While you’ll be lucky to get out of there without buying your child something, consider it the cost to play on in the whimsical, multi-room store. Don’t miss the chance to walk on the giant floor piano, where children can compose music with their feet, mimicking the iconic movie scene from Big.

Dining in Times Square with a toddler in tow is more fun than you’d think, especially as most kids’ awe at the bustling surroundings is enough to make it seem fun again, even if you were a jaded New Yorker in a previous life. For a fun family dinner, head to Ellen’s Stardust Diner. The 1950s-themed diner is a nod to a bygone era, with lively musical performances by the singing waitstaff. The entertainment is wonderfully kitschy and captivating, and likely to delight the whole fam.

Family-friendly offerings on the Upper West Side

Upper west history museum dinosaur

The Upper West’s Museum of Natural History has the largest collection of dinosaur bones in the world. Photo: Ungvari Attila/Shutterstock

The Upper West Side is between Central Park and the Hudson River, and known for its grand architecture, particularly along Central Park West, where the American Museum of Natural History beckons with its dinosaur halls and other fascinating exhibits. But it still maintains a relaxed vibe, with tree-lined streets with brownstones and a fantastic brunch scene. Geographically, the Upper West Side runs from roughly 59th Street to 110th Street along the west side of Manhattan.

What to do with kids

At the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, tots can engage in educational exhibits on various themes, from environmental science to world cultures. They’re a good way to teach kids that learning is fun, and serve almost like a field trip for the whole family.

The American Museum of Natural History is the spot for kids aged zero to 100, and not just because the area beneath the giant blue whale is an ideal place to crawl. And when it’s nap time, no problem: Head to the Hayden Planetarium and marvel at the universe while your kiddo takes a snooze during the show.

When the kid(s) get hungry, head to Jacob’s Pickles, with gourmet comfort food in a setting receptive to the energetic din of young families. The Southern food menu, featuring dishes like biscuits, fried chicken, and pickles, will likely appeal to many tastes, even those of picky toddlers.

Family-friendly offerings in Lower Manhattan

family-friendly nyc gov island

NYC as seen from Governors Island. Photo: GagliardiPhotography/Shutterstock

Lower Manhattan is the southern tip of Manhattan Island, bursting with history, finance, and iconic sights. It’s generally considered to stretch from the bottom of the island (Battery Park) up to roughly Canal Street or Chambers Street. This area is home to several well-known neighborhoods, each with its own character. Financial giants like Wall Street are in the Financial District, while Tribeca is more about trendy art galleries and high-end shops.

What to do with kids

Battery Park is a necessary stop for young ones who need to burn off energy in the otherwise entirely commercial Lower Manhattan. This green oasis at the southern tip of the island offers stunning views of the Statue of Liberty and ample space for toddlers to roam. The highlight is the SeaGlass Carousel, an underwater-themed carousel with glowing, color-changing fish, instead of traditional horses.

The Skyscraper Museum is also a must-visit if your little ones are fascinated by significant buildings and construction. The museum in Battery Park City offers a toddler-friendly introduction to the towering skyscrapers of New York with plenty of opportunities to touch things. The museum features scale models and interactive exhibits that explain the science and art behind skyscraper construction, meaning parents may geek out, too.

For a family-friendly NYC adventure in pleasant weather, take the ferry from Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for a historical outing. This trip can be an exciting adventure for toddlers, involving a boat ride, plenty of open spaces for running around, and some truly monumental photo ops.

One of the ultimate family-friendly restaurants in NYC is in Lower Manhattan at the Collective Governors Island. The pricey glamping retreat is home to Three Peaks, which fulfills most family needs. It serves locally sourced meals (and local beer and cocktails) at the on-site restaurant. It’s refined, but with a large outdoor space, camp theme, and a children’s menu, it caters well to families (and can’t be beat in terms of convenience if you’re on the island). It’s an ideal spot to Manhattan to feed your little one while you enjoy a drink of your own. If you’re visiting for dinner, you’ll need a reservation.

Where to stay in NYC with kids

nyc family friendly hotels

Photo: BAZA Poductions/Shutterstock

Unless a hotel is explicitly adults only, you can bring kids. But New York is a busy, active, and expensive city, and there are definitely some places where kids are allowed, but not really encouraged. Fortunately, the hotels below are all the opposite of that, with rooms and offerings that cater kids, plus a few extra perks for parents once the kids go down for naptime.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Loews Regency New York Hotel (Upper East)


This popular hotel has luxury suites with skyline views, ideal for enjoying a glass of wine while the baby rests peacefully. It’s serene and feels like a restful retreat from the bustling city life outside. It’s also only a five-minute stroll from Central Park, providing easy access for playtimes and stroller walks.

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The Gansevoort (Meatpacking)



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The Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District is more than a hotspot for spotting celebs like Leo DiCaprio or J Lo. While it’s stylish, it still retains its playful and surprisingly family-friendly character. There’s a rooftop pool, which offers breathtaking views of the Hudson River and West Village and a necessary respite from the summer heat for the kiddos. It has DJs in the summer, but it’s more of a soft jazz vibe, with lots of families playing in the pool (and parents drinking rosé). The Gansevoort offers cribs and custom care packages to cater to its younger guests, including all the baby essentials. It’s extremely helpful for overstressed parents who neglect something important when packing. (Read: me).

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Club Wyndham Midtown 45 (Midtown)

In Midtown, the Wyndham is a great pick for families with youngsters visiting the city’s top sights. It’s so close to the action that some balconies offer views of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Suites are equipped with kitchenettes, allowing families the convenience of preparing meals and snacks in their rooms to save time and money while sightseeing. The rooms are uniquely spacious, with easy access to family-friendly attractions. Voila: it’s Manhattan at your fingertips.

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The Mandarin Oriental New York (Upper West)


The Mandarin Oriental New York Hotel on the Upper West offers an array of amenities tailored for what it calls “Little Fans.” (Ask about the available in-room teepee tents and cooking-decorating kits). It also has essential items such as cribs, high chairs, and baby bibs, along with activity offerings like swimming lessons at the large indoor pool. The hotel also has vetted babysitters available so parents can enjoy offerings like spa treatments or a gourmet meal.

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Collective Governors Island (Lower Manhattan)


This tented hotel offers one of the best urban glamping getaways for families just a short commute from Lower Manhattan. The resort has green spaces with actual space, since Governor’s Island has yet to be oversaturated with tourists. But it’s great for families, as the 172-acre island is entirely walkable and bikeable (or stroller-able). Collective Governors Island is enclosed, so kids can safely explore and play while parents relax. The best part? The resort hosts nightly bonfires where everyone can gather for s’mores against the stunning backdrop of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline.

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