New York for a mom and son?
December 28, 2012 12:51 PM   Subscribe

New Yorkers: Visiting early next year, wife and child traveling with me. Wrinkle: I'll be working during the days, so I'm looking for cool (and safe) things for them to do and places to go while I sit in a convention center.

We're going to be staying at Yotel on 10th Avenue, between 41st and 42nd. Google Maps tells me that's a short walk from Times Square, so that's obviously one thing. What are some others that are cool for a mom and a 10-year-old boy?

Another wrinkle/complication/thing that I'm fretting about: My wife is petite and very sweet and outgoing, and has spent virtually no time in big cities. So I'm very worried about them accidentally wandering into places that might not be the safest for them. Given that neighborhood, are there any directions they shouldn't go, neighborhoods to avoid, etc.? They will be on foot most of the time, with the occasional taxi ride.
posted by jbickers to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (32 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
So I'm very worried about them accidentally wandering into places that might not be the safest for them.

This is really hard to do in Manhattan. I mean they shouldn't be wandering down dark back-alleys (of which there are four) but there's really very few genuinely shady places left and they require some effort to get to and hold next to zero interest for tourists. If they're planning on going to the outer boroughs, it's a different story, but that will depend on the borough and what they're looking for. That being said, if they find themselves on the Lower East Side, don't go past Avenue C.
posted by griphus at 1:00 PM on December 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

American Museum of Natural History (and Hayden Planetarium) for sure. There are a million art museums, the main branch of the NY Public Library. The Intrepid Air and Space Museum. What is your kid interested in? FAO Schwarz?

As to safety, I don't think there's anywhere in Manhattan that a tourist would conceivably go that would be particularly unsafe--though there is a low-level risk of mugging or harassment really anywhere and at any hour. There is no guarantee of safety anywhere, but NYC is a phenomenally safe city.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:03 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Given that neighborhood, are there any directions they shouldn't go, neighborhoods to avoid, etc.?

Pretty much any part of NYC along main streets is safe during the day at this point and all of Manhattan. I wouldn't advise her to wander around alone west of 10th Avenue at night north of 39th St or West of 9th avenue south of 39th, but that's because they're abandoned/deserted areas at night (warehouses, TV studios, rail-yards, tunnel access). Anywhere you're with other people you're largely fine (except for certain agressive crowd issues).
posted by Jahaza at 1:05 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Natural history museum. 10 year old kid will LOVE IT. Hell, thats not just one afternoon, its 2 or 3.

I know you mentioned mostly walking or taxi, but do get her up to speed on some basic public transportation skills. Things like how to buy and use passes, keep her purse pretty firmly tucked under arm (zipper tops being preferred), keep smartphones in pockets when coming to stops. Show her how to read transit maps, etc. These are pretty good life skills to have for both your wife and kid.
posted by fontophilic at 1:10 PM on December 28, 2012

I cannot imagine anywhere in particular where they would go and it would not be safe.

You can easily spend a day in the Nautral History museum. What else do they like?
posted by jeather at 1:10 PM on December 28, 2012

If your wife is in midtown Manhattan during the day, she's much more likely to have something stolen by a pickpocket or opportunist than to end up in any kind of danger.

The best thing she can do is to keep very close track of her phone and wallet -- I like to use a purse that sits between my upper arm and my ribs, since I'm blocking access to it with my arm and can easily look down and check on it. If your son has an iPod touch or Nintendo DS or whatever, have him leave it in the hotel room (in the safe). If they go shopping, they should get into a habit of doing a check that they're carrying everything they've purchased at all times -- it's very easy to leave things on busses or at restaurant tables.

In terms of safety, my advice boils down to: 1) always look before crossing a street, even if you have the right of way, 2) if someone is making you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, don't worry about being rude -- ignore them and move away, 3) if you start walking down a block and it gives you the willies, again, just turn around and walk back the way you came -- don't worry about looking silly, 4) don't be afraid to ask locals for help or directions -- most of us are really nice, I swear!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:11 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: What is your kid interested in?

It would have been smart of me to provide this info, wouldn't it? He's really into drawing/painting, learning songs on piano, Lego (the Lego store is all he has talked about for weeks), goofy kids TV shows (Regular Show and Gumball are the two current favorites), video games, and movies. And snacks - the kid eats ALL THE TIME. He is also a connoisseur of soda (so, an unusual or old-timey soda fountain would totally turn him on).
posted by jbickers at 1:12 PM on December 28, 2012

10th ave. is not exactly a short walk from Times Square but not Siberia either. but there's also really no reason to go to TS either; except maybe one time to see the lights.

there's the new Museum of Mathematics

the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History both have suggested admission i.e. "pay what you wish" (i think i've paid more than a dollar once for the Met) and they could easily spend a few days in each and still not see everything.

the weather is gonna be a real crapper for the best reason to be in NYC; walking around and looking at stuff and people.

Empire State Building. Top Of The Rock. Central Park. Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island. Staten Island Ferry. World Trade Center Memorial and a quick look at Wall st. etc. the National Museum of the American Indian is also down there and pretty cool.

it's super safe here but the timid could easily be overwhelmed by the directness of pedestrians and subway riders.

Avenue C is in the East Village not the LES and i haven't heard anyone warn against going there since the mid/late 90's (although there's really no reason to go there unless you're headed to East River Park).

the High Line
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 1:13 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your wife is tiny and timid, she'll want to avoid Times Square on her own. The area is flooded at all times with throngs of people -- some walking (SLOWLY), some standing in the smack-middle of the sidewalk, some taking pictures of random crap, and none paying attention to anything outside the one-inch zone from their noses. It's possibly to avoid mediocre and expensive tourist-trap crappy food, but it's difficult unless you know what you're doing. Also, the area smells bad.

Try maybe:
The American Museum of Natural History
Lots of stuff to do there at all points throughout the day. The area outside isn't likely to be at all terrifying. Shake Shack is nearby, as is the Magnolia Bakery (which isn't my favorite cupcake place, but it's "famous"). There are actually a lot of cute, decent places to eat in the vicinity.

Or... Chinatown? A kid his age would enjoy poking around a treats store like Aji Ichiban, nomming some ice cream at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (very good), and learning something new at the Museum of Chinese in America. The museum is small, leaving plenty of time for looking around in all sorts of other places.
posted by houseofdanie at 1:14 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can ride the Staten Island ferry there and back for free for views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Island is currently closed.) I'd do it outside of rush hour times to avoid crowds.

The Intrepid and the Natural History Museum are both good suggestions. The Museum of the Moving Image frequently has stuff for kids. (On preview, especially if they're interested in movies and video games.)

If you're not from "big building" places, just plain big stuff may be interesting like St. Patrick's Cathedral or the Cathedral of St. John the Divine uptown. I find the latter to be better as a pure tourist experience. Get ahold of Cathedral first for maximum effect.

There's of course the Empire State Building observation deck and another called "Top of the Rock" at Rockefeller Center.

He is also a connoisseur of soda (so, an unusual or old-timey soda fountain would totally turn him on).

More futuristic than old-timey, but some McDonalds (and some movie theaters, like the Regal E-Walk on 42nd St) in NYC have the Coca-Cola Freestyle now. The only place I can think of off the top of my head is the one near the Empire State Building.
posted by Jahaza at 1:21 PM on December 28, 2012

I'd say check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.

You can be in that crowd outside the Today show. (Why? It's a thing.) Or, the NBC Studio Tour.

An adventure would be to the Brooklyn Farmacy where they have a soda fountain.

A Matinee on Wednesday, the TKTS booth is in Times Square and you can get half-priced tickets. Annie is being revived, Blue Man Group, totally family friendly.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:28 PM on December 28, 2012

I'd say check out the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.

Lula's Sweet Apothecary is an adorably old-timey ice cream place either across or down the block from this place.
posted by griphus at 1:30 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

My 10-year-old nephew visited last year and LOVED the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. It's free. They make a big deal about needing tickets, but if you get there when they open, you won't have a problem. You can program your own robot, film a news report, etc. It's very hands-on. I had a blast too.
posted by valeries at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ellis Island is closed as well.

Depending on how long you guys will be in NYC, I'd recommend getting a 7-day unlimited ride metrocard ($29). I'm a bad adult and have no idea how tall 10 year olds are, so if the kid is less than 44 inches, he'll will have to get a card too. The metrocard will let them travel on buses and subway anywhere in the city and will make it so they don't have to think about fares and deciding if they are tired enough to warrant the bus or not.

New York is far safer than you'd think. As long as they're not wandering around late at night, they'll be fine.

I've heard good things about the Transit Museum, but never been myself. It strikes me as the kind of thing a ten year old would really get a kick out of.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2012

Yes, Intrepid! My son is 16, we live in the area, and we're still touring the Intrepid all the time. It's just cool.
posted by houseofdanie at 1:39 PM on December 28, 2012

The only area in midtown that I would suggest they not walk alone after dark are the streets that cut over to the Javits convention center (I'm guessing they may think of meeting you there). These streets (30-36th) are deserted and rough. When there are people present, they are not the petite and timid types.

I will 2nd the suggestion - do not cross the street until your eyes tell you the cars are fully stopped. Lots of cabs roar down trying to cross before the red light. This is especially important if your 10 year old is impatient, kid bravado, or staring down at his feet.

Stand against the back wall in subway stations. No exceptions.

The other suggestions about safety are spot on. The major hotels in times Square area (Westin, Hilton, Marriott) all allow you to use their very nice bathrooms should Starbucks be out of order.

If your wife and kid are tired and want to rest in comfortable chairs and couches (without having to buy something or be rushed), the Grand Hyatt hotel on 42nd street's spacious lobby offers exactly this. They have a coffee stand there as well. Have a good time, and enjoy the relatively tourist free January in NYC.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:57 PM on December 28, 2012

Best answer: Most areas of Manhattan (particularly those a tourist would go to) are quite safe, so I would not worry too much about that.

I have heard great things about the Big Apple Greeters program ( It might make sense to consider getting a greeter for her first day to help her gain confidence in her ability to navigate the city, and to put your mind at ease. It's going to be super fun!!!
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 1:57 PM on December 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

My nieces, 13 and 10, loved the M&Ms store in Times Square. Agree with others that the Intrepid, Natural History, and Transit Museums will all appeal to your son. If you are here before January 13th I also recommend the Foiled: Tinsel Painting in America exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum. The small museum is across the street from Lincoln Center and is free.
posted by plastic_animals at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a little out of the way (which is either an issue or an opportunity, depending on one's point of view) but our kids loved visiting the Liberty Science Center, which is just across the river in NJ, and readably accessible via PATH or ferry. There are many hands-on exhibits located on multiple floors in this clean, modern facility, and the staff was very friendly, too. Highly recommended and kid approved.
posted by mosk at 2:21 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depending on the weather, visiting (or skating at) Bryant Park and checking out the main branch of the New York Public Library might be fun. is very helpful for planning out transportation and takes regular maintenance into account. This is especially helpful on the weekends.
posted by wiskunde at 2:23 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

We visited Manhattan last spring for the first time. I was totally surprised at how safe it was. We walked everywhere, including late at night, and picked up the subway routes immediately. It was all so easy, and we laughed about how intimidated we were before we arrived. Your wife and son can walk or ride the subway anywhere they want to go, and will have a great time just walking around and looking at stuff. If you have an iphone, there's absolutely nothing to navigating around Manhattan, especially using Hopstop. It has step-by-step instructions that even your 10-year-old can follow. Speaking of which, learning to navigate with that app could be the most fun he has during his entire trip, and will set the groundwork for future big-city experiences. Although the Museum of Natural History will be a very close second, as will a visit to FAO Swarz.
posted by raisingsand at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think the best thing about NYC is just wandering around and seeing what you see - which as many others have mentioned, is really quite safe nowadays - but since you'll be here at a time when it's probably chilly, you might want to give your wife and son a print-out of lovely (free!) public indoor spaces to sit and rest during their adventures. Such a list (incomplete, but better than nothing) can be found here.

Definitely familiarize them with subway maps and how to get around on public transport. I too recommend getting a metrocard for ease. I've also found that people are all-too delighted to share their expert subway-riding knowledge and direct anyone who asks for help regarding what stop they need, if they're on the right train or whether they're headed in the right direction. Bus drivers tend to be awesome and friendly at this as well. Cabs get very expensive, very fast.

I second riding the Staten Island Ferry, and if they're hearty sorts, it's a nice day, and they're bundled up -- and the Bridge isn't still under construction wraps -- I definitely, definitely recommend walking the Brooklyn Bridge. I would also recommend that they wander in Central Park - not around the outskirts, but an actual venture into the park itself. Uh, definitely during the daytime. (They might otherwise be in for quite a liberated show, should they find themselves in the Rambles at night, as my own recent hilarious experience proved.)

Make sure they bring lots of comfortable walking shoes. New York is far, far more walking than people from other parts of the States are remotely used to.

My (friendly, open midwesterner living in NYC for 17 years now) advice for your friendly, sweet and open wife is to A) reinforce that she trust her tiniest whispering instincts to a 'T' in regard to people she might meet, and react appropriately, or B) if she (like me) is sometimes still a little too open and trusting for her own good, that she should perhaps not talk to any strangers at all who may approach her on this trip, and instead just walk away. She could feign not speaking English or whatever makes her more comfortable with this action, so long as she simply does not engage. It may cut off some avenues of delight (my chance meetings with complete strangers here are very often a great source happiness), but it will certainly make things safer and less complicated.

Another recommendation for all of you, if you're into this sort of thing: seek out and eat foods you've never eaten before. You'll find every kind of cuisine the world has to offer here. Try it! It's awesome!
posted by involution at 2:35 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your son is a soda fanatic, he must try the official regional soda concoction, the EGG CREAM. There is no egg in an egg cream.

I'll second Brooklyn Farmacy. They make their own soda syrups and they're in a restored vintage pharmacy that is just lovely and festive.
posted by houseofdanie at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2012

If your son is a soda fanatic, he must try the official regional soda concoction, the EGG CREAM. There is no egg in an egg cream.

Get it at Gem Spa, which is walking distance from Lula's and in a generally fun area.
posted by griphus at 2:40 PM on December 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Things I've done with my kids that were hits:
Circle Line cruise
The Cloisters
The View, a revolving rooftop restaurant in Times Square

You might also try scoring tickets to a television show taping.
posted by apparently at 4:56 PM on December 28, 2012

Like people are saying, new York is really quite safe. Given your son's interest in drawing, some of the smaller museums might make sense. There is often good drawing at the Morgan for example and they are a bit more manageable. There is a Harry Potter show in times square right now which is quite fun. You guys might want to create an Über account in case you have ever had ENOUGH and just want to get back to the hotel.

Have fun and say hi if you see me.
posted by shothotbot at 4:57 PM on December 28, 2012

The New York Hall of Science would also be fun. It's located near the end of the 7 train, which would be a fun ride that is largely above ground outside of Manhattan. Traveling during the day would definitely be safe.

Is there any kind of food they'd enjoy [or enjoy trying]? Starting in Washington Square Park and then walking south from the southwest corner takes you down MacDougal and there are lots of fun, cheap food options, like Mamoun's or Saigon Shack, among many many others.
posted by the twistinside at 7:28 PM on December 28, 2012

I feel the need to clarify something. Numerous people have mentioned the Intrepid. They have neglected to mention that it's an aircraft carrier wih a space shuttle on it. An aircraft carrier with a space shuttle on it.

It's a little out of the way being in Brooklyn, but a ten year old would just about pop his clogs at the Superhero Supply Store. It's where superheroes (and villains) buy their stuff, jars of bravery and tubes of truth serum, new secret identities, invisible iPods for the invisible man, etc.
posted by Iteki at 1:51 AM on December 29, 2012

The shops are gone after the 6th, but really close to where you are staying there is ice skating in Bryant Park. If ice skating is something that would be enjoyed, take a look.
posted by Hactar at 6:39 AM on December 29, 2012

If you are trying to get tickets to TV shows, read the fine print. Lots of them require the minimum age to be 16.
posted by CathyG at 1:32 PM on December 30, 2012

In terms of shows, I don't know if this is any good, but I have it on my "to do" list. Any NYCers been to it? Gazillion Bubble Show.
posted by Iteki at 6:48 AM on January 1, 2013

Response by poster: Hey everybody, thanks for your feedback - especially avocado, who led us to the Big Apple Greeters. This is a phenomenal organization. Our greeter and her daughter (thanks Jo!) met my wife and son on Sunday morning at 10 o'clock, then basically spent the whole day with them - showing them how to ride the subway, taking them all around town and basically making them feel at home. At the end of the day my wife said to me, "okay, I've got it - I'm a New Yorker now." And she and my son spent the rest of the trip just wearing the city out.

Our favorite thing that we dumb-lucked into (which is generally how we roll) was the remarkable 44WW restaurant. Mama Anna sang to my wife for her birthday, which was lovely.
posted by jbickers at 6:21 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

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