NYC in the cold with a tween
January 14, 2019 9:53 AM   Subscribe

My niece is coming into NYC with my mother this weekend, and I need help figuring out things to do with her. Halp?

So I'm a native New Yorker and have lived here most of my life, but I have no children of my own and I have absolutely no clue what to do with a tween in NYC. (My niece just turned 11 in September). Honestly, I don't even remember what I liked at that age, and anyway it was 40 years ago so it wouldn't help much anyway. (A bit of background: my niece was born in NYC but moved with my brother and sister-in-law to Westport, Connecticut when she was very young, like around three, and she doesn't spend a ton of time in NYC. If you know Westport you know that my brother is, um, affluent. As in very affluent.)

I asked my mother to ask my niece what she wanted to do. She sent a text to my mother, which reads as follows:

"Ideas for NYC: each have $100 and see who buys the best stuff, virtual reality bus tour, for lunch grab a slice of classic New York pizza or eat at PJ Clarke's [she doesn't say which one she means], museum of candy (doesn't get very good reviews), window shopping (ties in with the $100 challenge), skyscape (whatever that is). As you would suspect, my favorite is the first and third idea but I don't mind doing something different. Love you Grammy!"

Ok, so I'm not thrilled to death with the materialist leanings here, but that's not my business and I do want her to enjoy herself. I'm not too keen on the idea of the virtual reality bus tour, but it seems maybe she isn't either. As you can tell from her writing, which I have edited not a whit, she's pretty sophisticated for an 11-year-old.

So, suggestions? I guess I'm looking for something that would be fun for her but not awful for me or my mother (also a native New Yorker). I'm actually pretty down with shopping, tbh, but I'd like to show her something of NYC that's not just that. Not sure if I've given very good guidance here, but that's good for a start, I guess.

Thanks, everyone!
posted by holborne to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if she's into candy, and you happen to be in or near the LES, I can highly recommend the Swedish candy store BonBon on Allen between Delancey and Rivington. They have the best candy. The proprietors are super friendly, too.

There's also Sockerbit in the Village. I prefer both to Dylan's etc because they actually have candy that you can't also just find at Duane Reade.
posted by Grither at 10:01 AM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Is it maybe Spyscape, not Skyscape?
posted by Jahaza at 10:04 AM on January 14, 2019

I just checked and NYC is stepping up to the plate and keeping the Ellis Island Museum open. It's, in my opinion, one of the most underrated attractions in the city. Bundle up, ride the boat, and learn about America.
posted by East14thTaco at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

I suspect that even though she says "classic New York Pizza" she has something different in mind than going to your local corner slice place. Fortunately there are two locations for Grimaldi's which will probably fit that bill nicely; pick the location you can most easily plan other things around.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:09 AM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

How about the Tenement Museum? My niece is that age and we always drag her around to historical museums when we visit a place. She actually seems to get a lot out of it.
posted by something something at 10:11 AM on January 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

Or - Serendipity. It's a couple blocks from Bloomingdale's and would make a good "only in New York" option for a wee candy lover and shopoholic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:11 AM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am very familiar with Westport, with Westchester, with NYC and I once (12 years ago) had an 11 yo daughter. First, good luck. Second, I would take her to some funky clothing stores like Yellow Rat Bastard in the Village. Westport has a Patagonia and all sorts of upscale chain stores. She needs to see a little funk.

I am sure my daughter would have gone to PJ Clarke's and eaten, but that is not her first choice. I would find a lunch spot near or in the Village. This trip is a ladies/girls day out for your niece. I agree that materialistic things are a mistake and quite frankly won't impress her. Make it a trip where you do things your brother and SIL would not do with her. Have an ice cream on a cold day. Get lunch but start with dessert. I would also walk her to death. Tire her out walking around the village and stopping in random stores. If Grandma wants to give her 100 large to spend, so be it.

If they are taking the train to Grand Central, walking around GC is a whole experience to a suburban kid. She will be taking the train into the city with her friends soon enough, let her learn about Grand Central.
posted by AugustWest at 10:15 AM on January 14, 2019 [5 favorites]

Economy Candy at 108 Rivington is a weird old 'who knew there were that many kinds of candy' store -- if you end up in that neighborhood, it's worth it. If it's not too cold or nasty out to walk, don't underrate Central Park. You could walk through the park to either the Natural History Museum or the Met, depending on your tastes.

Skyscape, I am guessing, means get somewhere you can get the effect of the skyline? Which would be Brooklyn or Queens looking at Manhattan. Or, again depending on the weather, a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry gets you a good view of the Statue of Liberty and of downtown.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:21 AM on January 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

Theres the Gloria Steinem show on Broadway if you wanted to be sort of low key subversive about your cultural programming?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:23 AM on January 14, 2019

It sounds like she wants to go shopping and do eleven year old things like visit a candy museum. She's a child- she has the rest of her teens/twenties/life to see the elusive "other side of New York" that the tourists don't see. When I was that age a trip to New York City meant going to Times Square, seeing Broadway shows, eating pre fixe dinners, and going into horrible tourist trap souvenir shops. I eventually moved to New York and became as jaded about all those things as everyone else.

If I had a tween in my life, I'd see if they'd like to do something like this. That seems "special" enough for a trip like this. The pizza is one of the things that makes living here worth it, so maybe indulge that request and go to John's which has seating and beer for the grownups. It would also put you in good walking distance to Soho or the West Village OR the East Village.

Is a Broadway show doable at all? It would be exciting for her and a great time-filler.

That VR bus tour sounds insane and like the kind of thing you will only do in your life at the behest of an eleven year old, so maybe that would be worth reconsidering. Ask me about the time I had to go see the Rockettes with five elementary school-age kids and the worst hangover of my life.
posted by cakelite at 10:25 AM on January 14, 2019 [8 favorites]

I went to the Color Factory recently and I think it would be a great thing for an 11 year old. It’s an interactive art show and they give you candy and treats and it ends with an enormous ball pit.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 10:31 AM on January 14, 2019 [10 favorites]

I went to Color Factory in San Francisco and I would definitely have enjoyed it at 11. If she has social media, it's also very Instagrammable (and they even have cameras set up and will email you super fun, perfectly-lit pictures).

Also, definitely a Broadway show!
posted by radioamy at 10:34 AM on January 14, 2019

I’ll nth Color Factory. For a bus tour, check out The Ride- pretty fun experience riding on a sideways tour bus. Take her to 5th Ave and visit Tiffany and Bergdorf Goodman.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:39 AM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Nintendo Store. Out of all the stores a kid might want go to, this one is the tops.

I highly recommend taking the Staten Island Ferry. First, because it's free. Second, because it gives a great view of the Manhattan skyline. Third, because it gives you a view of the Statue of Liberty. Take it around dusk (it leaves every half-hour before 8 p.m., I believe, and every hour after), so that there's daylight when you go out, and darkness when you come back. It goes near the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (close enough to get pictures, but not very, very close), and the view of the city lit up at night really is quite amazing. It's good to do towards the end of your stay in the city, because it's fairly peaceful and refreshing. You have to rush through the terminal once you reach Staten Island so you can take the same ferry back (they make you get off), otherwise, you have to wait another half-hour for the next one. Also, if you take the 1 train to the ferry, make sure to be in one of the first five cars. A good place to go after getting of the ferry is Times Square. Take the N/R train back up to 42nd Street and when you come out, it'll look like Christmas. Lights and people everywhere. Chaos, food smells, panhandlers, traffic, music, vendors, hawkers, noise, New Yorkers, movie- and theatre-goers. A great NYC experience, the kind you just absorb. Do Times Square just for a little bit. Get there, take photos, leave.

Don't do a virtual bus tour! Do a real city bus! Cheaper and realer. The M1 is a great one. You see SO MUCH. on Fifth Avenue or the M104 on Broadway. Take it many blocks!
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:40 AM on January 14, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dylan's Candy Bar and Serendipity for the frozen hot chocolate are a must.
Natural History Museum (with some adult guidance about how it is problematic), but she likely knows it from the Night at the Museum movies.
Statue of Liberty.
Times Square including the Naked Cowboy and the M&M store.
Broadway shows - Aladdin, Matilda... all pretty kid friendly.
posted by k8t at 11:19 AM on January 14, 2019

The Tenement Museum is great for 11 year olds. You can go to the Candy Museum easily from there.
Ellis Island is pretty much the whole day, I wouldn't bother for a day trip to NYC, even though it's wonderful.
If you go to the Color Factory it's on the same block as Dominique Ansel's bakery where you can get a delish pastry after or before. If you have 2 weeks to plan you can reserve a Cronut! That should be fun for an 11 year old.
Also, I'm so sorry, but if she is like many 11 year olds she will really love the American Girl store on 49th or 50th and 5th. I spent a lot of time in there with my tweens before they grew out of it, and even though you might not get it, your niece might love it, especially if she has an AG doll to shop for. So sorry. :)
For lunch: ALice's Teacup is a hit with that age group.
And finally: Museum of the Moving Image in Queens is really fun for 11 year olds.
posted by nantucket at 11:58 AM on January 14, 2019

(By the way, Museum of Natural History now has its own meta-signs on the old dioramas/exhibits of Native Americans and PIlgrims on the first floor at least, educating about the problems with the old displays and explaining them in historical context)
Also, don't be disappointed if an 11 year old doesn't care about seeing the Manhattan skyline. Mine and her friends never did. They liked the ferry in nice weather, but just because it's fun to be on a boat and fun to pass the Statue of LIberty.
posted by nantucket at 12:04 PM on January 14, 2019

I second BonBon and Economy Candy, and they are close to each other, and to the Tenement Museum.
posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on January 14, 2019

If she really has access to limitless funds, see if brother will get you Hamilton or Cursed Child tickets. Cursed Child, in particular, is not going to tour much because it requires specialized sets. And if she likes Potter and doesn't have limitless funds, my kids both loved the Off-Broadway satire Puffs. Going to an actual play is pretty serious NYC-is-not-Connecticut stuff.
posted by escabeche at 12:37 PM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Came in to recommend the Color Factory and The Ride. My friend who has tween kids here in the Village took them to see the Color Factory and said it was a good time. She didn't feel like she wasted her money too much.

My friends 'tween kids also love Sockerbit so +1 to that too.

I see that the Museum of Illusions could also be good for tweens - and also good for your Instagram. They also like the ice skating at either Wollman or Bryant Park. I'd skip Rock Center - the tourists have been nuts there.
posted by rdnnyc at 12:52 PM on January 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

In the same neighborhood as Economy Candy and the Tenement Museum, Supermoon is not just hypebeast central for in-store photos with holographic boxes that make a great souvenir, but also surprisingly good. They specialize in filled croissants.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:15 PM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

If she has her heart set on spending some dollars, you could add interesting riders to that -- only buying from independent shops, or only buying one-of-a-kind things. (A hundred dollars doesn't go terribly far in a NYC boutique, I know, but you might be able to come up with something neat! And if not, well, no harm done. I could also see some cool lateral thinking to make this work! ) I understand your concern about it being really materialistic, but this could add a spin of looking for valuable things, or supporting makers and paying a fair price for goods.

(Source: I love shopping in NYC, but not at chain stores. Much.)
posted by kalimac at 2:28 PM on January 14, 2019

Paula Danziger wrote Remember Me to Harold Square in the late 80s. Kendra, her little brother and cute visitor Frank go on a NY scavenger hunt (listed in the book). Not sure if the list has been updated but I think you can get ideas from what's still here.
posted by brujita at 3:11 PM on January 14, 2019

The Seaglass Carousel is magical and close enough to the Staten Island Ferry terminal to be an add-on activity.

You get an excellent view of the skyline and the East River on the Roosevelt Island Tram. The trip has a steampunkish feel, you ride in a mod capsule over the old fancy bridge.

nthing Economy Candy
posted by jointhedance at 5:02 AM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, Bryant Park skating is terrific. Go early because it gets crowded. Skating is free, you just need to pay to rent skates.

And another vote for stopping by the Seaglass Carousel if you do the Ferry. It’s not worth making a special trip for, but it’s lovely.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:21 AM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Top of the Rock might be fun. My 9-year-old likes it. If you can get up there for sunset time it's pretty awesome, and you don't need to go outside.
posted by mkb at 6:16 AM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

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