KIDS AND THE CITY
After three family visits, Sarah Bryden-Brown shares her best travel tips for New York City
NEW York may come across as all Sex and the City , but that’s just for show. I have taken my two children, now aged 15 and eight, to the Big Apple three times and, without exception, we have come home with memories that remind us it’s great to chew candy but even better when you can do it while learning about Jackson Pollock.
Any guidebook will direct you to the important landmarks, but just like when you’re a guest in someone else’s house, you never feel really at home until you know where the tea is kept and how to work the television. So here are the operating instructions for turning on New York, family style.
Upper West Side stories
I’M prepared to close the door on every neighbourhood except the Upper West Side when it comes to family living. Above 59th Street, north of Columbus Circle, west of Central Park and next door to the theatre district, this is an upscale residential neighbourhood.
It’s not as expensive as the Upper East Side, and within walking distance of the Natural History Museum, the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is just a stroll away through Central Park.
Fairway Market on Broadway at the corner of West 74th Street is considered more a way of life than just a supermarket. Here you can stock up on the kitchen basics — fresh fruit and vegetables or home-style meals for a night in — and there’s a floor dedicated to organics. Upstairs is an unassuming mum-and-dad-style restaurant, Fairway Cafe and Steakhouse, which serves a seriously good prime porterhouse steak and chips.
While there are hotels dotted among the brownstones on the Upper West Side’s pretty tree-lined streets, such as On the Ave at 222 West 77th St, the Excelsior at 45 West 81st St and the Lucerne at 201 West 79th St, a furnished apartment is better value for money and much roomier.
New York Habitat is an easy-tonavigate website that produces what it promises: stylish and well-maintained holiday rentals. For example, a onebedroom apartment will cost from $US150 ($173) to $US325 a night; a twobedder, $US250 to $US470. Most offer sofa beds, so if you are a family of four, go for a one-bedroom configuration and put the children on the sofa bed.
Just be sure to hide the remote control once it’s lights out because no selfrespecting child can resist a TV with 500-plus channels. www.fairwaymarket.com www.nyhabitat.com www.ontheave.com www.excelsiorhotelny.com www.thelucernehotel.com
Picnics and tea parties
BEFORE we discovered Fairway and its aisles of granola and Cheerios, Le Pain Quotidian at 50 West 72nd St was our spot for a hot breakfast. Its rough-hewn wooden interior gives the bakery a cosy warmth, along with a communal table strewn daily with TheNewYorkTimes ’ s multiple sections. Looking like a set piece from the south of France (even though its founder is from Brussels), Le Pain Quotidian prides itself on its artisan breads (don’t make the mistake, as we unwittingly did, of insulting staff by asking for toast), which go perfectly with soft-boiled eggs and bowl-sized breakfast cups of hot chocolate.
Food cart fare, served from pop-up, carnival-like carts on every block, is a Manhattan staple and it’s taken so seriously that New York Magazine routinely features the best on offer.
No. 7 in its top 20 is Tony (the Dragon) Dragonas on 62nd Street (near Madison Avenue): ‘‘ There’s chicken breasts, shish kebab, burgers, sausage, steak and an excellent prosciutto, mozzarella and basil sandwich. But the juicy chargrilled chicken is the thing, marinated overnight and available wrapped in a thick grilled pita or as a platter with yellow rice for $6.’’
A picnic in Central Park, near the Adventure Playground, is made even better by a quick stop at Whole Foods Market on Broadway (between 58th and 60th streets on the concourse level of the Time Warner Centre) for supplies (open until 11pm).
Otherwise, Shake Shack serves the best (and I am not kidding) hamburger and milkshake you will try; it’s tucked beneath the trees of Madison Square Park (southeast corner, enter at Madison Avenue and 23rd Street), across from the famous Flat Iron building.
Still with children in tow, take tea at Alice’s Tea Cup at 102 West 73rd St (near Columbus Avenue). It’s like stepping into Wonderland, with tributes to Lewis Carroll’s Alice and friends on every wall, chair, door and more.
Or for an Eloise experience, the renowned Waldorf-Astoria (now managed by Hilton) at 301 Park Ave, holds Tea for Tots sittings each Saturday from 1pm to 3pm (a three-course spread and a gathering around Cole Porter’s baby grand for a singalong of tea-themed tunes such as I’m a Little Teapot ). Feather boas, faux jewels and gloves are on hand for princessy dress-ups.
And for the ultimate little missy fix, your daughters should take their dolls to high tea at the American Girl Place at 609 Fifth Ave (at 49th Street) from 4pm daily (brunch, lunch and early dinner also available). There are special chairs for dolls and conversation starters tucked into ribboned boxes. The store includes a doll’s hair salon, photo studio, theatre and floors of shopping.
Then raid Dylan’s Candy Bar at 1011 Third Ave: it’s owned by Ralph Lauren’s daughter Dylan and its candyset-in-stone floor leads like a pathway to lollies galore, chocolates, fairy floss, jelly beans and sweet treats you never imagined existed; some are sugar-free.
Pizza is everywhere in New York but that doesn’t mean it’s all good. You can grab a slice on nearly every block, but for authentic thin crusts and classic toppings Grimaldi’s Pizza Brooklyn is the one you want. It’s at 19 Old Fulton St (under the Brooklyn Bridge), one subway stop off Manhattan island or an easy walk across the bridge. If you don’t get there by 5.45pm, be prepared to queue. www.painquotidien.com www.wholefoodsmarket.com www.shakeshacknyc.com www.alicesteacup.com www.hiltonfamilynewyork.com www.americangirl.com www.dylanscandybar.com www.grimaldis.com
Stay and play
INTRODUCE culture and history by exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum (the scene for the recent movie Night at theMuseum) . With a headset and storyline keeping things moving along, you’ll be surprised just how long children will be captivated. If the New York City Ballet is presenting one of its performances for children, book it.
And of course you can’t leave without seeing a Broadway musical: Mary Poppins , TheLionKing and Tarzan are showing. Grand Central Station tours and the Transport Museum are a must for the boys, and everyone will love the remote-controlled sailing boats on the pond in Central Park.
A family shopping affair
SOHO is the place to spend an afternoon shopping for all those things you never knew you wanted. Dad will like the Apple Store at 103 Prince St (near Greene Street), although a fancier version recently opened on Fifth Avenue. Mum will love Anthropologie at 375 West Broadway for fashion, homewares and gorgeous stationery. Children will get a kick out of the cool shoes at the Camper Store at 125 Prince St. Chains such as Gap and Old Navy (myriad stores) are perfect for stocking up on socks and undies for all.
FAO Schwartz at 767 Fifth Ave (at 58th Street) is New York’s grandest toy store and more affordable than you may think; don’t miss having a turn on the giant floor piano from Tom Hanks’s hit movie Big. www.ny.com/shopping www.fao.com
The big picture
RISE above the metropolis and spend a New York minute looking at the big picture. Forget the Empire State Building (who has time for those queues?); instead take in unobstructed 360-degree views of the Big Apple at Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Centre; enter on 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues). It’s further uptown than the Empire State Building and a good chunk of the bustling city will be laid before you (including the Empire State Building), plus here you get a bird’s-eye view of Central Park. For another take on the city skyline, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on your way to Grimaldi’s for a pizza and pause a moment to turn around and look back in wonder.
Sky scraper: There are many options to help shoulder the load on a family visit to Manhattan
Tickle their fancy: Dress-ups are part of the appeal at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Tea for Tots parties