What can I say? Brooklyn is the place.
I’ve been here for about fifteen years, and when brainstorming toddler-friendly trips to take in NYC, I quickly realized that my home borough would need its own list — there’s just so much to do in Brooklyn with kids! Though whether that’s a result of the borough being home to so many families or the cause of it, we’ll never know. It’s like the chicken and the egg question.
While I love hanging around the house, I’m no homebody. Especially when home with my son, I’d get more than a little stir crazy by day’s end. So once Felix reached the age of mobility, we hit the subways, buses, or just pounded the pavement and started exploring. The following are 8 kid-tested and parent-approved suggestions for where to go with your toddler in New York’s finest borough!
Leave the kids at home? Fuhgeddaboudit. Bring ’em to Brooklyn! 1 of 9
Click on to find 8 spots perfect for visiting with your kids.
Prospect Park 2 of 9
Our favorite place to visit, Prospect Park is basically our backyard, no matter the weather. Start at the children's corner, where you can visit The Prospect Park Zoo, which packs a large variety of animals in a space just large enough for little ones to see all of it without getting bored. Then take a spin on the carousel, and, if your kid's into history, check out the Lefferts Historic House, where the 1820s come to life. But this is just the tip of the iceberg! There are long, grassy meadows to run across (called, appropriately enough, Long Meadow), a wooded ravine to explore, a lakefront to sit near and contemplate the wildlife, and of course there are several playgrounds, including one geared just for little ones learning to walk. On Saturdays, you can grab a snack at The Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, or come on the third Sunday of the month for the Food Truck Rally, when a diverse selection of vendors roll up with their delicious wares. My mouth's watering just thinking about it!
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden 3 of 9
We're fortunate, living so close to Brooklyn Botanic Garden that we go all the time. It's a feast for the senses, especially when they've been nature-starved by long days playing on the hot and dirty city streets. We enjoy cavorting in the children's Discovery Garden — which for Felix means sending water down a series of bamboo shoots into the stream below — and laying beneath the trees in the Cherry Esplanade while we watch the clouds roll by, or "hiking" through the paths in the Native Flora Garden under a canopy of verdant leaves, where it can be easy to forget that you're in the middle of a bustling borough of New York City. In the winter, or on rainy days, the Steinhardt Conservatory provides an escape to a dry desert, a lush Mediterranean ecosystem, and a humid tropical forest, sure to cure you of the blues, and turn your tots into intrepid explorers, observing the wilderness.
Jane’s Carousel and the Brooklyn Waterfront 4 of 9
No matter what time of year, one of our favorite trips is to head to DUMBO — Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass — for picture perfect views of the Manhattan skyline, with Lady Liberty and Ellis Island in the distance. The highlight of any visit is a spin on Jane's Carousel, a beautiful merry-go-round from 1922, the height of America's obsession with carousels, which has been restored to all its former glory. Afterward, there are lush grassy lawns to sit on and watch the ferries passing on the East River, or you can run yourself ragged on the Main Street Playground, which is shaped like a giant pirate's ship. Don't forget to grab a hot (or iced!) chocolate from Jaques Torres Chocolate on nearby Water Street! (For more information, check out my article about the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which in part inspired this slideshow.)
Brooklyn Museum of Art 5 of 9
I know, no parent in their right mind would take a toddler to an art museum. But the Brooklyn Museum of Art requires only a donation to enter, and popping in for a few minutes can be an enlightening experience for kids and parents both. My son's favorite area is the third floor ballroom, which is a spacious, bright space lined with lovely paintings that include many Impressionist gems. Or check out the American galleries on the top floor, each room painted in a visually arresting, strong color, and organized thematically, so there's a mix of old and modern work all mashed together. It's fun! We sometimes go on scavenger hunts for different objects in paintings — trains, bicycles, waterfalls, etc. There's an awesome old painting of old Brooklyn that fascinates Felix, and a room on the first floor displaying art from the BMA's kids' classes which never fails to excite him.
Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park 6 of 9
Head down to the foot of Atlantic Avenue for Pier 6, which is four playgrounds in one, all with beautiful views of downtown Manhattan. There's slide mountain, which has the longest sliding board you'll ever see on a playground — it zips kids (and, I'll admit, the occasional fun-loving adult) onto a bed of sand. Across the way, swing sets of various sizes and types rise between grassy knolls perfect for running and rolling. Felix's favorite spots are the beach — a sunny expanse of sand and fountains — and the water park, a twisty grotto made cool by sprinklers, bubbling streams, and misty sprayers. This place gets crowded in hot weather, so head early! Bring a change of clothes and some towels, and then swing by the concessions area for Bark hotdogs and Ample Hills ice cream. Food and fun, it's the Brooklyn way.
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum 7 of 9
Sprint down the Brooklyn Children's Museum entrance ramp into a world of child-sized delight. There's a whole day's worth of activities here, but Felix especially digs the grocery store, where he pretends to shop and then ring up his provisions on the register, and the pizzeria, where he makes pie after pie loaded with his favorite (plastic) toppings. There's a water play area, complete with protective smocks for your little ones' clothes, where they can move boats around and spray a water canon, and also a variety of sand pits, each with different sized and colored sand, and toys. Upstairs, the museum has a changing exhibit space, that, no matter what the subject matter, features interactive elements that will appeal to all ages.
Coney Island 8 of 9
Felix could dig on the beach for hours! But the sand and surf are only the start of the attractions at Coney Island. Actually, before the beach comes the train ride out there — whether taking the Q, B, or F, the subway becomes elevated as it goes deeper into Brooklyn, and the views onto the streets below provides plenty of entertainment. Then there's a lunch of french fries and hot dogs at Nathan's, home to the famous hot dog eating contest every July 4th, a Superbowl for competitive foodies. The children's area of Luna Park has rides for kids of all temperaments, from a pretty tame carousel to a very exciting (too exciting for Felix's taste) balloon ride that rises up and down in the air. There's great ice cream on the board walk and other carny treats, amazing people watching (Coney Island draws all types), and, if you're not afraid of heights or being stuck in a car with your kids for a while, the Wonder Wheel will take you wayyy up for breathtaking views. And there's even The New York Aquarium, so you can what life's like under the waves too!
The New York City Transit Museum 9 of 9
Located in an old subway station in beautiful downtown Brooklyn — not far from plenty of great restaurants on Smith Street and Court Street — The New York City Transit Museum is one of those rare places that captivate both kids and grown-ups, for different reasons, of course! I enjoy learning about how the impressive NYC transit system was created, and playing with the interactive exhibit on how electricity works, something Felix is coming to love too, now that he's getting older. The big draw for him is pretending to drive the big bus, or selling subway tokens in a mock station booth. And we both have a blast exploring the historic subway cars parked on the track below (which is actually a working track — a few times a year some of those old cars ride the rails on special trips). We often combine a trip to the museum with brunch or lunch at Mile End, a fantastic Montreal-style deli nearby that cures their own meats. It's a perfect day out for everyone.