A Family-Friendly Weekend in NYC {Central Park East Itinerary}

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If you're a weekend warrior and live near New York City like me, then I suggest packing up your crew and heading into the city for a day of slow adventure! Sound contradictory? Adventure doesn't always have to mean a jam-packed itinerary. Some of my family's best weekends are the slow ones, exploring at a leisurely pace but still feeling like we saw, conquered (and ate) so much!

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When it comes to day adventures in New York City, I like to pick one neighborhood or area at a time in the city to explore with our three kids. Don't set an agenda except for a single must-do activity or destination within that neighborhood (and maybe one pre-determined restaurant to eat at if you want to really play it safe, i.e. kids melting down from hanger). But remember, no need to get overambitious with your planning! 

One recent weekend, we hit up Upper East Side/Central Park. It's one of my favorite neighborhoods in New York City, especially when you can spend the entire day immersed in the park feeling like you are away from the concrete jungle. Could we have stayed at home in the suburbs of New Jersey and just gone to our favorite neighborhood park? Sure! It would have been easier, probably, with three kids in tow and all lol. But then my kids wouldn't have had the chance to scoot along city blocks to get from one destination to another, see all the city buses and traffic, and exclaim about all the pigeon poop.

That said, although we didn't set out with an exact plan and wanted to leisurely explore, I did have a starting and ending point in mind. There's so much to do in Central Park (i.e. Central Park Zoo, the scavenger hunt near the Alice in Wonderland statue, etc.) and we'll have to explore another section of it next time. Now onto our Central Park itinerary, which includes sailing model boats, ice cream and waffles, 72nd Street playground, and amusement rides at Victorian Gardens!

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First stop: Kerbs Boathouse
Location: East Side at 74th Street

Take a stroll around Conservatory Water, or better yet, rent model boats from the little cart to sail! It's at this pond that Stuart Little, the beloved character of E.B. White's story, sailed his fictional sailboat to victory. Kerbs Boathouse also has public restrooms (this is gold when you have little kids!) and a convenient Le Pain Quotidien cafe with light refreshments, so you can grab a few sandwiches to take and eat by the pond. Pro tip: on nice days the line here can be long and the service is slow and staff seems a bit overwhelmed, so one parent should order the food while the other entertains the kids at the pond. I waited 30 minutes for just  one fresh prepared ham and cheese croissant and a couple of ready-to-go sandwiches... heard other people ahead of me say they were waiting 45 minutes! 

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Second stop: East 72nd Street Playground
Location: East Side of Central Park at 72nd Street

On our way to Victorian Gardens, we spotted an awesome family playground at East 72nd Street. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos here (too much fun chasing a toddler around the playground and cleaning up poop explosions). There are 21 playgrounds scattered throughout Central Park, and this playground is conveniently along the path of my day "itinerary" (which is to start at the boathouse and finish with Victorian Gardens amusement park). I like this playground because it's not huge and it is defined by low concrete walls (which makes it easy to keep watch on your littles). Coming from someone who has "misplaced" a child in Washington Square Park, this is a very nice feature! There are good ol' fashioned tire swings and sand tables, climbing structures like a granite-faced pyramid with slides and tunnels, and a fortress-like water spray feature. Even at 19 months Atticus was able to join in on the climbing fun โ€“ but I would recommend putting your child in long pants to avoid scuffed knees and legs if yours is a young toddler with limited mobility or coordination but still wants to scale the stone walls like a ninja. 

Then, promise the kids ice cream and snacks from a concession cart so that you can leave the playground and head somewhere else!

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Third stop: Victorian Gardens Amusement Park
Location: Wollman Rink in Central Park (enter park at 59th Street and 6th Ave and walk north)

Suns out, buns out, right? Come Memorial Day, head to Victorian Gardens in Central Park, a seasonal traditional-style amusement park, which is located in the Wollman Rink. Who knew that this quaint, family amusement park existed right in the heart of Manhattan in the park? Makes sense they would transform the skating rink into something useable during the warm months, right? There is a park admission fee of $9.50 per person on weekends (children under 36" are free with a paying adult) and you can pay $1/ticket as you go for rides and games. Rides and games each cost 4 tickets. Victorian Gardens is not a huge amusement park, rather it channels Americana nostalgia and has a handful of classic rides like a family swing ride and simple childhood games like Ring Toss and Roll-A-Ball. And don't miss the magic shows โ€“ they take place usually at 1:00/3:00/5:00pm on weekends.   

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Fourth stop: Wafels & Dinges
Location: Central Park - Center Drive near Wollman Rink

Since it was getting late, we wanted to grab a quick bite for dinner before the hour long drive out of New York City back home to New Jersey. Rather than finding a sit-down restaurant outside of the park, we spotted a Wafels & Dinges cart in Central Park. There are two Wafels & Dinges stands in the park. Never had one? It's like the Belgian street food equivalent to a NYC pretzel. Get the Liege wafel, which is a sugary, dense waffle that's perfect for eating plain. But why would you when you can choose from all the dinges (toppings)! As the boys climbed the big rocks in Central Park, the Husb came back from the cart bearing four Liege wafels positively smothered in Belgian chocolate fudge, powdered sugar, strawberries, bananas, and whipped cream. It was a delicious disaster allowing the kids to eat this, but who says you can't eat dessert for dinner? Pro tip: one wafel fully loaded is more than enough for two people to share!

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Which New York City neighborhood would you like us to explore and write about next?