We just got back from spending a week in New York City with our kids, ages two and four. Before kids, we lived in Manhattan for more than 10 years and walked everywhere all the time, sometimes for miles. Other times, we hailed a cab or jumped on the subway, always feeling like we could be in another world within minutes, and the journey was half the fun.
It’s not so simple anymore and I can’t blame New York. Kids can start off walking around really well and then they stop, and you never know how many blocks away you’ll be or how many layers you’ll have on when they start to scale you like koala bears with low blood sugar. Subways and cabs are great but not when you have to lug two car seats around or carry a stroller three flights below ground after you searched and failed to find a working subway elevator.
Despite the added logistics of traveling with children, we want to be sure they have the opportunity to love New York like we do. For this trip, I wanted to see as much as we could, without losing time (or our minds) getting from place to place. I picked three hotels in some of our favorite neighborhoods where we could easily walk to all the things we wanted to do and places we wanted to eat.
We brought our single stroller with this godsend of a toddler attachment. For travel between hotels, we brought our super-light BubbleBum booster for our 4-year-old and used Lyft with a car seat for our 2-year-old. NYC is the only major city where Lyft currently offers front-facing car seats! Uber too!
Here’s how we got there:
Flights: Right now, NYC is more affordable to visit than I have ever seen it. We paid $230 per ticket for our San Francisco (SFO) to Newark/ Liberty Airport (EWR) flights (so under $700 for three direct round-trip tickets, easily the cost of just one). Flight prices are so unpredictable that I look for deals like it’s my part-time job. With so many airline search sites, do yourself a favor and use Google Flights to pull from all of them. Enter your airports and approximate travel start and end dates. Then click inside the box with your start date to see the rates calendar pop up to compare flight prices. Cheaper flights are highlighted in green.
Travel from the airport to hotel: We find it way easier to fly into Newark rather than JFK or LaGuardia. From the airport, we take Lyft to get into the city. It is a lot cheaper than a car service and (as of now) NYC is the only location where Lyft offers the option of car seats. It is life changing.
Hotels: I like downtown New York. I have always been a believer that all good things (other than theater and museums) happen below 23rd street and as far away from Times Square as possible. We spent less than $200/night for our (fabulous) hotels. Newer hotels often have deals and being willing to stay in more than one hotel, based on when rates are cheaper can help keep accommodation costs down.
Here’s what we did and loved:
Stop 1: East Side/Flatiron
The Freehand Hotel just opened in the Flatiron, and it’s awesome for all ages. The vibe is warm and welcoming, the service is casual and attentive. The second floor is comprised of a grown-up bar, an inviting lounge, a great restaurant and a game room filled with board games, pinball, jumbo connect-four, shuffleboard and (free) Ms. Pacman. I heart Ms. Pacman, and I can be a bit competitive when I play games. I kindly tell my kids when they sulk after losing against me if you want to win you should play with Papa. Playing Ms. Pacman with a Manhattan on the rocks is my version of a mid-life paradise. And, I never thought I’d say this, but we stayed in the perfect room – with a bunk bed! The three’s company room has a queen bed with twin bunk above it. My kids LOVED it and for the first time in years they didn’t want to be in our bed.
From the Freehand, you can walk to Madison Square Park which has been there since 1686 and is surrounded by New York’s most beautiful buildings – the Flatiron, the MetLife, the New York Life, and just north and within view, the Empire State building. The park is filled with green spaces and rotating art installations, with fun events happening all the time. Eat outside at the original Shake Shack or check out the enormous Eataly for more kid-friendly options, great gelato, and then take a stroll through (and/or stop your kids from destroying) the Lego store.
Stop 2: West Side/Chelsea
About a block east of the famous High Line is the gorgeous High Line Hotel. The hotel was built as a Seminary in the late 1800’s and it is such a beautiful building with gorgeous grounds. Each room is unique and filled with all old-world charm and loving attention to detail. There is a private courtyard that feels like a sanctuary and an outdoor space in the front with a coffee truck from France and a (seasonal) champagne garden. You can sit outside with kids and sip bubbles or a latte under the trees (which is rare for NYC) and feel like you’re in Paris.
From the hotel, you can hop on the High Line and pass right over things to stop and see. The High Line “starts” at 30th street and then “ends” at Gansevoort. There are really a bunch of places you can get on and off, but I would recommend starting north (on 30th or 23rd) and walking south because the Gansevoort exit will let you out in the Meatpacking district (another great neighborhood).
Your first stop on the High Line should be Chelsea Market between 16th & 17th street. What was once just a wholesale market has morphed into a huge indoor urban space with endless great food and shops. You can grab a full lobster to go from The Lobster Place and a bottle of wine at the Chelsea Wine Vault and sit anywhere to watch the world go by. There is plenty of shopping, including a section where there is usually a great sample sale!
Hop back on and the high line goes right through The Standard Hotel where right now you can stop and Ring your Rep from their plaza and let your voice be heard in Washington (I imagine we all have a little something to say). And at any time of year, I’ve never had a bad meal at The Standard Grill. It has lovely outdoor seating, a seafood bar and a beautiful old school dining room with an entire floor made of pennies. There’s also an outdoor biergarten if you want to look at beautiful people and eat sausages.
Toward the end of your elevated stroll, make your final stop at The Whitney to take in some great art and people watching. Descend the final stairs to end your journey and begin some of New York’s best shopping in the Meatpacking.
Stop 3: Downtown/Tribeca
Location! Location! For our last stop, we stayed at the brand new and lovely Hotel Hugo. If you map this hotel, it is not technically in Tribeca, Soho or the West Village but nestled inside this perfect geographic pocket that’s steps from all three. Everything we did was within three blocks of the hotel. One day we sipped liquid chocolate at Jacque Torres while we watched chocolates being handmade made. Then we visited The New York City Fire Museum where you can see the evolution of firefighting and equipment from the beautifully ornate horse-drawn, hand-pumped vehicles of the 1800s all the way through to the bright red trucks of today that save lives and capture the full attention of little minds every day.
We spent another day at the Children’s Museum of the Arts where there are kid-friendly exhibitions like refrigerator magnets and daily hands-on wee art classes. For lunch, we grabbed more history and a great burger at The Ear Inn, the oldest bar in Manhattan (established in 1817). It’s kid friendly right down to the paper tablecloths and crayons. For dinner, we ate twice at Giorgione because when you find the perfect Italian restaurant, you happily commit.
What are your favorite NYC spots, with kids?