Queen's largest green space had been the city's dumping ground for ashes prior to hosting the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs. Although the fairs weren't the money makers the city had hoped for, they left their mark on the massive park.
What I like most about Flushing Meadows Corona Park is that it feels like walking into a giant time capsule. The remains of the World's Fairs (which my kid has always marveled at from our car as we drove on the various expressways that traverse the park), are really incredible to behold up close, especially the gleaming Unisphere. And the European-style fair grounds have thoroughfares with optimistic names like Progress, Commerce, Peace and Enterprise.
Today, rusty relics dot the park alongside rehabbed buildings from both fairs. The New York City and New York State pavilions now house the Queens Museum and the Queens Theatre, respectively. Other attractions that were built for the fairs include the carousel, the Queens Botanical Garden and the museum's Panorama of the City of New York.
But the 897-acre park isn't some derelict, unused space; it's a busy, thriving neighborhood park with athletic fields, meadows, lakes, fountains, playgrounds, cultural centers, a zoo, the New York Mets, and the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is an amazing destination for families, whether or not you live in Queens. Although I have visited many times, I still haven't made my way through the entire space. (It is NYC's second largest park, after the Bronx's Pelham Bay Park.) Here are 14 fun things to do with kids in the park.
Explore a Museum
On the outskirts of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, you'll find the New York Hall of Science, a hands-on exploratorium housed in a former 1964 World's Fair pavilion. With its sports floor, space exhibit, outdoor mini-golf course and interactive exhibits like Circus! Science Under the Big Top, which closes on September 4, there's fun and learning around every corner. The museum is a wonderful destination all year round, but two popular attractions, Rocket Park Mini Golf and the outdoor Science Playground, are only open during the summer. Don't miss the fantastic annual Maker Faire, where creative folks from all over the country show off their inventions.
Admission: $11 for adults, $8 for children ages 2-17, free for kids under 2. Free admission September-June on Fridays 2-5pm and Sundays 10-11am. Certain attractions and events cost extra.
Unlike many of the buildings created for the 1939 World's Fair, the New York City pavilion was built to last. It housed the UN General Assembly from 1947-1952 while the Tudor City building was being constructed, and was also used during the 1964 World's Fair. Today, it's home to the recently renovated Queens Museum and its famous Panorama of the City of New York. The revamp doubles its space, and added a shop, a cafe and an amazing glass atrium.
Admission by suggested donation: $8 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, free for children under 12.
Visit the Zoo
Adjacent to the Grand Central Parkway is the 11-acre Queens Zoo, which is dedicated to conserving animals of the Americas. Attractions include the colorful bird-themed Migration Playground, an interactive Discovery Center and an awesome aviary, where you can climb skyward for a literal bird's-eye view. Since the zoo is so small, there's no restaurant, so bring your own lunch or grab a snack from the nearby Terrace Cafe.
Admission: $8 for adults, $5 for children ages 3-12, free for kids under 3.
Take a Spin on the Merry-go-round
Near the zoo is the park's well-loved carousel, also a relic from the 1964 World's Fair. Originally created from two vintage turn-of-the-last-century Coney Island merry-go-rounds, it looks a little worse for wear today, but your kids won't care. $2 per ride, even if you're just chaperoning.
Gawk at the Unisphere
You’ve seen it before from the Long Island Expressway, but that doesn't compare to standing at the base of this iconic, 12-story, stainless-steel wonder. Built for (what else?) the 1964 World's Fair, the giant globe is surrounded by geyser fountains—but don't even think about jumping in. Lots of people try, but they don't get very far. It's always amusing to hear the security guards blow their whistles as they come running to kick the trespassers out. They don't play!
See a Show
The Queens Theatre in the Park is located in the 1964 World's Fair New York State pavilion. It hosts multicultural performances all year round, including many family shows. Ticket prices vary.
Walk Alongside Meadow Lake
This 100-acre man-made lake is located in the open plains of the park between the Long Island Expressway, the Van Wyck Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway. Although it feels kind of cutoff from the main part of the park and the walk through a maze of underpasses is unsightly, it's worth the trek. The grassy meadows surrounding the water are great for kite flying, which is a popular activity during the annual summer Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival. It's also a nice place to picnic or to go catch-and-release fishing (make sure you bring your own equipment). In the past the park has offered boat rentals but the boathouse is currently being renovated.
Ride a Bike
The park's wide-open, multi-use paths are great for cycling, plus there's a one-mile bike path around Meadow Lake. Bring your own bike, or rent one in front of the tennis center for $10 per hour. Call 646-229-4470 for information.
Romp in a Playground
Just like our trip to Van Cortlandt Park, we didn't get a chance to check out any of the eight playgrounds at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Play spots include the Playground for All Children, the U.S.'s first playground for children with physical disabilities, and two dinosaur-themed playgrounds: Jurassic and Triassic.
Hit the Skate Park
Opened in 2010, the Astral Fountain Skate Park features stairs, jumps and railings. Inline skating and scootering are allowed, though cycling is not. All users are required to sign a waiver and wear safety equipment, but since there's no attendant, I doubt these regulations are enforced. When this area gets too crowded, shredders use the dry fountains near the Unisphere as a makeshift skate park.
Tour the Queens Botanical Garden
From the Avenue of Progress, you can cross the bridge into the Queens Botanical Garden. Sandwiched between Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Kissena Park, it's technical not part of either, but is easily accessible from both. The 39-acre garden originated as an exhibit in the 1939 World's Fair, and moved to its current location for the 1964 World's Fair. It features cherry trees, a pinetum, woodlands, exhibits on small-space gardening, an 8,000-square-foot green-roof garden, and a sustainable and green parking garden.
Admission: April 1-October 31: $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 3-12 and free for kids under 3. Free to all Wednesday 3-6pm and Sunday 4-6pm, and every day November 1-March 31.
The park is home to the spiffy Flushing Meadows Corona Park Aquatic Center, which has an Olympic-size indoor pool with an adjustable bottom and a diving area. An annual membership is $150 for adults, free for children under 18.
Hit the Ice
The indoor World Ice Arena, located in the same complex as the pool, offers ice-skating year-round.
Admission: $5 on weekdays, $8 on weekends. Skate rental is $5 per person.
Hit the Green
Flushing Meadows Golf Center, located near Citi Field, offers a pitch and putt 18-hole golf course as well as a beautifully landscaped mini-golf course, complete with waterfalls and lights for nighttime games. Visit the website for prices. Club and ball rentals are also offered.
The park has tons of facilities for practically every sport, including cricket, baseball, tennis and soccer.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is way too big to cover in one day. It's best to pick an area or a few attractions to focus on. It's easily accessible via car and mass transit. Click here for directions.