Times Square with Kids: Things to Do Beyond the Usual Tourist Attractions
[UPDATED: July 26, 2012]
Times Square is one of those areas that New Yorkers tend to avoid like the plague. We dismiss it as crowded, touristy and overpriced. But there are actually a lot of fun things for families to do near Times Square that even jaded residents might enjoy.
We're not talking about the usual expensive tourist attractions like Madame Tussauds, the Hard Rock Cafe, Discovery Times Square or Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium. We've got the scoop on cool and (mostly) inexpensive ways to spend time with your kids in or near this NYC hot spot.
Whether you need to kill time before a Broadway show, are entertaining out-of-towners or just find yourself in the neighborhood, here are 12 cool things to do with kids in Times Square.
1. Browse Midtown Comics
200 West 40th Street near Seventh Avenue
Initially I was hesitant to enter this shop with my preschooler, fearing the wrath of comic book geeks, but we were welcomed by all, and the staff was very friendly and helpful. Located at the top of a narrow (and easy-to-miss) set of stairs, the Times Square location of this Manhattan comic book shop chain has a great selection of titles for young readers like The Incredibles, Archie and Tiny Titans. It had been a while since I'd bought new comics, and they are a lot pricier than when I was young. (Plus, they never last long in the hands of preschoolers.) So ask for the "back issue blowouts," old issues that go for as little as 50 cents.
2. Hit a local playground
Believe it or not, there are a handful of playgrounds near Times Square. Our favorite one is on 42nd Street between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues, where you'll find a play structure called "Playground" designed by artist Tom Otterness. My daughter was in awe of this bronze reclining creature, with slides for legs and arms. The spot also has benches, a small patch of grass, an enclosed dog run and a toddler play area. Although this is a public park, it's tucked between the Silver Towers skyscrapers so it's hard to spot. Other popular neighborhood playgrounds include Hell's Kitchen Park on Tenth Avenue between 47th and 48th Streets, and Manhattan Plaza's on 43rd Street near Ninth Avenue.
3. Hang out in Bryant Park
40th to 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
There is so much to recommend at this green space (even if there's no playground). There's the lovely European-style merry-go-round, Le Carrousel, which is open year-round and costs $2 per ride. Nearby is the Reading Room, an outdoor space stocked with well-worn children's books and kid-sized tables and chairs. The park hosts frequent family performances, including its summertime Word for Word Kids and magic and storytelling series. Other popular series include the HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival and Broadway in Bryant Park. Neither is aimed at families but many of the offerings are great for kids. In fall and winter, you'll find NYC's only free ice-skating rink, Winter Village at Bryant Park, and around the holidays the annual market sets up shop. Plus there are clean bathrooms, and tables and chairs strewn throughout the park, so you can bring-your-own picnic or grab a meal at the 'wichcraft stand. (A picnic will be much more economical.)
4. Explore the main branch of the New York Public Library
42nd Street and Fifth Avenue
A visit to any library always makes for great free entertainment. But the main branch of NYPL boasts extra-special attractions like Patience and Fortitude, the pair of stoic marble lions guarding the entrance, the awesome flight of stairs leading up to the ornate Beaux-Arts building and the Children's Center at 42nd Street, which is home to more than 50,000 books, hundreds of DVDs and CDs, and the original Winnie-the-Pooh. The center also frequently hosts family events and performances, so check the schedule to see what's happening before you visit.
5. Nosh at Times Square Hot Bagels
Unfortunately this venue closed in November 2012.
People are always asking us to recommend cheap, kid-friendly places to eat in NYC, especially near popular spots like Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center. Times Square is particularly tricky, since the restaurants tend to be packed and pricey. That's why this take-out place is such a steal. In addition to making delicious, authentic bagels in a variety of flavors (even egg! You so rarely find that anymore), you can also order baked goods like cookies and muffins, and sandwiches, all at fairly low prices, especially considering the area. There's always a line out the door and no seating, so grab your eats to go and sit in that Times Square pedestrian plaza Bloomberg built or on the red steps of the TKTS booth.
6. Eat at Junior's
45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
If you must have an indoor sit-down meal, try the Times Square location of this famous Brooklyn restaurant. Yes, the legendary cheesecake is great, but so are the potato pancakes, burgers, brisket, even the salads. The wait is often long, and reservations aren't accepted for small parties. If you just need a snack, hit Junior's bakery right next door, which sells desserts and offers limited outdoor seating.
7. Play games at Dave & Buster's
234 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Ever since the space-themed restaurant/arcade Mars 2112 closed in early 2012, there's been only one place to play games in Times Square: D&B's. Granted, it's not always the most family-friendly scene—there's a bar that caters to the after-work crowd—but if you go during the day you should be okay. There are a ton of games here, from classics like Frogger, Pac-Man and Skeeball to new obsessions like Fruit Ninja. You can find a complete list of games on the website. Plus kids win tickets that they can redeem for little plastic prizes. They love that...you hate it.
8. Romp in a megastore
We wrote an entire post about NYC stores where you can play indoors for free (assuming you leave without buying something). Three of our favorites are located in Times Square. M&M's World at 48th Street is a chocolate lovers' paradise, with M&M's furniture, a 17-foot-tall Miss Green M&M’s Statue of Liberty and loads of candy. Kids love gawking at the massive Jurassic Park T-rex and large Lego statues, and playing video games at Toys R Us at 45th Street. There's also a toy-themed 60-foot Ferris wheel, but it costs $4.50 and often has a very long line. The Disney Store at 45th Street also has interactive elements, like magic mirrors with animated characters, and a small theater area where kids can screen their favorite Disney clips.
9. Go bowling
There are three swanky bowling alleys in the Times Square area. Frames Bowling Lounge is located in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, Lucky Strike is on 42nd Street and Twelfth Avenue and Bowlmor is on 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. None of them are cheap and all cater more to adults than kids. Bowlmor is the most family-friendly, and has really incredible decor. That said, if you're just looking to get your game on, you might be better off leaving the area and hitting a less expensive alley.
10. Look for interactive ads and marketing events
Big-name brands like Disney, NASCAR and Nintendo often host interactive marketing events in Times Square. Yes they're commercial, but you can snag freebies or enjoy free fun like video game demos. Also look for "augmented reality ads," interactive billboards where you stand in a certain spot and see yourself projected on it. Forever 21 and the Disney Store have both sponsored these types of advertisements, and your kids will certainly get a kick out of seeing themselves on a massive screen. Visit Times Square's official website to see a list of all upcoming special events.
11. Laugh at the Story Pirates
Drama Book Shop, 250 West 40th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
This hilarious group of energetic comedians transforms children's stories into mini-musicals. This is no ordinary improv troupe: Comedian Kristen Schaal was a founding member and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart is a big fan. Most Saturday afternoons, you'll find them performing an original show at the Drama Book Shop near Times Square. Every performance that sells out is followed by free ice cream and cookies for the audience (happily the shows are almost always packed). If your kids have stories to share, they can submit them in advance or do what my daughter did and try to contribute one on the spot. The show lasts about an hour and tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
12. Catch a show at the New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
As much as we love seeing Broadway shows, tickets are so expensive, we can't afford to do it very often—even when we buy seats at a deep discount. Happily, tickets for productions at the New Victory Theater start at $14. We've written many reviews of the wonderful kids' shows at this family theater over the years. This is where my preschooler first fell in love with the stage (that's her at the intimate White above). Not all of the offerings are for little kids; the New Vic offers a wide range shows for all age ranges—circus, neo-vaudeville, dance and more traditional page-to-stage adaptations—and also hosts related performance workshops.
Things to Avoid in Times Square
The Naked Cowboy isn't the only annoying "celebrity" you'll run into; Mickey and Minnie, Elmo and Cookie Monster, and other costumed kids' characters line the streets, hoping you'll give them "tips" so your kids can take pictures with them. My daughter posed with Mickey and we had to flee because he griped that the three bucks I gave him wasn't enough.
Whenever possible, don't walk on Broadway or Seventh Avenue as they're always insanely crowded. Eighth Avenue is a bit better, but your best bet is to navigate the pedestrian alleys in between Broadway and Eighth Avenues, like Shubert Alley between 44th and 45th Streets and the walkway at the Marriott Hotel between 45th and 46th Streets. You'll find similar walkways between 47th and 48th, 48th and 49th, and 50th and 51st Streets.