Best Things to Do with NYC Kids: September 2013 Go List
School may be just around the corner but that doesn't mean all the outdoor summer fun needs to stop. September actually brings many of our favorite annual alfresco festivals for families including the Medieval Festival in Fort Tryon Park, the interactive and avant-garde Dumbo Arts Festival, Brooklyn's biggest street fair Atlantic Antic and Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science.
Take note: Since September starts in the middle of a holiday weekend, there is some overlap with our August NYC Go List. That's where you'll find all the details on Staten Island's Richmond County Fair and the NYC Unicycle Festival on Governors Island, which both start on the last day of August and go through early September.
As always, if an event piques your interest, be sure to click through to our listing for all the details, including address and time. And keep in mind: In NYC, really cool things to do with kids often get booked up quickly. So buy your tickets ASAP or, in the case of FREE events, arrive as early as possible to try to beat the crowds.
Now get your calendars ready! Here are the top 13 things to do with kids in New York City this September, seven of which are FREE.
Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition – Midtown West
Sunday, September 1
Watch a dozen or so tugboats race from the 79th Street Boat Basin down to Pier 84, where there will be knot-tying and spinach-eating contests, live music and other family fun. The races and competitions take place in the Hudson River and can be viewed at no cost between West 44th and West 79th Streets on the waterfront, though Pier 84 is where the action is. For an up close view, you can buy tickets for the Circle Line spectator boat that follows the tugs. FREE from the shore, Circle Line tickets are $25 for adults, $12 for children under 15
Mettawee River Theatre Company: Taliesin – Morningside Heights
Friday, September 6-Sunday, September 15
Every fall, the wonderful Mettawee River Theatre Company mounts a folksy puppet show on the grounds of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Beautiful and full of symbolism, and presented at dusk in an enchanting setting, these productions aren't aimed at children, though they're certainly all-ages friendly. Still, they're best for kids who are attentive and patient, and don't need constant action. This year's show is an hour-long adaptation of part of the epic medieval Welsh manuscript Book of Taliesin, about a young boy who magically learns how to see beyond everyday life. The story is told through giant figures, masks and other striking visual elements, and is complemented by live music. My eight-year-old daughter and I have been going to see Mettawee's work since she was in preschool and though she doesn't always catch all the details she has been consistently awed by the troupe's artistry. $12 for adults, $6 for children
West Side County Fair – Upper West Side
Sunday, September 8
We admit, this fair seems modest next to Dutchess or the other biggies. But it's the closest you'll get to a county fair in the middle of Manhattan! Perfect for preschoolers, this 11th annual fest includes all of the usual attractions, including live animals like rabbits, pigs and mice (no cows or horses), small carnival rides, live sideshow performers, reptile shows, an interactive environmental area and a smattering of country vendors. I went many times with my daughter when she was younger and I know from experience that it gets crowded fast, so arrive early to avoid lines. Afterward, grab a bite at the Pier I Cafe or head a few blocks north to romp in Elephant Playground. FREE
Feast of San Gennaro – Little Italy
Thursday, September 12-Sunday, September 22
When I was in my twenties, I lived on Mott Street just a block away from this legendary 11-day fest. At night it got so loud and rowdy, I'd end up decamping for my mom's apartment on the Upper West Side just so I could sleep! But don't worry: During daytime hours the Feast of San Gennaro is much more kid-friendly though still mobbed. This 87th annual event is officially a religious celebration with masses, processions and other liturgical events, however, the food and the carnival atmosphere are the main draws for families. Thirty-five of Little Italy’s restaurants dish out amazing sausage sandwiches, fried Oreos, Italian pastries and more right on the street. Plus there are live music performances, eating competitions, games and rides, including a Ferris wheel. Free admission but there are fees for certain activities.
Morningside Lights – Morningside Heights
Workshops: Saturday, September 14-Friday, September 20; Procession: Saturday, September 21
If you've got creative school-age kids (ideally 8 and up), I cannot recommend this event highly enough. A weeklong series of no-cost collaborative art sessions that climax in an illuminated procession in Morningside Park, Morningside Lights is the brainchild of Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Processional Arts Workshop, the group behind those incredible giant puppets at the annual Halloween Parade. Last year at the inaugural event, my daughter and I and a bunch of our friends had a blast helping to craft a massive lantern out of wire, papier-mâché, cheesecloth and tissue paper. Then we got to show off our illuminated creation during a music-filled parade through the park and the surrounding neighborhood. You can check out a gallery of pics from the event on our Facebook page. This year the theme is the Luminous Deep, so expert fanciful aquatic designs. Signing up online in advance for both the workshop sessions at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University and the parade is a must! One important word of warning: Since the lanterns are worked on throughout the week, you may start one that ends up being finished by others, or complete one that was originated by another family or group. So when you show up for the parade, don't be surprised if someone else is holding "your" creation. I saw more than one argument last year over who got to hold which lantern, which is really against the spirit of the event. Always keep in mind that it's a collaboration! FREE
Maker Faire New York – Corona
Saturday, September 21-Sunday, September 22
As you can probably tell from how often we write about it, Maker Faire is a true Mommy Poppins favorite. Founded in California, Maker Faire debuted in NYC in 2010 and my family and I have attended ever since (and we will again this year). The grounds of the New York Hall of Science explode with all kinds of inventions and creations, everything from knitting to robotics, circus to interactive sculptures, computers to crafts. The Young Makers area is particularly inspiring for kids, with local students showing off their cutting-edge projects. And of course everyone is always awed by the life-size working replica of the Mouse Trap board game. Check out our highlight reel from the debut fest, and then be sure to buy tickets for this year's edition. While there is a wide range of ticket prices, the best deal by far is the Sunday Family Pass, which snags you five tickets for $70, just $14 per person. The deal is only available online and you must enter the grounds on Sunday between 10am and 1pm (you can stay until closing).
Queens County Fair – Floral Park, NY
Saturday, September 21-Sunday, September 22
A much bigger to-do than the aforementioned West Side County Fair, this old-fashioned affair takes place on the grounds of the Queens County Farm Museum, NYC's only historic working farm. Enjoy blue ribbon competitions in livestock, produce, home crafts, arts and crafts, and more; pie-eating and corn-husking contests; pig races, hayrides, a petting zoo and a midway with carnival rides. While I've never been to this event with my kid (there's always this year!), Stephanie, who writes countless posts for us, has gone with her family several times and says it's a must-do. It's all the fun of country farm life without having to leave the city. For an additional fee, you can also get lost in the Amazing Maize Maze. $8 for adults, $5 for children under 13, additional fees for rides and other attractions
NY Harbor Ecology Cruise With Mommy Poppins & Manhattan By Sail – South Street Seaport
Sunday, September 22
The Mommy Poppins Family Cruise series continues with an eco-themed sail in New York Harbor on Manhattan by Sail's stunning Clipper City Tall Ship. Natalie Tahsler, a science teacher and educator for the American Museum of Natural History's Science Nature Program, will lead the kids through four hands-on science and nature stations. Plus there will be face painting, nautical skill demos and goody bags from the New Victory Theater for every child. My daughter and I went on one of these sails back in early August and it was such a fun experience for her, and a relaxing one for me! She hoisted the sails and played with her friends while I just sat back and enjoyed the incredible views. $39 for adults, $25 for children under 13
Kite Flight – Midtown West
Sunday, September 22
The roof of the Port Authority Bus Terminal may seem like an odd location for a family event, but my daughter and I always have a great time at this annual fest. Sponsor the Fashion Center always goes all out. Last time we went, guests received free kites and tickets that could be redeemed for snacks like hot dogs, popcorn, smoothies and Popsicles. In addition to two areas of kite flying—one for pros, the other for amateurs—there were jugglers and stilt walkers, live music, arts and crafts, and one of the best face painting teams currently working on the kids’ circuit: Agostino Arts. This year, expect all of that plus AcroYoga demos by the Om Factory, unicyclists, and musical performances by Louie and Subanda, and Talina. FREE
Brooklyn Book Festival – Brooklyn Heights
Sunday, September 22
While this annual celebration of Brooklyn-based authors is usually thought of as an adult affair, there are actually two whole sections devoted to kids. The Youth Stoop in Borough Hall Plaza and adjacent Columbus Park hosts lively events aimed at tweens and teens like Comics Quick-Draw!, a cartoon improv competition for pro illustrators, and Survey Says!, a Family Feud-style game featuring hot YA authors. Meanwhile, the Target Children’s Area in the plaza offers readings from a slew of popular local children's authors, like David Ezra Stein (of Interrupting Chicken fame), Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (the duo behind the Click, Clack, Moo series) and New York Times bestseller Peter Brown. Of course there will be lots of vendors, too, many selling books at deep discounts. Note: There are also small bookend events at various NYC venues during the days leading up to the fest. The schedule is still being worked out but once it's available you'll find it on the website. FREE
Dumbo Arts Festival – Dumbo
Friday, September 27-Sunday, September 29
This massive, multiday festival takes over the funky neighborhood with visual arts, live performances and interactive activities for all ages. The current website doesn't allow you to search specifically for family programming but it's not a huge deal. I've been many times with my daughter and almost everything is appropriate for all ages (and anything not for children's eyes will be hidden in a gallery with a warning at the door). Taking a quick look at the schedule, I'm particularly intrigued by the Dada Playground, a large-scale interactive installation of cardboard characters and houses where kids can engage in a variety of art projects; Drawbots, drawing robots made out of markers, plastic cups and motors; Flying, an immersive art installation and #tones, an interactive environment where you can make music by moving your body. If you want to plan your visit in advance, you can find the complete list of projects on the website as well as a map. But in my experience, it's almost more fun to go with no info whatsoever and just wander the streets of Dumbo to see what kind of offbeat art you'll stumble across. Once you've had your fill, nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park offers many other amusements. FREE
Medieval Festival – Washington Heights
Sunday, September 29
One of my family's favorite events, the annual Medieval Fest in Fort Tryon Park is where you can party like it's 1399. Watch knights joust and other pageantry of the era, enjoy live strolling musicians, dramatic minstrels and juggling jesters, and browse old-school wares. Make sure you dress up! Velvet and corsets should be mandatory (my daughter and I always put on our best period garb). If you can't make it to the annual New York Renaissance Faire in Sterling Forest, this is the next best thing. You'll see some of the same booths and performers, plus it's FREE.
Atlantic Antic – Boerum Hill
Sunday, September 29
The biggest street fair in Brooklyn boasts several stages of live music (R&B, jazz, rock, country, kids' bands, you name it) and literally hundreds of vendors. There's a whole block dedicated to kids' activities like pony rides, inflatables, face painting and balloon sculptures. Grown-ups will appreciate the eclectic selection of international eats, like grilled sardines, pulled pork, baklava and carnival favorites. Bonus: In conjunction with the fest, the nearby New York Transit Museum always holds its annual Bus Festival, where you can check out all kinds of retro rides. This one gets insanely crowded so go early! Free admission but there are fees for certain activities.
NYC always has so many incredible things going on, it's difficult to choose. So here are 11 more cool events (mostly FREE) that are worth considering for your September calendar. Be sure to sign up for our FREE newsletters so you can get our weekend picks delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.
Get a sweet taste of fall at the annual New York City Honey Festival in Rockaway Beach on Saturday, September 7. FREE
Head out on a Dinosaur Safari at the Bronx Zoo before the ride becomes extinct on Sunday, September 8.
Commemorate the historic Battle of Harlem Heights at Harlem's Morris-Jumel Mansion on Saturday, September 21. FREE
Enjoy music by the P.S. 41 Songbirds and GrooveCats, performances by Penny Jones Puppets & Company and other kids' entertainment at the first annual Westbeth Kids Groove Festival on Sunday, September 22. FREE
Visit many of NYC's top museums at no cost courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day on Saturday, September 28. FREE
Go canoeing at the National Estuaries Day Little Neck Bay Festival at Queens' Alley Pond Park Environmental Center on Saturday, September 28. FREE
Meet the Breeds at the Jacob Javits Center Saturday, September 28-Sunday, September 29.
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