As an intrepid Mommy Poppins blogger, I am always on the lookout for cool new ways to experience New York City with my eight-year-old son. While we're certainly up for exploring neighborhoods on our own, when I heard about the do-it-yourself mobile tours offered by Stray Boots, I thought they sounded like fun.
A Stray Boots outing is equal parts walking tour and scavenger hunt. You just download the app on your smartphone, head to the starting location and go. But the entire route isn't given to you up front: At each stop, you need to complete challenges and answer questions in order to progress to the next destination. Along the way, the app shares historical tidbits and facts about the places you visit and the surrounding area.
Stray Boots started in NYC and now offers tours in multiple cities all over the country. For our first one, my son and I and two of his friends decided on the Chinatown and Little Italy tour. While Stray Boots tours aren't specifically aimed at families, we had a great time. Best of all, even though we'd all been to Chinatown and Little Italy before, during the tour we got to see the neighborhoods in an entirely new way.
The best part of a Stray Boots walking tour is that it encourages you to explore new-to-you places and interact with locals. On our Chinatown and Little Italy tour, we visited spots we had walked by but never explored, like a Buddhist temple, a historic tea shop, a couple of eateries, a popular park and a few neighborhood landmarks. After we finished, we all agreed that we felt like we knew the area much better than we did before.
Throughout the trip, we had to question street vendors about their wares, ask for prices at local shops and take part in other challenges before we could move on to the next location. We learned lots of things, like what the Chinese seafood markets keep in those big gray buckets. Answer: live bullfrogs (which admittedly didn't make my animal-loving son and his friends too happy). But overall, the kids found the Stray Boots tour thrilling. They loved hunting for clues and anticipating where we would go next and, of course, having unlimited access to an iPhone.
Stray Boots suggests you set aside two to three hours per tour, but you can go at your own pace or even spread the adventure out over a couple of days. (When you buy the tour, you get access to it for an entire year.) We added a dim sum break in the middle of our journey and spent some time in the park so our excursion lasted all day.
Stray Boots offers igadget and android tours, as well as a text-enabled version. While the app is free, you need to pay for each tour. Most are around $12 per person although the Chinatown and Little Italy tour is a bargain at $5 per person. Children under age 13 play for free. When paying, you're on the honor system to include the correct number of people in your party.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Stray Boots Tour With Kids
Stray Boots tours are best for children ages 8 and up. We had a 5-year-old in our group who wasn't as into it. Older kids have the stamina to walk around for a couple of hours on a mission, and the reading skills and maturity to tackle the challenges.
Although we took a break for lunch, we later realized it would have been more fun to grab a bite at one of the stops on the tour. There's always at least one place to eat!
You don't have to lay out extra cash on the tour unless you want to. None of the stops have an entrance fee.
Stray Boots offers tours in Soho, Midtown, the American Museum of Natural History and other NYC neighborhoods. With the exception of the bar tours, all are family-friendly (although I expect the kids might be bored on the shopping tours). If you're heading out of town, Stray Boots has tours in other cities, too.