We've been featuring one great NYC neighborhood each month on Mommy Poppins. So far, we've shared our favorite things to do and places to go with kids in Chinatown, Park Slope and on the Upper West Side. For February, we're focusing on one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the city: Jackson Heights, Queens.
A visit to Jackson Heights feels like a mini trip around the world, without the hassle or expense of international travel. It's also super family-friendly—I know because I'm raising my two kids here. I chronicle our adventures on my blog and we've certainly had many in our home 'hood. So take a stroll with us and discover the global culture of Jackson Heights, from Indian sari dress shops to Nepali momos to Uruguayan empanadas.
It's easy to get to Jackson Heights from midtown: Just hop on the F or E express trains. The 7 train takes you on a more scenic route through Long Island City, where you'll get a fantastic view of the Manhattan skyline and cozy Queens neighborhoods like Sunnyside.
Exit at the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue stop and make your way down 74th Street toward 37th Avenue. Little girls who are into Disney princesses will love the bejeweled saris and sparkly jewelry on display in the shops' windows. If you're feeling indulgent, your kid can have a sari custom made—the prices are actually pretty reasonable and it's certainly more interesting than adding another Ariel costume to your closet. You can pick up inexpensive bangles in bulk on this street, in children's and adult sizes.
Drop into Butala Emporium where you can peruse religious relics like statues of Hindu deities, Indian holiday items like Diwali candle holders and bright handmade home goods. You'll also find Indian cookbooks and Ayurveda products (i.e. Indian alternative medicine).
Jackson Heights' incredible array of cuisine is a big part of any tour. The nabe is famous for its Indian food. Most visitors head to the well known (and deceptively named) Jackson Diner, which is admittedly delicious and worth the trip. However, I find the smaller Mehfil Indian Cuisine to be a more kid-friendly option. Here you can order actual mild food—hard to come by in this authentic Indian nabe—and mango lassis decked out with a stick of fruit and paper parasol.
Indian isn't the only thing on Jackson Heights' menu. You can pick up Colombian deep-fried sweet cheese balls at Seba-Seba Bakery for a buck. Peking Kitchen has satisfying steamed shrimp dumplings. La Gran Uruguaya Bakery makes the best empanadas (chicken, spinach or cheese, all baked, not fried), which are the perfect size for little hands. The spot often plays Thomas the Tank Engine on their TVs during the day (provided there isn't a soccer match on). For a sit-down meal, try the Himalayan/Nepalese restaurant Thakali Kitchen. The waiters are so sweet with children and good at explaining most of the dishes. Kids love the sel roti, a tasty doughnut-shaped bread that can be dipped into butter tea. Other favorites include chicken momo (soup dumplings) and, for the more adventurous, farsee goat thali, which comes with a variety of finger foods and dipping sauces for tiny fingers.
After your family fills up on delicious ethnic treats, there are plenty of places where you can run around and work it off, like Travers Park. The spot's also home to the Sunday Greenmarket, where you'll find great tamales and grilled corn (just in case you need more food). P.S. 69's recently opened playground was designed entirely by its students! It's open to the public when school isn't in session, so you can visit on weekend. Behind the Community Methodist Church you'll find the Learning Park, part of 82nd Street Academics, which is open on Saturdays 10am-5pm April through November. A $1 donation is suggested.
If you're tired and (possibly) hungry once you hit 82nd Street and 37th Avenue, you can buy churros or fresh tamales from carts under the 7 subway line as you head to the station. Or you can walk in the opposite direction and see if St. Mark's Church has a flea market is on—P.S. 212, 222 and 69 often host book fairs or fleas there.
Jackson Heights is also home to many popular annual family celebrations. Notable ones include the annual Halloween Parade, which is super kid-friendly, and the Diwali Festival, the Hindu festival of lights and New Year, which also takes place in October.
This is the first of several posts we're planning on Jackson Heights, Queens this month. If you enjoyed this tour, be sure to check out our family guides to Chinatown, the Upper West Side and Park Slope.