One of the main reasons visitors go to Long Island City in Queens is to explore the neighborhood's vibrant arts scene. In addition to a slew of galleries, LIC has three big museums: MoMA PS1, the Noguchi Museum and outdoor oasis Socrates Sculpture Park.
Even though all three culture spots regularly offer kids programming and classes, we know some families wonder whether they're worth the trip—especially since PS1 isn't within walking distance of the other two (which are just a block apart). So as part of our month-long focus on Long Island City, my five-year-old son and I set off on an LIC art tour to see if we could hit all three in one day. We had so much fun, we agreed that even though we live over in Brooklyn, we would do it again soon.
22-25 Jackson Avenue near 46th Avenue
Suggested admission: $10 for adults, $5 for students, free for NYC public school students.
Housed in a former schoolhouse, the Museum of Modern Art's Queens outpost is extremely fun for kids to explore. Many funky experimental works of art are spread throughout the vast building, and you'll find a lovely combination of new and old architecture in the elaborate front courtyard, which is enclosed by tall concrete walls with peepholes kids can peek through.
PS1 hosts many temporary exhibits so it's worth checking the website to see what's currently on view. This summer's Wendy by HWKN—a spiky blue star that douses visitors in sporadic spray showers—has been quite popular with families. But PS1 also houses many intriguing long-term exhibits. My son was particularly taken with Saul Melman: Central Governor, in which the artist coated all of the pipes and machinery in the building's old boiler room with gold leaf. He also enjoyed Ernesto Caivano's In the Woods, a beautiful stairwell mural of gnarled trees that makes you feel like you're in a fairytale world.
PS1 also hosts excellent seasonal events, and while they're not aimed at families, many are kid- (especially teen-) friendly. In the fall and winter, visitors can drop by for Sunday Sessions when the museum's exhibitions are enhanced with a variety of artistic programming, like light, sound, music and special live performances. On summer Saturdays, PS1's Warm Up series turns its courtyard into a multimedia playground, with live music, sound, performance and deejays complementing the work on display. Since the museum is located in the Hunters Point section of LIC, it's near many of the area's best family-friendly eateries and is walking distance to the fantastic Gantry Plaza State Park, which has breathtaking views of Manhattan.
The Noguchi Museum
9-01 33rd Road at Vernon Boulevard
$10 for adults, free for children under 12 and NYC public high school students.
Comely and serene both inside and out, this museum is located in a converted industrial building which was purchased and redesigned by renowned Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. As such, its two floors of galleries and sculpture garden are exclusively devoted to the late artist. With my son in tow, we had to tour the exhibits at a pretty quick pace ("Why can't I climb on that, Mom?") but with its benches and gravel, the garden was a great place to hang out—my son was so inspired he even stacked up a few small stone and wood-chip towers. The gift shop and cafe is a great place to grab a bite, especially since there aren't too many restaurants in the vicinity.
The best time to visit the Noguchi Museum with kids is during one of its regularly scheduled family programs. For $10 for a family of four (which includes museum admission), children ages 2 to 11 can enjoy hands-on art projects led by museum educators. On the first Sunday of every month, families can explore the galleries and then create art inspired by what they see in the Open Studio. Aimed at 2-4-year-olds, Art for Tots helps parents introduce their preschoolers to Noguchi's work through age-appropriate art projects, while Art for Families does the same for school-age kids. There are also specific programs for art-loving teens. Check the website for a full schedule.
Socrates Sculpture Park
32-05 Vernon Boulevard near Broadway
Located just two blocks north of Noguchi, this outdoor oasis is by far the most little-kid-friendly of the trio. In fact, after tromping through two traditional museums, my son was thrilled to run free through this grassy, riverside park where he discovered all kinds of structures at every turn. But there's much more than exhibits at Socrates. You'll also find beautifully maintained flower gardens, weeping willows and poplar trees, a tiny beach area known as Hallets Cove where you can go kayaking for free, and constant free programming, including annual family favorites like Kite Flight and the LIC Bike Parade in the spring, the Halloween Harvest Festival in October, a seasonal Saturday greenmarket, yoga, Capoeira and tai chi, and no-cost art workshops for kids on Saturday mornings from May to September. When we visited, a drop-in workshop called Whatever Floats Your Boat was underway and children of all ages were busy creating miniature toy boats and rafts.
While Noguchi and Socrates are easily doable on the same day, PS1 isn't within walking distance for most kids. The best way to travel between the two areas (besides driving) is the Q103 bus, which runs along Vernon Boulevard. Start out at PS1 and grab lunch in the area before moving on—aside from the Bel Aire Diner and Giuliana's Pizza, there aren't many eateries near Noguchi or Socrates.
Read all of our posts about Long Island City.