Best Places for Family Playtime in NYC
Playing together with your kids is one of the best parts of being a parent. Not only does it get everyone off the couch and moving, but you're also creating memorable family experiences.
Most city families don't have a backyard to play catch in, but there are still plenty of ways to play in NYC that are as engaging for grown-ups as for children, from mini-golf to bumper cars, bowling, billiards, and beyond. Read on for a few of the best ways you and your kids can disconnect from technology and enjoy a few hours of awesome bonding time.
Whether you’re seeking thrills or want to entertain your little one with tamer attractions, NYC has rides for all. Coney Island’s Luna Park has daring coasters along with a theme park that is perfect for the pint-sized. Or spend a day in Central Park at Victorian Gardens to check out the new Rainbowheel for a mild Ferris-wheel thrill. There are also arcade games and live entertainment on weekends.
Batting cages abound in NYC. In Manhattan, increase your batting average at Chelsea Piers or The Baseball Center. Queens has The Cage in Middle Village and Artistic Stitch Sports Complex in Glendale. If you're in The Bronx, check out the Grand Slam Batting Cages. There are also outdoor cages at Turtle Cove Golf Center on City Island and Staten Island Fun Park.
For less physically demanding play, hit a gaming haven. Brooklyn Strategist hosts kid and adult workshops in everything from chess to Dungeons & Dragons, as well as drop-in, open-play sessions for an hourly fee. The Uncommons cafe in Greenwich Village lets you rent games from a huge onsite collection. In Queens, hit up Good Games NYC to add to your collection or rent a table to play on site. Uptown, swing by Hex & Co., a board game cafe offering educational programs for kids, as well as a solid espresso for adults.
If your family is bouncing off the walls, it’s time to visit one of the city’s bounce houses. The Big Bounce America, officially the world’s largest bounce house, is landing in Brooklyn, July 26-28, 2019 at Aviator Sports. The national chain BounceU has locations in Queens and Brooklyn, and each outpost features a wide array of inflatables available for play, from traditional bounce houses, slides, and tunnels to climbing frames, and other activities. Bounce N Play in Queens has generous drop-in play hours.
Bowling is one of my family's favorite ways to play together. There are a host of bowling alleys in NYC, both old-school and newfangled, including Bowlmor Chelsea Piers, featuring an aerial ropes course and laser tag.
Speaking of laser tag, there's nothing like a high-energy round of hide-and-seek with infrared laser guns to bring a family together. My family has battled it out at Long Island City's Indoor Extreme Sports several times—we even hosted our son's 10th birthday there—but you can also play at these other NYC locations.
You're never too old for a bumper car ride. You'll find two in Coney Island—at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and Eldorado Auto Skooter—and one at Staten Island's Fun Station USA. Keep in mind some of these locations have age and height restrictions.
Cooking shouldn't just be a chore for mom and dad. A few creative culinary spots turn cooking classes into hands-on fun for kids and adults. Consider taking a parent-and-me workshop at Chelsea's Taste Buds Kitchen. Older kids will like the professional-quality classes at the Institute of Culinary Education, while dessert lovers of all ages will love these DIY chocolate-making spots.
Maker spaces are the city's hot new hangout spot. We recently rounded up some of our favorite spots for creative drop-in maker fun, but there are even more options if you want to register for a long-term class. Kids and adults will appreciate the all-ages classes offered at Skill Mill NYC on the Upper West Side. There you can take intro workshops in sewing, laser cutting and 3D printing, then come back another time to use its equipment to make your visions come to life.
My son's favorite course is the science-themed Rocket Park at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, but we've also enjoyed playing at Pier 25 in Hudson River Park and on Governors Island. While some mini-golf courses are only open seasonally, a few, such as the indoor courses at the Jewish Children's Museum and Shipwrecked Mini Golf, offer games year-round.
Modern Pinball offers retro fun for all ages. Photo courtesy of the venue.
This game has been making a comeback in NYC thanks to Modern Pinball. My son and I regularly visit the arcade to play its 30 perfectly maintained classic and modern games. The pinball machines at Greenpoint, Brooklyn's Sunshine Laundromat are also popular, or you could do a day trip to Asbury Park's Silverball Pinball Museum Arcade, featuring 200 machines. If video games are more your style, check out these six arcades for old-school fun.
Pool and Billiards Some pool halls welcome minors during daytime hours as long as they are supervised. Ocean's 8 at Brownstone Billiards in Prospect Heights is particularly popular with families. In addition to 30 pool tables, the lounge also has ping-pong, air hockey, mini-bowling, and a variety of video games.
RELATED: Indoor Play Spaces and Kiddie Gyms
Test your rock-climbing skills under the bridge at Dumbo Boulders. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala.
Rock Climbing Gyms
Get your active kids out of the house and let them climb the walls—literally—at one of NYC's twelve rock climbing gyms. Though most are indoors, Dumbo Boulders by The Cliffs lets you climb alfresco in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
This classic arcade game is fun, inexpensive, and easy for even young kids to master. Just toss a ball up an inclined lane toward a series of rings marked with different point amounts. You'll find skee ball at Times Square's Dave & Buster's, your local Chuck E. Cheese's, Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center, where it's called Ice Ball, and Coney Island arcades such as Luna Park.
When all else fails, it's hard to beat NYC's spectacular playgrounds. When was the last time you climbed Umpire Rock at Heckscher Playground, or zoomed down the slides on Governors Island or at the Billy Johnson Playground? We also love the playgrounds in Brooklyn's Prospect and Brooklyn Bridge parks, plus Queens' Alley Pond Park, which even has a family-friendly ropes course to conquer together.
A version of this post was published in April 2017; it has been updated.