While summer is the season of outdoor fun in NYC, sometimes you need a break from the parks, beaches, sun and sweltering heat. Going to a kid-friendly museum exhibit is an engaging and enriching way to spend a humid afternoon soaking up some culture along with cool air-conditioning.
Not only are most of the spring exhibits we highlighted still on view, there's also a fresh batch of kid-pleasing installations opening as well as a few new permanent attractions. We've got the scoop on where kids can get up close and personal with live spiders, learn American history, party like a rock star and make like Katniss from The Hunger Games. Plus, One World Observatory is finally open and a must-see.
The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld – Upper West Side
On view through Monday, October 12
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West at 77th Street
Free with admission: $19 for adults, $12 for students, $6 for children ages 5-13
Decades of work by iconic illustrator Al Hirschfeld (aka The Line King) are on display at the New-York Historical Society. With a focus on his famous pop-culture caricatures for The New York Times, the exhibit includes his interpretations of famous celebrities from Ringo Starr to Charlie Chaplin, and Broadway casts from Fiddler on the Roof to West Side Story, along with lesser-known early works and original sketchbooks, videos and memorabilia. While this exhibition isn't aimed at kids, the artist's playful illustrations are eye-catching and easy to grasp. Plus eagle-eyed children should enjoy searching for the name of his daughter, Nina, cleverly hidden in his lines.
Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life Exhibit – the Bronx
On view through Sunday, November 1
The New York Botanic Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard
Free with All-Garden Pass: $20-$25 for adults, $8-$10 for children ages 2-12
Introduce your kids to the work of the celebrated Mexican artist, best known for her evocative and nature-filled self-portraits, at the New York Botanical Garden's new installation. In addition to a dozen of her original paintings and works on paper, the exhibit includes a recreation of her garden and studio in Mexico City. After touring the installation, families can enjoy thematically related activities like live music and dance performances, textile and cooking demos, plus drop-in arts activities in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden.
Rocking tots can slide down this Rolling Stones-style tongue at Frolic! at CMOM.
Frolic! – Upper West Side
On view through Thursday, December 31
Children's Museum of Manhattan, 212 West 83rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue
Free with admission: $11 for ages 1 and up
Frolic!—Williamsburg's funky, rock-and-roll-inspired play space that closed last year—has been temporarily revived at CMOM. Through the end of the year, little rockers ages 5 and under can slide down a cool Rolling Stones-style tongue, play with the interactive music wall or chill out in the groovy replica of a VW Bus. There's also lots of special programming to complement the romping spot, including concerts by the likes of Joanie Leeds, Suzi Shelton and Tim Kubart; art workshops and other creative fun.
The Hunger Games: The Exhibition – Midtown West
Wednesday, July 1-Sunday, January 3, 2016
Discovery Times Square, 226 West 44th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues
$29.50 for adults, $22.50 for children ages 3-11
Fans of the hugely popular young-adult trilogy The Hunger Games won't want to miss this interactive installation inspired by the blockbuster movies. Explore the dystopian future world through immersive experiences and set recreations. The exhibit features seven galleries where fans can explore Katniss' home in District 12, examine an interactive map of Panem, speed to the Capital on a virtual high-speed train just like the Tributes, try a few challenges and join the revolution in District 13. You can also ogle the fantastic "Girl on Fire" and Mockingjay dresses, the iconic Mockingjay pin, Cinna's sketchbook and Katniss' famous bow.
Kids can climb atop this supersize arachnid at Spiders Alive! when it returns to AMNH this summer.
Spiders Alive! – Upper West Side
American Museum of Natural History, 79th Street at Central Park West
Saturday, July 4-Sunday, November 29
Free with Museum Plus One Admission: $27 for adults, $16 for children ages 2-12
The spiders are returning! Yes, the amazing arachnids are back for the summer at AMNH. In addition to face time with 16 different species, including the deadly black widow and the enormous Goliath bird eater, kids can learn about their anatomy, venom and silk-spinning skills through videos, large-scale models and fossils.
The Rise of Sneaker Culture – Crown Heights
Friday, July 10-Sunday, October 4
Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway near Washington Avenue
Free with suggested admission: $16 for adults, free for children under age 20
Sneakers are perennially popular, whether they're endorsed by sports legends or designed by Prada. The Brooklyn Museum is the first institution to explore the history and stylistic influence of sneakers in an exhibit featuring 150 pairs from diverse manufactures like Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma and Reebok, alongside examples from legendary collectors such as hip-hop star Darryl "DMC" McDaniels. The exhibit has four sections chronicling the evolution of these rubber-soled shoes, from some of the earliest examples in the 1860s, to Chuck Taylors and early Adidas, to modern-day status symbols.
The World Migration Globe on view at the Peopling of America Center on Ellis Island; photo courtesy of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
The Journey: New Eras of Immigration – Ellis Island
Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration
On permanent display
Museum admission included with Liberty Island Access: $18-$21 for adults, $9-$12 for children ages 4-12
The recently renamed Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration has expanded its Peopling of America galleries with an exhibit that explores immigration after the processing center closed in 1954. The centerpiece of the sleek, modern space is the five-foot-tall World Migration Globe on view in the former baggage room that illustrates migration patterns. Visitors can also discover the lives and travels of recent immigrants through interactive storytelling kiosks. Don't miss Time Travels, a station created just for kids, that delves into how immigrants came to America and how long various modes of transport took.
Discovery Garden – Crown Heights
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 990 Washington Avenue at Crown Street
On permanent display
Free with admission: $12 for adults, free for children under age 12
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's learning garden has been expanded to nearly four times its former size, and features environments indigenous to the NYC area such as meadow, forest and marshland. Walk along the paths snaking through the green space to see these various ecosystems and the critters that call the garden home. Along with nature exploration, the garden has a slew of hands-on activities to enrich the experience including Family Discovery Weekends, Kids’ Discovery Stations and First Discoveries for Toddlers.
My son at the top of the town at One World Observatory.
One World Observatory – Financial District
World Trade Center One, corner of Vesey and West Streets
On permanent display
General admission tickets are $32 for adults, $26 for children ages 6-12
While this technically isn't a museum, One World Observatory is a one-of-a-kind experience that kids and adults are bound to enjoy. The visit starts underground as you travel through Manhattan's bedrock, followed by a 60-second elevator journey to the 102nd floor. When you arrive at the top, you are greeted with a two-minute video that captures the energy of NYC, and then suddenly the live view is revealed. My son and I were wowed—it was an awe-inspiring moment that made us proud to be New Yorkers! Before you head up to see it yourself, read our full review for insider visiting tips.
Find out about other great exhibits for kids in our Museum Guide.