Two of Manhattan's most picturesque communities, Greenwich Village and neighboring West Village are filled with historic houses on quaint and crooked tree-lined streets. This former counterculture epicenter is now home to many of New York's priciest restaurants, retail stores and real estate. But there are still plenty of affordable and even FREE attractions for families to discover as they stroll these labyrinthine sister neighborhoods.
Beautifully renovated playgrounds pepper the area, including two in iconic Washington Square Park. Treat spots like cupcakeries and candy shops abound. And while there are no traditional indoor play spaces or kiddie gyms, a family-friendly pool hall, a board game cafe and the Whitney Museum of American Art offer inside amusements when the weather doesn't cooperate. Situated from 14th to Houston Streets between Fifth Avenue and the Hudson River, this westernmost area may be cozy, but it's also packed with so many things to do and places to see, families can spend many days exploring the neighborhoods.
Washington Square Park is the beating heart of Greenwich Village.
Washington Square Park
Waverly Place to West Fourth Street between University Place to Macdougal Street
This 9.75-acre green space has been a community gathering spot for centuries. Named for George Washington, it has served many purposes over the years—it hosted public executions, labor demonstrations and even graves! But today it's a recreational hot spot, with two playgrounds (one for toddlers, the other for bigger kids), a popular play fountain, a hopping dog run, busy chess tables, and lots of room for sunning, picnicking and singing—there always seems to be some sort of street performance going on. The community organization Washington Square Park Conservancy sponsors public events such as he annual Christmas tree lighting and Christmas Eve caroling, which both take place by Stanford White's legendary arch. And FREE Mommy Poppins favorites The Ultimate Science Street Fair in spring and the Greenwich Village Children's Halloween Parade on October 31 also happen here. Plus there are recently renovated year-round bathrooms, so you can comfortably spend a good chunk of your day here.
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The Ultimate Science Street Fair is the biggest family event of the annual World Science Festival.
As you wander through the neighborhood, you'll find other, more modest green spaces that are worth a romp. Bleecker Playground (Hudson and Bleecker Streets to 11th Street) has traditional little-kid equipment and a year-round bathroom, and hosts a seasonal Saturday morning storytime and an annual Halloween Festival. The "secret" Downing Street Playground (Downing Street and Sixth Avenue) is hidden behind a tall brick wall, covered by shade-giving trees and is often empty.
The Village is home to about a mile of Hudson River Park, notably the Pier 51 Play Area (cross at Horatio Street to the Hudson River Greenway), which has fantastic seasonal water features along with climbing structures, slides, a mock boat and benches. James J Walker Park (Hudson Street between Leroy and Clarkson Streets) has a small playground and big-kid ball courts. In summer, the adjacent Tony Dapolito Recreation Center (1 Clarkson Street) opens its public outdoor pool (decorated with an awesome Keith Haring mural) and also screens movies on its rooftop.
If you want to commune with nature, the seasonal Jefferson Market Garden (Greenwich Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets) boasts a variety of flora and also hosts popular annual kid events such as its October Harvest Festival and summertime children's concerts. If you have preschoolers, head to Minetta Playground (Sixth Avenue between Minetta Lane and West Third Street), a small gated romping spot with eye-catching jungle gyms perfect for small limbs.
And you can always climb up on The High Line, which has its southernmost entrance in the West Village at Gansevoort and Washington Streets.
Places to Play Indoors
While the West Village lacks traditional indoor play spaces, there are some fun spots for families to go when it's too rainy/cold/hot to be outside. Pool hall/jazz club Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) is 21 and older after 10pm, but before that all ages are welcome to play Ping-Pong, shuffleboard and billiards. Manhattan's only board game cafe The Uncommons (230 Thompson Street) has snacks and beverages along with Battleship, Boggle, Clue and a slew of other non-digital amusements. For aspiring Bobby Fischers, the Village Chess Shop (82 West Third Street) offers game play and even school holiday camps. The landmarked Jefferson Market Library (425 Sixth Avenue) hosts weekly storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers, plus frequent special events for kids such as movies, live performances and author readings. It's also worth giving your MetroCard an extra swipe so you can check out Life Underground, Brooklyn sculptor Tom Otterness' whimsical display of two dozen bronze figures peppered throughout the A, C, E, L subway station at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue. It makes for a great family scavenger hunt.
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See NYC as a work of art from the Whitney Museum's outdoor terraces.
Of course, the top indoor destination for the area may be the recently opened Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street). Located between the High Line and the Hudson River, the eye-popping building was designed by architect Renzo Piano and it is breathtaking inside and out. Although it's technically located within the official boundaries of the adjacent Meatpacking District, it's a must-include on any West Village itinerary. On any day the culture spot is open, families can check out its thought-provoking exhibits (be sure to ask for a free Kids Activity Guide) and marvel at gorgeous views from its large terraces. However, it's worth planning your visit around one of the Whitney's frequent family programs, including stroller tours, family fun fests, open studio hours, Whitney Wees workshops and sketching sessions. Since this is a hands-off spot, these offerings make your experience much more interactive and engaging, especially for young children.
Special Family Activities
Unlike the spots mentioned above, you can't just drop in to these activities. However, with good timing and a little planning, enhance your Village sojourn by adding one of these awesome cultural outings to your agenda.
From fall to spring, the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Place) hosts live kids' shows as part of its Big Red Chair Family Series. If puppets are more your brood's speed, the stalwart Penny Jones & Co. Puppets presents inexpensive and brief adaptations of famous fairy and folk tales at Westbeth (155 Bank Street). Meanwhile, grown-up indie art house cinema Film Forum (209 West Houston Street) screens Classics for Kids and Their Families on Sunday mornings, from Charlie Chaplin silents to modern favorites such as Elf.
In summer, enjoy FREE outdoor movies at Hudson Riverflicks Family Fridays on Pier 46 (cross at Charles Street to the Hudson River Greenway). Veteran family theater company TheatreworksUSA also presents a FREE summer show at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street).
Because of Greenwich Village's rich history—as one of Manhattan's oldest neighborhoods, it's been home to many famous folks throughout the decades, including writers Dylan Thomas, Edgar Allan Poe, Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac, and actors Alec Baldwin, Uma Thurman and Leonardo DiCaprio—there are a variety of themed tours of the area. Best bets for families are the Kids Greenwich Village Tour and the interactive Secrets of Greenwich Village Scavenger Hunt by Watson Adventures. Keep in mind these tours are pricey, talky and long, so they're definitely for school-age kids.
Where to Shop
Both Greenwich and West Village are filled with high-end designer shops featuring wares and prices guaranteed to stun. But you'll find a more child-centric and wallet-friendly selection at Clementine Consignment (39½ Washington Square South), which specializes in quality, gently used maternity and kids' clothes up to 4T. For toys, costumes and casual duds, hit Bombalulu's (101 West 10th Street), an adorable boutique overflowing with unique onesies, tees, hoodies and handmade dresses, plus wooden and creative playthings. Teich Toys & Books (573 Hudson Street) specializes in eco-friendly, hand-crafted playthings and is a particularly fun store to browse thanks to its life-size wooden toy train play area, book nook and weekly Sunday morning readings by children's authors. If you're looking to multitask, get the kids haircuts and shop for tchotchkes at salon/boutique Doodle Doo's (11 Christopher Street).
Where to Eat
Restaurants with linen tablecloths and salad forks abound, but if you're looking for a place where you don't have to worry about elbows on the table, Cheerios on the floor or high-pitched squeals echoing through the air, consider one of these eateries.
Classic Manhattan diners may be an endangered species but you'll find three in this neighborhood. A block from Washington Square Park, the Washington Square Diner (150 West Fourth Street) hasn't changed in decades. It's got a retro interior, old-school neon signage and massive menu featuring burgers, triple-decker sandwiches and all-day breakfast. A few blocks away, the Waverly Restaurant (385 Sixth Avenue) may have undergone a recent renovation, but it too dishes out greasy-spoon staples. Meanwhile, Silver Spurs (490 Laguardia Place) offers a more modern take on diner grub with healthier salads and paninis alongside junior- or colossal-size burgers.
For more interesting offerings, Noodle Bar (26 Carmine Street) cooks up a variety of Asian dishes made from its namesake carb. Cowgirl (519 Hudson Street) is a personal favorite, with its kitschy Wild West decor, children's menu and activity sheets (including cowgirl paper dolls) and kooky comfort food menu, including barbecue, fried catfish, Cajun fried shrimp and Frito Pie (a bag of chips on chili). And though there's always a line for brunch, The Grey Dog (49 Carmine Street) is a wonderful community spot with omelets, sandwiches, salads, soup and fantastic coffee.
Sweets and Treats
Molly's Cupcakes is a kids' favorite because of its stationary swing seats.
Greenwich Village is like heaven (or hell) for those with a sweet tooth, especially on Bleecker Street. Cupcake Wars winner Molly's Cupcakes (228 Bleecker Street) serves up a wide selection of its signature treats but what kids really love are he swing seats (don't try moving them too much, though; it's against the rules). The original Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker Street) in the West Village goes way beyond cupcakes with pies, cookies, cakes, brownies and icebox pies. Sockerbit (89 Christopher Street right off Bleecker Street) is a sleek Swedish candy shop featuring a smorgasbord of colorful treats like sour gummies, hard candies, licorice chocolates, nougat and marshmallows. Sugar and Plumm (257 Bleecker Street) feels like a Parisian soda fountain with French-themed treats like homemade chocolate Eiffel Towers and colorful macaroons. In the back of the store you'll find the parlor, where you can indulge in smoothies, milk shakes and ice cream sundaes.
Swedish sweet shop Sockerbit has lots of exotic candy.
Speaking of ice cream, the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (61 Grove Street) is a hoot with its delicious (and sometimes hilariously named) flavors and rainbow unicorn mascot. For a slightly healthier frozen option, try popbar's (5 Carmine Street) gelato, sorbetto and yogurt pops.
And you must drop in to the iconic Donut Pub (203 West 14th Street), which has been open since the early 1960s. Although the owners have made concessions to the times (yes, there's a cronut), it's delightfully old New York, with a counter and stools, neon signage and basic varieties like frosted coconut and chocolate. For kids used to Dunkin' Donuts' eats, it's a true treat and the perfect end to a Greenwich Village daycation.
Top photo: The cozy Minetta Playground was completely renovated in 2012.