The tweenage years—it's a tough stage filled with lots of 'tude. As parents, we know they're too old to hold our hands and follow us blindly to the nearest playground...that's way too babyish. But unlike teens, they may not be quite ready to wander around NYC alone for hours without a destination or supervision. That makes planning family outings for this age particularly tricky.
It's challenging to find activities that will entertain you and your tween. That's why this mother of a picky 11-year-old asked her peers and their kids for ideas guaranteed not to prompt one of those infuriating eye rolls. So bark at them to put down whatever gadget they're holding, and try one of these tween-tested-and-approved excursions in NYC.
Explore a Grown-Up Museum
Now that they've officially outgrown all the children's museums, they can better appreciate MoMA, the Met, the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim, and NYC's other world-class art institutions. Of course your sophisticated tween may have already been going to those culture hubs for years. But they've probably never visited The Frick, which doesn't allow visitors under age 10, or Neue Galerie New York, although you must be at least 12 for that one. Meanwhile, the usual haunts offer drop-in activities perfect for tweens, like monthly Saturday Sketching sessions at the Met and the Guggenheim, MoMA's Family Films, which often have tween-specific screenings, and the New Museum's First Saturdays for Families. All of the city's major museums offer creative family activities, and even if they're not tween specific, they're much more sophisticated than arts and crafts, and best appreciated by mature children.
RELATED: NYC Museum Guide for Kids and Families
There's something Lord of the Flies-ish about Governors Island's adventure playground that tweens will love. Photo by Philipp Klaus/courtesy of play:groundNYC.
Hit an Adventure Playground
No swings, no jungle gym, no sandbox, and definitely no pesky toddlers or parents! At play:groundNYC on Governors Island, big kids can craft whatever they want out of wood, nails, saws, hammers, and assorted junk. And since parents and caregivers aren't allowed in (though there are adult playworkers on the premises), it's an exercise in independence, too. NYC's sole adventure playground opened in 2016 and returns to the isle again this summer. While it welcomes kids as young as 5 to the building area, there are always lots of tweens. It's certainly much more creative and challenging than a typical playground, but it's still FREE. And moms and dads, while you can't join your child inside, you are allowed to drop them off, which means you get some of that rare me time as you explore the island's other attractions. Note: Tweens love the isle's massive slides and hammocks, too.
Play Laser Tag
Tell your tween to put down the joystick and jump into a real-life video game with a session of laser tag, which is like tag meets hide-and-seek but played with infrared laser guns in the dark. Your goal: Take out your opponents before they get you by shooting, running, and hiding. There are only a handful of places to play laser tag in NYC, and Indoor Extreme Sports, with locations in Long Island City, Queens and on Staten Island, is definitely the tween favorite because of its themed courses: black ops, zombie, arena, plus no-mess paintball that's played with pellets. There are a few drawbacks, though. You need to make advance reservations and have a minimum of six players on weekdays, eight on weekends. But if it's just your family, you can call ahead to see if there's walk-in availability and the staff may match you with another party.
There's a reason it's an old standby. There are lots of family-friendly bowling spots in NYC, though the swanky Manhattan ones turn into 21-and-up lounges after dark. Modest outer borough alleys, like Brooklyn's Melody Lanes and Shell Lanes, and Queens' Jib Lanes and Whitestone Lanes, tend to be the cheapest and most kid-centric. But state-of-the-art Bowlmor Chelsea Piers offers the most activities to make your tween squeal, including a 3,000-square-foot, NYC-themed laser tag arena featuring replicas of landmarks like the Washington Square Park Arch and the Statue of Liberty, an aerial ropes course, plus Ping-Pong and arcade games.
Play Mini Golf
While there are multiple miniature golf courses in NYC, many tend to be small (nine holes), easy (to accommodate tots), and not as over-the-top and kitschy as their suburban competitors. That's why we were thrilled when Shipwrecked Miniature Golf opened in Red Hook last year. First of all, it's indoors, which means it's open year-round regardless of the weather. Second, it was created by the same guys behind the sadly defunct Holiday Light Spectacular in South Slope. The designers have poured all their creativity and talent into this course, which features 18 holes in six themed rooms (we're partial to that glowing, under the sea one), a kooky pirate story line, and tokens that spark special effects throughout. Bonus: They offer generous coupons on their site, and open early on school holidays.
Go Old-School: Pinball, Arcade Games, and Slot Cars
While NYC seems to be overrun with 21-and-over barcades, there are a few old-school video game havens that are great for families with tweens. Skip Times Square's touristy Dave & Buster's and head down to Chinatown Fair. Overhauled in 2012, this longtime arcade is bursting with adolescents (many unaccompanied so be forewarned!) and games like Ultra Street Fighter, Dance Dance Revolution, and basketball hoops. If your tweens are more into pinball, Modern Pinball boasts more than 30 different machines, from restored classics to newfangled releases. Or go really vintage at Buzz-a-Rama, NYC's sole remaining slot-car racing joint as kids (and parents) navigate their vehicles around a track. It's only open weekends and often closed for parties so call ahead before you go.
RELATED: 13 NYC Activities Even a Teen Will Call On Point
Climb amongst the tree tops right in Queens! Photo by Daniel Avila/courtesy of NYC Parks.
Try Rock Climbing or Zip-Lining
There are lots of family-friendly rock climbing spots in NYC where you can scale the heights with your child. While most are indoors, DUMBO Boulders in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which debuted in 2016 and is only open seasonally, is outdoors and boasts amazing views. But if you really want a heart-pumping alfresco challenge, consider the Alley Pond Park Adventure Course in Queens. A trained professional leads athletes ages 8 and up through a series of team-building challenges, including a low- and high-ropes course, a zip-line, a climbing wall, a trust-fall station, swings, nets and balance platforms. The course is FREE and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis on Sundays, May through November. During July and August, families must register in advance the Monday before the Sunday they want to go.
Try a Board Game Cafe
For less physically demanding play, hit a board game haven. The Brooklyn Strategist hosts workshops in everything from chess to Dungeons & Dragons, as well as drop-in open play sessions for an hourly fee. The Geekery HQ in Astoria boasts a full calendar of collaborative games, too. The Uncommons cafe in Greenwich Village lets you rent games from a huge onsite collection. There's also Brooklyn Game Lab though most of its events require a membership. Strangely, tweens are less likely to complain that they're bored with board games when they play them competitively outside your living room.
Jump, Bounce, and Fly
No, the tweens are not too old for bounce houses—and neither are you! NYC is home to two BounceU locations where gravity-defying folks can jump, bounce, and fall to their heart's content. The Queens outpost has regular family bounce nights while Brooklyn offers all-ages sessions. Want to go even higher? Staten Island is home to NYC's only indoor trampoline park, Fly High. There's nothing the 'burbs have that we don't...except (maybe) affordable housing.
RELATED: Kids' Sports Centers and Indoor Fun Zones
Hit the roller rink on Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by the author.
Twirl Around a Rink
Not too long ago, there was only one outdoor roller rink in all of NYC in Harlem's Riverbank State Park. But then Brooklyn opened rinks in Prospect Park and on Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park so there are now three alfresco places to roller boogie down in style, plus Staten Island's indoor, super-disco RollerJam USA. If that's not cool enough for your family, there are plenty of indoor and seasonal outdoor ice-skating rinks with regular drop-in hours. But somehow roller-skating seems like a better tween option with its funky, retro appeal.
No one in your family needs to be on a team to practice their swing in a batting cage. In Manhattan, you can increase your batting average at Chelsea Piers or the Baseball Center. Queens has The Cage in Middle Village. There are also outdoor cages at the Turtle Cove Golf Center near City Island in the Bronx and Staten Island Go-Karts.
Play Pool and Billiards
While not all NYC pool halls are kid-friendly, we rounded up five that welcome families. Eastside Billiards on the Upper East Side is particularly tween-friendly (and even welcomes kids 12 and up on their own!) during daytime hours. Ping-Pong, Foosball, and Skee-ball are also on offer. Amsterdam Billiards in the East Village is also a popular tween choice because of its arcade games and Ping-Pong.
Party like a rock star at CirKiz. Photo by David Cova/courtesy of CirKiz.
Shake Your Groove Thang at a Family Dance Party
While Babies Loves Disco and Little Club Heads cater to the sippy-cup set, there are a few underage family dance parties that skew a bit older. Created by NYC parents and club scene vets Jesse Sprague and Jenny Song, CirKiz is aimed at 7- to 13-year-olds and features a father-and-son DJ duo spinning electronic music, interactive live performances, and dance contests for prizes. Brooklyn's BRIC House hosts monthly Saturday afternoon house parties. Brooklyn Museum's FREE Target First Saturdays are at night, but always feature a deejay and dancing. And Harlem's roaming Sweet Spot Festival hosts outdoor daytime dance gatherings throughout the summer.
Hit a High-Tech Megastore
Considering how much time your tweens probably spend on screens at home, this may be the last thing you want to do—especially considering everything is for sale. But the fact is, tweens could spend hours in the recently revamped Nintendo World Store or any of the ever-multiplying Apple Stores messing with games, gadgets, and apps. Just make sure if you go, they bring their own wallets. You plan the outing, they make the purchases.
Top photo: Rock climb under the Brooklyn Bridge at The Cliffs. Photo courtesy of DUMBO Boulders.