12 Unforgettable Experience Gifts for Kids in and Around NYC
It's no secret that little kids mean lots of gear, clothes, and toys—and the stuff only multiplies as your children and family grow. So, rather than going for broke buying all the latest toys and tech, consider gifting your kids an unforgettable only-in-New-York experience for their next milestone birthday.
Whether you've got tough-to-impress teens or preschoolers with more toys than they know what to do with, we've got a dozen ideas for experience gifts for kids in and around NYC.
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1. Enjoy an Up-Close Animal Encounter
Animal Planet's series The Zoo goes behind the scenes at NYC's beloved Bronx Zoo and is must-see TV in our house—it's hard not to fall in love with the animal ambassadors. Consider gifting your kid with a Wild Encounter of their own. The price is about $300 for a group of six people for 30 minutes. You can have a private encounter with a giraffe, penguin, cheetah, sloth, or opt for a surprise visitor. Experiences are available for kids as young as 3, though the minimum age for most Wild Encounters is 6. Whether you opt for a private animal connection or book the Animal Ambassador Tour, which includes a hosted cart tour of the grounds, magic awaits. Make sure your camera is ready for all the memorable moments.
2. Nab a Legoland Season Pass
Legoland Resort is now open for the summer, and season passes are a splurge-worthy gift for the Lego lover in your life. It's also the gift that keeps on giving, guaranteeing you access to all the happenings in the resort's first 12 months.
Give your kids the gift of some of the best theater in the world, like the mind-blowing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which returns to Broadway in November 2021. Photo courtesy of the production
3. See a Splurge-Worthy Stage Show
Though Broadway is still dark, it's time to start planning your fall return to the Great White Way. All three of my little New Yorkers have already ventured to Broadway for their first show—and each has been magical in its own way. Though I saw The Lion King, Annie, and Frozen from some pretty excellent seats, my eyes were more drawn to each of their little faces, watching their eyes dance as they took in the spectacle unfolding on stage. It was as much a gift to myself as to them.
4. Bounce Sky High
While the big indoor fun zones within city limits are much heavier on bounce houses than trampoline parks, there are several spots nearby where kids can spend the day jumping off their sugar high. Consider a visit to Ridge Hill's Rockin' Jump or several other high-flying spots in New Jersey, Westchester, and the Hudson Valley.
Canoe or swim in the many lakes and rivers in the Poconos. Photo courtesy of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau
5. Book an Overnight Getaway
You may not be able to jet off, but a night or two at a nearby hotel might be well within your budget. We've got tons of ideas on our family travel page, including picks for the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley, the Poconos, and more East Coast destinations. Even better if your hotel comes with extra perks, like indoor water parks or quirky attractions.
6. Enjoy a Staycation in the City
An overnight in an NYC hotel can feel pretty special, especially if you order room service! We have tons of family-friendly hotel picks with serious kid perks, from indoor campouts to heated rooftop pools. A bit further afield, you can find a slew of family-friendly hotels for a New York state staycation, and some even have ultra-cool pools.
Explore the massive, out-of-the-ordinary American Dream Mall. Photo by Jody Mercier
7. Explore American Dream
The American Dream Mall, across the river from NYC, brings a slew of kid-friendly attractions. Spend your morning exploring the Nickelodeon Universe indoor theme park with 35 rides and attractions, plus plenty of familiar characters like Dora. You can skate on the NHL-sized indoor rink, and even hit the (indoor) slopes. There's also an indoor water park, Sea Life Aquarium, Legoland Discovery Center, and acres more shopping, eats, and entertainment. Bonus: You can get there without a car.
8. Join a Museum
It's no secret NYC overflows with family-friendly museums, and whether your kid has already established a favorite or not, a family membership guarantees a year of visits, special access like tickets to live shows and traveling exhibitions, and perhaps the best gift of all: family time.
9. Sleep Under the Big Blue Whale
Speaking of museums, one of our favorite ways to see them is with an after-hours sleepover. While these programs are currently suspended, it's worth holding onto the idea for a later date. You can slumber at the American Museum of Natural History or several unique city locations that host special overnight slumber parties year-round. You can go on a Family Overnight Safari at the Bronx Zoo, sleep with the sharks at the New York Aquarium, or sleep over at NYSCI or The Intrepid. What you might lose in sleep on one of these group outings, you'll make up for in memories. If you just can't wait to camp out, consider entering the lottery for a city overnight with the Urban Park Rangers. It's FREE, but the memories are priceless.
Learn to ski at Thunder Ridge Ski Area. Photo courtesy of the ski area
10. Hit the Slopes
For a winter birthday or even the holidays, gift an outing to a nearby ski resort for some quality snow time. Check out our post about our favorite ski spots. Many places offer snow tubing or sledding, too, and some ski resorts near NYC are even reachable without a car.
Book a cake decorating class at NY Cake Academy. Photo by Jody Mercier
11. Book a Class
The gift that keeps on giving, classes for kids are the perfect way to invest in your child's passions. For my daughter's 10th birthday, we gave her a week of cooking classes. She came away with a binder of recipes, newfound kitchen confidence, and a killer knack for making roasted potatoes. The help at dinnertime has been appreciated! If your kid is more at home in the studio than the kitchen, consider art classes. Other options include riding lessons, gymnastics classes, and countless other options in our Classes Guide.
12. Hit a Homer with a Baseball Lover's Tour
Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field offer behind-the-scenes tours of NYC's biggest baseball shrines. Though public tours are on hold at both stadiums, you can book a private, behind-the-scenes birthday bash. You'll get to glimpse the locker rooms, sit in the press box, pose like a Major Leaguer in the dugout, and more. Each stadium has its own self-contained museum, too, and you'll get plenty of time to peruse the memorabilia, whether your little slugger goes crazy for pinstripes or bleeds orange and blue.
Originally published in November 2019.