I thank my lucky stars for the incredible cultural opportunities living in New York City offers my kids. But sometimes I fret over the disconnect from the natural world, especially since my mom was a certified country girl.
I want my three kids to be as comfortable in the country as they are in the urban jungle. So we're always looking for ways to get out of NYC and explore the expansive farmland that borders the city. While you can meet some furry friends at the city's wonderful zoos, and even feed them at places like Prospect Park Zoo, there's something special about getting a bit closer, or enjoying that farm setting. We've rounded up nine petting zoos or animal havens to get some serious face time with furry friends—whether you're petting a donkey, bottle-feeding a baby goat, hand-feeding a giraffe, or letting a lorikeet land on your shoulder.
Here are our favorite spots for an up-close animal encounter, all within two hours of NYC.
New York City
No pets allowed at your apartment? Cuddle with the guinea pigs at The Art Farm.
The Art Farm in the City – Upper East Side, Manhattan
419 East 91st Street
You need not jump in a car to reach this city petting zoo. A herd of small animals. including bunnies, guinea pigs, chinchillas, lizards, turtles, birds, tropical fish, and more make their homes at The Art Farm. On occasion, it hosts bigger barnyard-type animals, too. Drop-in programs allow you to get an occasional animal fix, though you can sign up for classes, playgroups or even host your kid's birthday party here. Animal snuggles are always included.
Queens County Farm Museum – Floral Park, Queens
73-50 Little Neck Parkway
The most budget-friendly pick on our list, the Queens County Farm Museum generally offers free admission. Festival dates, such as the upcoming Harvest Festival, do require admission, but also offer lots of fun. During non-festival dates, visitors can peruse the 47-acre grounds and purchase feed to share with the resident goats. You can spot pigs, chickens, cows, sheep, and honeybees. Weekend visitors can take a tour of the historic farmhouse, and seasonal hayrides are offered.
Sheep and goat eagerly gobble up the feed from kids' hands at Alstede Farms. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala.
Alstede Farms – Chester, New Jersey
1 Alstede Farms Lane
About one hour by car from Midtown Manhattan, also accessible via NJ Transit
This New Jersey farm takes the cake when it comes to family-friendly fun. We're always recommending it for pick-your-own pumpkins, strawberries, apples, and more. But equally as impressive is its barnyard full of furry animals waiting to greet guests for FREE. There's no admission fee to see the animals. Pack a lunch for the farm animals—think carrots, lettuce, and apples—or purchase a handful of pellet feed from machines located around the farm area. Tip: Bring quarters. Peek a rabbits, pigs, chickens, and ducks, too. In addition to its year-round farm fun, Alstede gets bonus points for accessibility: Car-free families can hop on New Jersey Transit to the Gladstone Station and take a cab or the FREE Historic Chester Courtesy Coach to the farm.
Demarest Farms – Hillsdale, New Jersey
244 Wierimus Road
About 40 minutes by car from Midtown Manhattan
Demarest is the closest out-of-state farm to Manhattan. A short drive from the George Washington Bridge and you'll be enveloped in rural fun. Kids can feed the friendly animals in the barnyard, while mom and dad will appreciate the farm stand with its fresh salad bar, rotating array of homemade soups, and other seasonal goodies.
Secor Farms – Mahwah, New Jersey
85 Airmont Avenue
About 40 minutes by car from Midtown Manhattan
While you might visit this spot—one of our favorite pumpkin farms—to pick out a perfect jack o' lantern, be sure to stick around for and hang with the animals. Feed is available for purchase in the farm store, and photo-ops abound with the ducks, goats, sheep, alpaca, and cows that call Secor home.
Long Island Game Farm – Manorville, New York
489 Chapman Boulevard
About 1 hour and 40 minutes by car from Midtown Manhattan
This game park is open seasonally from mid-April to mid-October. A visit here will get you up close and personal with wild, exotic creatures as well as the usual barnyard friends. Kids can hand-feed the resident giraffe and a pair of friendly camels. There's a forest dubbed "Bambiland," where deer will sidle up to you for a treat, as well as opportunities to feed goats, llamas, alpacas, and a donkey by hand, or bottle-feed the littlest residents in the nursery. Pony rides are offered, as well as a small selection of carnival-style amusement park rides.
Schmitt's Farms – Melville, New York
26 Pinelawn Road
About 50 minutes by car from Midtown Manhattan
Schmitt's is known for its nighttime entertainment, but daytime hours mean family-friendly fun and furry friends. Goats, bunnies, and chickens will welcome your kids into the barnyard. Other fall family fun includes hayrides, time on the playground, pumpkin picking, and a jaunt through the corn maze.
Feed the parrots at White Post Farms' free-flight aviary.
White Post Farms – Melville, New York
250 Old Country Road
About 50 minutes by car from midtown Manhattan
White Post Farms on Long Island is almost a mini zoo. It hosts a variety of animals domestic and exotic, including a baby giraffe. In addition to feeding barnyard friends, plan to visit the aviary, where you can hand-feed small parrots, including budgies, lorikeets, and cockatiels as the fly overhead. Beyond animal fun, there are seasonal attractions such as water slides to enjoy, as well as hayrides and animal shows on weekends. Beware: White Post Farms is a cash-only business, but ATMs are on site. Register for its email list to collect money-saving coupons.
Catskills Animal Sanctuary – Saugerties, New York
316 Old Stage Road
About 2 hours by car from Midtown Manhattan
Mingle with rescued farm animals like Amos and Jessie, the cows, and Sister Mary Frances, a potbelly pig, at this 110-acre sanctuary in New York's Hudson Valley. Seasonal weekend tours are offered to the public, while members and groups can attend year-round. Overnight stays, a summer camp, and other event options are available, too. While the animals are friendly, organizers ask that visitors refrain from feeding them during your hourlong tour. Head into town to pick up a treat at Hudson Valley Dessert Company, or any number of the great restaurants that fill the walkable river town of Saugerties.
Looking for more fun on the farm? You'll find it in our Pick-Your-Own Guide, which offers plenty of farm destinations within the tristate area.
Top image: The barnyard animals at Alstede Farms are laid-back and happy to mingle with kids. Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy of the farms.