Worth It? Family Memberships in NYC to Consider for Winter
After visiting NYC's top play spaces, museums, and other fun zones, we've rounded up the various membership deals at popular kid-centric destinations. These places keep your kids entertained, active, and out of the cold. Some even offer short-term memberships, so you only have to pay until spring arrives.
In the dead of winter, it can be daunting to schlep somewhere new every weekend, so a membership to one (or two) of your favorite kid play spots makes sense. We've already done the math so you'll know exactly how many visits it takes until these investments pay off—and whether or not the "deal" works for your family. If the math doesn't work out for you, consider buying one of the play spaces' bulk passes instead, which usually knocks a few bucks off the daily drop-in price.
Indoor Play Spaces
Check out the NYC theme at Apple Seeds indoor playground. Photo courtesy of Apple Seeds
Apple Seeds – Chelsea
10 West 25th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue
The spectacular indoor playground at Apple Seeds is decked out with NYC-themed stations with features such as a New York City apartment and taxi cab, Lego table and, our favorite, a magnet wall. There's also a sports gym with tiny hoops for shooting, mats, tunnels, and padded stairs to climb and crawl on, and more. Membership grants full access to both locations. If your home is close to Peter Cooper Village, consider a membership to Oval Kids by Apple Seeds, which runs just $67 per month, but does not include the other Apple Seeds facilities.
Drop-in price: This is a members-only facility.
Membership: $136-$168 per month
Payoff: It is difficult to calculate the payoff, because there is no per-visit cost as it is members only. It also depends on how much you partake in the classes and other perks of membership, including discounts to local theater. New members receive a credit for classes and birthday bookings, too. But if we take the cheaper membership option ($136), you'd need to visit around six times a month to get the price down to around $20 per visit, which is the rough going rate for visits to Manhattan play spaces with drop-in play. So, if you plan to be there multiple times a week, this is definitely worth it.
Cooking with friends at City Owlet. Photo by Sydney Ng
City Owlets – Long Island City, Queens
10-42 Jackson Avenue
This play cafe offers a host of nooks to play in, each overflowing with toys, from an area all about wheels (hello car-and-train enthusiasts), to a walk-in closet full of dress up things, and a sensory spot just for wee tots. There's an on-site espresso bar for weary parents, too, where kids can also snag a snack once they've worked up an appetite.
Drop-in price: $25 for one child, $10 for siblings
Membership: $175 per month
Payoff: Visit seven times a month to make this membership worthwhile.
The Heimbold Family Children’s Playing & Learning Center – Murray Hill
Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, at 38th Street
Inspired by early childhood centers in Scandinavia, this redesigned play space is divided into two sections, a sensory area and an active play zone with Legos, Brio trains, costumes, and a giant mushroom house.
Drop-in price: $15 per child on Saturdays only
Membership: $500 annual membership
Payoff: Since non-members can only visit on Saturday afternoons, and pay $15 per session, this membership is definitely worth it for families hoping to take advantage of this unique play space on weekdays. You'll earn back your membership with 34 visits a year and also have access to regular members-only events and classes.
New York City Recreation Centers – Citywide
Though not exactly play spaces, the Parks Department's indoor rec centers are great places to romp around. They're cheaper than a gym and totally kid-friendly. While facilities and activities vary by location, most offer indoor ball courts, dance and art studios, computer rooms, fitness equipment, and even pools.
Drop-in price: These are members-only facilities.
Membership: $100-150 for adults annually, $25 for ages 18-24 and 62 and older, free for children younger than 18
Payoff: The rec centers vary in quality, so it's important to check your local spot out before joining. An annual membership does grant you access to all city rec centers. Opt for the $150 level if you want access to indoor pools. You can snag a six-month membership for half price, and kids are always FREE. Another bonus: An IDNYC will save you 10 percent, too.
The Playroom NYC – Upper East Side
1439 First Avenue at 75th Street
This Manhattan spot offers open play seven days a week. The 3,000-square-foot facility focuses on the under-5 set and offers a climbing structure, padded room for crawlers, plenty of dress-up gear, and an imaginative-play bodega.
Drop-in price: $35
Membership: $250 per month; price breaks for longer memberships. A three-month pass is $700 and valid only for one child.
Payoff: Visit 20 times over three months to cover the cost of your membership.
PLAY – Greenpoint, Brooklyn
33 Nassau Avenue, between Guernsey and Dobbin Streets
This play space is a great option for preschoolers, with a small play structure, floor tunnels, toddler toys, a pretend kitchen, tumbling mats, musical instruments, and a dedicated baby area.
Drop-in price: $23 for first child, $12 for siblings
Membership: $140 per month
Payoff: Visit six times a month to make it worthwhile.
Recess – Dumbo, Brooklyn
81 Washington Street, between Front and York Streets
This unique venue is a haven for the under-5 crowd. It features custom-made wooden structures and netting perfect for climbing and exploring.
Drop-in price: $30 for first child, $20 for siblings
Membership: Seasonal membership (January 1-April 30) available for $695
Payoff: Visit at least seven times in a month to make it worthwhile.
Toddler Gym at Chelsea Piers – Chelsea
Field House at Chelsea Piers, Pier 62, at 23rd Street and Hudson River Park
Children ages 6 months to 4 years can slide, climb, and crawl through a big play structure, and dive into the much-loved ball pit.
Drop-in price: $12 per session
Membership: $150 per month for unlimited play
Payoff: Visit 13 times in a month to make it worthwhile. Another option: Buy five-play sessions for $50.
Tot Town – Crown Heights, Brooklyn
636 Classon Avenue
This preschool paradise has wowed visitors young and old thanks to creature comforts such as free Wi-Fi and cozy seating for adults.
Drop-in price: $28 for the first child for all-day play
Membership: $195 per month for one child for a basic membership
Payoff: With one child, you'd have to visit seven times per month, but up to two hours monthly can be supervised. In other words, you can drop your child off for supervised play while you run errands, clean your apartment, or take a nap. In our opinion, that's priceless. Membership also comes with some free classes.
The grocery store at Twinkle Playspace offers a wonderland of discovery. Photo courtesy of the playspace
Twinkle Playspace – Williamsburg, Brooklyn
144 Frost Street, between Graham and Manhattan Avenues
This 4,500-square-foot imaginarium for children younger than 6 features a variety of interactive activity stations, including a castle, firehouse, and grocery store.
Drop-in price: $35 per session
Membership: $300 for three months of unlimited play
Payoff: Visit nine times in three months to make it worthwhile. Got more than one child? A three-month family membership for up to four kids is $450.
Before we discuss museum memberships, we want to mention the Association of Science-Technology Centers' Passport Program, which potentially gets you no-cost admission to hundreds of museums around the world. Many NYC museums take part, which means a membership at one may get you FREE general admission at others. The Brooklyn Children's Museum, New York Transit Museum, New York Hall of Science, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, MoMath, and the Staten Island Children's Museum are all part of the ASTC Passport Program. However, rules vary by institution so be sure to inquire about the restrictions on the ASTC Passport Program before purchasing a membership. There are also discount benefits to NYC institutions that come with the IDNYC card.
American Museum of Natural History – Upper West Side
Central Park West at 79th Street
Sure, it's always mobbed with families, but with great reason. It's a world-class museum with countless enriching exhibits and attractions, namely dinosaurs(!), and even a Discovery Room for more hands-on fun.
General Admission (suggested): $23 for adults, $13 for children ages 2–12 with additional fees for special exhibits
Membership: There are a variety of family memberships with different benefits. However, if you choose the least-expensive option, $150 gets you free general admission and special-exhibit tickets for a year for two adults and four kids.
Payoff: Since general admission is only suggested, it's hard to say exactly how much you save as a member. However, special-exhibit tickets are sold at a set rate (and chances are you want to see them), a family of four must visit just twice in a year to make it worthwhile.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum – Crown Heights, Brooklyn
145 Brooklyn Avenue, at St. Marks Avenue
A major family favorite, this hands-on tot spot features interactive stations for a range of ages, from the preschoolers-only Totally Tots area to the vibrant World Brooklyn exhibit, featuring replicas of well-known local businesses.
Admission: $11 for ages 1 and older
Membership: There are a variety of family memberships with different benefits. However, if you go for the least expensive option, $130 gets you free general admission for a year for two adults and four kids. Opt for the Passport-level membership for $195 and you'll be able to visit the new SPARK play space in Dumbo, too.
Payoff: A family of four must visit three times in a year to make it worthwhile.
Children’s Museum of Manhattan – Upper West Side
212 West 83rd Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue
Always abuzz with activity, this children’s museum offers five floors of exploration, including the PlayWorks level, featuring a pretend fire truck, grocery store, art area, sand table, and play structure.
Admission: $14 for ages 1 and older
Membership: There are a variety of family memberships with different benefits. However, if you select the least-expensive option, $225 gets you free admission for a year for two adults and four kids, plus discounts at lots of local tot spots.
Payoff: A family of four must visit five times in a year to make it worthwhile, plus you get discounts on classes and at local businesses.
Children’s Museum of the Arts – Hudson Square
103 Charlton Street, between Hudson and Greenwich Streets
With its hands-on art stations, CMA is fun for kids of all ages, whether or not they're creative (though aren't they all?).
Admission: $13 for ages 1 and older
Membership: $250 for an annual family membership
Payoff: A family of four must visit five times in a year to make it worthwhile, plus you get access to exclusive events and discounts on classes.
New York Hall of Science – Corona, Queens
47-01 111th Street, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
With more than 400 STEM-themed stations, exhibits, demos, and activities, NYSCI is fun and enriching. From its Preschool Place installation to its more mature Design Lab, the museum offers attractions for all ages, and hosts loads of special events from the World Maker Faire to Gingerbread Lane Workshops.
Admission: $16 for adults, $13 for children ages 2-17 with additional fees for special attractions such as mini-golf and 3D movies
Membership: There are a variety of family memberships with different benefits. The least expensive option, $100, gets you free general admission for a year for two adults and four kids, plus discounts on special offerings like Maker Faire.
Payoff: After just two visits in a year, a family of four has already saved. But opt for the $250 Family Explorer membership and get extra benefits such as admission to Rocket Park Mini Golf, the Science Playground, and 3D theater.
New-York Historical Society – Upper West Side
170 Central Park West
Visit the DiMenna Children's History Museum here, or one of the many rotating family-friendly exhibits we've seen in recent months. Plus, this is a great viewing spot for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon inflation festivities, which members get an invite to.
Admission: $21 for adults, $13 for students, $6 for children ages 5-13; free for 4 and under
Membership: A family membership is $160 and includes unlimited admission for all kids under the age of 18, plus that invite to the balloon inflation party, and more cool events.
Payoff: If you are a family of three it pays off in just over three visits, a family of four in just under three visits, depending on the age of your kids. Tots, of course, are FREE all the time, so you may want to just buy the individual membership at $90 or the dual at $125. If you have teens, though, it pays off even sooner as they would be paying the student price.
Staten Island Children’s Museum – Richmond Terrace, Staten Island
1000 Richmond Terrace in Snug Harbor
Part of the historic Snug Harbor Cultural Center, this children’s museum offers plenty of hands-on fun, including a bug room, life-size game pieces, and various imaginative play stations.
Admission: $8 for ages 1 and older
Membership: $85 for an annual "familyship"
Payoff: A family of four must visit three times in a year to make it worthwhile. Although the museum is part of the ASTC Passport Program, no-cost admission isn't offered at museums within 90 miles.
Creativity shines at Sugar Hill Children's Museum. Photo by Janet Bloom
Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art & Storytelling – Harlem
898 St. Nicholas Avenue, at 155th Street
This arts-focused children's museum is part gallery, part creative space, and fun, family-friendly programming dominates the scene. The space is cavernous and kids aren't discouraged from romping (within reason). On a recent visit, we created plenty of art in the studio, built hula hoops in the living room, and staged a dance party, too. No one batted an eye.
Admission: $7 for adults; $4 for children ages 9 to 17; FREE for those younger than 8
Membership: Family memberships start at $100 for a family of four
Payoff: Because this museum is so reasonably priced if you have little kids, you'd have to visit seven times in a year to get your money's worth. The space is cool; the galleries rotate regularly, and there are plenty of art supplies for kids and adults.
The Madagascar exhibit at the Bronx Zoo features a host of lemur species. Photo by Julie Larsen Mahar for WCS
Wildlife Conservation Society – Citywide
A WCS membership grants you access to four zoos (the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo) plus the New York Aquarium for one year. While some zoo animals may be hiding indoors or off exhibit this time of the year, a visit to the Bronx Zoo's Jungle World, Central Park's Tropic Zone, or the sharks exhibit at the aquarium just may cure your cabin fever on a cold day.
Admission: From $5 to $20.95 for children; $8 to $28.95 for adults, depending on location
Membership: A basic family membership is $260 and covers two adults and up to four children for one year. A $300 family plus membership covers admission, plus access to special exhibits at the Bronx Zoo.
Payoff: Visit the Bronx Zoo three times in a year and you've covered the cost of your premium membership. Visits to all the other zoos and the aquarium are just icing on the cake.
A version of this post was published in 2017; it is updated annually.