C'mon Summer: 50 Things We Can't Wait to Do During Summer 2021 in NYC

Hit the shores at one of our favorite NYC beaches, Jacob Riis, for summer 2021 fun. Photo by Sara Marentette
Hit the shores at one of our favorite NYC beaches, Jacob Riis, for summer 2021 fun. Photo by Sara Marentette

Take heart: The finish line to this long, strange school year is in sight, and summer is on the horizon. It's bound to look a lot different than last year—in the best possible way—with reopenings and max capacity the norm. While we're keeping masks and hand sanitizer at the ready, we're anticipating a return to normalcy with adventurous summer camp days and afternoons to while away at our favorite playgrounds and spraygrounds.

We're officially summer dreaming, and you're the beneficiary. We're sharing our list of 50 things we can't wait to do this summer. Our picks are a mix of annual favorites—particularly ones we missed last year—and new openings, plus more seasonal happenings that prove the best vacation may just be a staycation.

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1. Visit Lady Liberty

We know the tourists are back in full force, but it's OK to join them for a day and visit the Statue of Liberty and the on-site Statue of Liberty Museum; don't forget to save time for Ellis Island!

2. Catch a Flick

Blow bedtime to hit the drive-in for family movie night. Likewise, movie theaters are back, and outdoor movies are popping up, too.

Kids take in the view from the Governors Island Ferry
Hop aboard the ferry to Governors Island. Photo by Sara Marentette

3. Go to Governors Island

Following a shortened 2020, our favorite summertime playground is open for its full season. Hop the ferry to explore all the FREE, fun, family-friendly programming, including the City Volcano Lab and The Yard.

4. Row a Boat

Go kayaking or canoeing in New York Harbor. We're particularly fond of Red Hook Boaters at Valentino Park Pier. Follow up with a visit to Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie.

5. Enjoy a Round-the-World Food Feast

Munch your way through the international eats at the Queens Night Market or the Bronx Night Market.

RELATED: How to Get to NYC Beaches by Ferry or Train

Girl under Yayoi Kusama installation at NYBG
The funky, brightly colored artwork of Yayoi Kusama provides eye candy for all ages. Photo by author

6. See Kusama

Yayoi Kusama's takeover of the NYBG continues through the fall, so book your tickets to visit (or re-visit!). The Infinity Mirrored Room opens to visitors in August, and tickets for that experience go on sale Thursday, June 24. Of course, there are plenty more things to explore during your visit.

7. Explore Industry City

Drop into the Brooklyn enclave to enjoy its array of international eats, family-friendly events, and tons of cool retail, including the latest outpost of Powerhouse Books.

8. Hit The High Line

Visit The High Line—reservations required on weekends only—and then explore the rainbow pipefish who calls Chelsea Waterside Playground home nearby.

Kids in the water at Jacob Riis Beach
NYC might be a big city, but it's also got some pretty amazing beaches. Photo by Sara Marentette

9. Hit the Shores

Swipe your MetroCard and catch a train to the beach, or for more adventure, hop a ferry.

10. Take a Plunge

Dive into one of the city's FREE public pools, which are all opening for summer 2021 on Saturday, June 26.

11. Play in Brooklyn Bridge Park

It's hard to beat a day on the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We love exploring its fabulous playgrounds, want to revisit the Pier 2 Uplands for some splashing, and then finish with a waterfront dinner overlooking the skyline at Fornino.

RELATED: Easy New York State Park Hikes in the Hudson Valley

Little Island
Little Island gives New Yorkers a unique, new green space for summer fun. Photo by Liz Ligon

12. Explore Little Island

We were blown away by Little Island, NYC's floating park, and its lineup of (mostly FREE!) entertainment and events.

13. Frolic in a Fountain

When the temperatures spike, these kid-friendly play fountains are easier than a trip to the pool or beach. We can't wait to visit the new mega Fountain of the Fairs in Flushing Meadows Park.

14. See the Sparklers

Remember 2020's week of pop-up fireworks courtesy of Macy's? Well, that's a thing of the past. The show will be back in a big way this summer, and we promise to update our annual Macy's Fourth of July fireworks post as soon as details are announced. Pro tip: If you want to take a fireworks cruise: book now!

Display at Harry Potter New York
Visit Harry Potter New York for photo-ops, Butterbeer, and plenty of magical products. Photo by the author

15. Hang With Harry Potter

The long-awaited Harry Potter New York is now open, so go experience the magic for yourself.

16. Enjoy a Queens Daycation

Explore the waterfront communities of Queens, from the stunning views at Hunter's Point Park South to the artful Socrates Sculpture Garden and its surroundings. Then, stick around after dark to see what's playing at Radial Park.

17. See Shakespeare

Broadway may still be dark, but The Public Theater is back in residence at Central Park's Delacorte Theater with an adaptation of the Merry Wives of Windsor, while Classical Theater of Harlem mounts its take on Richard III at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem.

RELATED: Best Jersey Shore Beaches for Families: Sandy Hook to Cape May

View of the Coney Island shore from the water
It's not summer in NYC without a trip to Coney Island. Photo courtesy of NYCGo

18. Visit Coney Island

Walk the boardwalk at Coney Island, indulge in carnival eats, fly high on new rides at Luna Park and Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, and visit the NY Aquarium to get an up-close view of the sharks and see the revamped Spineless exhibit.

19. Boogie in Brooklyn

Dance away the evening at the annual BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival.

20. Pitch a Tent

The Urban Park Rangers' popular city parks camping program returns. Register for the lottery to vie for your spot to sleep under the (invisible) city stars.

Two girls on granite slide at Billy Johnson Playground in Central Park
You can't beat the slide at Billy Johnson Playground. Photo by the author

21. Romp in Central Park

Check out our parent-tested list of Central Park's top playgrounds or explore these more off-the-beaten-path picks.

22. Hit the Sandbox

Build a sandcastle at one of these destination sandboxes.

23. See the GREEN

Head to Lincoln Center to see its stunning transformation into an urban green space, and stick around for live performances in its sprawling outdoor venue, dubbed Restart Stages.

RELATED: Best Things to Do in Coney Island With Kids: Luna Park, Aquarium, Beach, Mermaids

Two boys eating ice cream
Beat the heat with a trip to a favorite ice cream shop! Photo by Sara Marentette

24. Indulge in a Sweet Treat

Turn down the heat with a sweet treat from one of the mom-and-pop ice cream shops within the five boroughs. Some of our favorites: Harlem's Sugar Hill Creamery, the ever-growing local chain, Ample Hills Creamery, and Brooklyn's Blue Marble. Another option: Check out one of these convenient-to-the-playground scoop shops.

25. Romp in (Another) New Green Space

While playgrounds were off-limits for much of last summer, construction didn't slow. We're having a hard time keeping track of all the new places to play. We've already tried out 10 new playgrounds, peeped the amazing overhaul of Betsy Head Park, seen the upgrades at Riverside Park South, and wandered through Waterline Square.

26. Go for a Spin

Most of NYC's carousels and merry-go-rounds are back up and spinning. We're particularly excited to take a spin on the long-shuttered SeaGlass Carousel.

The climbing wall at Area 53 Adventure Park
Area 53 has plenty of attractions, including an epic climbing wall. Photo by Diana Kim

27. Tap Into Your Sense of Adventure

Visit the action-packed Area 53 Adventure Park, which offers a trio of locations with big-kid attractions like paintball, laser tag, and ropes courses. Another cool new all-ages spot to play: New York Ninja Academy.

28. See the Stacks

While we're grateful for all the FREE programming local libraries provided during the height of the pandemic, we're so happy select branches are ready for browsing! We're particularly excited for the brand new Greenpoint Library and Environmental Center, which provides much more than a place to borrow books!

29. Ride a Bicycle

Whether you opt to explore the Empire State Trail, which runs from Lower Manhattan all the way to Canada, or hit a more local path, dust off your two-wheeler and get outside.

30. Take a Brick-tastic Road Trip

The long-awaited Legoland New York is now open and offering discounted tickets, so hit the road to Goshen to explore six of its seven themed lands, see yourself in Mini-Figure form, ride the coasters, explore Mini-Land, and much more.

RELATED: Family-Friendly Campgrounds Near NYC for Summer 2021 Camping

Two Girls enjoy Bryant Park's reading room
Bryant Park has great children's programming during the summer months. Photo by Jody Mercier

31. Bask in Bryant Park

Enjoy a green oasis in Midtown's Bryant Park, with its reading room, game nook, pingpong tables, Picnic Performances, and more.

32. Hit the Links

Play a game of putt-putt at these local mini-golf courses, including a brand new outpost opening on the Brooklyn waterfront.

33. Climb the Walls

We loved the new supersized bouldering gym in Harlem, but you can climb at various spots both inside and out.

Kids gaze out the window on the NYC Ferry
Commuting is part of the adventure when you hop on the NYC ferry. Photo by Sara M.

34. Catch a Ferry

Whether you opt for the FREE Staten Island Ferry and stick around to explore the oft-forgotten borough when you get off or hop aboard the NYC Ferry, a boat ride is a fun way to transport yourself to a day of adventure!

35. Hang Out in Dumbo

This family-friendly 'hood is poised for a summer comeback with its "Daily Dose of Dumbo" programming series. Highlights for families include a Monday night game night series courtesy of Dumbo Station and kid-friendly activities and a live DJ set on Thursdays all summer long.

36. Sing-Along to a Concert

Tis the summer for outdoor entertainment, and our collection of alfresco concerts is growing by the day.

RELATED: Drive-In Movie Theaters in and Near NYC For Summer 2021

Little boy poses in front of Calder sculpture at MoMA
See the work of Alexander Calder at MoMA all summer long. Photo by Diana Kim

37. Reacquaint Yourself With Museum Mile & Beyond

Our world-class museums are back, and many are offering FREE admission deals, though you may have to book a reservation to visit. See the whimsical art of Alexander Calder at MoMA or larger-than-life pop-art from KAWS at the Brooklyn Museum. We're overjoyed CMOM is fully reopened and are looking forward to revisiting old favorites like MoMI, The Intrepid (both open now!), and MoMath (opening Thursday, July 1).

38. See Outdoor Public Art

You don't have to pay museum admission to see cool art. Here are some of our favorite local pieces in view now, including Ghost Trees, in Madison Square Park; Brighter Days in City Hall Park; and the Riverside Park-wide Re: Growth.

39. Immerse Yourself in an Exhibition

From Artechouse in the Chelsea Market to a pair of immersive Van Gogh exhibitions, large-scale, technologically enhanced, projection-style art is having a moment, and we're ready to let it envelop us.

Azurite Malachite in the remodeled Mignone Hall of Gems at AMNH
See the sparkling specimens, like this azurite malachite, at the remodeled Mignone Hall of Gems at the American Museum of Natural History. D.Finnin/AMNH

40. Sparkle and Glow at AMNH

We have always loved the American Museum of Natural History, but this summer, we're crushing on it because it's opened a kid-friendly vaccination clinic under its iconic whale, its Mignone Hall of Gems reopens following a renovation with a jewel-inspired installation and two giant geodes, and Creatures of Light introduces New Yorkers big and small to extortionary organisms that glow.

41. Crack a Book

IRL story times are starting to return. Catch Stories on the Stoop at the Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling; hit the Randall's Island Urban Farm for a Boogie Down Storytime; attend a summer-long series outside the New Lots Library or in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

42. Dine Outside

While outdoor dining has become a year-round affair, these restaurants with kid-friendly backyards in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens are a sweet summertime treat.

RELATED: The 25 Best Spraygrounds and Sprinklers For NYC Kids

Girl picking strawberries at Alstede Farms
Alstede Farm offers plenty of agri-entertainment all season long. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala

43. Hit the Farm

It may be high season for strawberries, but you can find farm-fresh produce to pick all season long in our Guide to Farms and U-Pick.

44. Enjoy a Playground With a View

Explore NYC's waterfront parks by planning a playdate at one of these 10 playgrounds ranging from beachfront jungle gyms to riverfront destinations.

45. Go for a Wild Ride

You can take the train or bus to these local-ish amusement parks to enjoy everything from kiddie rides to thrilling roller coasters and even prehistoric encounters.

Rocking Horse Ranch's new Boulder Bay Pool
Rocking Horse Ranch has opened a brand new outdoor water park area, Boulder Bay, just in time for the summer travel season. Photo courtesy of the resort

46. Get Away

You don't have to go far to exhale. We've got the details on cool family-friendly hotels in city limits and beyond, plus these New York state hotels boasting cool hotel pools.

47. Ride the Slides

There are no water parks in NYC, but you can find several family-friendly picks nearby for a day of fun in the sun.

48. Explore a New to You Park

Think beyond the marquee green spaces and spend the day exploring an underrated park. We've got tons of picks for fun things to do in Alley Pond Park in Queens and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

49. Enjoy Some Furry Face Time

NYC's zoos and aquariums are all open and welcoming visitors. You can't go wrong with The Bronx Zoo for a day-long adventure, but we're equally charmed by the smaller zoos in Prospect Park, Flushing Meadow Corona Park, and Central Park. For less traditional animal fun, consider a visit to one of these local petting zoos.

50. Play in Prospect Park

From Lakeside's splash pad to the Children's Corner Carousel, plus paddleboats, programming, and more, it's hard to pick our favorite thing to do in Brooklyn's iconic green space though we have managed to name our favorite playground.

Bonus: Finish Your Bucket List

See how many of our 100 Things to do With NYC Kids Before They Grow Up you can cross off!

This post, originally published in 2019, has since been updated.

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