C'mon Summer: 50 Things We Can't Wait to Do During Summer 2021 in NYC
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
2. Catch a Flick
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
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
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.
NYC might be a big city, but it's also got some pretty amazing beaches. Photo by Sara Marentette
9. Hit the Shores
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.
Little Island gives New Yorkers a unique, new green space for summer fun. Photo by Liz Ligon
12. Explore Little Island
13. Frolic in a Fountain
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!
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.
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.
You can't beat the slide at Billy Johnson Playground. Photo by the author
21. Romp in Central Park
22. Hit the Sandbox
Build a sandcastle at one of these destination sandboxes.
23. See the GREEN
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
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
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.
Bryant Park has great children's programming during the summer months. Photo by Jody Mercier
31. Bask in Bryant Park
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
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.
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.
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
Alstede Farm offers plenty of agri-entertainment all season long. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
43. Hit the Farm
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
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
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
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.