Summer Bucket List: 50 Things To Do in NYC for an Epic Summer with Kids
Take heart: The finish line to the long school year is in sight; summer is on the horizon, and that means it's time to start making your summer bucket list. It's bound to be a stellar season this year with faves like Celebrate Brooklyn! back in full swing.
We're officially summer dreaming, and you're the beneficiary. We're sharing our summer bucket list of 50 things we can't wait to do in NYC with kids during this steamy season. Our picks are a mix of annual favorites and can't-miss, one-time-only events that prove the best vacation may just be a staycation. Be sure to bookmark our Summer Fun Guide for NYC Kids and our list of 100 FREE things to do in NYC this summer for even more seasonal fun.
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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
Our favorite summertime island playground is open year-round, but really comes alive during the summer with festivals, live music, and plenty of room to romp.
4. Row a Boat
Go kayaking or canoeing in New York Harbor for FREE. We're particularly fond of Red Hook Boaters at Valentino Park Pier. Follow up with a visit to Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie.
The options for fun and food are endless at the Queens Night Market. Photo courtesy of the market
5. Enjoy a Round-the-World Food Feast
6. See the Birds
The birds take over the Brooklyn Botanic Garden during a garden-wide outdoor exhibition of dozens of site-specific birdhouses created by renowned artists. Inspired by bird species that reside at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, each birdhouse provides an opportunity to learn more about birds and their habitats through the eyes of artists working with a variety of materials and points of view. Of course, there are plenty more things to do 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 that 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 2022 on Tuesday, June 28.
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, visiting the Pier 2 Uplands for some splashing, and then finishing with a waterfront dinner overlooking the skyline at Fornino, one of our favorite outdoor eateries in Brooklyn.
Little Island gives New Yorkers a unique green space for summer fun. Photo by Liz Ligon
12. Explore Little Island
13. Frolic in a Fountain
14. See the Sparklers
Visit Harry Potter New York for photo-ops, Butterbeer, and plenty of magical products.
15. Hang With Harry Potter
Spend some time with old friends at Harry Potter New York where you can experience the magic for yourself.
16. Enjoy a Queens Daycation
17. See Shakespeare
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 New York Aquarium to get an up-close view of the sharks, Spineless, the PlayQuarium, and more.
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. Max Out on Music
Head to Lincoln Center for live outdoor performances including the Summer For the City series featuring programming and activities for young audiences and families.
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: Sugar Hill Creamery, Ample Hills Creamery, and Brooklyn's Blue Marble. Another option: Check out one of these convenient-to-the-playground scoop shops.
25. Romp in a Green Space
Go off the beaten path to visit one of these underrated, must-visit parks.
26. Go for a Spin
From Harlem to Dumbo, NYC is home to gorgeous carousels and merry-go-rounds. When's the last time you went for a ride?
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 all-ages spot to play: New York Ninja Academy or its sister spot in Brooklyn.
28. See the Stacks
We're always grateful for all the FREE programming local libraries provide during the summer, including the NYPL's summer book giveaways and the wide array of FREE events that make up the BPL Presents series at the Central location in Prospect Heights.
29. Ride a Bicycle
30. Take a Brick-tastic Road Trip
Bryant Park has great children's programming during the summer months.
31. Bask in Bryant Park
32. Hit the Links
Play a game of putt-putt at these local mini-golf courses.
33. Climb the Walls
Commuting is part of the adventure when you hop on the NYC ferry. Photo by Sara Marentette
34. Catch a Ferry
Whether you opt for the FREE Staten Island Ferry and stick around to explore the family-friendly things to do at 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 always a fun destination on a hot summer day.
The first multi-day international teen music festival, Kids Rock For Kids, brings talented teens from around the world to NYC to raise money for kids in crisis. Photo courtesy of the event
36. Sing-Along to a Concert
Our collection of alfresco summer concerts is growing by the day.
37. Reacquaint Yourself With Museum Mile & Beyond
We cherish our world-class museums, even better, many offer FREE admission deals, though you may have to book a reservation to visit. See Matisse: The Red Studio at MoMA or Andy Warhol: Revelation at the Brooklyn Museum. We also love to revisit CMOM and old favorites like MoMI, The Intrepid, and MoMath.
See Hugh Hayden's The Gulf Stream in Brooklyn Bridge Park this summer. Photo by Nicholas Knight/courtesy of Public Art Fund
38. See Outdoor Public Art
39. Immerse Yourself in an Exhibition
Artechouse's Life of a Neuron exhibition takes visitors through artistic renditions of a brain at the cellular level while encountering the larger-than-life neurons of the brain. The experience depicts the life stages of a human neuron from neural migration to aging by surrounding guests in a highly immersive soundscape.
See the sparkling specimens, like this azurite malachite, at the remodeled Mignone Hall of Gems at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo by D.Finnin/AMNH
40. Sparkle and Glow at AMNH
We have always loved the American Museum of Natural History, and its spectacular Sharks exhibition closes at summer's end.
41. Crack a Book
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's Boulder Bay pool is destination-worthy. 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
You can't go wrong with a visit to 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. Unless noted, photos by author