Summer Bucket List: 50 Things To Do in NYC for an Epic Summer with Kids

Noshing on a funnel cake on the Coney Island boardwalk is a sweet ending to an epic day of summer fun.
Noshing on a funnel cake on the Coney Island boardwalk is a sweet ending to an epic day of summer fun.

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

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 or catch one of the FREE outdoor summer movies all over town.

summer bucket list
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.

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

Summer bucket list
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

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

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

Drop into the Brooklyn enclave to enjoy its array of international eats, family-friendly events, and cool retail, including the latest additions, Book Off and Daiso.

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.

Summer bucket list
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 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.

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

Summer bucket list
Little Island gives New Yorkers a unique green space for summer fun. Photo by Liz Ligon

12. Explore Little Island

We love 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 return to the mega Fountain of the Fairs in Flushing Meadows Park.

14. See the Sparklers

Macy's Fourth of July fireworks are a must-see. If you want to take a fireworks cruise, book now!

Summer bucket list
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

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.

17. See Shakespeare

The Public Theater is back at Central Park's Delacorte with Richard III and As You Like It, while Classical Theater of Harlem mounts its take on Twelfth Night at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem.

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

Summer bucket list
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.

RELATED: Where to See Free Summer Movies in NYC for an Outdoor Movie Night

Summer bucket list
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. 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.

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

Summer bucket list
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?

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 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

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

30. Take a Brick-tastic Road Trip

It's a great time to hit the road to Goshen to explore Legoland's seven themed lands, see yourself in Mini-Figure form, ride the coasters, and check out some new-in-2022 attractions.

RELATED: Family-Friendly Campsites Near NYC (With Extras for Kids!)

Summer bucket list
Bryant Park has great children's programming during the summer months.

31. Bask in Bryant Park

Enjoy the green oasis that is 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.

33. Climb the Walls

Hit up the supersized, newly opened Cliffs at Gowanus or one of these other rock-climbing spots in NYC.

Summer bucket list
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.

RELATED: Drive-In Movie Theaters in and Around NYC for Outdoor Movie Nights With Kids

Summer bucket list
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.

Summer bucket list
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

You don't have to pay museum admission to see cool art. There are some cool pieces on view now, including Black Atlantic Art Expo at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

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.

Summer bucket list
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

Head to Rockefeller Park for Storytime at the Park House, or attend a summer-long story time series 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: 25 Top Sprinkler Parks and Splash Pads in NYC for Kids

Summer bucket list
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 summer 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.

Summer bucket listl
Rocking Horse Ranch's Boulder Bay pool is destination-worthy. 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 New York state beyond, plus these spots 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

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

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

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