As summer weather begins to sizzle, there's no denying that the heat and humidity can get under the skin of even the most tropical-weather-loving New Yorker. To beat the heat, my kids (and my inner child) insist any outing includes water, industrial strength air-conditioning, or sweet frozen treats.
While we enjoy hitting our local public pool and running around the sprinklers (oh yes, I get in there, too), lately we've been longing for more diverse destinations. That inspired us to round up our favorite ways to cool off in New York City.
Our list includes a variety of destinations; some are brand-new, while others are old standbys. The list includes outdoor spots like extra-special water playgrounds, awesome pools, and splashy boat rides, and indoor havens such as kid-friendly museums. Many of our suggestions are FREE and we even included exceptional frozen-treat spots, so you can indulge in ice cream and more. So strike while the weather's hot: Here are our top 50 ways to cool off with kids in NYC this summer.
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1. Jump into NYC's largest outdoor pool, the Astoria Park Pool, which offers stunning views of the RFK Bridge. FREE
2. Enjoy the breeze as you stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge and then reward yourself with an old-fashioned chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry cone from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory.
3. Use cool blue foam "playground in a box" pieces to manipulate water at the South Street Seaport's one-of-a-kind Imagination Playground. FREE
4. After visiting ancient mummies, take a trip to the American Museum of Natural History's Discovery Room for hands-on activities.
5. Grab a homemade scoop of cotton candy ice cream at the original Ample Hills Creamery near Prospect Park, or hit its Gowanus location, which includes a small roof deck with chairs.
RELATED: 100 Free Things To Do with Kids in NYC This Summer
6. Hit the fun water features along Long Island City's waterfront. FREE
7. Go for a strike at one of NYC's many bowling alleys for a blast of a/c; you can even sign up for FREE kids' games at Astoria Bowl, Jib Lanes, and Shell Lanes.
8. Jump, cartwheel, and tumble at one of these indoor bounce houses; no sunblock required.
9. Get soaked at Chelsea Waterside Park, which features funky blue chess-like sprinklers and a full wall that sprays water. FREE
10. Sneak in some more (educational) fun at the outdoor Science Playground, complete with water play area at the New York Hall of Science. While you're there, pop inside to test your skills in the interactive Angry Birds Universe, which brings the screen-time hit to life.
11. Take a free or nearly free cooling ferry ride to Governors Island to zoom down a 57-foot slide, or fly through the air on the newly opened zip line and enjoy the other Adventures at Governors Island attractions, too.
12. Hit the water at South Beach on Staten Island. FREE
13. Row your own boat in every borough to catch a cool breeze off the water. FREE
14. Craft your own unique cool treat at DIY ice cream parlor CoolMess, or test out your first Thai rolled ice cream at these hip spots.
15. Dunk, dip, and pour at the interactive water table in Chelsea play space City Treehouse. Looking for something closer to your 'hood? We've rounded up all our favorite indoor water play spots for preschoolers.
16. Get drenched at the state-of-the-art Waterlab at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. FREE
17. Swim in the ocean at Coney Island and then stick around for fireworks on Friday nights. FREE
18. Spend a unique day on the water by booking a whale watching tour. A few boats sail straight from city docks!
19. If Coney's too crowded for your taste, try one of NYC's less busy beaches like Jacob Riis in Queens. FREE
20. Catch a wave and take a surfing lesson at Rockaway Beach, the only NYC shore where the sport is allowed. While you're in the neighborhood, check out all our favorite Rockaway activities.
21. Go roller-skating at Lakeside Rink in Prospect Park, and then hit the next-door splash pad with dozens of sprinklers.
22. Spend a day on New York Harbor celebrating the city's waterfront location on City of Water Day on Saturday, July 15. FREE
23. Go beyond the sprinklers and let the kids romp in one of the city's many play fountains. FREE
24. Take a dip at Roberto Clemente State Park, which boasts a large outdoor pool and also has a fun, interactive sprinkler area on deck.
RELATED: Swimming Lakes Near NYC
The Crotona Pool debuted a stunning new sprinkler play area last summer. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks.
25. Head to Crotona Pool in the Bronx, which just got a new sprinkler play area for extra splashing fun. FREE
26. Explore the least expensive kids' museum in NYC, the Staten Island Children's Museum, located on the gorgeous grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
27. Try funky art projects at the Children's Museum of the Arts.
28. Plan a trip to the Pop-Up Pool at Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park; at 3.5 feet deep, it's perfect for young children. FREE
29. Brave the crowds at the popular McCarren Park Pool—it's Olympic-sized so you will (eventually) get in, especially in the mornings. FREE
30. Learn about NYC's past at the interactive DiMenna Children's History Museum at the New-York Historical Society, and be sure to visit the mischievous Eloise who's taken over a second floor gallery and brought plenty of interactive story time fun with her.
31. Make a splash at the Pier 51 Play Area in Hudson River Park, where kids can activate buckets and sprays. FREE
32. Stroll along The High Line to catch a breeze off the water. Finish your walk with a visit to the nearly new Hudson Yards playground. FREE
33. Find more interactive water fun at the playground at Tribeca's Pier 25, which also offers mini-golf and beach volleyball. FREE (save for mini-golf)
RELATED: Free Outdoor Movies for NYC Families This Summer
Swim with the fishes at the SeaGlass Carousel downtown. Photo by Shira Kronzon.
34. Pretend like you're floating underwater with a ride on the SeaGlass Carousel in Battery Park.
35. Hop into one of the two pools at the Hamilton Fish Recreation Center on the Lower East Side—there's an Olympic-sized one for big kids and adults, and a wading pool for toddlers. FREE
36. Prefer an uptown vibe? The pool at Highbridge Park includes two Olympic-sized pools, including one with a max depth of 2 feet. When you're waterlogged enough, dry off with a scenic walk over the park's namesake bridge, which connects Washington Heights and the Bronx. FREE
37. Enjoy industrial-level a/c while checking out one of our picks for top family theater this season.
38. Head to the gorgeous Barretto Point Park in the Bronx to visit the Floating Pool, NYC's only pool on a barge. FREE
39. Enjoy stunning views of the George Washington Bridge and a destination playground with a visit to the shade-draped Fort Washington Park Playground. FREE
40. Embark on one of the most family-friendly boat rides in New York harbor. For some really wet fun, hop on the Beast or Shark Speedboats, which both zip you around New York Harbor splashing you the whole way.
41. Register for no-cost swimming lessons at public pools throughout the city. FREE
42. Spend the day exploring the Bronx oasis City Island—when that ocean breeze hits you, you won't believe you're in NYC. FREE
43. Go for a swim in Harlem's Lasker Pool, and then explore the very shady northern end of Central Park. FREE
44. Visit the Children's Museum of Manhattan's new Dynamic H2O exhibit; it's impossible to stay dry at this water table!
45. Head to a mercifully cool movie theater to escape the summer heat at a major discount. A handful of outer-borough theaters are offering $1 flicks all summer long, too!
46. Navigate the water-filled maze of pyramid-like structures in Central Park's Heckscher Playground. FREE
47. Duck inside the new Times Square attraction Gulliver's Gate to tour the world without leaving NYC.
48. Indulge in a day pass at a private pool, like Asphalt Green in Battery Park City; or soak up the rays and ocean breeze on a private slice of beach with a visit to a beach club.
49. Venture out for an evening of fun under the stars to take in one of the hundreds of no-cost outdoor movie screenings being staged in city parks this summer.
50. Plan a day trip to escape from the concrete jungle with a visit one of our favorite water parks for big kids or toddlers.
Find even more ways to cool off in the hot city with our NYC Water Fun Guide to beaches, pools, splash pads, and more.
A version of this article was first published in July 2012.