We're well into playground season now, and New York City parents are steeling themselves to endure hearing the Mister Softee theme playing on a loop until September. While there's nothing wrong with grabbing a cone from your friendly neighborhood ice cream truck, I admit that I prefer play spots that have really fantastic ice cream vendors nearby. Cold and sweet, a few scoops of mint chocolate chip or strawberry (my flavors of choice) make sticking out the sticky New York City weather that much more manageable. And my kids don't mind eating it either.
Here are some of my favorite spots to grab a scoop, plus fun places to play before or after.
The Scoop: Blue Marble — Brooklyn
This beloved mini-chain uses dairy from New York State grass-fed cows, organic sugar, and no additives, preservatives or corn syrup. If you like lots of mix-ins and wacky flavors, it's not the parlor for you. The folks at Blue Marble use seasonal ingredients and their strawberry is out of this world, especially when it sits atop a scoop of dark chocolate.
Where to Play: The Prospect Heights shop (186 Underhill Avenue between Sterling Place and St Johns Place) is just a few blocks away from Underhill Playground (Underhill Avenue at Prospect Place), where you'll find swings, slides, a few sprinklers and a pair of play structures, one for preschoolers, the other for big kids. The playground's also full of communal toys and ride-on cars.
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Uncle Louie G's. Photo courtesy of the shop
The Scoop: Uncle Louie G's — Brooklyn
This chain of Italian ice and ice cream stores originated on Coney Island in 1995. Now there are more than 30 locations. The 7th Avenue outpost (319 7th Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets) boasts so many flavors your head may spin. Kids tend to gravitate toward options like Bubbly Bubble Gum and Coney Island Cotton Candy, but you can get plain old vanilla and chocolate, too.
Harmony Playground. Photo courtesy of NYC Parks
Where to Play: Kids will love the Harmony Playground near the bandshell at Prospect Park West between 9th and 11th Streets, where they can make music and cool down in the water features. If you want to stroll in the other direction in the park, head to the Garfield Tot Lot.
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The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is a classic. Photo courtesy of the shop
The Scoop: Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory — Brooklyn
Don't expect a million choices at this parlor; there are only eight classic flavors (think vanilla and chocolate), all made at the company's two locations. The original outpost is housed in an old fireboat house on the Fulton Ferry Pier (the intersection of Old Fulton and Water Streets), where your family can gaze at stunning views of the the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan skyline, and the Statue of Liberty.
Pier 1 Playground in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo by Julienne Schaer for Brooklyn Bridge Park
Where to Play: The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is right next to Pier 1 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. At 9 1/2 acres, it's the largest of the park's piers and has big lawns, an amazing playground, a waterfront promenade and a series of tree-lined pathways. There's also a seasonal Ample Hills outpost, located on Pier 5, if you require a second ice cream pit-stop.
The Scoop: Van Leeuwen — Manhattan and Brooklyn
Made with hormone-free milk from Lewis County New York cows, Van Leeuwen serves 11 pure and simple flavors (mint chip is my favorite), plus a few seasonal choices.
Where to Play: Van Leeuwen has a few locations that seem to be strategically located near a playground (it's like they planned it...). The Van Leeuwen shop in South Street Seaport (Front Street between Beekman Street and Peck Slip) is right down the street from downtown Manhattan's major play destination the Imagination Playground. Their Boerum Hill location (81 Bergen Street between Smith and Hoyt Streets) is about a five-minute walk from shady, pretty Cobble Hill Park—no playground here, but plenty of cute garden paths to explore. The Van Leeuwen ice cream in Williamsburg on Manhattan Avenue near Nassau Avenue is right across the street from McCarren Park. And there's a location on West 10th Street at Waverly Place near Washington Square Park in Manhattan as well, with its three renovated playgrounds for kids of all ages.
The Scoop: People's Pops — Chelsea
If you prefer pops to cones or cups, swing by this frozen treat stand located on the High Line near 30th Street, which sells popsicles and shaved ice that put mass-produced frozen treats to shame. Made with local fruit and herbs, the pops come in fancy flavors such as Bartlett pear; cream and ginger; plum, yogurt and tarragon; and strawberry basil. If you somehow still crave ice cream afterward, the nearby Chelsea Market's got L'Arte del Gelato as well.
Where to play: The High Line is perfect for a warm-weather romp. The park's views, pretty plants, flowers and abundance of sprawl-worthy spots will give your gang time to come down from their sugar high.
Photo by Christopher Postlewaite for NYCgo
The Scoop: Big Gay Ice Cream Shop — East Village
It's clear from their name and creative menu that this ice cream shop doesn't take itself too seriously. Nestled on 7th street in the East Village, this ice cream destination provides a well curated list of classics-with-a-twist. Sprinkles (they blend their own), dips and sundaes are just a few options. Portions are huge, so make sure you come hungry!
Photo courtesy of byhannahdesign
Where to Play: Tompkins Square Park is right around the corner (spanning the area between 7th and 10th Streets, between Avenues A and B) and has two different playgrounds for kids to choose from.
The Scoop: L'Albero de Gelati — Park Slope, Brooklyn
The owners of this little gem take quality seriously. They have personally met with each of their ingredient suppliers to ensure the best possible turnout for their customers. Their commitment shows—the ice cream is unforgettable, and the flavors change with the seasonal availability of ingredients. Keep in mind that this awesome spot is cash only, so hit the ATM before you get in line.
Where to Play: Just across 5th Avenue, you'll find J.J. Byrne Playground (5th Avenue and 3rd Street in Park Slope), with water features, a toddler enclosure, and lots of climbing equipment for older kids, plus tons of spots to sit and enjoy your ice cream. If you go on a Sunday, the farmers' market opens up on 4th Street. More into FroYo? Also a stone's throw from J.J. Byrne is Culture, a delicious (and healthy) alternative that still feels like a special treat.
The Scoop: Ample Hills — Gowanus, Brooklyn
A consistent Brooklyn favorite! Their playful, spacious location on Union Street in Gowanus has a roof deck and an ever-rotating menu of creative flavors to choose from.
Where to Play: Thomas Greene Playground is two short blocks away on Nevins Street and Degraw. Work off your ice cream on the climbing structures, or savor your sweet treat at one of the many picnic tables available at this pleasant green space. If you fancy a dip, the Douglass and Degraw Pool is connected to the green space and is open seasonally.
The Scoop: PopBar — Greenwich Village
If you like your frozen treats portable, check out Popbar on Carmine Street off 6th Avenue in the Village. Each pop is a handcrafted work of art on a stick, made with smooth and delicious gelato. If you'd prefer, get your hands on a "Popwich" or "Popbite" to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Where to Play: Stop by Minetta Playground for some monkeying around. Though it's small, its epic climbing structures and sprinklers pack a lot of fun into a compact footprint.
The Scoop: CoolMess — Upper East Side
Make your own ice cream! Choose from one of their "messipies" or get creative and concoct your own flavor from their roster of local ingredient providers. You can hang at a communal table, or book a party.
Where to Play: Walk a few blocks west to Central Park and have your pick of playgrounds! You can also chase your ice cream with an afternoon at the Central Park Zoo, which is close by on 64th Street, just inside the entrance to the park.
A version of this post was published in 2016; it has since been updated. Louise Finnell contributed additional reporting..