Like the Upper West Side and Park Slope, the Upper East Side is one of those neighborhoods where you can barely go a block without passing some kind of kid-centric business or attraction.
Despite its somewhat snooty reputation, the 'hood has lots of fun (and often affordable!) activities for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. From unique play spaces to world-class art museums, lush landscaped parks to lovely independent toy stores, afternoon tea complete with fairy wings to a game of Skee-Ball in a barbecue joint, the Upper East Side has all that plus mansions, parades, public art, towering temples and churches, athletic complexes, and some of the priciest real estate in town.
For the purposes of our post, our geographical boundaries are 59th to 96th Streets between Fifth Avenue and the East River. That's a lot of family-friendly ground to cover so let's dive in with our top 50 things to do with kids on Manhattan's Upper East Side, including the brand-new Second Avenue subway line.
1. Admire art or make your own masterpieces at the free Museum Mile Festival, held the second Tuesday evening in June, rain or shine.
2. Visit the iconic Fifth Avenue museums individually on another day. Many have awesome drop-in family programs, like Start With Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, kiddie concerts and art workshops at the Jewish Museum, and the Guggenheim's after-school classes and school break camps.
3. Meet and feed a bunny or other critter, then sketch your new furry pal at The Art Farm in the City, NYC's only indoor petting zoo.
Explore the brand-new Second Avenue Subway. Photo by Sara Frazier.
4. Take your train fan for a jaunt on the city's newest line: the Second Avenue Subway.
5. Learn how to sew, spin, knit, and crochet in Loop of the Loom's after-school kids' classes.
6. Put on your best pink frock and make like the Plaza's most famous resident at the fabulous Eloise at the Plaza shop, where kids can try on outfits, enjoy storytime, and even try afternoon tea.
7. Cheer on marchers at the annual Puerto Rican, Irish, Israel, or other ethnic parades that go up Fifth Avenue.
8. Fill up on nostalgic, novelty, and pop-culture-themed candy under the watchful eye of a giant chocolate bunny at Dylan's Candy Bar.
9. Marvel at the dark fairytale world of CuRious Candy, the high-concept sweet shop hidden on the second floor of Cynthia Rowley's clothing boutique.
10. Indulge in an egg cream, malt, or root beer float at Lexington Candy Shop, which looks like it hasn't changed in 70 years.
11. After surviving the inevitable line, relax with a frozen hot chocolate as big as your head at Serendipity3.
12. Borrow a pair of fairy wings, get a sprinkling of fairy dust, and then take tea for two (or 20) at Alice's Tea Cup's two UES locations.
13. Got a newborn? Grab high-end baby clothes, furniture, and gear at Giggle, and satisfy your breastfeeding needs at Yummy Mummy.
14. Got older children? Outfit everyone, from toddlers to teens, at kids' clothing megastore Lester's.
15. Peruse the jam-packed schedule of family programs and classes at the 92nd Street Y, which offers everything from dance to cooking to art and swimming.
16. Try on all kinds of cool and crazy outfits at Let's Dress Up!, NYC's only play space dedicated to dressing up and one of our top recommendations for a princess-themed crawl in the city.
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Take a swim class at Asphalt Green's Olympic sized pool.
17. Sign up for soccer, basketball, flag football, martial arts, gymnastics, or swimming classes at massive athletics center Asphalt Green, which boasts an Olympic-size pool and a was the training home of Olympic medal winner, Lia Neal.
18. Kids more into mental challenges? Enjoy free games of chess, checkers, dominoes, or backgammon at Central Park's Chess & Checkers House.
19. Run around the block-long St. Catherine's Playground—although it's based on a holy spot in Rome, it's open to your little devils.
20. Do a playground tour of Central Park: Notable East Side romping spots include the Egypt-themed Ancient Playground near the Met, the "big slide playground" aka Billy Johnson Playground, the oldest playground in the park, Heckscher, and the newly-remodeled East 72nd Street Playground.
21. Enter the lottery for free summer swimming lessons at John Jay Park's 145-foot outdoor pool.
22. Go gaga for Israel's version of dodgeball at the Gaga Center, the only spot in NYC dedicated to the popular game.
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Check out the penguins at the Central Park Zoo. Photo by Julie Larsen/WCS.
23. Feed the goats, alpacas, sheep, and cows in the Tisch Children's Zoo before heading to the Central Park Zoo's main grounds to see the sea lions, grizzly bears, penguins, exotic birds, and other wild animals.
24. Go ice-skating in a winter wonderland at Central Park's Wollman Rink.
25. Come back in the summer when the rink is transformed into Victorian Gardens, an amusement park full of rides for the pint-sized.
26. Take a spin on the Central Park Carousel but be prepared for speed: It's noticeably faster than NYC's other merry-go-rounds.
27. Play Name that Flag: The consulates of France, Pakistan, Italy, India, and Russia are all located in the neighborhood.
Make your own ice cream at Cool Mess.
28. Create your own unique flavor of ice cream—and eat it too—at Cool Mess where table top ice cream makers and tons of toppings let you whip up your dream dessert.
29. Enjoy free movies, live music, and children's book readings at the 96th Street Library.
30. Catch a grown-up movie with your infant in tow (without being shushed) at City Cinemas East 86th Street's Cry Baby Matinees.
31. See the mayor's house by touring Gracie Mansion. All tours are FREE and offered on Tuesdays.
32. Trick-or-treat door-to-door on Halloween at decked-out brownstones on East 92nd, East 95th, and East 78th Streets.
33. Explore Carl Schurz Park, a 15-acre waterside green space featuring a popular playground and lots of annual family events, including a community Christmas tree lighting, harvest festival, and Easter egg hunt.
34. Kid need a cut? The UES boasts a pair of children-only hair salons, Sharkey's Cuts for Kids and Cozy's Cuts for Kids, where young customers sit in whimsical chairs, watch cartoons, and leave with balloons, lollipops, and dry eyes.
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Pamper yourself at Milk & Cookies Kids Spa.
35. Need more extensive grooming services? Check out Milk & Cookies Kids Spa for pampering services geared toward "Cool Gals" and "Cool Dudes." The sweetest part of the treatment? The post-service snack of the spa's namesake goodies.
36. Speaking of sweets, grab a free sample cookie or biscotti at the scrumptious Two Little Red Hens Bakery—they're on the plate by the register.
37. Say "En garde!" and get your epee on at Sheridan Fencing Academy.
38. Try your hand at a variety of other sports from baseball to football to basketball and beyond. Neighborhood staple Yorkville Youth Athletic Association serves kids of all ages and offers after-school programs and birthday parties, too.
39. Skip Chinatown's crowded parade and ring in the Chinese New Year on the UES at the Asia Society, which hosts an annual celebration.
40. Go on a Central Park statue hunt. Kids will love climbing the iconic Alice in Wonderland mushroom sculpture, posing with Balto, hearing free stories on summer Saturdays at the Hans Christian Andersen statue, and watching the animals of the Delacorte Musical Clock turn round on the half hour
41. Tired of toys that make noise and light up? Then you'll love the carefully curated selection of analog playthings at the Children's General Store, which is so old-school it doesn't even have a website.
42. Peruse more wooden, educational, and artsy toys at another independently-owned shop, Mary Arnold Toys.
43. Tweens and teens will enjoy a visit Jan's Hobby Shop for some decidedly old-school, DIY fun.
44. View the Upper East Side from above by taking the Roosevelt Island Tram.
45. Paint ceramics at The Craft Studio.
46. Hit the Park Avenue Malls to see what public art display is on view.
47. Read and play in the large children's section of Barnes & Noble's on 86th Street, or visit on Sunday for free family performances and activities.
48. When the flakes fly, flock to Central Park's many hills for some of the most popular sledding spots in the city.
49. Enjoy Skee-Ball and a free kids' meal at Brother Jimmy's BBQ.
50. Get a break from your apartment by stepping out to one of the kid-friendly indoor play spaces in the nabe and let someone else clean up for a change.
This post, originally published in September 2012, has since been updated.
Top photo: Climb all over the Alice and Wonderland statue in Central Park. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the venues.