Manhattan's Best Drop-in Play Spaces and Kids' Gyms
Finding non-membership, drop-in play spaces for your toddler or preschooler is like gold to New York City parents—almost as good as scoring a deal on rent. When it gets too cold for the city's many playgrounds, and another playdate at home seems dull (or, let's be honest, stressful), taking your kid to a cool indoor kiddie gym or other play space, where everything seems new and someone else does the cleaning up is a relief to the whole family.
While the outer boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn dominate the indoor play space market, Manhattan has plenty of creative kid spaces. Some of these 14 awesome spots allow families to drop in, while others ask that you make reservations, but none require any long-term financial commitment.
For even more wallet-friendly drop-in play spaces citywide, see our roundup of budget-friendly play spots. And if you've got a child under the age of 5 to entertain, you might also check out our roundup of a dozen indoor play spaces perfect for the pint-sized set.
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14th Street Y – East Village
344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues
Drop-in play: Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays; visit the website for current hours. Play sessions not offered during the summer.
Ages 6 months-3 years
The padded playroom on the top floor of the 14th Street Y was one of my son’s favorite play spaces when he was young. The no-frills classroom-sized space is clean, with soft climbing and sliding structures for the toddler set. Occasionally the staff brings out large toys, bubbles, or giant balls. The Y typically doesn’t offer programs when school is out, so call ahead to confirm hours. Also, check its website for weekly drop-in classes like Messy Play, Music & Movement, Sing Along, and more.
ACT Indoor Playstation is one of the best deals in Manhattan.
ACT Indoor Playstation – Morningside Heights
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 111th Street
Drop-in play: December-April, Monday-Thursday, 12:15pm-3pm
During fall and winter weekday afternoons, this early childhood education program opens its spacious gymnasium to the public. The child-size equipment includes slides, balls, and places to crawl, all on a safe mat area. The center closes during school breaks, summer, and holidays, so it's best to call ahead to confirm it's open. However, if you enjoy visiting ACT Indoor Playstation check its website for information about camps, toddler classes, and special programming when the Indoor Playstation is unavailable.
RELATED: 50 Rainy Day Activities for Kids
The Art Farm in the City offers kids a chance to play in its spacious play area.
The Art Farm in The City – Upper East Side
419 East 91st Street between First and York Avenues
Drop-in play: Monday-Thursday, 12:30pm-3:30pm
Ages 6 months and up
Don't have a pet of your own? Kids can get up close and personal with the animals at The Art Farm, while also enjoying art projects and a well-appointed play space. For a different kind of fun, drop by on Saturday or Sunday mornings from 8-10am when children can help feed the animals. Fun Fridays offer two hours of music, cooking, and crafts. Visit the website for a full schedule.
Chelsea Piers Toddler Gym – Chelsea
Field House at Chelsea Piers, 23rd Street and the Hudson River
Drop-in play: Schedule varies; please call 212-336-6500, ext. 0 to confirm hours.
Ages 6 months-4 years
I cried when my son aged out of this awesome play space. He enjoyed sliding, climbing, and crawling through the big play structure, but he especially loved dive-bombing into the ball pit. The center also has manipulatives on the wall, additional slides, soft playthings, and a tiny rock-climbing area.
Chinatown YMCA – Chinatown
Chinatown YMCA, 273 Bowery between Houston and Stanton Streets
Drop-in play: Monday-Friday, 9am-12pm
On weekday mornings, kids can drop in for some indoor fun at the 3,200-square-foot gym at the Chinatown branch of the YMCA. Let them run, jump, climb, and balance freely—there's plenty of space!
Elliot's Gymnastics has a full slate of classes, but it is often open for drop-in play.
Elliott's Gymnastics – Upper West Side
131 West 86th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues
Drop-in times vary; visit the website for a complete schedule.
One of our bloggers raved about the classes at this Upper West Side spot. But even if your kids aren't enrolled in the gymnastics program here, they can still enjoy the developmental gymnasium's facilities on select weekday afternoons.
FunFit Kids – Morningside Heights
550 West 110th Street at Broadway
Drop-in times vary; visit the website for a complete schedule.
A multi-sport spot, FunFit Kids was founded with the mission to help kids build confidence through sports, so you'll find plenty of specialized equipment and classes here. During drop-in hours, kids have free-run of the 2,700-square-foot play space and can climb the walls (literally), propel themselves around a scooter raceway, clamber up playground equipment, play with soft balls and sports equipment, and more. Sound too wild for your brood? There's also a book and music nook.
Check out Gotham Kids, a gigantic new play space in Upper Manhattan.
Gotham Kids – Washington Heights
551 Fort Washington Avenue between 185th and 186th Streets
Drop-in play: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2pm-4pm
Located inside the Hebrew Tabernacle, this new play space offers open play two afternoons a week in the social hall. A big, open area allows kids plenty of space to romp and the big attraction here is a giant bouncy house—a rarity in Manhattan! Expect to find plenty of toys, costumes, and opportunities for make-believe play. A separate space is appropriately padded for ages 0-3. The founder, a local mom who saw the need in the community, hopes to expand to offer more hours soon.
The play space at the Scandinavia House is a calm, serene spot.
The Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center – Midtown East
Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street
Drop-in play: Saturday, noon-5pm
Ages 1-5 (children must be walking independently to be admitted)
Scandinavia House's awesome indoor play spot was my son’s second home before he started school. This is where he was introduced to Brio trains, Legos, and Pippi Longstocking. The center was completely redesigned in 2011 and we were blown away. Inspired by early childhood centers in Scandinavia, it features a reading room full of English and Scandinavian-language books connected to a softly lit sensory room by a kid-sized tunnel. This isn't a place for wild romping (and believe me, the staff enforces calm cooperative play). Instead, it's a great spot for relaxing and imaginative play.
The Playroom NYC – Upper East Side
1439 First Avenue at 75th Street
Drop-in play: Weekdays, 9am-5pm; Saturday & Sunday hours vary; visit the website for current schedule.
Ages 6 months to 5 years
True to its name, this Upper East Side spot focuses on playtime and offers open-play hours seven days a week. The 3,000-square-foot play space offers an indoor jungle gym, dress-up area, faux bodega for grocery fun, and more imaginative play options. If the facility is at capacity, your playtime will be limited to two hours, but if there's space, you're free to stay longer. If you play in the morning and want to come back after naptime, the play space will charge a discounted fee for a same-day return.
Play Space at The Ballet Club – Upper East Side
328 East 61st Street between First and Second Avenues, second floor
Drop-in play: Monday-Friday, 10am-3pm from September to May; closed summers and holidays.
This dance school opens its cozy playroom to the public on weekdays during the school year. Attractions skew toward the preschool set, like a puppet theater, play kitchen, pop-up tent, dollhouse, manipulatives, and picture books. It offers a great place for imaginative play on rainy or cold days. Families should arrive on the hour or half-hour. Reservations are required Mondays; drop-in visitors are welcome all other weekdays. Call 917-281-1030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve.
TLB Music Playroom – Upper East Side
266 East 78th Street between Second and Third Avenues
Drop-in play: Monday, 9:30am-5pm; Tuesday-Friday, 12:30pm-5pm; Saturday & Sunday, 9:30am-1:30pm
Ages 6 months-6 years
This music education program has a cozy playroom featuring slides, a play kitchen, a market, a soft block area, a short rock climbing mountain, a train table, and lots of puzzles, books, and toys. The small space can only accommodate 15 children, so reservations are recommended and can be made via phone 212-744-0407 or email email@example.com.
Little ones can roam free at Union Square Play.
Union Square Play – Union Square
36 East 18th Street
Drop-in play: Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm; visit the website for weekend hours.
Ages 1 month-5 years
Dress your tot down to their diaper and explore flour, paint, and water at this family fun spot, which offers a plethora of art, movement, music, and other sensory classes. An interactive play area for free exploration and open-ended play includes a cozy book nook and plenty of child-friendly amenities. For more information about its unique classes and special discounts check its calendar and book reservations in advance via text at 646-693-6700.
Drop-in Play Spaces on Roosevelt Island
The Music & Play Station — Roosevelt Island
507 Main Street
Drop-in play varies; visit the website for a complete schedule.
This music class hot spot offers daily open play for tots, attracting families from Manhattan and Queens. There is an indoor climbing playground and various play stations to explore, as well as special events like movies for kids and drop-off PJ parties for older kids. Friday Movie Night is a 3-hour drop-off program ($45 first child, $15 sibling) with playtime, movie, pizza, and more play!
Photos courtesy of the venues.
A version of this article first published in December 2009, but it is regularly updated. Suzanne Cort contributed additional reporting.