Manhattan's Best Drop-in Play Spaces and Kids' Gyms
Finding a non-membership, drop-in play spot for your toddler or preschooler in your neighborhood is like gold to New York City parents—almost as good as scoring a deal on rent. Because 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 will do 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 dozen awesome spots profiled below allow families to drop in, while others ask that you make reservations, but none require any kind of long-term financial commitment.
For even more wallet-friendly 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
Open play: 2 Sessions: Sundays 9:30-11:00am, 11:00am-12:30pm; not offered during the summer.
$25 per child, $100 for five-class punch card (non-members)
Ages 6 months-3 years
The padded playroom on the top floor of the 14th Street Y was one of my son’s favorite haunts when he was young. The no-frills classroom-sized space is clean, with soft climbing and sliding structures for the toddler set. Occasionally staff will bring out large toys, bubbles, or giant balls. No membership required. The Y typically doesn’t offer programming when school is out, so call ahead to confirm hours. Also, check their 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
Open play: December-April: Monday-Thursday noon-3pm.
$8 per child, 10-class pass is $75, monthly pass $120, 6 months & under free
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. At $8, it's the cheapest indoor play option in the borough! The center closes during school breaks, summer, and holidays, so it's best to call ahead to confirm it is open. However, if you enjoy visiting ACT Indoor Playstation check their website for information about camps, toddlers classes, and special programming when Indoor Playstation is unavailable.
RELATED: 50 Rainy Day Activities for Kids
The Art Farm in the City offers kids a chance to get up close with some unique friends.
The Art Farm in The City – Upper East Side
419 East 91st Street between First and York Avenues
Open play: Monday-Thursday 12:30-3:30pm.
$20 per child, discounts for weekly or monthly packages
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 playroom. For a different kind of fun, drop by on Saturday or Sunday mornings from 8-10am, when children can help feed the animals ($15 for kids, $5 for adults) or for 2 hours of music, cooking, and crafts on Fun Fridays ($45 for kids ages 18 months-6 years) from 9:30-11:30am.
Chelsea Piers' Toddler Gym – Chelsea
Field House at Chelsea Piers, 23rd Street and the Hudson River
Open play: Schedule varies. Please call 212-336-6500, ext. 0 to confirm daily hours.
$12 per session, discounts for multiple sessions
Ages 6 months-4 years
I cried when my son aged out of this awesome play space (back then it was called the Toddler Adventure Center). 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 interactives 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
Open play: Monday-Friday 9am-noon
$20 per visit, $140 for 10 visits (family members attend for FREE)
All ages welcome
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!
City Treehouse has one of the best water tables around!
City Treehouse – Chelsea
129A West 20th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
Open play: Daily 10am-5pm. Reservations required. Call 212-255-2050.
$30 per visit, discounts for multiple hour packages; $20 per baby
Ages 2 months-8 years
Formerly a members-only facility, this boutique play space now offers open play daily, though reservations are required. The beautiful, nature-themed play area features a two-story treehouse complete with a slide, and a multilevel water table, and stream.
Elliott's Gymnastics – Upper West Side
131 West 86th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues
Times vary. Visit the website for a complete schedule. Reservations required, call: 917-517-8721.
$15 per child, $20 for two, or $25 for a family
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.
The Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center – Midtown East
Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street
Open play: Saturday noon-5pm
$15 per child
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, Pippi Longstocking, and the adorable Moominvalley. The center was completely redesigned in 2011 and we were absolutely blown away. Inspired by early childhood centers in Scandinavia, the space 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. Open play hours are offered Saturdays only.
The Playroom NYC – Upper East Side
1439 First Avenue at 75th Street
Open play: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 9am-5pm; Thursday, 9am-3:30pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8:30am-11:30am.
$35 per child, discounts for multiple children and sessions
Ages 6 months to 5 years
True to its name, this Upper East Side spot really 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 admission 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
Open play: Monday-Friday 10am-3pm from mid-September to end of May (closed summers and holidays)
$15 per hour
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, doll house, 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 past. Reservations are required Monday through Friday. Call 917-281-1030 or email email@example.com to reserve.
TLB Music Playroom – Upper East Side
266 East 78th Street between Second and Third Avenues
Open play: Monday, 9:30am-5pm; Tuesday-Friday, 12:30pm-5pm; Saturday & Sunday 9:30am-1:30pm
$25 per hour, discounts for multi-session packages
Ages 6 months-6 years
This music education program has a cozy playroom featuring slides, a play kitchen, and 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.
Union Square Play – Union Square
36 East 18th Street
Open play: Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm
$30 per day
Ages 1 month-5 years
Dress your tot down to their diaper and explore flour, paint, and water at this new 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 their unique classes and special discounts check their calendar and book your reservations in advance online.
The Music & Play Station — Roosevelt Island
507 Main Street
Open play varies, so check the calendar.
$15 per child per hour, $5 per hour for siblings
This music classes hot spot is offering daily open play for tots, attracting families from Manhattan and Queens. There's 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 play time, 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.