While many New Yorkers like to skip town in August, there's plenty of must-do summer fun left if you're sticking around for a staycation with us, including the final FREE outdoor movies and summer family festivals.
Our top family event picks for August include annual favorites like Manhattan's car-free but activity-filled Summer Streets, the incredible Sand Sculpting Contest in Coney Island, and the colorful Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Queens' Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Plus there are some exceptional family shows bowing this month, including a rare revival of Maurice Sendak's musical Really Rosie.
Find more fun things to do in our continually updated NYC Event Calendar.
As always, if an event piques your interest, be sure to click through to our listing for all the details, including price, location, recommended ages, and time. And remember, in NYC, really cool things to do with kids often get booked up quickly. So buy your tickets ASAP or, in the case of FREE events, arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds. Be sure to sign up for our FREE newsletters, so you can get our NYC event picks delivered to your inbox.
Now get your calendars ready! Here are the top 12 things to do with kids in New York City this August—eight of which are 100% FREE.
Backbeard: The Musical — Midtown West
Monday, July 31–Sunday, August 6
This new family show is part of the annual New York Musical Festival, which has showcased more than 400 tuners since it started in 2004. A few have even made it to the Great White Way! And though this kid one may not be Broadway bound, it sounds like a winner for young audiences, especially those who love pirates. The super-hairy Backbeard panics when his usual uniform is ruined at a rowdy party. Can he still be a fearsome pirate while decked out in colorful new clothes? And will he be able to win the acceptance of the Pirate Council? This 75-minute show has a positive message about embracing who you are on the inside, and is best for school-age children.
Fireworks at South Beach — Staten Island
Wednesdays, August 2-30
Coney Island isn't the only shore setting off sparklers this summer. Staten Island's picturesque South Beach is also hosting festive fireworks displays every Wednesday night through the end of the month. Come early to enjoy the surf and sun, and treats like popcorn, ices, and cotton candy on the boardwalk. Then cap off your day with a big bang. FREE
Really Rosie — Midtown West
Wednesday, August 2–Saturday, August 5
Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library was the (partial) inspiration for this musical, which started out as a half-hour TV special but was expanded into a longer Off-Broadway musical in 1980. With music by Carole King (!), and a book and lyrics by Sendak himself, this tuner is a mainstay of regional theater but hasn't been seen on a professional New York City stage in decades. That's why we're so excited about Encores! Off Center's revival so kids can once again be entranced by a little Brooklyn girl with a big imagination that takes her on lots of adventures. Tip: save money on tickets via Goldstar.
Summer of Mars: Rover at the Intrepid — Midtown West
Thursday, August 3-Sunday, August 6
Attention all space lovers: the 5,500-pound, almost 11-foot-tall Mars rover concept vehicle is coming to the Intrepid for fours days only. Families can check out the ride, which is specially designed to navigating Mars' demanding landscape, during the Intrepid's Space and Science Festival. This is no ordinary space car; inside there's an entire mobile lab, and the humongous wheels put monster trucks' to shame. A must for aspiring astronauts. Included in general admission
Gruff! The Musical — Upper West Side
Friday, August 4–Sunday, August 27
A timely reimagining of the old Three Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale, this interactive family show was a big hit at the People's Improv Theater earlier this year. Now it's back for an encore run as part of Vital Children's Theatre's Summer Festival. Set in a near future when the earth has been transformed into a toxic junkyard, Gruff! focuses on a young goat who discovers Troll Valley, the sole remaining oasis of natural plant and animal life on our planet. She tries to convince her fellow goats to join her in making the world green again, but her elders are bent on drilling for fuel in Troll Valley. Gruff has everything you could want in a kid show, including puppetry, slapstick comedy, cute songs, and an urgent message delivered in an entertaining package.
Summer Streets — Manhattan
Saturdays, August 5, 12, and 19
For three consecutive Saturdays, New York families are encouraged to cycle, scooter, or stroll a car-free, seven-mile route that takes you all the way from the Upper East Side down to the Brooklyn Bridge. There are always wonderful activities at the six rest stops, with signage along the route letting you know what's coming up. And the lineup for 2017 is particularly thrilling! The 270-foot water slide is coming back (registration for free timed tickets goes live each Monday before the next Summer Streets Saturday), along with the 165-foot long, 30-foot high zip line.
New additions include a Brooklyn Boulders climbing wall, an NYC-themed mini-golf course, and a virtual reality tour of Mt. Everest. But the one we're most excited about is the LG QuadWash Water Park at the brand-new Central Park rest stop. This giant inflatable water attraction looks like a massive dishwasher, and features obstacle courses, jet streams, huge slides in the shape of cutlery, and hanging glide rails. Timed free tickets will be available at the water park. Many of the special activities tend to get mobbed, especially later in the day, so go as early as possible to avoid the crowds. FREE
SummerStage Family Day: They Might Be Giants — Central Park
Saturday, August 12
SummerStage made a major change to its family programming this year. Instead of hosting one-off Family Days in all five boroughs, the org has been running all-age family workshops before various SummerStage events all over town. But its big Central Park Family Day is still happening, and the headliners are Grammy-winning indie rockers They Might Be Giants. Parents may remember their tunes from '90s alt-radio while tots know their kids' albums Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s. This concert promises to be interactive, and we bet everyone will sing along to Malcolm in the Middle theme song "Boss of Me" by the band. The opening act is DJ Bill Childs of Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child, an alt-rock show for families that airs on Austin, Texas' KUTX. FREE
RELATED: Best Family Festivals in NYC This August
Watching the dragon boat races is a must-do for all New Yorkers at least once. Photo by Baldwin Saintilus via Flickr.
Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival — Corona, Queens
Saturday, August 12-Sunday, August 13
Watch approximately 120 boat teams compete on the lake at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in colorful, custom-made vessels outfitted with dragon heads and tails. Families can soak up Chinese culture between races at the massive outdoor marketplace featuring ethnic eats (including kid-pleasers such as dumplings and bubble tea), live contemporary and traditional music, lion and dragon dances, crafts, martial arts displays, and kite flying. Once you've had your fill, explore the wonderful Queens park, which boasts a carousel, the Queens Zoo, the New York Hall of Science, and mini-amusement park Fantasy Forest. FREE
RELATED: 100 Things to Do in NYC with Kids Before They Grow Up
The Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest is one of our favorite August events. Photo by the author.
Coney Island Sand Sculpting Contest — Coney Island
Saturday, August 19
Grab your buckets and shovels, and hit Coney Island beach for its annual sand sculpting contest and festival. All are eligible to compete, kids and adults, amateurs and pros, and there are prizes in multiple categories. Not feeling creative? Check out the amazing entries and check out live entertainment on the boardwalk. Afterward, hit Coney Island's other attractions. On-site registration for participants opens at noon. FREE
NYC Volkswagen Traffic Jam — Governors Island
Sunday, August 20
With its recently opened zip line, plus all of its other great attractions—FREE mini golf, play fountains, slides, swings, hammocks, a junk playground—it's not like you need a special event to get pumped about visiting Governors Island. However, families who like playing Punch Buggy will enjoy this outdoor exhibition of vintage Volkswagen vehicles, including lots of original Beetles. Bonus, it's FREE to gawk!
Arthur Ashe Kids Day — Flushing, Queens
Saturday, August 26
Kick off the U.S. Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with a day of fun and games. Get active at free tennis clinics and an obstacle course; watch big-name pros practice; enjoy face painting, juggling workshops, hair beading and braiding, storytelling, and a no-cost concert by young up-and-comers. (Note: There is a different ticketed concert at 1pm featuring better known performers like Sofia Carson, Jack & Jack, and New Hope Club that costs extra and usually sells out in advance.) All tennis and sports activities are FREE.
RELATED: Summer Fun Guide for NYC Kids
Head to Battle Hill in Brooklyn to watch a reenactment of a key Revolutionary War fight. Photo by Jeff Richman/courtesy of Green-Wood Cemetery.
241st Anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn — Greenwood, Brooklyn
Sunday, August 27
Get a living history lesson about Brooklyn's important role in the country's fight for freedom by checking out this annual commemoration at Green-Wood Cemetery. Kids can get up close and personal with troops and their horses, try period treats, and watch a soldier-filled parade march to the top of Battle Hill. FREE but advance registration is encouraged.
NYC always has so many incredible things going on, it's difficult to choose. So here are 11 more mostly FREE events that are worth considering for your August calendar. And don't forget that this is the month that many of the FREE outdoor movies wrap up, as well as other summer freebies like concerts, bowling, and the $1 indoor movie series. Find more FREE events in August with our summer roundup.
Shake your groove thang at the outdoor family dance party the Sweet Spot Festival on Saturday, August 5. FREE
Celebrate peace and harmony by watching lanterns set afloat on the East River in Brooklyn Bridge Park's Hindu Lamp Ceremony on Saturday, August 5. FREE
Get hep at Central Park's annual no-cost Great Jazz on the Great Hill concert on Saturday, August 5. FREE
Enjoy games, magic shows, children’s theater, water slides, and pony rides as Kids Rule Weekend takes over the Lehman College campus on Saturday, August 5 and Sunday, August 6. FREE
Catch a preview of the returning The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show at the final day of Citi Summer in the Square kids programming on Thursday, August 10. FREE
Create your own kite and let it soar at FlyNYC in Riverside Park South on Saturday, August 19. FREE
Step back in time at the historic Wyckoff Farmhouse during a FREE Family Day on Saturday, August 19.
Celebrate the sweet sticky stuff at Wave Hill's annual Honey Weekend Saturday, August 19 and Sunday, August 20.
Take the A train uptown for the various Harlem Week festivities, including the Children's Festival on Saturday, August 19 and Sunday, August 20. FREE
Introduce your adolescents to Dirty Dancing, the last screening of the Bryant Park Summer Film Festival on Monday, August 21. FREE
See Hayao Miyazaki's animated masterpiece Castle in the Sky on the big screen as part of the Studio Ghibli Fest on Sunday, August 27 and Monday, August 28.
Get a peek at fall with apple picking at nearby farms, which often kick off the season in mid- to late-August.