While many New Yorkers like to skip town in August, there are plenty of must-do summer activities left if you're sticking around for an NYC staycation with us, including FREE outdoor movies and family festivals.
Our top family event picks for August include annual favorites like Manhattan's car-free 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 brand-new experiences on tap, like a fresh slate of FringeJR shows and a special outdoor screening of the '80s fantasy classic Labyrinth with a pre-screening tribute to late star David Bowie.
As always, if an event piques your interest, be sure to click through to our listing for all the details, including the price, address, 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 monthly, weekend, and other great NYC event picks delivered to your inbox.)
Now get your calendars ready! Here are the top 13 things to do with kids in New York City this August—11 of which are 100% FREE.
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
Saturday, August 6-Sunday, August 7
Watch approximately 200 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
Summer Streets — Manhattan
Saturdays, August 6, 13, and 20
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 five rest stops, with signage along the route letting you know what's coming up. While the lineup for the 2016 edition is still being finalized, we know that the massive water slide from last year will be back (reservations aren't yet available but are likely to happen onsite, according to organizers), along with longtime favorites such as the zip line; the rock climbing wall; bike rentals; art maps; fitness classes; basketball and soccer stations; learn-to-ride classes, bike helmet fittings; crafts; and other fun. Warning: Many of the special activities tend to get mobbed, especially later in the day, so go as early as possible to avoid the crowds. Read our Summer Streets post for important tips about going with kids, which we'll continue to update with activity info as details are announced. FREE
SummerStage Family Day – Staten Island
Sunday, August 7
SummerStage's second annual Staten Island Family Day takes over Clove Lakes Park with a lineup of all-ages entertainment. Father-daughter hip-hop duo, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, perform old favorites and newer tunes off the band's Grammy-nominated album, The Perfect Quirk. Get juggy with The Wahoo Skiffle Crazies, Staten Island's best (and only!) jug band. Their funky tunes fuse ragtime, blues, and '60s folk music. Finally, groove to African rhythms and moves with the Sierra Leone Dance Troupe. All the performances are FREE.
RELATED: 100 Things to Do in NYC with Kids Before They Grow Up
The All American Drive-In is NYC's only drive-in theater experience! Photo courtesy of Historic Richmond Town.
All American Drive-In — Staten Island
Monday, August 8-Saturday, August 13
For six nights, NYC's only living history museum, Historic Richmond Town, hosts a retro drive-in theater experience. Patrons pull up, grab a parking spot, hit the concessions for snacks, and settle in for a flick, just like back in the day. Audio is broadcast from your car radio, but there are also speakers near the screen. Four of the films are kid-friendly: Disney juggernaut Frozen (August 8), '80s sci-fi classic E.T. (August 9), the iconic Wizard of Oz (August 10), and Pixar's Up (August 10), but don't bring the tots to the last two: The Godfather and Jaws. All features are preceded by contemporary shorts. Admission is charged per carload, so it's a good deal. No car? No problem! Walkers are welcome to sit in the picnic area. Buying tickets at least two days in advance is a must.
Labyrinth Screening in Prospect Park — Park Slope
Wednesday, August 10
Hit the Prospect Park Bandshell for a no-cost screening of this '80s fantasy cult classic, starring the late, great David Bowie as the Goblin King, who's holding Jennifer Connelly's baby brother hostage in another dimension populated by kooky Jim Henson puppets. It's a campy, not-too-scary, PG-rated romp worth seeing for the eye-popping visuals, Bowie's teased-up wig, and, of course, his singing. Before the feature, the Donny McCaslin Group, which backed Bowie on his final album Blackstar, will play a brief concert of original tunes and hopefully a few covers of the Thin White Duke's hits. FREE
Squirt Gun Fight — Coney Island
Saturday, August 13
Although this epic water battle is aimed at grown-ups, children are welcome assuming mom or dad tags along. And why wouldn't you? Getting completely soaked is one of the best things to do during a sweltering NYC summer! Bring your own water shooter—Super Soakers, traditional water guns, squirt guns, and even spray bottles all qualify—and cool off while having a blast. Bathing suits and goggles recommended! Best for tweens and up—it gets really wet and intense out there. Afterward, hit Coney Island's other attractions, including amusement parks, the New York Aquarium, and the historic B&B Carousell. FREE
RELATED: NYC Beaches, Pools, and Water Parks Guide
Amelia and Her Paper Tigers is just one of the family-friendly performances at this year's Fringe Festival. Photo by Daniel Williams/courtesy of the production.
FringeJR — East Village
Saturday, August 13-Saturday, August 27
Every August, the New York International Fringe Festival takes over multiple downtown Manhattan venues with cutting-edge live performances—most of which are not good for kids. However, this year there are four FringeJR productions at the 14th Street Y created just for families:
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon — Saturday, August 13-Saturday, August 27: Inspired by Grace Lin's picture book of the same name, this folklore fable follows Minli as she sets out from Fruitless Mountain in search of good fortune for her family. Along the way she has many adventures and meets friends and foes, including a chatty talking fish, a dragon, a magical king, and the Old Man of the Moon.
Amelia and Her Paper Tigers — Sunday, Aug 14-Friday, Aug 26: What do your kids (or you!) know about Amelia Earhart beyond the fact that she was a famous aviatrix who disappeared? Well, time to get schooled. This hour-long show teaches audiences about her life and legacy through music, puppetry, and circus arts.
Fairy Tale Christmas: The Musical — Wednesday, August 17-Saturday, August 27: Uh-oh, Santa Claus has been kidnapped! A motley crew of Fairy Tale Villains intend to force their enemies, the Heroes, to change the outcomes of their stories. Will it be happily never after?
Swashbuckling Sam and the Tale of Blackbeard’s Revenge — Sunday, August 21-Saturday, August 27: Seven-year-old Sam is having a tough time at school when suddenly Captain Silver appears and takes her to his fantastical world. Sam goes on a quest to recover stolen pirate booty and find a hefty dose of confidence.
SummerStage Family Day — Lower East Side
Sunday, August 14
Introduce the kiddos to the genre-busting hits of Earth, Wind & Fire as DJ Spinna plays the band's songs in the East River Park Amphitheater at the final SummerStage Family Day of the season. Afterward, groove to the funky tunes of one of our favorite R&B family bands, Shine and the Moonbeams, as they croon uplifting, all-ages ditties about friends standing up to bullies and turning dark days bright. FREE
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 20
Grab your buckets and shovels to 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? Gawk at the amazing entries and check out live entertainment on the boardwalk. Afterward, hit Coney Island's other attractions. Preregistration to compete is recommended; there will be limited spots given out the day of on a first-come, first-served basis. FREE
Family Field Day — Brooklyn Bridge Park
Saturday, August 20
Hit Pier 5 for Brooklyn Bridge Park's final Family Field Day of the summer. Kids (and grown-ups!) can try old-school activities like egg-and-spoon, potato sack, and relay races; soccer skills; and other analog fun. Afterward, stay and explore everything this awesome green space has to offer, including a mini-pool with a beach, state-of-the-art playgrounds, and a massive rock climbing wall. FREE
NYC Volkswagen Traffic Jam — Governors Island
Sunday, August 21
With its just opened Slide Hill, plus all of its other great attractions—FREE mini golf, play fountains, 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
Saturday, August 27
Kick off the US 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 hip-hop star Flo Rida, international pop diva Zara Larsson, and Disney Channel actress Laura Marano 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 key Revolutionary War fight. Photo by Jeff Richman/courtesy of Green-Wood Cemetery.
240th Anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn — Brooklyn
Sunday, August 28
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 10 more mostly FREE events that are worth considering for your August calendar.
Catch short flicks for kids from around the world at this mini family film fest at the Museum of Arts and Design on Wednesday, August 3 and Friday, August 5. Free with museum admission
Celebrate peace and harmony by watching lanterns set afloat on the East River in Brooklyn Bridge Park's Hindu Lamp Ceremony on Saturday, August 6. 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 6 and Sunday, August 7. FREE
Get hep at Central Park's annual no-cost Great Jazz on the Great Hill concert on Saturday, August 13. FREE
Don your bets duds and dance the day away at the 11th annual Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governors Island on Saturday, August 13 and Sunday, August 14.
Create your own kite and let it soar at FlyNYC in Riverside Park South on Saturday, August 20. FREE
Step back in time at the historic Wyckoff Farmhouse during a FREE Family Day on Saturday, August 20.
Take the A train uptown for the various Harlem Week festivities, including the Children's Festival on Saturday, August 20-Sunday, August 21. FREE
Watch the 1980s classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at Bryant Park's final film screening of the season on Monday, August 22. FREE
Hit Rockaway Beach for sun, surf, and skating at the weekly Dreamland Roller Disco Skate Party every Saturday night. FREE if you bring your own skates!