Just because the kids are heading back to school doesn't mean the fun has to stop. In fact, September is one of the best months for FREE outdoor fun. There are a slew of alfresco festivals for families, including Brooklyn's biggest street fair, Atlantic Antic; the perfect-for-preschoolers West Side County Fair; the loopy NYC Unicycle Festival on Governors Island; and there's farm fun at Historic Richmond Town's old-fashioned County Fair, as well as the Queens County Fair.
Other September highlights include fun on the water with the Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition. And we haven't even mentioned one of our annual favorites: The Maker Faire New York takes over the grounds of the New York Hall of Science on September 22-23.
It's also the last chance to take a dip at one of NYC's FREE outdoor public pools and beaches, many of which are staying open through Sunday, September 9.
Plus, tickets go on sale September 4 for the Hudson Valley's best Halloween activity, the Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze. (If you want to see Blaze, it is best to get your tickets now.)
If an event piques your interest, click through to our listing for all the details, including addresses, times, and pricing. Keep in mind that the really cool (and free) kids stuff in NYC books up quickly, so buy your tickets ASAP, or in the case of FREE events arrive early to beat the crowds.
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Learn to ride a unicycle on uni training wheels at the Unicycle Festival on Governors Island. Photo courtesy of Governors Island
NYC Unicycle Festival — Governors Island
Saturday, September 1-Sunday, September 2
Head to Governors Island to give one-wheeling a try. Or stay on two feet and watch unicycle basketball, hockey, sumo wrestling, or single-wheel pros in grueling competitions. While on the island, check out other attractions like the new mini golf course or old favorites like the adventure playground and slide hill. FREE
Richmond County Fair — Staten Island
Saturday, September 1-Monday, September 3
Step back in time at this old-fashioned carnival at Historic Richmond Town, NYC's only living history museum. The three-day fest has been a Labor Day weekend tradition for decades and features an old-fashioned county fair with multiple performance stages and live rock, country, and acoustic music. Enjoy carnival-style fun such as pig racing, pie- and hot-dog eating contests, classic car displays, arts and crafts, and a midway with rides. The best part? All attractions are FREE with admission.
Morningside Lights — Morningside Heights
Workshops: Tuesday, September 4-Friday, September 7; Procession: Saturday, September 8
Morningside Lights is the brainchild of Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles of Processional Arts Workshop, the group behind those incredible giant puppets at the annual Village Halloween Parade. Though geared toward adults, kids ages 10 and older are welcome to attend FREE workshops where you'll craft massive lanterns out of wire, papier mâché, cheesecloth, and tissue paper. The creations then are shown off during a music-filled parade. Not artsy? Watch the procession from the sidelines. Signing up in advance for the workshops at the Miller Theatre at Columbia University, or to march in the procession, is a must. Read our post about Morningside Lights for more info and important tips for participating with kids. FREE
Black Citizenship: Civil War U.S. Colored Troops — Upper West Side
Saturday, September 8
History buffs take note: This is the opening weekend of the New-York Historical Society's exhibition Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow. Get an in-depth look at what it was like for African-Americans who fought for their freedom during the Civil War. Living historians from the 6th United States Colored Troops will be on hand to detail how their victories helped bring about the end of slavery. 19th century uniforms will be on display, along with other artifacts.
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Watch as tugboats race down the Hudson at this annual competition. Photo by Mitch Waxman.
Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition — Midtown West
Sunday, September 9
Watch tugboats race from Pier 1 in Riverside Park South down to Pier 84 in Hudson River Park, where there will be line-toss and spinach-eating contests, live music, and other nautical-themed fun. The race and competitions take place in the Hudson River and can be viewed at no cost between West 44th and West 70th Streets on the waterfront. Pier 84 is where most of the action is, however. For an up-close view, families can buy tickets for the Circle Line spectator boat that follows the tugs. FREE from the shore.
West Side County Fair — Upper West Side
Sunday, September 9
This is the closest you'll get to a county fair in the middle of Manhattan! Perfect for preschoolers, this annual favorite features small carnival rides and games, live music, sideshow performers, and a smattering of country vendors. It gets crowded fast, so arrive early to avoid lines. Afterward, grab a bite at the Pier I Cafe or head a few blocks north to romp in Elephant Playground. FREE
Wander around The Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy for delicious food, games, and rides. Photo by Joe Buglewicz for the festival
Feast of San Gennaro — Little Italy
Thursday, September 13 through Sunday, September 23
Yes, this annual fest has a reputation for being rowdy. But during daytime hours the Feast of San Gennaro, while still mobbed, is much more kid-friendly. It's officially a Catholic religious celebration with masses, processions, and other liturgical events. Still, the main draw for many families is the food and the carnival atmosphere. A slew of Little Italy’s restaurants dish out amazing sausage sandwiches, fried Oreos, and Italian pastries right from the street. Plus, there are live music performances, eating competitions, and games and rides, including a Ferris wheel. FREE admission but there are fees for activities.
RELATED: Best Fall Fairs in NYC for Families this September
Drew Daywalt reads from The Day the Crayons Came Home during a past Brooklyn Book Festival. Photo by Lisa Hannus.
Brooklyn Book Festival Children's Day — Brooklyn Heights
Saturday, September 15
Organizers of the Brooklyn Book Festival are again hosting a Children's Day the Saturday before Sunday's main event. Held in MetroTech Commons and aimed at kids ages 2 to 11, Children's Day features readings and performances by big names in little-kid lit. Past fests have included book signings, STEM workshops, Star Wars trivia, illustrator draw-offs and plenty of children's books for sale. FREE
This interactive museum will have you questioning your eyesight. Photo courtesy of the museum
Museum of Illusions — Chelsea
Thursday, September 20
The new Museum of Illusions is set to debut this month in a landmarked building on 14th Street and 8th Avenue. The interactive museum will have you questioning your eyesight as optical illusions play tricks on your perception. A collection of more than 70 exhibits includes a mind-bending Mirror Room, a Head on a Platter photo op, and the Ames Room, where your size goes from dwarf to giant depending on the route you walk. While photo ops abound, there are also plenty of opportunities to study the science behind these visual tricks.
Puppet making together at the Astor Alive Festival. Photo courtesy of event
Astor Alive Festival — East Village
Saturday, September 22
Returning for a third year, the Astor Alive Festival celebrates the talent and culture of the East Village. In addition to live performances, expect participatory workshops for festival goers of all ages. FREE
The Maker Faire is always an interactive event. Photo courtesy of the festival. Photo courtesy of the New York Hall of Science
Maker Faire New York — Corona, Queens
Saturday, September 22-Sunday, September 23
Maker Faire is a true Mommy Poppins favorite. Originating in California, Maker Faire debuted in NYC in 2010. The grounds of the New York Hall of Science explode with all kinds of inventions and creations—from knitting to robotics, circus to interactive sculptures, computers to crafts. The Young Makers area is particularly inspiring, with local students showing off their innovative projects. And the crowd is always awed by the flying Drone Zone. There are a variety of tickets and keep in mind, everyone over age 2 needs one.
Enjoy the maize maze, petting zoo, carnival rides and games, hayrides, and more at the Queens County Fair. Photo by Stephanie Ogozalek for Mommy Poppins
Queens County Fair — Glen Oaks, Queens
Saturday, September 22-Sunday, September 23
This old-fashioned affair takes place on the grounds of the Queens County Farm Museum, NYC's only historic working farm. Enjoy blue-ribbon competitions in livestock, produce, home crafts, arts and crafts, and more; pie-eating and corn-husking contests; pig races, hayrides, a petting zoo, and a midway with tons of carnival rides. It's the fun of country farm life without having to leave the city. This is also the weekend the farm opens its Amazing Maize Maze, the city's only corn maze.
Atlantic Antic — Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
Sunday, September 23
The biggest street fair in Brooklyn boasts more than a dozen stages of live music (R&B, jazz, rock, country, kids' bands, you name it) and literally hundreds of vendors. There's a whole block dedicated to kids' activities. Past fun has included pony rides, face painting, balloon sculptures, a petting zoo, and more. Grown-ups will appreciate the eclectic selection of international eats, including pulled pork, baklava, and carnival favorites. FREE admission to the street fair, but there are fees for some activities.
Little Red Lighthouse Festival — Washington Heights
Saturday, September 29
Hear a reading of the classic children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and The Great Gray Bridge and get an up-close, inside view of its inspiration with Urban Ranger-led tours of the lighthouse. Other shoreline fun includes fishing clinics, live entertainment, and on-site food vendors. FREE, but tickets for the tours go fast, so arrive early!
NYC has so many incredible things going on, it's difficult to choose. So here are a few more cool (mostly FREE) events worth considering for your September calendar:
Go apple picking—September is peak season—at one of the tri-state area's pick-your-own farms.
Take a final dip at one of NYC's FREE outdoor public pools and beaches, some of which are staying open through Sunday, September 9. FREE
Get a sweet taste of fall at the annual New York City Honey Festival on Rockaway Beach on Saturday, September 15. FREE
Grow your family with a furry friend at Adoptapalooza, where you can bring home a rabbit, cat, or dog on Sunday, September 16. FREE
Visit many of NYC's top museums at no cost courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day on Saturday, September 22. FREE
Enjoy some more national treasures when the National Parks waive their admission on Saturday, September 22. FREE
Purchase a pachyderm for the Great Dumbo Drop, a funky neighborhood street fest that sees revelers showered with flying elephants on Friday, September 28.
Catch the zany acrobatics and high-flying fun at the New Victory's Machine de Cirque, which debuts on Friday, September 28.
Head to the New York Botanical Garden beginning September 28 for its seasonal display of sweet and spooky pumpkins and scarecrows. Free with paid admission.
Thought you had another month to come up with your kids' Halloween costumes? Think again. Luna Park's annual Halloween Harvest Festival kicks off on September 29, and runs weekends through October 31.