May is beloved in NYC for the return of warm weather, alfresco dining options, and family-centric holidays such as Mother's Day and Memorial Day weekend. The latter marks the unofficial start of summer as beaches, water parks, and amusement parks open for the season.
But you don't have to wait until the last weekend of the month to enjoy wonderful family outings. There are fairs and festivals everywhere you turn in May, and our GoList includes the top 16 things to do with kids in New York City this month, a host of which are FREE. Enjoy no-cost annual favorites such as Governors Island Family Fun Day, the New York Dance Parade, and the Children's Museum of the Arts' Kids Fair. Or check out new events such as a Sound of Music sing-along led by a Hamilton star, a stand-up comedy show just for families, and a cool Drones exhibit.
Mommy Poppins is also hosting a Summer Brain Game kickoff party at Luna Park with loads of Coney Island fun. It's also a great month to check out our NYC Parks & Playgrounds Guide.
For more activity ideas, peruse our Event Calendar and our spring guide.
As always, if an event piques your interest, click through to our listing for all the details, including address and time. And keep in mind, in NYC really cool things to do with kids often book up quickly, so buy your tickets ASAP or, in the case of FREE events, arrive as early as possible. Be sure to sign up for our FREE newsletters so you can get our picks delivered to your inbox.
Identification Day — Upper West Side
Saturday, May 6
Got any unidentified feathers, rocks, shells, bones, or other natural artifacts sitting around your house? Bring them to the American Museum of Natural History and scientists will attempt to figure out what they are. Past identified items include a whale jawbone and a 5,000-year-old stone spear point. (There are some rules, such as no live or dead animals, so check the website to make sure your items qualify.) New this year: Experts share details about the many ways they preserve specimens for science. While at the museum, be sure to explore the recently opened Mummies exhibit. Identification Day is free with suggested admission.
SandSational! in Riverside Park — Upper West Side
Saturday, May 6
Give back to your community while having fun outdoors. The folks at the Riverside Park Conservancy are restocking the sand boxes in their playgrounds and need your assistance. Families with children of all ages are invited to help move fresh sand via a bucket brigade. Don't worry, grown-ups will do most of the heavy lifting while tots receive pails and shovels to help smooth out the grains. It's a wonderful way to introduce youngsters to the concept of volunteering. FREE
Billy Kelly's Family Comedy Show — Gramercy
Saturday, May 6
Billy Kelly is a real Renaissance man when it comes to kid-centric entertainment. In addition to releasing a series of children's albums, including 2015's Grammy-nominated Trees, he also hosts stand-up comedy shows for the two juice box-minimum crowd. This month he's bringing his "offensively clean" routine to the People's Improv Theater for an all-ages matinee featuring intergenerational material. Laughs, laughs will keep us together.
The Sound of Music Screening & Sing-Along Concert with Jasmine Cephas Jones — Washington Heights
Sunday, May 7
Seeing a film at the historic United Palace Theater is always a grand experience. Just walking into this opulent 1920s movie palace feels like stepping back in time. This month's screening is particularly spectacular: The beloved 1965 movie musical The Sound of Music is preceded by a sing-along of tunes from the flick led by original Hamilton cast member Jasmine Cephas Jones (aka Peggy Schuyler). For an extra-memorable evening, consider splurging on the "On Stage Exclusive:" For $50 per parent-child pair, enjoy two glasses of champagne or lemonade onstage with a pre-screening piano cabaret by American Idol finalist Anwar Robinson, along with two reserved VIP seats to the movie and free popcorn.
Drones: Is the Sky the Limit? Exhibit — Midtown West
Opening Wednesday, May 10
Drones—they aren't just the hot 2017 birthday toy. Drones actually have a storied past that is thoroughly examined in the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's new exhibit. Learn about the evolution of drone technology, from old-school unmanned flying machines to today's cutting-edge, high-tech systems. A variety of artifacts, model airplanes, and archival videos will be on view, along with a so-called “immersion” theater, in which families can catch dramatic footage shot from the unique perspective of a drone.
RELATED: Best NYC Family Festivals and Fairs This May
This showing of E.T. gets a boost from the New York Philharmonic. Photo courtesy the orchestra.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial In Concert — Lincoln Square
Friday, May 12-Saturday, May 13
Even if you and your kids have watched E.T. countless times, you've never experienced it like this. As Steven Spielberg's 1983 classic about an intergalactic friendship is shown on a giant screen, the New York Philharmonic performs John Williams' iconic, Oscar-winning score live. That flying bicycle scene in particular is sure to feel even more magical with the musicians strumming away right in front of you.
STEM Expo at NYSCI — Corona, Queens
Friday, May 19
For one jam-packed night, New York Hall of Science invites families with kids in middle school, high school, or college to explore summer academic and internship opportunities in STEM—that's science, technology, engineering, and math, but we bet you knew that already. In addition to learning about these fantastic programs, visitors can check out interactive science demos, tour the museum's many exhibits, explore the museum after dark, and enjoy Queens-made eats. FREE but an RSVP is required
It's all dancing in the streets at the annual Dance Parade New York. Photo by Josef Pinlac/courtesy of the parade.
Dance Parade New York — Flatiron and the East Village
Saturday, May 20
This annual dance procession is deservedly on our list of the best NYC parades for kids. It kicks off near Madison Square Park and ends in Tompkins Square Park. Along the way, more than 10,000 movers and shakers shimmy down Broadway in elaborate costumes doing more than 75 dances, including the salsa, tango, waltz, hula, break dancing and more. To participate, register in advance and join a group. Otherwise, go to cheer them on, and hit the after-party in Tompkins Square Park for complimentary dance workshops and multiple stages of dance performances. FREE
Essex Street Market's Block Party — Lower East Side
Saturday, May 20
Celebrate Essex Street Market's 77th birthday—its last one in its current spot. After almost eight decades, this Lower East Side mainstay is relocating cross Delancey Street, but it's moving out in style. Get a taste of all the Essex Street Market has to offer at this old-fashioned neighborhood bash featuring eclectic homemade eats, live music, and kid activities such as face painting and balloon animals. Local faves like Ice & Vice, The Bao Shoppe, and Petee's Pies will be on hand selling their dishes. The fest is FREE, but bring moola for grub.
Summer Brain Quest Kickoff Party — Coney Island, Brooklyn
Saturday, May 20
Head to Luna Park for a special seasonal kickoff party with Brain Quest and Mommy Poppins. Enjoy personalized Summer Brain Quest challenges and hit the rides with your unlimited wristband. Attendees come away with a workbook sure to banish the dreaded summer brain drain and cool goody bags. Advance ticket purchase necessary.
CMA Kids Fair — Hudson Square
Sunday, May 21
In tandem with the Children's Museum of the Arts' annual family benefit—a worthy afternoon of art-making activities that is great fun if you have the cash—the creative spot is throwing its second annual Kids Fair right outside the building, FREE and open to all. Enjoy a variety of hands-on projects for all ages, from flubber to fort building, plus old-school games such as ring toss, skee ball, and jump rope, and an artisanal market filled with products and services from local vendors. Note: Only those with tickets to the benefit are allowed inside the museum. FREE
RELATED: NYC Spring Fun Guide: Outdoor Fun, Fairs, Day Trip Ideas, and More
Celebrate the armed services during Fleet Week. Photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton/courtesy of Marine Corps.
Fleet Week New York — Citywide
Wednesday, May 24-Tuesday, May 30
Members of the Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard cruise into town for Memorial Day weekend. Salute the servicemen and women you spy in uniform all over town, much to kids' delight. There are plenty of events going on throughout the five boroughs. Highlights for families include the New York Parade of Ships sailing into New York Harbor on Wednesday, May 24, and the no-cost ship tours throughout the week at the Intrepid's Pier 86 and other locations. Be sure to check the official Fleet Week site for updated info. Most events are FREE, but are often mobbed.
BRIC Family Day — Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Saturday, May 27
Kids can enjoy a variety of art projects led by BRIC’s teaching artists at this month's family day. The 3,000-square-foot gallery is usually thought of as a grown-up venue, so these kid-centric events are a great way to check out the culture hub with tots in tow. While there, explore its current show, the 29th annual Contemporary Art Education Exhibition, featuring work by students from more than 30 NYC public schools. FREE
Opening Weekend for City Beaches — Citywide
Opening Saturday, May 27
Memorial Day weekend is considered the unofficial start of summer because beaches in NYC (and the tristate area) open the Saturday before the Monday holiday. While day trips to nearby shores in New Jersey and Long Island are lovely if you have a car and don't mind waiting in traffic, you can access beaches in four boroughs with just a swipe of your MetroCard. Only Manhattan does not have a beach, though ironically, Brooklyn has a Manhattan Beach. Coney Island is, of course, a family favorite since it boasts amusement parks, the New York Aquarium, and other kid-friendly attractions. However, don't count out Brooklyn's more subdued Brighton Beach, the Bronx's "Riviera," Orchard Beach, or surfing central Rockaway in Queens. They all have their attributes. As of now, beaches are set to stay open through Labor Day, but we're hopeful for an extension into mid-September as there has been the past two years. FREE
Welcome in summer at the Governors Island Family Fun Day. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Governors Island.
Governors Island Family Fun Day — Governors Island
Sunday, May 28
Yes, Governors Island opens almost a month earlier this year, on Monday, May 1. But its big season kickoff for families still takes place on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. In addition to perennial island favorites such as biking, picnicking, and strolling through the bucolic landscape, kids can write tall tales with the Story Pirates, catch performances by Mario the Magician, and make mini masterpieces with the Children's Museum of the Arts. Note: Some of the isle's annual attractions, including the Figment mini-golf course and Tree House, won't be installed yet for the season. However, the adventure playground and Slide Hill will be open. FREE except for cost of ferry
Bonus Day Trip Pick:
Strawberry Picking — Tristate area
Although you can do almost everything in NYC, there are a handful of activities that are only accessible outside the five boroughs. Strawberry picking is one of them (unless you count grabbing them off the aisle at Fairway). Nothing beats the taste of strawberries plucked straight from the vine when they're in season (as in late May and early June). Happily, there are a number of pick-your-own patches not too far from the city in Connecticut, New Jersey, and on Long Island. Plus, many of these spots host full-fledged strawberry festivals, too (mostly in June though). Something to put on your June GoList!
NYC has so many amazing things going on, it's often difficult to for us to choose our GoList picks each month. So here are a few more cool events worth considering for your May calendar.
Marvel at kooky circus acts at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus' A Cardboard & Duct Tape Spectacular Thursday, May 4 through Sunday, May 14.
Snag a FREE comic book at participating shops on Saturday, May 6. FREE
Enjoy the festival of colors at Governors Island's Holi Hai fest, which includes a kids' area, live music, and other performances on Saturday, May 6. FREE
Catch a page-to-stage adaptation of the kid-lit classic Peter Rabbit at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, May 6.
A double dose of FREE fun on Randall's Island: Gaze at gorgeous blooms and enjoy spring activities at the isle's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, and then head over to the opening of alfresco art installation Flow.17, both on Saturday, May 6. FREE
Get in on the stage action at the annual Harlem Children's Theatre Festival, where kids participate in and watch a variety of artsy activities on Saturday, May 6. FREE
Hit the New-York Historical Society for a musicalization of the classic children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge on Saturday, May 6.
Long Island City hosts its fourth annual LIC Springs Block Party with performances, art making, games, and loads of local vendors on Saturday, May 6. FREE
Climb aboard an ambulance, tow truck, and other cool vehicles at the Touch-a-Truck fest on Saturday, May 13 in South Slope.
Celebrate an old-fashioned Mother's Day at the New York Botanical Garden's Garden Party on Saturday, May 13-Sunday, May 14.
Groove to the soulful sounds of family R&B band Shine and the Moonbeams at Brooklyn's Central Library on Saturday, May 20. FREE
Tour offbeat and opulent sacred sites throughout the five boroughs Saturday, May 20-Sunday, May 21. FREE
Central Park's pint-size amusement park, Victorian Gardens, opens for the season on Saturday, May 27.