From Dinosaurs to Dining: Adventures on the Upper West Side

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No place encapsulates New York’s quintessential, Woody Allen movie urban elegance like the brownstone- and bagel-packed Upper West Side, nestled between Central and Riverside Parks. The neighborhood is kid friendly to boot, with a huge selection of museums, parks, and restaurants to choose from. Venture off the beaten path with these ideas, sure to please even the pickiest of little ones.

When to go: Year-round! The great thing about a neighborhood that’s one of the cultural centers of a city that’s arguably the cultural center of the entire world is that there is always something to do, rain or shine, frigid January or humid July.

Approximate travel time: Assuming you start in Manhattan, it will always be 30 minutes or less by subway. Allow for 15-20 minutes more if you’re coming from Brooklyn or Queens, and an extra hour plus for farther reaches like the Bronx and Staten Island.

photo courtesy of n0nick on Flickr

What to do: Exit the subway at 72nd Street for a proper Upper West Side welcome courtesy of Verdi Square, a triangular “park” at the bustling commercial intersection of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. Walk east two avenues to Central Park West and stop by Strawberry Fields (71st-74th Streets, just inside the park) to see the John Lennon memorial before heading uptown to the American Museum of Natural History (81st Street between Columbus and Central Park West), which houses the world’s largest collection of vertebrate fossils (read: DINOSAURS!) along with renowned diorama windows showcasing hundreds of mammal species in painstakingly recreated habitats.

photo courtesy of Sarah_Ackerman on Flickr

Younger kids will also enjoy the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue), which caters to the under-6 set with exhibits featuring Dora the Explorer and Playmobil, and Riverside Park’s Hippo Playground (91st Street and Riverside Drive), dotted with bronze sculptures of its titular ungulates amidst swings, slides, a sprinkler, and other playground staples.

photo courtesy of Levain Bakery’s Facebook

Where to eat: Pick up bagels, lox, and a chocolate babka (a cakey bread popular in Eastern Europe) at neighborhood landmark Zabar’s (80th Street and Broadway), then head west two blocks to Riverside Park for a breakfast break. For lunch on the go (because–see above–you’ve got places to be!), the $1.50 hot dogs at the tiny, iconic Gray’s Papaya (72nd Street and Broadway) can’t be beat–wash them down with the joint’s famous papaya drink while people-watching through the plate glass storefront. For an afternoon snack, indulge in fresh-from-the-oven, fist-sized cookies at Levain Bakery (74th Street and Amsterdam Avenue), and for your evening meal, head to kid-friendly comfort food spot Good Enough to Eat (83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue), which offers a popular all-day breakfast menu (pancakes for dinner, anyone?) in addition to classic fare like burgers, meatloaf, and mac & cheese.

How to dress: If you really want to fit in with the neighborhood natives, go for jeans worn with a tee shirt, fitted blazer, loafers and oversize sunglasses. Extra points for bringing along a small dog and/or giant stroller.

Bonus: If you’re willing to travel farther afield, have the kids run around Columbia’s expansive Morningside Heights campus (116th Street and Broadway)–college tours can never start too early!–followed by a treat at Tom’s Restaurant (112th Street and Broadway), AKA “the Seinfeld diner.”

Cost of trip: Starts with $4.50 for round-trip subway fare and increases with food, shows, museums, hotel room, and so on.

What’s your family’s favorite place to visit on the Upper West Side? Let us know in the comment section below. 

— Una LaMarche