Family-Friendly Lower Manhattan
by Joanna Weinstein and nycgo.com staff, 05/22/2013
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For visitors to New York City with children in tow, seeing the Statue of Liberty is often top on the priority list. While Liberty Island undergoes repairs after damage from Hurricane Sandy—it is scheduled to reopen on July 4, at which time there will also be limited access on Ellis Island—curious explorers can still see the monument aboard a Statue Cruises or New York Water Taxi vessel, via the Staten Island Ferry, which leaves Manhattan from Whitehall Ferry Terminal, and by taking in views of the harbor from the downtown waterfront.
But there’s no need to rush back uptown after checking this sight off your to-do list—there are so many kid-friendly activities nearby that you can make a whole day of exploring the area. Downtown's tall canyons of stately architectural gems line charming, winding streets bracketed by inviting green spaces and spectacular water views—from Pier 17 to Battery Park City. There are great places to eat, shop, play and soak in some of the history of New York's first neighborhood, such as museums, landmarks and parks. Here are some stops to make that will certainly keep the younger ones engaged and—shhh—maybe even help them learn a little something along the way. And for more ideas on things to do in Lower Manhattan, see our guides to shopping, dining and historical highlights.
Forts and Parks
Start your morning at Wagner Park, which offers a superb lookout on Lady Liberty; during winter, this location was home to the brand-new Liberty View Ice Rink. After taking in the scenery here, head to Manhattan’s southern tip, Battery Park. A 25-acre green space facing New York Harbor, it offers gorgeous views of the Statue of Liberty, the harbor boats and ferries and the Lower Manhattan skyline. For even more outdoor recreation, make your way to the hidden treasure of Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, a beautiful place to soak up some fresh air any time of year—just head north on West Street toward the River Terrace.
To rest your legs and refuel for the rest of the afternoon, head to P.J. Clarke’s on the Hudson for kid-size mini cheeseburgers and comfort food like chicken potpie. For picky eaters in the group, the burgers, fries and creamy shakes at Shake Shack on Murray Street should do the trick.
After lunch, continue your culture fest by walking further downtown to The Skyscraper Museum on Battery Place and discover the behind-the-scenes history of the world's first vertical metropolis. From there, it's a short walk to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian at the George Gustav Heye Center, which houses more than 700 works of native art and artifacts, including handmade dolls and an array of headdresses and Indian clothing from North, Central and South America. The museum also hosts family-friendly events throughout the year.
History and Views
After touring the museums, take a walk over to Wall Street, the Financial District's storied narrow thoroughfare that's steeped in history. Stop to pose with George Washington's statue in front of the Federal Hall National Memorial and discover the site where he was sworn into office as the nation's first president. Then head further down to the picturesque South Street Seaport for a stunning view of the Brooklyn Bridge or browse among the charming shops and neighborhood restaurants, like the popular Harry's Cafe and Steak.
Downtime for Dining
With so many activities under your belt, you'll need some time to unwind over dinner. Those in the mood for seafood and Southern favorites served up among cheeky, kitschy decor would do well with a visit to Cowgirl Sea-Horse, where the menu ranges from shrimp and grits to Tex-Mex specialties, all at affordable prices.
If you're looking for a fine-dining experience, however, head to City Hall Restaurant, situated in a carefully restored 1863 cast-iron building right near the real City Hall. Rub elbows with federal judges, City Council members and maybe an FBI agent or two while tucking into a New York strip steak or a slice of classic New York cheesecake. (A kids' menu is available at all meals.) Afterward, sneak in a history lesson at the African Burial Ground National Monument, also nearby City Hall. Discovered during construction for a new federal building in the early 1990s, the grounds are the final resting place of more than 400 free and enslaved Africans who were buried there between the 1690s and 1794. With a memorial, numerous artworks and a 40-seat theater, the site offers an emotional experience for any family interested in understanding a period that influenced America’s roots.
Then take the family for a stroll down South William Street, between Broad Street and Mill Lane, where you can indulge in downtown's very own creperie. Being on a tiny street, Crêpes du Nord is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth seeking out. Parents can enjoy wine from an extensive list while helping kids dig into a variety of sweet crepe selections, including blueberries and ice cream, Nutella and banana, and dulce de leche. After a long day downtown, you've earned every bite!