Indoor Activities for Kids: Parks and Zoos
by Alyssa Grossman, 02/06/2013
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City Parks and Zoos
When the rain starts falling, NYC's parks and zoos aren't a natural choice for entertaining the family. But they're worth a second look.
While a picnic may be out of the question, families can head to Central Park's Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, where the classics come alive and handcrafted puppets take the stage. Performances are held six days a week inside the cottage, accessible from the park's West 81st Street entrance. Farther uptown in the park is the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center. This visitor center on the Harlem Meer offers free admission for exhibitions, education programs and events. Families can also play board games among the trees at the Chess & Checkers House. Central Park staffers are on hand during open hours to lend chess pieces, dominoes and backgammon sets, or players can bring their own for a bit of friendly competition.
During the summer season, Governors Island offers family activities, rain or shine. The former military outpost—accessible by (covered) ferry from Lower Manhattan's Battery Maritime Building and Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park—features historical buildings that double as activity spaces. Find rolling showcases and exhibitions inside the houses lining Colonels Row, while the Nolan Park Houses hold even more shows and pop-up stores. For more information on indoor summer programming, visit govisland.com.
Over in Brooklyn, Lefferts Historic House in Prospect Park offers a playtime look into the past with traditional toys and games, plus activity sessions like candle making and sewing. At the Audubon Center, your crew can take cover while perusing interactive exhibitions, lounging in the theater room during a special screening, meeting live animals or crawling into a human-size bird's nest. There's also a café in the building, should anyone work up an appetite. Both venues are open from April 6 to January 1 and during select holidays.
Prospect Park isn't the only Brooklyn venue bringing nature indoors. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is an outdoor oasis, but the green space recently introduced an impressive enclosed area. The striking Visitor Center melds eco-friendly design elements with plenty to see and do, including exhibitions and multimedia touches like a digital map of the garden.
When the sun is shining, visitors to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge walk the trails in search of 330 species of birds. But no matter the odds of precipitation, the park's state-of-the-art visitor center is worth a look. A floor-to-ceiling window lets curious kids peek out into the lush greenery outdoors and try to spot wildlife that calls the area home. And animal lovers can study up on Jamaica Bay's plants and animals, thanks to vibrant mini-exhibitions and pick up a complimentary trail permit for use when the skies clear.
For picturesque views and a glance back in time, visit the Alice Austen House Museum in Staten Island's Alice Austen Park. The National Historic Landmark pays tribute to the pioneering woman photographer's life and work. Steeped in history, the waterfront mansion, originally a one-room Dutch farmhouse built in the 1690s, hosts exhibitions and photo workshops for kids and teens throughout most of the year (the museum is closed in January and February).
And even when the forecast calls for rain, you'll find the residents of New York City's zoos frolicking around their respective terrains. Thankfully, The Central Park Zoo, Bronx Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Staten Island Zoo also have indoor exhibits, should your crew want to gaze at monkeys during a drizzle or wander through the Bronx Zoo's "Mouse House" in a downpour.
Be sure to check out our full guide to rainy-day family fun in NYC. Options include museums, theaters, tours, screenings, comedy clubs and fitness classes, just to name a few.