The Short List
1. Shake Your Booty at Baby Loves Disco
Why should dance clubs be limited to the over-21 crowd? Thanks to Baby Loves Disco, the under-seven set gets monthly access to local nightspots in Manhattan and Brooklyn—like popular Park Slope concert venue Southpaw. Replacing the previous night’s aroma of beer, the air is heavy with bubbles, the dangling strings of balloons and the scent of popcorn. As the disco ball spins, the dance floor comes alive with jumpers, slitherers and stompers, all waist high. Kids and parents alike adore the classic hits from the ’70s and ’80s. Noisemakers, juice boxes and snacks are also available.
2. Order a Bagel with the Works
Real New Yorkers eat their boiled dough one way—and that happens to be the best way. Have your kid tell the deli man she’d like a bagel with cream cheese, Nova, tomato and sliced onions. Then see if she can avoid getting cream cheese all over her face. For the ultimate at-home taste sensation, head to smoked salmon mecca Russ & Daughters to pick up the schmear and other toppings, and to Ess-a-Bagel, purveyors of the most flavorful, moistest bagels in Manhattan, for the base of the meal. That’s what we call being a well-rounded kid. Russ & Daughters, 179 E. Houston St. between Allen and Orchard Sts. (212-475-4880); Ess-a-Bagel, 359 First Ave. at 21 St. (212-260-2252)
3. Top of the Rock vs. Empire State Building
Sure, the 86th floor Observatory at the Empire State Building is the original place to go for an eagle’s-eye look at New York, and it’s located atop a global icon. But at 70 stories up, the observation deck at TOTR affords a spectacular vista of Central Park without the crazy lines. Plus, the sprawling subterranean mall at 30 Rock offers amenities like shopping and eating. Advantage: Top of the Rock. Enter on 50th St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves. (212-698-2000)
4. Dress Up and See a Broadway Musical
With good behavior come great rewards: That’s the lesson children learn when they not only don itchy tights and starched shirts, but also manage to sit silently and still for two and a half hours. The experience will instill either a love affair with musical theater or a lifelong hatred of show tunes. For the former reaction, go with our pick: The Lion King.
5. Explore Life Underground
More than 150 works of art have been installed in 142 subway stations in the MTA’s Arts for Transit program, but among New York’s small set, Life Underground is surely the most popular. Constructed by Tom Otterness in his Gowanus studio, the installation consists of some 100 bronze sculptures (the artist delivered four times as many pieces as he was asked to create), placed throughout the multilevel station at 14th Street and Eighth Avenue. They represent lore associated with New York belowground (witness the alligator emerging from beneath a manhole cover, a man clamped in its chompers) as well as the construction of the subway system and straphangers’ daily use of it. Yes, the figures are cute—their rounded proportions, money bag heads and clunky, outsize shoes evoke early cartoons—but they’re also devious (the fare jumper), pushy (a fellow clutching a bag of loot claims a seat on a bench) and industrious (separate figures sweep pennies, hoist a beam and haul a giant token). That insistent busyness, as much as the sculptures’ whimsy, accounts for their vast appeal. This is art kids want to touch, and for once, they can. Subway station at Eighth Ave. and 14th St. For a list of all the artworks in Arts for Transit, visit mta.info or pick up the brochure Art en Route for 50¢ at the New York Transit Museum.
6. Taste the Immediate Gratification of Dim Sum
Eat out without the wait. At Shun Lee Café, a casual version of the famed Shun Lee West, elegant carts stocked with fragrant steamed and fried wontons, egg rolls and dumplings circle your table while you peruse the menu. Translation: No more listening to whines of "Where’s our food?" 43 W. 65th St. between Central Park West and Columbus Ave. (212-769-3888)
7. Learn the Value of Patience and Fortitude
Even the most ardent young bibliophiles might have difficulty picking Mo Willems out of a lineup, but they’ll instantly recognize the New York Public Library’s leonine guardians. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia named the marble cats (Patience and Fortitude) for the character traits he felt would get city residents through the Great Depression. Those qualities will certainly help parents through the dreaded preschool application interview, if not the current economic crisis. Kids may choose to believe the names reflect the lions’ stoic response to undignified holiday getups. In front of the NYPL’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Fifth Ave at 42nd St.
8. Hang Out at the Penguin House
For two decades, the beloved attraction has reigned supreme at the Central Park Zoo. No wonder; the slippery little guys are awfully cute. But they also present an unexpected learning opportunity for young romantics: The exhibit is the home of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins that hooked up for six years as a gay couple, even raising their own chick from an adopted egg. The pair eventually broke up, and Silo mated with a female, but not before a kids’ book, And Tango Makes Three, was written about the very New York family.
9. Frolic at Wave Hill in the Bronx
Without any prompting, kids automatically respond to the natural beauty of this 28-acre former estate whose vista of the Palisades, across the Hudson River, is one of New York City’s most stunning views. They frolic past the huge trees on its spacious lawns, inspect the miniature blossoms of alpine plants (these peak in late winter) and gambol along winding pathways through beds as colorful as the biggest box of crayons. Imaginative planting is a hallmark at Wave Hill (where else will tots see curly parsley used as an ornamental border?), and the unexpected combinations of colors and species keep the scene playful. In the dark water of the Aquatic Garden young visitors can get a fleeting glimpse of fish; a small conservatory bears flowering vines and artfully massed pots of greenery, hanging plants of unusual textures and a cactus collection. Trails through ten acres of woodland allow for private reverie and perhaps a sighting of a Baltimore oriole, just one of the bird species that stop here during their migration. Family art projects are on offer every weekend in the Kerlin Learning Center; this month’s activities get kids handling natural objects (cones, leaves, seed pods) in creative ways. Upstairs, in the Wave Hill House, built in 1843, is the café, where soup, sandwiches and sweet treats await eager snackers. Carry your tray outdoors to one of the tables on the terrace, where your child can share brownie crumbs with alert sparrows. Humans aren’t the only ones that flock to this place.
10. Play at FAO Schwarz
Many people visit New York City exclusively for FAO Schwarz, the grand children’s store that has been serving awed kids and generous parents for more than a century. New Yorkers often prefer their own neighborhood shops, but this is where dreams can come to life—like the toy soldier that stands guard shaking hands with young shoppers, and the enormous stuffed elephants and giraffes that children can fearlessly pet. Most people head straight to the 22-foot-long floor piano that Tom Hanks famously tinkled in Big. Continual demonstrations of the latest gadgets, electric and wooden trains, a Barbie runway and couture clothing, adult-size Lego figures, and the baby nursery contribute to the pleasant pandemonium. It’s hard to escape without making a purchase, but that’s a small price to pay for a lifetime memory. 767 Fifth Ave. at 58th St. (212-644-9400)
For the complete list of 50 kids’ activities, visit Time Out New York.