Know someone who still needs supervision but is itching to have fun? Sounds like you have a tween on your hands. Fortunately, New York City is well-equipped to entertain and inspire your preteen kids—and score you some great family memories in the process. Here are 10 ideas (fine, 13, we couldn’t resist a few bonuses) to get you started.
1. Get your programs signed after a Broadway show
Manhattan's Broadway has lots of family-friendly musicals to see—SpongeBob SquarePants among them; after the show, hang out by the exit and make your program into a real keepsake with the stars’ autographs (tip: BYO Sharpie).
2. Catch a few thrills on the rides at Coney Island
Do your kids like to live on the edge (and are they tall enough)? Get ’em in line for the Thunderbolt or Cyclone roller coasters—and make sure you’ve got the stomach to join them. Slightly tamer excitement can be had on the log flume ride or the 150-foot-tall Wonder Wheel.
3. Eat some NYC pizza at an old-school pizza parlor
Or it can be somewhere new, whatever—just make sure you find an appropriate place for a cheesy slice, a charred coal-oven pie or a Neapolitan-style pizza. Paulie Gee’s, Totonno’s, Joe’s—the list goes on.
4. Skate the ramp at Homage
The centerpiece of this skate shop is an area for classes and all-ages open-skating sessions; don’t forget to look at the designer decks if you’re in need of a special gift for your young skater.
5. Inspect a guided missile submarine on the USS Intrepid
Climb aboard a decommissioned aircraft carrier to see warplanes, the inner workings of a ship, a test space shuttle and the USS Growler—a cramped sub where sailors spent months at a time at sea.
6. Take to the air by the Bronx River
Best known for its habitats for western lowland gorillas, leaping lemurs and Himalayan snow leopards, the Bronx Zoo has a feature that can put you up in the trees like some of its denizens: its aerial adventure center, which has a zipline and a ropes course. Kids as young as 7 can take part.
7. Come eye to eye with predators at the shark tank
The New York Aquarium’s Ocean Wonders: Sharks is the latest permanent exhibit, gathering nearly 20 species of the sharp-toothed fish by the Coney Island boardwalk (and yes, these animals can all be found in the deep waters off of New York’s shores).
8. Hit the heights at one of Manhattan’s sky-high observatories
9. Sketch pictures of wildflowers at the High Line
This westside elevated park has all kinds of uses: picnic spot, Instagram haven, observation deck for Chelsea architecture…but it’s also a great place to admire nature and put your kids’ observation and art skills into effect.
9. Cut a short film at Museum of the Moving Image
This cinematic museum offers lots of ways for aspiring directors to get creative: doing a bit of animation, trying their hand at sound editing . . . just make sure that the half dozen vintage video games at the end of the exhibit serve as a reward rather than the main attraction. Come to think of it, how long has it been since you’ve played Donkey Kong?
10. Learn the finer arts of undercover work at Spyscape
Kids can test their detection and code-breaking skills here—which, along with the miniature world of Gulliver’s Gate, the 3-D wizardry of National Geographic Encounter and the athletic challenges of the NFL Experience, has brought a new level of techno-immersive attraction to Times Square.
Bonus idea: Commune with nature in Snug Harbor
The arcing Allee, the Chinese Scholar’s Gardens rush of waterfalls and calm koi pond, and a maze of greenery are among the sights and sounds that make this Staten Island shoreside attraction stir all the senses.
Bonus idea, revisited: Play a round of scientific mini golf at Rocket Park
At the New York Hall of Science’s nine-hole course, keep in mind the kids will be learning about law-of-motion principles—gravity, propulsion—while trying their best to best your scores. As for the “rocket” part, two 100-foot spacecraft, once under NASA’s charge and then donated for World’s Fair display, loom above the field of play.
Bonus idea, one more time: Eat your way along Arthur Avenue
You can watch homemade pasta get cut at Borgatti's, sample fresh ricotta and mozzarella at Calandra's, see cannoli filled to order at Madonia and chow down on giant, cured-meat-and-cheese-filled sandwiches at Mike's. Best to plan on some down time—or a very long, slow walk—after visiting the Bronx’s Little Italy.