There’s a lot to love about Queens. It’s one of the most diverse places in the US and home to incredible restaurants and attractions, many of which are well suited to families. Flushing Meadows Corona Park holds a concentration of sights and activities—museums, playgrounds and the like—though families should also explore neighborhoods like Long Island City, Astoria, and Forest Hills to get a real feel for the borough. And the ambitious can venture to the edge of Queens to see a working farm. Read on for more details.
The site of two World’s Fairs, Flushing Meadows is the largest park in Queens and fourth largest in NYC. Its abundance of playgrounds and sports fields means kids can stay active all day. In the summer months, the lake is open for kayaking and fishing and the sprinklers provide opportunities for cooling off. The park hosts popular events like the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival and the US Open, as well as the three attractions listed immediately below.
As New York City’s leading museum dedicated to science, New York Hall of Science aims to make learning fun for kids. In the hands-on Design Lab, kids can work in one of five activity areas to build simple machines or experiment with zip lines and pulleys; at the interactive Search for Life Beyond Earth exhibit, they’ll enjoy driving a Mars Rover replica via remote control. In winter, the Hall of Science is home to an enormous gingerbread village, while its Rocket Park (with real rockets, space capsules and mini golf to boot) is fun to explore in warmer months.
Less crowded than the Central Park Zoo and more compact and intuitively laid out than the Bronx Zoo, the Queens Zoo is easy to navigate with young ones. Focused entirely on animals that are native to the Americas, the zoo showcases them in a natural setting somewhat more akin to a park than a typical zoo. It’s home to endangered Andean bears, a geodesic-dome aviary and a fab petting zoo in which kids can feed goats, cows and sheep. Daily sea lion feedings are popular as well.
Adjacent to the Queens Zoo is Fantasy Forest, Queens’ only amusement park (and one of the few in NYC). It’s geared toward the younger set, with a vintage carousel, mini roller coaster, twirling teacups and a ride-along choo choo. Free entertainment takes place summer Sundays at 2pm and 4pm.
Although the gardens in Brooklyn and the Bronx get the lion’s share of accolades and attention, the Queens Botanical Garden challenges them for loveliness. The 39-acre oasis, which dates back to 1946, features bee, herb and rooftop gardens, as a well as a garden specially designed for kids to explore. Programming includes nature-inspired story time, family cooking classes, hands-on crafts every weekend afternoon and seasonal events like a Christmas tree lighting with Santa.
The only museum in the US dedicated to the moving image in all its forms serves as one of Astoria’s cultural anchors. Folks of all ages will enjoy the Jim Henson Exhibition, which includes sketches of popular puppet characters that Henson created as well as 47 of the actual puppets, including Kermit the Frog, Elmo and Big Bird. The museum’s central display, Behind the Screen, allows kids to create stop-motion animated shorts or take the main role in a personalized flipbook. On weekends they screen kid-friendly movie matinees and host the Drop-In Moving Image Studio, a space for young ones to experiment with all kinds of digital technology.
For parents looking to get their dose of culture with kids in tow, waterfront Socrates Sculpture Park makes an ideal destination. The expansive grounds—good for running around—hold free art displays, and the views of the Manhattan skyline provide a fine complement to a picnic lunch. Sculpture workshops and story time for kids are held in the spring and summer.
Escape the bustle of the City for the peaceful Queens County Farm Museum, which is the longest continuously farmed site in the state (it dates back to 1697). Kids can enjoy a slice of farm life by feeding the goats and alpacas, among other friendly animals. Look out for special events like the annual Queens County Fair.
You may not think of NYC as a beach destination, but in the warmer months there’s no better place to splash in the Atlantic Ocean than Rockaway Beach. A boardwalk parallels miles of coastline; you’ll find food and entertainment along its length, as well as a few blocks inland. Want to enjoy the trek out? Take the NYC Ferry, which links Rockaway with Lower Manhattan and Sunset Park.
Satisfy your nostalgia and your sweet tooth at Eddie’s Sweet Shop, a nearly 100-year-old Queens institution. Treat the kids—and, yes, yourself—to one of the 20 or so homemade ice cream flavors on offer. It’s well worth a trip to largely residential Forest Hills for this taste of old-school New York, something that’s increasingly hard to come by in the City.