I’ve been to New York twice. The first time, I went in the summer with some friends to film a commercial for JDate, a Jewish dating website. The second time, I also went with some friends, however, this time around there were fewer Times Square jumbotron proposals involved and a lot more diapers. Last December, Hazelle, Micah and I went to New York with our good friends Laura and Robbie and their two little kids. After being there a few days, Robbie’s sister Dominique decided to come down and visit from Ottawa.
On my first trip I was with a friend who was raised in New York and knew a lot of great places to eat and things to see. So when I went the second time, I wanted to take my family to many of those places and also try a few new ones.
While my two trips to New York were quite different -- the first as a single guy who can go anywhere at any time, the second with a toddler, a pregnant wife, friends, and their young kids -- I realized that I can still have a good time and enjoy the city in a new way. Sure, it was the dead of winter and we had to bundle up more and stop occasionally to change a diaper, but we were still able to see (and eat) a great deal. We just had to go for it! There was a lot of walking, and transit was a little tricky with all the strollers, but that’s part of the fun, right? A few of the restaurants that we went to were packed with people, but often the servers didn’t mind helping us find a spot to park our strollers (once they even ended up in the walk-in fridge!). Our kiddos just napped in their strollers or baby carriers while we walked and walked and walked some more. Although the weather was chilly, we didn’t have to deal with snow until our flight home (which unfortunately led to 5 hours of flight delays).
We took the occasional Uber, however we mostly got around on foot (New York is very much a walking city) and via Subway. Only about half the subway stops have elevators, but it’s amazing how cute kids bring out the best in New Yorkers and there were always people willing to help us carry a stroller down a set of stairs. People always made room for families and were quite friendly and helpful. Our kids were their usual cute selves, waving and smiling at different people in the Subway. Micah was just starting to learn to stand and walk, and at one point we noticed him licking the Subway seat. 😬🤢
Where to stay
On my first trip we stayed in a few different Airbnbs in Manhattan, including a walk-up tenement building in the Upper East Side and a sprawling condo on the 20th floor a block from Grand Central. In December, we opted for an awesome brownstone in Brooklyn, which proved to be a lot of fun. I would highly recommend staying in Brooklyn as you get to see a whole other side of New York. The little corner stores and restaurants made me feel like I was in Spiderman (even though we weren’t in Queens). We stayed right near Prospect Park and were less than a block from a Subway station.
Where to eat
New York restaurants may not be traditionally “family friendly” but we found New Yorkers to be much friendlier and more accommodating than their reputation would have you believe. Just be patient, understand that your stroller isn’t particularly normal and don’t be entitled. Sure someone might give you a dirty look for taking up more room in a cramped building (there will always be those kind of people 🙄), but generally most people will wave at your kids and tell you how cute they are.
- Kat’z Delicatessen in the East Village is a New York staple. It is a Jewish deli, so Pastrami on Rye and Matzo Ball soup should be high on your must-try list. The bustling atmosphere is great, photos of hundreds of celebrities line the walls, employees are yelling at each other, people are everywhere and it seems like chaos but there’s a rhythm and structure to it all. Oh and remember not to lose your meal ticket or you’ll get charged $50 on the way out.
- Tacombi started in Mexico in the Yucatan, serving tacos out of a converted VW bus and now have multiple locations in NY. These tacos were muy bien.
- Joe’s Pizza - The one on Carmine St. in the West Village. This pizza joint is from the 2002 Spiderman movie. After some tacos at Tacombi, round the corner and pop in for a nice piece of pie like we did. After all you can never be too full for pizza right?
- Shake Shacks are all over the city. I know this is controversial but I’m gonna say it anyway. In my humble opinion, Shake Shack is better than In-n-Out. Try it out and let me know what you think.
- Juliana's Pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn Heights was probably one of the best meal experiences we had. We had the luxury of chatting with co-owner Matthew Grogan for some time after our meal. Matthew’s career as a high-powered investment banker in Manhattan ended when his good friend Patsy Grimaldi who had retired asked Matthew to help him start a new restaurant. Matthew had been a customer of Grimaldi’s for years, however Patsy retired and sold the name. A few years later at 81, Patsy decided that his family's decades old pizza legacy was not being fulfilled and so he and Matthew opened a new restaurant right next door, beginning a pizza rivalry like no other. When Patsy sold the name he kept the recipe. If you want an authentic New York pie, this is the place to get a coal-fired slice. The great pizza family Grimaldi lives on.
- Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. After enjoying some of the best pizza you will ever have at Juliana's, make your way down the Pier for a cone.
- Bagelsmith in Brooklyn were bit out of the way but these bagels are worth it.
- Blue Bottle Coffee is everywhere in NYC. They have a nice atmosphere and the coffee is apparently delicious. Staff are quite friendly too! Check out their space in the branch just outside of the 9/11 memorial. Caveat: I don’t actually drink coffee, however I can always find great coffee shops in a new city for the enjoyment of those I travel with. It’s also nice to find a unique space to take a break, slow down and watch a city go about its business.
- Famous Sammy's in the Lower East Side. This family-style Romanian steakhouse in the basement of a tenement building is an experience to say the least. Dani Luv, the Israeli in-house comedian / singer will inevitably start a dance party during your meal. Please go here, if you can handle it.
Things to do
Of course there are the classics like “see a Broadway show” or “visit the Plaza hotel at the edge of Central Park”, and I assume those are already on your list (I’ve seen “Catch Me if You Can” and “Wicked” on Broadway, and I highly recommend them both!). I’ve also listed a few fun things that I’ve found quite enjoyable to do with or without kids.
- Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge is amazing, this 150 year old bridge is an engineering marvel for its day. A great way to see the city and a great way to get to Juliana’s Pizza.
- The best view in NY is the “Top of the Rock”. Rockefeller Center may not be the Empire State Building, but you can’t see the Empire State Building from the Empire State Building, can you? By the way, any 30 Rock fans out there? Great show.
- The Staten Island Ferry is an awesome free way to see the city and to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty.
- If you do decide to also pay to visit the Statue of Liberty, make the most of that trip and stop in at Ellis Island to learn about the experience many of our ancestors went through as they immigrated into North America.
- High Line Park is a 1.5 mile elevated train track turned park. A nice quiet walk, above the bustle of the city. We recommend walking through the Chelsea Market (Hazelle really loved it there) on your way to the High Line.
- The World Trade Center site was incredibly sobering. The massive pools where each tower stood with thousands of names inscribed into them are a very powerful tribute.
- Look up! It might sound silly but a lot of people in New York just look forward as they rush around. Take some time and look up, appreciate the beauty of the buildings and the stories they tell.
- While I’m sure there are more things to do in this great city, I highly recommend visiting the restaurants and sites above. If time allows, I’d also recommend going off the beaten path, and just getting lost somewhere without a real destination to get to. Sure, there are great things to see on 5th Ave., but the streets of Brooklyn and the dirty subway stations will give you a better idea of the true nature of the city that never sleeps. If you are also up for it, take a train from Grand Central and visit neighbouring places like Connecticut, Boston and DC!
A word to the wise, from our now very experienced little traveler, Micah:
DO NOT LICK THE SUBWAY SEATS! I repeat: DO NOT RUB YOUR TONGUE ALL OVER ANYTHING IN THE SUBWAY IN NYC! I was curious to see how they tasted, so I licked a few seats when were on our way back into NYC from Connecticut (my parents tried to stop me, but I was on a mission). A few days later I was sicker than I have ever been in all of my 10 months of life. At the airport, as we were about to head home to Vancouver, I 🤮 all over the floor as my dad and I were walking through the metal detector! The poor TSA agent just waved us through and had to clean up my mess. Throughout our 5-hour delays, the outpouring of all kinds of bodily liquids kept coming. Thankfully I was traveling with a good friend who was my age and graciously lent me his clothes because I quickly went through the two spares that my mom packed for me for the flight! Consider yourself warned.