From exploring Central Park to riding the Staten Island Ferry and shopping at FAO Schwartz, New York offers endless options for family fun.
One of the city’s favorite educational playgrounds is the American Museum of Natural History. The museum offers 46 permanent exhibition halls, state-of-the-art research laboratories, one of the largest natural history libraries in the Western Hemisphere, and a permanent collection of more than 30 million specimens and cultural artifacts. This stellar outing easily entertains everyone in the family, can be explored for an entire day and you and your kids just might learn something along the way.
The museum is located at Central Park West between 77th and 81st Street and you’ll want to arrive as soon as the museum opens at 10 a.m., especially on Sundays to avoid the crowds. First, be sure to pick up a map to help guide you along your way. While the scope of these cavernous historic halls can be daunting here are some of the top family friendly spots.
First, stop by the Discovery Room located at the first floor on the 77th Street Entrance. A range of experiences and hands-on activities lets kids interact with real specimens and artifacts and make their own collections and exhibits. Junior explorers can delve into interactive exhibits such as the African baobab tree ecosystems, a dinosaur gig, and other contemporary or cultural artifacts from around the world.
Then head over to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, also located on the first floor. You can’t miss the giant replica of the blue whale that dominates the space. Be sure to head downstairs for a glimpse of the giant squid attacking a sperm whale. While there, take a short break and watch a short maritime movie.
Next, take the elevators to the 2nd and 3rd floors and walk through Hall of African Mammals. Pay particular attention to the elephant exhibition and the gorilla dioramas.
Then head up to the fourth floor, home to the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, including the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Apatosaurus.
Should you need a break to refuel, stop off at the Café on 4 on the fourth floor. Other food options include The Museum Food Court, on the lower level, Café on 1 in the Grand Gallery, and the Starlight Café in the Rose Center.
No trip to the museum would be complete stopping by to play with the interactive exhibits at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, located at the museum’s 81st street entrance.
In addition to their permanent exhibitions, the museum offers special exhibits such as The Horse, an interactive series of displays that chart the rise of this majestic mammal; Lizards & Snakes: Alive!; Saturn: Images from the Cassini-Huygens Mission; The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America; The Butterfly Conservatory: Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter; Vital Variety: A Visual Celebration of Invertebrate Biodiversity; the Hayden Planetarium’s newest Space Show Cosmic Collisions( narrated by Robert Redford); SonicVision (shown Friday and Saturday evenings); and the dazzling digitally animated alternative music show in the Hayden Planetarium, with a mix by Moby.
Afterwards a full day of walking the halls, visiting exhibits, playing and learning, head to Lenny’s deli on Columbus Ave where they have a good selection of sandwiches and a small selection of hot foods. Take your food to go and have a picnic at Arthur Ross Terrace located on the 81st Street side of the museum.
Weather permitting, from late March until the end of October, another great option is to head west on West 79th Street where the Boat Basin Café is located on the Hudson River. Enjoy kid friendly food as well as more adult offerings while watching the sun set over the Hudson.
What & Where:
American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th St; 212-769-5100)
Lenny’s Sub Shop (489 Columbus Ave; 212-787-9368)
Boat Basin Café (79th Street and the Hudson River, 212-496-5542)
The Museum is open daily, 10:00 a.m.-5:45 p.m. The Museum is closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Suggested general admission is $15.00 (adults), $11.00 (students/seniors) and $8.50 (children). The Museum offers discounted combination ticket prices that include suggested general admission plus special exhibitions, IMAX films, and Space Shows.
Backpacks are permitted. Strollers are allowed almost everywhere, except for the IMAX theater and some special exhibition, where there is stroller parking. No outside food or drinks allowed. While children of all ages are admitted, the recommended age for taking children to their first museum visit is two years old.
Other Nearby Family Friendly Restaurants
Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (428 Amsterdam Ave; 212-501-7515)
Cafe Con Leche (424 Amsterdam Ave; 212-595-7000)
EJ’s Luncheonette (447 Amsterdam Ave; 212-873-3444)
Gabriela’s (315 Amsterdam Ave; 212-875-8532)
Good Enough to Eat (483 Amsterdam Ave; 212-496-0163)
Sambuca (20 W. 72nd St; 212-787-5656)
Mary R. Garrison is a freelance writer and global nomad currently based in the Pacific Northwest. Follow her travels on Instagram at instagram.com/becky_garrison.