Rosheda Stephenson calls NYC and the Caribbean home. Her travel articles are meant to inspire passion, adventure and curiosity.
Among New Yorkers, Brooklyn is known as the hipper, cooler cousin to the great Manhattan. It’s the borough that the artsy, the eclectic and the hip have been moving to in droves in past years. Now the rest of the world has caught on, and like Manhattan, Brooklyn has become one of the most widely visited places in America. For those visiting with kids, this borough can be quite delightful. Museums, animals, amusement parks and even a beach make a visit here as exciting for little ones as for grownups. Here are 10 things to do with kids in Brooklyn that will make your visit one to remember for years to come.
1. Experience Japanese Culture at Brooklyn Botanical Garden's Cherry Blossom Festival
The Brooklyn Botanical Gardens is one of the most beautiful places in Brooklyn. The gorgeous grounds house a collection of gardens, each breathtaking in its own right. The Rose Garden is beautiful in warmer months when the large variety of roses are in full bloom; the Pond Garden is unique and spectacular in winter when the ponds have frozen; the Bonsai Garden is simply a must, as is the Japanese Garden.
Not to be missed if you visit in spring is the lively Japanese Cherry Blossom festival where magical Japanese shows and exhibits take place over a two day weekend while wafts of the gorgeous scent of cherry blossoms invade the air. Both older kids and younger kids will appreciate the exhilarating festival where family activities like traditional Japanese tea ceremonies for families, Japanese martial arts shows, traditional Japanese dances, Japanese manga cartooning, Japanese traditional games like Go and a plethora of other cultural activities make the day special.
If you have a little girl try to visit on the day that the parasol and fashion show takes place. The pageantry and extreme fashion are sure to make it a memorable day for her.
If your family visits after the festival (normally held in late April), be sure to check www.bbg.org for the Garden's other family activities.
2. Mini Golf at Industry City, Sunset Park
Sunset Park doesn’t show up in many NYC guides. It’s one of those Brooklyn neighborhoods where Brooklyn’s factory past is in full view, and cultural diversity is more than just a buzzword. The designers of the neighborhood’s Industry City pay homage to the factory past by preserving the brick and steel warehouse exteriors and freight elevators once common in warehouse buildings in Brooklyn. If you want to explore a part of Brooklyn that many tourists don’t get to see and have fun with the kids at the same time, this is a great place to visit.
Industry City's austere buildings and the courtyards in between house restaurants, retailers, coffee shops, business offices and more. Nestled in one of the courtyards (courtyard 5-6) is a small mini golf course where locals and visitors in the know take their kids to putt their way through colorful replicas of iconic Brooklyn structures like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Coney Island Wonder Wheel ride.
After mini golf, head to the nearby ping pong room for a chance to expend even more energy. When everyone is ready for a bit to eat, the neighboring Wheelhouse restaurant serves amazing seafood rolls and more. But remember that you are in a neighborhood known for its Latin and Asian communities so try to sample some ethnic foods from the large food court. The dumplings from Yaso Tangboa are particularly good and Taco Mix serves good Mexican. For dessert, try not to miss Li-Lac where the kids can get chocolate treats like two feet tall solid chocolate renditions of the Empire State Building.
For those who don’t want to travel too far off the beaten path, ShipwreckedNYC also offers mini golf in an indoor pirate-themed course that will be a hit with both older kids and younger kids.
3. See Rare Pallas' Cats at Prospect Park Zoo
The tiny Prospect Park Zoo sits in the middle of a larger park where picnics on the vast green lawns and boat rides on a lake are summer time favorites. The affordably priced zoo has small displays of a good variety of animals. By far, the standout for animal lovers will be chubby pallas cats that are rarely seen in the wild and have been declining in population in recent years. Prospect Park’s exhibit make the cats easy to spot and will leave a memorable image in the minds of kids old enough to understand how rare an experience it is to spot one of the feline creatures.
Younger kids will want to go to the barn where they can pet and feed three little pigs, alpacas and sheep. There is a daily seal feeding and a great baboon display that the whole family will enjoy.
After the zoo, head out to Prospect Park for a ride on the charming carousel or for a pedal boat ride down the lake.
4. See a Puppet Show at Puppetworks
The Puppetworks foundation in the family-oriented Brooklyn community of Park Slope is one of only two places in New York City where kids can enjoy a genuine marionette puppet show (the other place is the Swedish Marionette Theater in Central Park). The theater brings fairytale classics to life with artistic puppets and the age-old art of marionette puppetry.
Each show begins with a good introduction to puppetry and ends with a chance for the tiny audience members to interact with both the puppeteers and the puppets. Shows are short and perfect for younger kids who may be unable to sit through a full-blown theater production.
5. See Sharks at the New York Aquarium
If your kids like scary sharks and sea lion shows, Brooklyn’s New York Aquarium will be a hit. As the city’s only aquarium, it is the only place to see bigger sea creatures like sharks and sting rays while in the New York City area. The sharks are housed in an indoor facility dedicated solely to sharks, rays and turtles. The giant turtles peacefully share large tanks with more ominous looking sharks that swim up to the viewing glass every now and then for close up views that will leave your kids squealing with either joy or fear depending on temperament. More timid kids may want to spend the time admiring the sting rays that glide gracefully along the floor without a care in the world.
When you’ve had your fill of the shark displays, head outside to the large outdoor aquatheater where daily sea lion shows will entertain the whole family with fancy tricks from the aquarium’s beloved sea lions. If your family has older kids you should definitely try to time your visit to coincide with one of these shows. The shows incorporate educational sections that highlight the importance of conservation and good environmental stewardship.
The New York Aquarium suffered great damage from Hurricane Sandy and is still under construction so many features including the amazing bioluminescent jellyfish display are still closed. After the shark display and the sea lion show, there are a few other options. There is an amazing indoor fish display where fish of every color and shape can be seen, and there is a touch tank for younger kids to have a fun hands-on experience with the sea creatures. Not to be missed is the 4D theater that shows fun interactive short films for an additional fee.
As of this writing, the main dining room was still under construction, but there are many carts stationed around the aquarium where kids can have hot dogs, drinks and snacks.
Perhaps the best thing about the New York Aquarium is its location on the shores of the Coney Island Beach. Spend some time taking in the ocean with your family or plan a trip to include a walk down the boardwalk and a visit to the amusement park which are next on this list.
Getting to the Things to do With Kids in Brooklyn
6. Walk Coney Island’s Boardwalk
The Coney Island section of Brooklyn was once the most popular part of the borough. Known for its seaside vibes and Italian neighborhoods, it was the place to visit for good food and fun vibes. The beach, the boardwalk and the amusement park that put Coney Island on the map are all still there. The beach isn’t the cleanest, but the boardwalk is simply magic in summer. Pulsating with an energy that is unmistakably New York, Coney Island’s boardwalk is a mishmash of casual restaurants serving huge hamburgers, french fries, funnel cake, seafood, hot dogs, ice cream; informal live shows that run the gamut from illusionary magic to break dancing and splendid firework displays. For a real feel of all the ethnicities that make Brooklyn unlike any other place, a walk down Coney Island’s boardwalk is a must.
While you stroll, be sure to treat the kids to at least one hot dog from Nathan’s, and if possible try to stay late one Friday night in summer for one of the weekly firework shows. After strolling the Boardwalk, be sure to visit the amusement park for a ride down the iconic Cyclone roller coaster that is next on this list.
7. Ride the Famous Cyclone Rollercoaster
Many Brooklynites consider a ride on the famous Cyclone roller coaster a yearly rite that signals the beginning of the summer season. Yes, its old and looks rickety, but the Cyclone is New York City’s only big roller coaster and for families visiting with older kids riding the cyclone is one of the few things you can do with kids in Brooklyn that will satisfy their need for an adrenaline rush. There are height requirements that only tweens and older kids are likely to meet so plan accordingly.
If your family has younger kids, head further inside towards the ocean for Luna Park where gentler rides and arcade games will be more appropriate.
8. Cool Down at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Water Lab
The Brooklyn Bridge Park is an expansive green area right below the Brooklyn Bridge that’s dedicated to providing outdoor space to Brooklynites and visitors. Much of the park provides play space for children. Among these play spaces is the water spraying, cooling spot known as the Water Lab. Superbly designed to provide separate spaces for toddlers and older kids, the area is a combination of tiny water sprinklers and more difficult to navigate rocky areas where a game of hide and seek is as fun as being sprayed by one of the many sprinklers in the area.
Not far from the Water Lab is Swing Valley where swings for both infants and older kids stand waiting to be explored. There are also climbing structures and toddler sized playgrounds scattered around Brooklyn Bridge Park for a whole day of fun. And if your budget is smaller than you'd like, there’s good news: Water Lab and all the other play areas in Brooklyn Bridge Park are among the few free things to do with kids in Brooklyn that are actually fun. If your family wants to explore the rest of the Brooklyn Bridge area check out my article on things to do near the Brooklyn Bridge for cool ideas on all the places to eat and things to do near the famous bridge.
9. Indulge in Chocolate at Jacques Torres
Jacques Torres Chocolates may be the only item on this list of things to do with kids in Brooklyn that will induce cringes, but good chocolate should be savored whenever the opportunity presents itself. Jacques Torres is good chocolate. Offerings include a rich hot chocolate, delicious chocolate chip cookies, chocolates in every combination and even ice cream.
For those who cringed at the thought of too much candy, the chocolate store is right next to the Brooklyn Bridge Park where the kids can burn off the calories at any of the playgrounds or at the Water Lab (if visiting in summer).
10. Pretend Play at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum
The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is a collection of all the things younger kids enjoy. There is waterplay, pretend play, animals and more. Particularly impressive is the museum’s collection of interactive multi-cultural exhibits where kids can experience all the cultures that make Brooklyn the vibrant place it has become.
If you are visiting Brooklyn with kids be sure to try some or all of these interesting things to do with kids in Brooklyn and if you are looking for more ideas for your little ones while in New York City, you may find my articles: Central Park for Kids and Things to do with toddlers in NYC helpful.