Best NYC Parks and Playgrounds for Kids 2020 (and a Daytrip to NJ)

Having kids in the city these days is tough. Normally you could rely on a day camp or the public library to get you through the week, but now home is the new day camp, 24 hours a day. There isn’t even a two week vacation abroad to make you forget for a moment that the kids are continually finding new ways of messing up the house. So now there is no choice but to “be a tourist in your own city.” Luckily, New York City, even during this time, is still an interesting place to be, and since the playgrounds, zoos and parks are open, there are a lot of “destination” spots that can make each weekend fun. Here are some of the best playgrounds, parks and zoos in NYC that are worth trekking out for (lucky for you if they are in your neighborhood). And if you have a car, I would highly recommend the awesome Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey.

Domino Park Playground
300 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249
Nearest subway – J/M/Z to Marcy Ave or L to Bedford Ave
Street parking available nearby

Domino Park is a massive, 5-acre public park situated in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, along the East River. The outdoor facilities are new and fantastic–there’s a volleyball court, lawns for outdoor yoga/picnicking, a dog park, and of course, a wonderful and huge playground. This isn’t a traditional playground with a slide and swing set. It’s more of an industrial jungle gym that kids can explore. The design is very much in line with the sugar factory that inspired the construction. It’s probably better for older toddlers who are more steady on their feet, but parents can guide younger babies through the complex or take them to the nearby fountain for some gentler play.

Brooklyn Bridge Park – Pier 6
Brooklyn Bridge Park Greenway, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Nearest subway – A/C to High Street, F to York Street, 2/3 to Clark Street, R to Court Street, 2/3/4/5 to Borough Hall
Street parking available in nearby residential streets

Brooklyn Bridge Park – Pier 6 is marvelous, that’s all I can say. I felt like I was at a legitimate amusement park, especially when I walked into the main attraction, the Water Lab. It’s new and outfitted with sophisticated fountains and structures encouraging STEM skills. Amazing how access to all of this is totally free. If getting wet is not your thing, the swings at Swing Valley and the gigantic slides at Slide Mountain are also highly recommended. Some of the other playgrounds were closed when we went in early August but the Water Lab was without a question open for business.

Chelsea Waterside Park
557 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011
Nearest subway – C/E to 23rd St
Street parking available nearby

The Chelsea Waterside Park may not be as new and splashy as the one at Pier 6, but the fountains are in good condition and are still more impressive than the ones at your local playground. Also, it’s more convenient if you are based in Manhattan and it tends to be less crowded. There is also a huge slide and a small climbing structure if you need a break from the water, but no swings. You could go to the nearby High Line afterwards, which would make for a great day trip.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
990 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11225
Nearest subway – 2/3 to Eastern Parkway—Brooklyn Museum, B/Q/S to Prospect Park, 4/5 to Franklin Ave
Nearby street parking available

Children love running through wide, open spaces, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which recently opened to the public last week, has plenty of them, and very beautiful ones, at that. Everyone will love the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden, especially the fish swimming in the pond. I personally loved roaming the open fields near the Palm House. The garden is offering free tickets for its opening month, otherwise it is $18 per adult and children under 12 are free. Timed tickets are mandatory, so if you are interested, book a slot beforehand at the website here.

Honorable Mention:
Turtle Back Zoo
560 Northfield Ave, West Orange, NJ 07052
Car needed.

If you have kids and access to a car, I would highly, highly recommend a trip to the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey. This zoo is a very high quality zoo that puts the tiny and more expensive Central Park Zoo to shame. There were plenty of big ticket animals—the giraffes were very visible, especially if you ride the train—and size-wise it was easy to navigate. There’s also a small playground inside if your kids need to blow off some more steam and some indoor exhibits like the Sea Lions or the Reptiles if you need to seek shelter from the sun (there isn’t much shade here, fyi). Really, who knew such a gem existed in New Jersey.

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