Family Vacation in New York City: By Jen Oliak

We spent a cold April week in Manhattan. Despite the unseasonal weather, we had a perfect family trip in New York City.

Some tips if you are going with your family: Have a plan for each day. Think of one main attraction you want to visit, then plan where you will eat and visit around it. Most places need reservations, unless it is super casual.

  • Decide if you will cab it or subway around during your trip. Subway rides cost us $11 each time we got off, as one ride is $2.75. A cab ride, unless we went a long distance, costs us about $15. You can get an subway pass for a flat fee, which is definitely the way to go if you will be consistent with taking subways.
  • Wear neutrals like the locals. If you want to stand out, then go ahead and wear your pastels and bright colors. But New Yorkers generally wear black, black, and a little grey and brown.
  • Stay central to the areas you plan to visit. We love Central Park and the area around it in Midtown. It was also close to main subway stations.
  • Go when your kids are at an age they can appreciate the city. I saw some families with toddlers touring the city, and it did not look pleasant. It’s so much better with kids when they are at least 10.

Day 1: Arrival

IMG_1177 (Edited)

Central Park! This was the view from our room. We stayed in Columbus Circle at the Trump International Tower. The junior suite was perfect for our family. They have a nice indoor pool and a very large gym. Half of the building is for hotel guests, while the other half is for residents. It’s very close to main subway tops, is next door to the Time Warner Center, and is across the street from Central Park. It was perfect for us.

IMG_1103 (Edited)

Our first stop after checking into the hotel was The Plaza Hotel Food Hall. It received a thumbs up from all of the boys! However, I’m not sure about my $19 Pho noodle… This place is interesting to walk around, but the prices are pretty exorbitant. We bought frozen yogurt for $9.50 each. I give it a rating of “ok.”

IMG_1110 (Edited)

“Old FAO Schwarz,” is all I thought when I came to our second stop — the mid-town 5th avenue Apple Store. My kids loved it, but I didn’t get what all the hooplah was about. Interesting fact about this store is that they are open 24 hours, 365 days a year.

IMG_1114 (Edited)

Finally, our last stop for the day was Dylan’s Candy Bar. Definitely overrated! But we had to come since it’s so popular for the kids They loved it, of course.  for kids for parents – the prices are crazy

Day 2: The First Full Day

IMG_1117 (Edited)

First subway ride for the boys! Riding to Wall Street to visit the 9/11 Memorial. I felt cool for remembering all the transfers from when I lived here 14 years ago. The subway gives the feeling of being a local.

Prodigy piano player playing in the subway station. The music was beautiful! I loved seeing the different artists trying to make it.

IMG_1150

9/11 Memorial. I had mixed feelings about this fountain. Though it was a beautiful tribute to the victims, I wish the fountain exuded more feelings of hope. Instead, it was a swirl of water sinking into a dark abyss. Still, we had to see it in person and pay our respects.

IMG_1153

It was hard for the kids to understand that they were standing where two huge buildings had crashed down because of terrorist attacks.

IMG_1143

One World Observatory: It was a great place to show the boys what NYC looks like. It’s the highest point in the Western Hemisphere! I love their motto “See Forever.”

IMG_1140
This guy was the speaker at the top of the freedom tower. I was so impressed by his enthusiasm and love for the city.

IMG_1149

We rented this iPad that moved with us from viewpoint to viewpoint. When we would zoom in on a New York highlight, a recording would come on and explain the history behind the landmark. Very cool and very educational!

After all of this learning and exploring and seeing, we needed to get food into our bodies!

IMG_1155 (Edited)

Pellegrino restaurant in Little Italy. The food was as delicious as it looks! Prices were very reasonable too. If you love Italian food, definitely make a trip to Little Italy!

IMG_1161

Our servers from the restaurant recommended La Bella Ferrara bakery. The “lobster tails” were to die for! It was a flaky croissant pastry filled with Bavarian creme. Yuuuuum! You know what they say — the locals know best!

We left Little Italy, and headed for Chinatown!

IMG_1167

Look at all of these people playing Mah Jong! Dave dared me to ask if I could join in. ?

IMG_1173

There used to be places that sold “designer” handbags, cough cough, but I guess there was a serious crack down! Now it’s all little souvenirs and trinkets.

Day 3

IMG_1181

Breakfast Croissants at Maison Kayser. Almost as good as Paris… Almost.

IMG_1200

Math Museum! The human tree. The branches are little extensions of themselves. The shapes changed as the kids moved their arms.

IMG_1209 (Edited)

The bikes gave smooth rides, despite the bumpy curves in floor and the square wheels. Why? Well, the square is 4 sides and the circles are 1/4 of a circle in the same lengths. These two exhibits were our favorite. Not sure we would have gone to the museum for just these two highlights. I will have to give it a , as we wouldn’t have visited had we known what we know after our visit. It is pricey at $15/adult and $9/child.

IMG_1224 (Edited)

Lunch time at Fork and Spoon, a casual eatery on 36th and 5th. What a great selection of lunch food! We had Caesar salad, Pho noodle, Philly cheese steak and Udon, all at the same table. There are many eateries like this one in the area.

IMG_1229

IMG_1231

The New York Public Library was very beautiful inside. We did not stay to look at books.

IMG_1263

Dinner at Landmarc. It’s all about the cotton candy dessert. Dinner was good too!

IMG_1264

Grom Gelato. Yes… the boys just had cotton candy. We were on vacation!

IMG_1252 (Edited)

View from inside Time Warner Building. Beautiful to look outside from this point.

Day 4

IMG_1280

Momofuku Noodle Bar. This restaurant was recommended by a friend who loved it. It was all the hype a few years back when it first opened. However, we did not understand this place… The only way we could get a reservation was to reserve the chicken special. I assumed this special would include noodles and other items. I was mistaken. The meal was 2 cut up chickens, one spicy, one not. It came with mu shu pancakes, three sauces, and a bowl of vegetables. We were encouraged to make little chicken tacos with the ingredients, but we were confused. My older son would not eat it so we ordered a bowl of plain ramen as well. It was so salty and had such a strong pork flavor. Justin and the rest of us could not eat it. The chicken meal alone was $150. We were very unsatisfied. I wish I had researched this restaurant’s menu prior to making a reservation.

IMG_1285

Momofuku Milk Bar, a few blocks up from the noodle bar. All of the flavors were unique. On the left is their classic cereal milk flavor, which did taste just like milk from a cereal bowl. On the right is a chocolate malt shake. I read afterwards on yelp, we should have gotten a crack pie. We didn’t really get this place either.

IMG_1347

Chelsea Skate Park: Jake brought his skateboard from CA because he wanted to skate in the City. He was working on his kick flip. It’s fun to watch how passionate he is about something. If your kid is really into skateboarding, this skate park is a . Otherwise, I’d spend your time on other NY highlights.

IMG_1561 (Edited)

He’s all the way at the far middle, giving me the stink eye for taking pictures while he is skating, as it “distracts him.”

IMG_1329 (Edited)

We walked through The High Line: an old elevated railway that was re-purposed to become a 1.5 mile linear park above the city in the Lower West Side. A beautiful walk.

IMG_1337 (Edited)

Shubert Theater, on the set of Matilda. We all loved the show! Little Matilda Aviva Winick was a great actress.

IMG_1346

Times Square! The kids got a kick of the picture posers dressed as Batman and Chewbacca. Last time I was here, there were nude women who were being painted on by artists. My kids would have freaked out if they saw that LOL.

Day 5

IMG_1401

IMG_1392

Lady Liberty! How magical to see you in person. She is larger than life!

IMG_1384 (Edited)

Hello World! Base of Statue of Liberty.

IMG_1468 (Edited)

Ellis Island. The museum was very well done, and so educational. Justin is at the perfect age to really appreciate this history. Jake enjoyed it too, but 6th grade age seems just right.

IMG_1445

They really wanted us to get the full effect of immigrant transport today. About 800 of us stood like cattle in the freezing cold for 1.5 hours, waiting for the ferry back to Manhattan! We suffered! How was it April? Try and avoid the rush. Go early and leave early!

After herding around and finally getting back to Manhattan, we went to Sake Bar Hagi. We were hoping today’s lunch would be better than yesterday’s.

IMG_1448

The soft shell crab did not disappoint!

IMG_1458

Dave and I got the most delicious Ramen. Mine was spicy with seafood and kimchi. Yuuuuum. We were the only non Japanese people in this joint. A good sign of the food!

Time for dessert…

IMG_1464

More candy… M&M world!

IMG_1466 (Edited)

And right across the street… The Hershey Store.

Day 6

IMG_1761

I felt so cool running the Central Park loop in my New York Marathon shirt! Until I realized it was almost 2 years ago lol. Running in Central Park is invigorating! Run the 6.1 mile loop around the whole park and you will feel great!

IMG_1536 (Edited)

Patsy’s Pizzeria, upper west side for some NY pizza. The crust was just perfect!

IMG_1486

American Museum of Natural History. We spent most of our time in the Dinosaur exhibit. The takeaway message was that dinosaurs evolved into the 17,000 species of birds we have in the world today. We wished we had planned better for our time here. We would have visited the Space show and the Big Bang Theory. to visit the museum, for our visit because we did not plan our time or the exhibits we wanted to see.

IMG_1494 (Edited)

Lunch time! We lucked out with very short line into Stardust Diner, where Broadway wanna be’s are wait staff, who sing throughout the meal.  Worth a visit if there’s a short line.

IMG_1497 (Edited)

Touristy, cute, talented. Food was a 5. I’m glad we went, but once was enough. The kids were not as amused as Dave and I. Next stop! More dessert…

IMG_1512 (Edited)

Serendipity, on the upper west side. The trick is to go to these crowded places between 4 and 5 to avoid the lines. We were seated right away and wow! The frozen hot chocolates and strawberry supreme were divine.


IMG_1518 (Edited)Huge Italian mall/grocery/eatery on 23rd and 5th. An experience for the senses!


IMG_1530Homemade Short rib tagliatelle, lasagna with beef ragu, pasta with marinara sauce, and pizza (Jake and pizza didn’t make it in pic). Soooooo delicious!

IMG_1575 (Edited)Jake skateboarding by the Flatiron Building, constructed in 1902! One of the tallest skyscrapers of that time at 20 stories. An icon of NYC.


IMG_1572 (Edited)Barneys: I wanted to buy something special as a NY token to take home, but ended up feeling overwhelmed by the fancy people and prices… so I left empty handed.


IMG_1574 (Edited)I still have never taken a ride on one of these… I think I’d just end up focusing on the poor horses riding in circles and being couped up in the city, wishing I could set them free.

IMG_1758

Waiting for our family, Gabe and Lauren, at Han Dynasty in East Village. Solid authentic Chinese food.

IMG_1606

We had to grab some dessert to bring back to the hotel, of course! Not as good as we expected. It may have been because we went just before they closed so the items were not their freshest.  We needed to be rolled out with our luggage back to California! We had a wonderful, exciting, and very active trip in New York City. Our kids were the perfect age to be introduced to this wonderful city. They both gave the trip a big  and both would love to go to College there. I bet they would!