Take a child-size bite into the Big Apple
When then-mayor Rudy Giuliani started cracking down on "quality of life" crimes like jaywalking and Times Square started to reflect a newly-polished shine on the apple, people joked that New York City was becoming like Disney World.
Big Apple fans will be pleased to know that's not entirely true, but if you're looking for a good destination for a family vacation, there are few places in America offering the quantity and quality of sights as New York.
Heading east for a quick visit of the best of family-friendly New York, settle in at the Hotel Beacon, on Broadway at West 75th Street on the Upper West Side.
Check the rates and you'll find that the Beacon's clean, understated, modern and comfortable suites are a great deal. The bedroom / living room set-up is perfect for families. There's also a kitchenette, which is handy if you're traveling with little ones and also allows you to whip up basic meals and have access to a refrigerator. Considering how much of your dollar will go to restaurants in the Big Apple, this is no small amenity.
In addition to being situated in a vibrant neighborhood with great restaurants and shopping -- to say nothing great views of the lovely Parisian-style Ansonia building across the street -- the Beacon is a couple blocks from Central Park and a five-minute walk to the American Museum of Natural History, which is where we started our ambitious tourist itinerary.
In the days before "A Night at the Museum," the Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at West 79th Street, was best known to kids for the huge whale hanging in the Hall of Ocean Life. Now, you can follow the families as they bee-line to the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples to take a picture next to the Easter Island head and take turns saying, "you give me gum gum." (Guilty as charged!)
But don't stop there. The museum and the attached Hayden Planetarium are a wonderland of science and anthropology made accessible to everyone through dioramas, artifacts and incredible objects.
Afterward, stroll the park on the 81st Street side of the building and watch the dogs romp in the fenced dog run.
Grab some slices of New York pizza for a quick lunch, or if you're looking to recreate the Milwaukee experience because you already miss home, check out Shake Shack across from the museum on Columbus Avenue at West 77th Street. You'll find butter burgers and custard at reasonable prices. But you'll likely also find a line snaking out the door. A block west, on Amsterdam, is the "original" Chirping Chicken, a carry out or eat-in chicken and burger joint. Portions are large, so don't go crazy or you'll end up with a lot of leftovers you can't carry (but you could pop back to the hotel and put them in your fridge!)
Next, enter Central Park and start a leisurely stroll toward the zoo (at East 65th Street and Fifth Avenue). Bring a map and check out the lovely -- and famous Bow Bridge (at 74th Street), pass Strawberry Fields with its John Lennon "Imagine" mosaic at 72nd Street (Lennon lived and was shot across the street at the Dakota apartments) and check out the thrum of humanity that gathers around the Bethesda Fountain a bit to the southeast. Head south along the mall with its astonishing canopy of American Elms and then east over to the zoo.
The children's zoo is on the left and admission to it includes entry to the main zoo a little further up the road. Even if the great storybook attractions that once made the kids' zoo famous are now long gone, the weird looking pignosed turtle, the wandering guinea fowl and the goats and sheep eager for gumball machine food pellets make for great fun for tots.
On the way to the larger zoo, you'll stroll under the Delacorte Music Clock. Try to get there on the hour or half-hour to hear the chimps chime the bell and see the parade of musical animals as they dance around the clock.
The Central Park Zoo is a classic of old-style zoos and it is thoroughly modern and worth a visit.
If you're staying at the Beacon, head back for dinner at Viand Café, a diner with a diverse menu and a killer Prosciutto di Parma panino, located in the hotel. On a clear day, if you room faces west, don't miss the spectacular sunsets over New Jersey.
Save a visit to the Empire State Building for the next day. Walk south on Broadway from the hotel to get the 1, 2 or 3 train at 72nd Street. Buy an $8 MetroCard and you'll have two round-trips at the ready. Remember that kids ride free. Leave the stroller at the hotel because there's nowhere to leave it at the ESB and you can't take it up to the observation decks. (But for future subway rides with a stroller, enter from the south side of the 72nd Street station where the stationmaster can open the gate for you.)
Exit at 34th Street and walk three blocks east. For reassurance that you're headed in the right direction, simply look up and you'll see the Depression-era Art Deco masterpiece towering 1,454 feet above everything around it. The entire building has been undergoing a facelift that is due to end in autumn, but the work isn't hampering visits because most of it is done during overnight hours.
Take some time to marvel at the ornate lobby before heading up.
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When in New York City, taking the kids to the Central Park Zoo is certainly a great idea, as it has many kid-favorite animals to see. For children who are even bigger animal-lovers, hop on the subway and ride up to the Bronx Zoo, where they have one of the nation's best children's zoos, amazing animals exhibits, and a whole day's worth of rare and interesting animals to see. Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor: America's Best Zoos
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