What to Do: Central Park

Sometimes you just get a decision right, really nailing it. That's what happened 150 years ago in New York when somebody decided to take the 843 acres of swamp in what was then the farther reaches of Manhattan and turn it into one of the best things in the City. Forward-thinking and green space is not a feature of all of our great cities, so it is especially wonderful that somebody thought about it for New York. 

Like a lot of things in life, Central Park is what you want to make of it. It can be a place for the kids to run off some energy, a romantic spot under a secluded tree for you two after the kids have run off some energy, a spot of an expensive brunch and carriage ride, a reasonably priced row boat ride or whatever else you can discover in hundreds of acres of woods, fields, playgrounds, statues and fountains steps away from the big city.

Since you are going to have to pick an entrance anyway (you need to enter the Park through an entrance, as it has a wall around it otherwise), you may wish to begin at 72nd Street and Central Park West. This is where the Dakota apartment house is located, and where John Lennon was murdered. You can walk around the apartment house if you wish, and enter the Park across the street to see the area called now “Strawberry Fields.” It is a bit tangley and purposefully unkempt, but interesting for the 121 species of plants there. Set in the middle is the plaque “Imagine” honoring John. Even if the kids are too young to get it the place is nicely solemn while still pretty.

Heckscher Playground

Heckscher Playground is one of the more accesible playgrounds in the park as it's not far from 59th Street and Columbus Ciricle. There's great play equipment, but the kids seem to like the natural rocks the most.

Sheep Meadow

If you just need green space to run around in, across the road is the Sheep Meadow. It is way cool to hang out there with grass and trees in the foreground and expensive apartment towers in the background. Think about the rich folk looking down at you on the lawn and feel either morally superior or just a bit shy.

Rowboats

If you meander across the width of the Park around this point you'll run into the row boat rentals. The official name is Loeb Boathouse, where you can also eat. When you enter it looks like there is only a fairly expensive sit down restaurant where everyone dresses only in black and wears sunglasses indoors, but walk through the bar and look like you are from the Midwest and you'll come to a deli with pretty good and reasonably priced sandwiches and sodas. They even have a place to sit and clean restrooms to get ready for your row boat ride.

The boats are rented not too far from the entrance to the restaurants. In Summer 2005 they cost $10 an hour, but you had to also leave a $30 cash deposit that was refunded when you handed in the oars and life vests at the end. Life vests are required and available in children's sizes. A guy holds the boat while you climb in; the two adults and two kids we put in filled the boat nicely though I think one more small child might have fit.

Once aboard, you row out with your two oars into a very pleasant pond. Navigate under a stone bridge, around a stand of marsh plants with ducks nesting, see turtles pop up, gaze up at the gothic apartment buildings uptown, it is all good. We (carefully) let the kids take turns rowing, which they really enjoyed. Sitting in the back of the boat with my butt sweating to the seat as Some Else rowed me around, I also really enjoyed this.

Model Boats

If all the rowing has got your nautical blood up, cross over the Park to the model boat basin. Here on weekends for sure and other times most maybe you can see folks with model, radio controlled boats playing with them on the pond. I say “playing with” somewhat facetiously in that some of the boats are magnificently detailed replicas loaded with hundreds of dollars of radio control gear piloted by very serious older hobbyists. You can also rent cheaper, easier to operate boats to truly play with, but even watching is good fun. There is also a snack bar and toilets abeam of the pond for landlubbers.

Other Stuff

Don't miss out on the many things for kids to climb over, or the 21 organized play ground spots strewn throughout the park, or the bike rentals near the rowboats, or the magnificent Metropolitan Museum of Art with all the Egyptian stuff on one side of the Park from the From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler where the kids stayed overnight in the Museum, or on the other side of the Park the New York Museum of Natural History where Holden Caufield made that damn racket with the marbles in Catcher in the Rye or the statues from Alice in Wonderland or just about anything else. We didn't even have time for the zoo!

Don't look for the fountain from the TV show “Friends” by the way. We did, only to learn that while set in New York, the actual fountain you see on TV is on a backlot in Los Angles. But if you do like movies and TV, follow this link for a full list of movies shot in Central Pak

And if somehow all that is just not enough, The Park has a special section on its web site identifying things especially aimed at kids, including descriptions of its 21 separate play areas. Check out the Safari Playground near West 91st Street.

Whew, that was a long day. If you've got more energy, here are more New York things to do from Uptake.com.

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