We hated, hated, hated New York City the first time we visited.
We spent the weekend of our second wedding anniversary in May 2007 in NYC. It was our first visit, and we did all the things you’re ‘supposed’ to do. We hired a limo to for our airport transfers and both nights we were out on the town for dinner. We made reservations at Tavern on the Green and the Four Seasons to sit in the iconic Pool Room. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt near Grand Central Terminal, we shopped all weekend, and we saw the sites. The 9-11 memorial made us cry. The top of the Empire State Building almost made me cry – omg, that was high.
We visited Times Square, Central Park, 5th Avenue, and all the places you’re ‘supposed’ to go when you’re in the city.
And we hated it.
Tavern on the Green is gorgeous, but I’ve yet to have a good meal there the 4 times we’ve had dinner. The Four Seasons was spectacular – and we’ve had probably a half-dozen diners there, but they moved out of their iconic 52nd street location, and it’s lost its luster as a result (sorry, Four Seasons…but my guess is you’re already aware of this). Times Square is dirty, packed, too commercial, too loud, and filled with nothing worthwhile.
We couldn’t navigate the city, and we just didn’t care for it. We said we’d never go back. In fact, we’d booked a 5-day trip to Orange County in California with a departure only 4 days after we came home from NYC, and we spent our entire trip in NYC wishing it would end so we could fly home and pack for our flight to California. We were never going back to NYC.
We just got home from our 23rd trip in New York City Sunday evening.
Obviously, we are liars.
Since 2010 when we made our second trip to NYC with some of our best friends, we’ve been going back for date night and other reasons regularly. I spent a year working with the NFL, the CDC, and USA Football on the Heads Up Program as a parenting writer, and that required a trip to the NFL headquarters on Park Avenue every 3 months. My husband and I spent the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013 visiting the city every three months for a few days, so I could attend my 2-hour luncheons with the NFL commissioner and everyone else involved in the program, and then we’d just have a few date days.
That time spent in the city gave us a chance to fall madly in love. We found our favorite hotel ever on 52nd between 5th Avenue and Park. We found our favorite little wine bar tucked along the side street by Rockefeller Center. We discovered brunch at the Boathouse in Central Park. We found the little café on the shoe floor at Saks with a gorgeous terrace overlooking 5th and Rockefeller. We found Salon De Ning, the rooftop bar at the top of the Peninsula Hotel with breathtaking views of 5th Ave. We developed a serious love of the Champagne Bar at the Plaza Hotel. And we discovered the most amazingly amazing Italian restaurant ever in the history of life – Il Tinello.
We learned how to navigate the city. We know where we’re going, which streets are one-way streets, and we developed a distinct taste for Uber Black anytime we need a ride anywhere. We love the city, and we spend at least 2 weekends a year in NYC for Fashion Week in February and September, and we fit in a 3rd weekend for just a date night if we have time between our other travels.
And this time – we took our two oldest daughters with us. Addison is turning 10 in July and Ava turns 7 in March. Our frequent trips to the city since they’ve been born have piqued their interest in visiting. Watching Kevin live his best life in the Plaza Hotel in Home Alone 2 over Christmas Break created an obsession in Ava.
So….we took the girls to NYC. And I’m going to share how we did the city with little kids in tow (which did not involve any stops at our favorite wine bar, no drinks at the Saks Café, and no after-dinner cocktails at the Plaza).
Where to Stay: The Omni Berkshire
The Omni Berkshire. This is our favorite hotel in the city. It’s located on 52nd between Park and Fifth, only steps from each. A 30-second stroll has you standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue between Ferragamo and Cartier, and only 2 blocks from Saks Fifth Avenue.
The staff is spectacular – particularly Lenny, the amazing @karaokedoorman – who manages to make everyone feel like a VIP when they arrive. The front desk staff is always quick to offer a fun upgrade, send up a bottle of champagne when they see it’s almost your birthday, and they were so fun to offer the girls gifts when we arrived. It’s a 4.5-star hotel with class and elegance, and we cannot get enough. It’s always busy, but you can never tell.
Where to Eat with Kids
We had a tough time with this one having never seen a child in a restaurant in NYC before – in fact, other than our kids, we’ve still never seen a child in a restaurant in NYC before. We ultimately decided to make reservations at the hotel’s restaurant the first night of our visit. It was 34 degrees, sleeting, and cold – and the girls were a little tired. Bob’s Steak and Chop House is the name, and they were spectacular with the girls.
Ava was in total heaven when she realized the kids’ menu included a 4 oz. filet mignon, which is her favorite meal. We all had filet, and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. The carrot – OMG. The Bob’s famous carrot is everything it’s made out to be. The bottle of Chianti my husband ordered was spectacular, and the ambiance was fabulous. The staff was great with the kids, and we enjoyed ourselves fully.
Il Tinello is where we took the girls our second night in the city. I don’t even have words for the truly remarkable experience we have each time we visit Il Tinello. No matter what we order, it’s flawless. The staff is the same staff we’ve been dining with two or three times a year since our first visit to the restaurant in 2015. They are subtle, enjoyable, and always manage to keep our glasses filled, our table clean, and new treats on the table for us without us even noticing they’re there.
They carry a bottle of Sangiovese we’re obsessed with, the food is always perfection, and they were so delightful with the girls. Our wonderful waiter took it upon himself to cut Ava’s filet for her so we didn’t have to. He offered the girls anything on the menu they wanted even if they don’t make it or carry it – which is how they ended up with ice cream sundaes after dinner. Every single person who walked by our table – including the manager – stopped to tell the girls how beautiful they looked in their fancy dresses, and they served Ava her beverage in a fancy wine glass so she could “cheers” us every 30 second all night.
I cannot say enough about Il Tinello. It’s located on 56th street, it’s very subtle, exceptionally ambient, and utter perfection. I always heard Regis Philbin talk about it on his talk show with Kelly Ripa, which is how we found it the first time – and dined at the table right next to Regis and his wife Joy that night. My life was basically made. Seriously.
As for brunch on Saturday morning, our plan was to take the girls to the Boathouse for the spectacular food and the view of the park and lake. However, they’re currently closed for renovation, so we made reservations at the Plaza Hotel for brunch. Once again, the staff catered so amazingly to the girls, ensuring Ava had the largest bowl of strawberries and raspberries imaginable to go along with her bacon – her favorite meal.
We had lunch at the 2West at the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park so we could see the Statue of Liberty. It was very good, and the girls enjoyed themselves. We ordered room service the rest of our trip because that’s the girls’ favorite way to eat – picking what they want to eat and someone else bringing it to them in bed.
Activities for Kids
To be honest, we aren’t very touristy – so this might not be the best guide for anyone who is. Our first order of business was a trip to the American Girl doll store near Rockefeller Center. The girls have wanted dolls for some time now, but they only wanted them if they came directly from the store in New York City. So that was the primary reason for our visit.
The store is amazing, the girls had the most wonderful time, and it was a super fun afternoon. We walked right over to the store after we checked in on Friday, and the girls spent some serious time designing their new dolls, choosing additional outfits, and wandering the store to check out all that’s there to see and do.
Following that, we walked around 5th Avenue, stopped for their favorite Starbucks drinks, shopped a bit more, and then we went back to the hotel to shower and get ready for dinner. We had an early dinner –and lingered – and the girls were ready to go up to our room and relax after dinner. They were tired from an early morning and our flight.
On Saturday, the girls wanted to see a bit more of the city. It was a beautiful 40 degrees and sunny, so we walked to the Boathouse (only to realize it was closed for renovation – oops). Our hotel is on 52nd and the Boathouse is just inside the park at 72nd and 5th. It’s a lovely 20-block walk, and the girls loved all the architecture and everything to see on the gorgeous walk.
Our girls had a list of things they wanted to see and do:
- American Girl Doll Store Shopping
- Shoe Shopping at Saks
- Times Square to see Toys R Us and the M&M store
- Go to the Plaza Hotel to see if Kevin and/or Donald Trump might be there (from Home Alone 2)
- See Central Park
- Look at the horse and carriage rides, but not ride them because “ew, they stink”
- See the Statue of Liberty
- See where the Twin Towers once stood
- Ride in a Limo
- Eat a lot of dessert
- Go shopping
So, we did all the above. They had the most spectacular time. Times Square, as I said before, is not a place we enjoy, but they did want to see it. I’d highly recommend you take the quick walk down to 7th to see it yourself and walk around, but you only need to see it once. To be very honest, the screens are cool, but you’ve seen McDonalds and Olive Garden and H&M a million times in cities across the country – so there’s little point in sticking around.
There were the creepiest, most awful Disney characters wandering the street getting a little too touchy-feely with the kids, who thought they were terrifying (They were….though we live an hour from Disney and have been annual passholders since our oldest was born a decade ago, so our kids know their real Disney characters quite well….kids who’ve never been might not know the Times Square Disney characters are creepy AF). And Ava thought the naked cowboy was hysterical and “Gross” and she’s not wrong.
How to Travel in NYC with Kids
You can try a cab, but it’s not how we prefer to travel. We always use a black car or limo to and from the airport – and this time for dinner with the girls Saturday night. Otherwise, we walk everywhere and love it. If we’re not walking or the weather isn’t great, we use Uber – but ONLY Uber Black. It’s all black car service within the Uber app. It’s more expensive than a regular Uber, but I feel so much safer and so much better in a black car. I’m terrified of the Subway, and I’m not a fan of being around so many people, but I hear other people say they love it.
As for flying, all three airports take about the same amount of time in terms of travel – however, we’ve only every flown out of Newark and it was early on a Sunday morning when there was zero traffic to speak of in the city and in the tunnel. JFK and LaGuardia are both great, and the drive’s not bad even with traffic.
We always fly JetBlue into NYC since it’s a hub and the flights are always timed well throughout the day. Additionally, JetBlue is always good about taking the estimated 2.5 to 3-hour flight time and making it just over an hour and a half. Like I said, we love JetBlue. Additionally, the Even More Space seats in the front are affordable ($28 to $40) so we always have more room and get to sit in the front.
I, nor my kids, enjoy sitting in the first row. It’s where everyone in the front congregates to stand and wait around for the front restroom, and as Miss Ava said – loudly – “It’s so gross sitting in this row with everyone’s butts in my face and in front of the TV,” and she’s not wrong. I have always had a problem with the front row, but any of the other rows in the front are much better. JetBlue is also such a great airline for kids because they have televisions at every seat and the kids can watch DirectTV, not kill any tablet batteries, and they put their earbuds in and never acknowledge us.
If you’re looking to spend any time in the city with your kids, there are so many wonderful things to do, places to go, and things to see. We are admittedly very focused on our favorite places and our favorite area of Midtown, and we only venture out of that area when I’m there for Fashion Week and must attend shows and events. Otherwise, we pick our favorites and enjoy the actual hell out of them the entire time we are there.
The kids loved the city, the city loved the kids, and I’m positive they’re going to be furious the next time my husband and I have a date night in the city and they’re not invited.