New York’s Central Park is a calm oasis in a bustling city. It’s hard to imagine that you can enjoy peace and quiet while taxis and pedestrians are whizzing buy on the Avenue. Purchased by the City of New York in 1853, the park is 6 miles around and spans 843 acres. There are 18 gated entrances, 21 playgrounds, 26 ball fields, 36 bridges, 48 sculptures and monuments, and 7 fountains. For rest and relaxation there are 9,000 benches along with eight designated Quiet Zones consisting of lakes, meadows, and gardens. Read a book or have a picnic under one of 24,000 trees. Vehicles are limited to specific hours that they can drive in the park making it the best preserved park in all of New York.
The park is divided into several quadrants. Here is a sample of our favorites from the Great Lawn quadrant. Located at the east side of 75th Street is the whimsical Alice in Wonderland statue. The bronze statue is a favorite climbing piece for children as they sit next to Alice who is flanked by the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit and a little mouse. If you have little ones, head one block to 76th Street where more Alice in Wonderland fun continues in the form of a fountain at the James Michael Levin Playground. The toddler playground consists of a rubberized surface with four slides, bucket swings, drinking fountains, and a central Alice in Wonderland themed fountain. The playground is fenced in and the gate is locked at dark. There are no trash receptacles inside the playgrounds and the nearest bathroom is a 10 minute walk to the Delacorte Theater. Other points of interests are The Obelisk, nicknamed Cleopatra’s Needle and a marionette performance at the Swedish Cottage.
In the South End quadrant along the east side between 63rd and 66th Streets sits the Central Park Zoo. Near the entrance are the Delacorte Musical Clock, Dancing Goat and Honey Bear bronze statues. While the zoo is small, it is a great introduction to animals for little ones including a children’s zoo. Visitors can see California sea lions, polar bear, red panda, snow leopard, snow monkeys, penguins and a rainforest filled with exotic birds and bats. The zoo is open every day of the year. General admission tickets, which include entry to the main zoo and Tisch’s Children’s Zoo are $7 for children ages 3 to 12 and $12 for adults. You can add the option of the Total Experience which also includes a fifteen minute show at the 4D Theater for an additional $6 per person. More details can be found online. The zoo was the favorite destination in the park for my child. The Dancing Crane Cafe adjacent to the zoo sells fast food, but also pre-packaged sandwiches and fruit. The cafe is self-serve, has seating and bathrooms.
Photos courtesy of Kathleen Molloy
Enjoy a ride on the carousel along mid-park at 64th Street. Open from April to October, cash only tickets are $2.50 per ride. On east 57th Street, children can learn about Balto. The sculpture honors the sled dog who delivered medicine to save the children of Alaska from a diphtheria outbreak. If you haven’t seen the animated movie, I highly recommend it. Perhaps the most popular of all the fountains is the Angel of the Waters, also known as the Bethesda Fountain. Located on the north side of 72nd Street, the statue refers to a passage from the gospel of John. On the other side of the street stands the Egyptian themed East 72nd Street playground with a wooden tree house, climbing pyramid, sand area, and seasonal water feature. Families will also enjoy the Strawberry Fields memorial to The Beatles’ John Lennon and the summer time attraction of the Victorian Gardens Amusement Park.
Good to Know
- There are five visitor centers in Central Park. At each one you can get information about the park, activities and upcoming events.
- The best way to enjoy the park is on a horse and carriage ride. Negotiate a fair price with the driver and find out how long the route is before you pay. Don’t forget to tip. There are also walking tours and pedicab tours of Central Park for a fee.
- As in any big city, be mindful of your surroundings. Tourists can easily be spotted in New York. Keep an eye on your children and valuables. Designate a meeting place in case you lose one another. It’s a good idea if each member of your party has a cell phone. For children, an ID card or necklace with their name and phone number is a good, extra precaution.
Throughout the park are concession carts, along with two full service restaurants at Le Pain Quotidien and Loeb Boathouse. Don’t try to do Central Park in a day. We broke our visit up over two days. There are plenty of benches to sit down and take in the wonder that is Central Park. I have only touched on a few of the many wonderful attractions the park has to offer for visitors. There is so much to see and do from recreation like a game of checkers, catch-and-release fishing, tennis, or ice-skating at Wollman Rink to bird watching, carriage rides, family programs, performances, and a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pick and choose a few destinations be it architecture, flora, or simply a quiet walk or bike ride in New York’s most beautiful park.