Brooklyn Is The Greatest Family Vacation Spot In America. Here’s Proof
Worried about the cost and hassle of the big city? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Brooklyn is an expensive place to live. This is pretty common knowledge, but seeing it on paper is always a bit eye-opening. The average rental price in Brooklyn, as of last month, was a whopping $3,696, according to MNS Real Estate’s market report. MIT’s living wage calculation for a family of four in the borough says a family needs to bring in some $126,188 before taxes to make ends meet. And all that for a tiny apartment with no parking (1,175 square feet is the average size for families; you can easily spend an hour trawling residential blocks, looking for a parking spot). But it’s not indoors where you get your dollar’s worth in Kings County. You can have a once-in-a-lifetime family excursion in this city for next to nothing — on just about any given day of the week.
In this sense, Brooklyn is a tourist’s paradise. Don’t balk at the small hotels, hard-to-get Airbnbs, and lack of parking — the streets and restaurants and playgrounds and wilderness (yes, wilderness!) will more than make up for it. A trip to Brooklyn is one of the most affordable and fun ventures there is for families — assuming your family likes great food, epic playgrounds, and wild boat rides. Brooklyn’s got it all. Here are some of the best stomping grounds that happen to cost very little.
A Playground In Williamsburg
Domino Park is simply a playground, but one so brilliantly designed and beautifully placed — on the shore of the East River with a sweeping view of Manhattan — it is a destination that can take up a day and make the vacation. Built where the old Domino Sugar Factory once employed thousands of Brooklynites, the Mark Reigelman-designed play space is itself an industrial work of art, with giant curving slides, climbable pipework, and an elevated path above to walk and take in the scene. Its adjacency to the glass-encased Other Half Brewery (home to possibly the “juiciest” beers in the world) is an added bonus. You can see plenty of other sights in the cool kid Williamsburg neighborhood, but why join the hipster rat race? This is the place to be for someone with kids.
A Bite In Prospect Park
New York City’s second largest park and Frederick Olmsted’s masterpiece (take that, Central Park!) is a must-visit for Brooklyn visitors. But where to start? Smorgasburg is the logical spot — a food truck oasis with an eclectic array of culinary choices (think: vegan BBQ, Filipino sweets, mango flowers on a stick, Japanese pancakes). You can’t get a better taste of New York than this one space. After having your picnic (Sundays only), walk through the woods to the Audubon Center, a beautiful lakeside building with a smattering of exhibits inside and an impressive number of birds outside, especially during migration.
A Pier In Dumbo
Without question the best views in New York City can be found in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which runs along the confluence of the East and Hudson Rivers in view of downtown Manhattan, Governor’s Island, and Lady Liberty. Of the many piers along the park, Pier 3 is the most overlooked — quirky, purposeless, intimate, brilliant. A maze of shrubs and grassy knolls, sculptures and the occasional musical floor tiles make this a beautifully meditative place where the kids can run wild and you can relax and take in the views.
A Trifecta Of Carousels
Put these three destination on your Brooklyn bingo cards: The 102-year-old Jane’s Carousel on the northern end of Brooklyn Bridge Park; the 113-year-old Prospect Park Carousel in the east side of the park (close to Smorgasburg, folks!); and the 117-year old B&B Carousell on the shores of Coney Island, a stone’s throw from roller-coaster-filled Luna Park.
Ospreys And Plane Spotting On The Bay
The Gateway National Recreation Areas, three protected waterways in New Jersey, Staten Island, and Brooklyn, are proof that nature thrives in and shapes the human world, no matter the population density. Brooklyn’s piece of this protected trifecta of wildlands, however, may be the most stunning. Located an easy bike ride from Rockaway Beach or short drive from JFK International Airport, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge teems with herons, ospreys, horseshoe crabs, fish, and so much nonhuman wilderness that you’d be forgiven for losing the fact that you’re sitting in the largest city in America. Take a hike around the half-mile-long trail, and then stop by the Cross Bay Bridge to turn your bins on the planes coming and going from JFK. This is not just time to appreciate a few boring 747s — there is a robust plane-spotting community here and you’ll be sure to make friends and be told some of the rarities dwelling or taking off from one of the world’s busiest airports.
Parrots At The Cemetery
Greenwood Cemetery in Sunset Park Brooklyn, open to the public from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days, is home to its share of the ghosts of famous New Yorkers — from Jean-Michel Basquiat to Leonard Bernstein to Boss Tweed. But it also has a slew of lively, raucous residents up in its towering gothic church steeple. Generations of parrots have made a home, bred, and thrived in the towering entrance to the park, and while the graveyard is worth the tour, if it’s a bit much for the kids (it’s huge and hilly), you can just stay near the visitor’s center. Read up on the history of the place, let the kids run in the yards, and look for parrots — and then wrap it all with some baked goods at Baked in Brooklyn, which is conveniently located across the street.
Bao, Beer, And Blacksmithing At Industry City
A sort of cobbled-together mall, Industry City is a space with 16 buildings, built on 35 acres of repurposed industrial space, that includes green spaces, art, shops, play spaces, and food — oh, the food — in one compact spot in the criminally overlooked Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park. Japan Village in Industry City is your best bet for a unique, cheap, and high-quality lunch (takoyaki, highly recommended), while Brooklyn Kura, the first sake brewery in the city, and Big Alice, a small barrel-aged brewery, are must-see spots for a sip or three of seriously unique beverages. The kids won’t be bored. Take this favorite spot: a vinyl shop (Hifi Provisions) that looks out at a sandy play space between buildings. They run and revel, dad flips and listens. Pretty perfect, no?
A Ferry Ride And A Beach
The New York City ferry system is one of the unsung wonders of the Big Apple. From Williamsburg to Dumbo (you’re now familiar with these ’hoods, all) to Greenpoint, Red Hook, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge, the ferry stops at all the most beautiful waterside spots in Brooklyn — Manhattan and Queens too, but this isn’t that kind of story. So a true tourist of Brooklyn needs a boat ride, which will cost you $4 one way, subsidized by NYC tax dollars (you’re welcome). Find your ferry — any of the above — and get yourself a ride to Rockaway Beach. Grab a beer (Bronx Brewery and Sixpoint, ciders and wines are reliable on tap downstairs) and climb to the roof to gaze at the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and downtown Brooklyn as it recedes into the distance and you pass under the Verrazano Bridge, past Coney Island, toward Jamaica Bay, and into the gritty chill of Rockaway Beach. The beach proper is about a quarter-mile from the ferry — a sacred getaway with shells and seabirds and remarkably pristine beaches from the hustle and bustle that lay behind you some 30 minutes away.
The Wonder Wheel
Disney World is all well and good, but Coney Island is the real experience all kids must encounter while still children. The walk from the subway to the New York Aquarium, amusement park, and of course Nathan (or Feltman’s, you purists!) hot dogs, is in itself a lesson in the varied beauty of a city. You will walk past true old school hustlers (of games, but still…), past decades-old rides (the Cyclone is 96 this year!), and through an area your great-grandparents probably saw — in the early 1900s, some half a million people visited each season. The one way to capture it all is with the 103-year-old Wonder Wheel, which — towering at more than 1,000 feet — puts the whole of Brooklyn in perspective. There’s the thrill (you picked the swinging car, right? Correct.), the history and lived experience (how many people have ridden this thing?), and the clash of nature where the pristine beach, the vast bay, and ocean sit to your left and the great city to your right. You get two rounds per ticket. It’s enough for you to dwell on the beauty and depth of this great city that so many in America have passed through on their way to their own dreams — a bit like you, on a visit, to show your kids what America is made of.