When I think of the US National Parks, my mind tends to go right to places like Niagra Falls, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone Park. (Or Jellystone, if you grew up watching Yogi Bear.) The crazy thing is, living in New York City, I realize there is so much amazing stuff right here, or just a short drive away. I mean, Ellis Island and Liberty Island — I see them looking southwest from my Brooklyn neighborhood nearly every day, they’re that close. In fact there are 17 National Parks and Monuments right in or around New York City and I love it so much.
– Don’t miss a huge opportunity to win a National Park trip for you and your family below! –
I’m a total history junkie, I love the cultural stories unearthed through these visits, and I love biographies of the people often memorialized by national sites. So considering my friends call me the human Zagat guide, I am so happy that on behalf of American Express (who I love!) and their partnership with the National Parks Service (who I also love!), I get to share some amazing, affordable, easy opportunities to visit local National Park or National Site experiences.
They’re such cool places to visit on a weekend with the kids for those of you who live around New York, or to work into your plans if you’re a tourist with a NYC trip planned. I do hear there are five or six of who come here each year, after all.
New York City National Parks and Sites
You’ve probably heard of this one, right? Go. It’s awesome. It’s one of those things about which all these New Yorkers I know say, “you know, I’ve never gone,” and that’s crazy. You can’t believe how emotional it feels looking straight up into that iconic face we all know so well.
Unless your family came over on the Mayflower — or you know, even if they did — this should probably be at the top of your list of destinations to visit in New York City with your kids. Nothing makes you appreciate the incredible diversity of this country, like getting a sense of the 12 million US immigrants who were processed here. Just read some of the family stories on the website to your kids (like the Sicurella family, above, who started to come to the US in 1903 from Sicily) and it starts to bring the entire immigrant experience to life.
Be sure to go on one of the National park Service Ranger-led tours which start each hour on the hour, and are free once you’re there.
I had the privilege of visiting here a few years ago, and my children went on a school trip this year, and I now recommend it all the time to visiting friends and family. This burial ground in Lower Manhattan of both free and enslaved Africans from the 1690’s until the end of the 18th century was only rediscovered in 1991, having been buried for centuries under landfill and construction. The African Burial Ground exquisite in its architecture, spiritual in its sensibility, and a visit is a wonderful blend of history, culture, and archaeology.
This is such a cool thing to do right in the center of Manhattan. Well, Chelsea actually. I love that you could pass right by this brownstone every day and never even notice that it’s this amazing museum, filled with incredible artifacts, historic documents, and personal possessions that bring Teddy Roosevelt’s story to life. Definitely worth a visit.
This museum is an actual brownstone that’s been meticulously refinished so the rooms look just as they did decades ago, when working class immigrants from Eastern Europe, Ireland, and Russia were settling in New York’s Lower East Side.
It is not a cushy, air conditioned “museum” experience, and I can’t think of a better way for our kids to really truly understand how fortunate they are today — like not having to walk down five flights and outside to share an outhouse with 22 other apartments. Having heat and hot water (and air conditioning!) on command. Sleeping in their own beds, which aren’t situated in a kitchen…and shared with two or three other people. Not all related.
On our tour, my kids were particularly shocked to learn that sometimes children as young as five and six were kept out of school to help peddle things on the street or work in their parents’ business to help support the family. Then, without an education, how can you advance your opportunities? You really can’t.
I reminded my kids that this isn’t just something that happened “in history.” It still happens around the world in impoverished locales on every continent. It’s why we’re so committed to making sure children around the world can go to school.
I can hardly express how moved I was by this experience and how much I sincerely recommend it. In fact, I’d like to return. There are various tours to help you experience life in the tenement — I took the the Sweatshop tour which was really personal for me since my great-grandmother was a Russian Jew who immigrated here at the turn of the century and went into the garment industry to support her family as a single mom. It was like a slice of my own family’s history.
But I think most kids would really respond to the the meet the residents tour, in which costumed men and women reenact actual residents of the building, based on stories, photos and memorabilia from their living family members today.
We’ve been talking a lot recently on this site about teaching hard lessons to kids about tolerance, diversity, acceptance, and compassion. I feel so passionate about this subject, especially now. The next generation is in our hands, and they really have the capability to be the least hateful, most accepting, loving generation ever in our nation’s history. One way to do it is not just by teaching them about the famous people in history, but as our tour guide reminded me, learning about regular people.
They’re the ones whose stories really need to be told.
If you’re headed to Liberty Island, you’re going to leave from Castle Clinton, which is at the very very southern tip of Manhattan. It was actually the immigration processing point before Ellis Island went into operation. You don’t have to spend a lot of time here, but once you’re there you’re close to Battery Park City which is a beautiful walk with kids, and has fantastic views of the Hudson and New York Harbor. (Also it has a Shake Shack. But that’s another post.)
Governor’s Island is the island that everyone spots from Brooklyn or southern Manhattan and asks, “what’s that one?” Well, it’s Governor’s Island. And now it’s totally redone and it’s become a huge summer hot spot for families in the know, who get there by ferry pretty easily. There are two cool forts to visit — one is actually called a castle if that helps your princess/prince-loving kids get excited about it — and plenty for kids to do, whether it’s a civil war reenactment, a 1.5 mile walk, or just a picnic on your own. Oh, and did I mention the ferry ride? Yeah, kids love ferry rides.
Check out the calendar for lots of cool events for families. Coming up in August alone: Free afternoon concerts, a make-your-own puppet workshop for kids, an actual vintage baseball game, and a Roaring Twenties family-friendly garden party.
Gateway is actually a 26,000 acre national park that spans New Jersey, and three boroughs of New York. (Sorry Bronx and Manhattan.)
There are summer beach concerts and campfire days in Sandy Hook, kayaking in Floyd Bennett Field, nature watching at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, stargazing with the Amateur Astronomers ASsociation of NY in Staten Island’s Great Kills National Park. In case you can’t tell, the sheer amount of cool stuff to do with kids there is astounding. Check the site before your visit and see what’s what.
Okay political junkies, this one is for you. Right in the middle of Wall Street is this very cool building that looks more like something you’d see in Boston. It’s where George Washington took his oath of office, and has quite the history as a series of important political buildings. Now it’s a museum and memorial to GW, and a nice quick visit if you plan on walking around Wall Street or the South Street Seaport area.
Can you guess who’s buried here?
Ha, couldn’t resist.
This is absolutely one of the coolest places to visit in New York City and so many more people need to go. I went a few years back when they were in the process of reconstructing this “country home” of Alexander Hamilton and moving it across the street. I still remember the tour guide being an absolute genius when it comes to Hamilton, who was a fascinating person and politician. Oh, and the “country” where the house is situated? It’s now called Harlem. While you’re there grab a bite at the Grange Bar & Eatery Gastropub which is supposed to be awesome.
National Parks and Sites a short drive from New York City
These are definitely worth a visit too. Some are day trips (like Hyde Park) some are definitely worth spending more time, like a trip up the Hudson Valley or a weekend in Fire Island. Sigh. I love Fire Island.
Fire Island National Seashore, Long Island, NY
Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, from NYC up through Westchester County to Albany.
Saint Paul’s Church National Historic Site, Mt Vernon, NY
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, Hyde Park, NY
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, Hyde Park, NY
Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, Hyde Park, NY
Thanks so so much for this amazing partnership between American Express and the National Parks Service, and The Amex EveryDay Credit Card for sponsoring this post. What a pleasure to get to share some of the places I love most in the world in my very own backyard. Be sure to check out the Amex EveryDay Credit Card , a no-annual fee card designed for multi-tasking parents to help us make more out of the every day.
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