This 843-acre wooded and landscaped oasis in the heart of New York City is studded with 21 playgrounds and many one-of-a-kind attractions. One of the park's most beautifully landscaped attractions is the Billy Johnson Playground near Tisch Children's Zoo. Its many features include a stone bridge, a 45-foot-long spiral granite slide, a seating area situated in an amphitheater, spraying water fountains, and picnic tables.
Tisch Children's Zoo and the Central Park Wildlife Center are separated by the famous Delacorte Musical Clock, which is decorated with six enchanting rotating bronze animals. The children's zoo lets young visitors mingle with potbellied pigs, goats, and more. In the zoo's center is the Enchanted Forest, which features oversize animals, the remains of a make-believe primeval forest, and a giant spiderweb for climbing. Turtles and frogs share the central aviary with the park's expansive bird collection. A children's theater is also located here. Be sure to take a spin on the historic carousel located nearby.
It's also fun to rent rowboats at the Loeb Boathouse for a leisurely ride across the Lake, a 22-acre body of water located in the heart of Central Park. If you're looking for a boating excursion on a smaller scale, stop at Conservatory Water, where you can watch experts sail their own beautifully crafted miniature remote-controlled boats. You can even rent your own miniature sailboat at Kerbs Boathouse and join in the boat racing fun.
At the western end of Conservatory Water sit several of Central Park's most beloved sculptures. Children adore climbing on the statue that honors Hans Christian Andersen. Balloon-animal makers and caricature artists often gather at this spot to entertain and amuse the children. On the northern end of Conservatory Water is a statue that pays tribute to Lewis Carroll's 1865 classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Central Park hosts a storyteller each week during the summer at this location. Another beloved statue is of Balto, the canine hero of the Iditarod.
Plan to catch a show at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre -- its shows are based on classic fairy tales and are perfect for younger children. Older children may enjoy the summer performances at Delacorte Theatre, home of Shakespeare in the Park, but you'll have to arrive early on the day of the performance to get free tickets for the 1:00 p.m. show.
The Dana Discovery Center at the edge of the Harlem Meer, the park's largest and northernmost pond, hosts family education programs, catch-and-release fishing, and seasonal activities such as the Halloween Pumpkin Sail of candlelit jack-o'-lanterns across the water.
You can rent bicycles or take a horse-drawn buggy through the park, which is especially fun on the weekends when it is closed to motor traffic.
Winter fun includes two ice-skating rinks in Central Park; Lasker Rink, located mid-park, and the Wollman Rink, which is one of the most picturesque in the world, set among trees and rolling hills against the backdrop of Manhattan's skyscrapers.
Central Park Information
Address: Central Park N. and 5th Ave., New York, NY
Hours of Operation: Dawn - Dusk
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Laura Sutherland is a widely acknowledged authority on family travel and has published several books on the topic, including Best Family Ski Vacations In North America and Tropical Family Vacations.