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  Nine Great Day Trips  
  Nine adventures in and around the city packed with enough variety to engage every family member (just don’t expect to cover all these bases in one day).  
The engines that could: Exploring the Fire Zone in Manhattan.


Begin in lower Manhattan at the New York City Police Museum, where you’ll trace the evolution of cop stuff: uniforms, badges, weapons, and other equipment that helps the men and women in blue catch the bad guys. Or (staying with the uniform theme), head to the Fire Zone, in midtown, which re-creates a hazard-laden room that goes up in (safe) smoke; kids practice the stop, drop, and roll under the tutelage of an FDNY pro. For lunch, take the family on a city-style picnic: Pack your own or let E.A.T. on Madison Avenue put together a divine basket with selected contents for each member of the family, including the finicky ones. Either way, head up to the dreamy Harlem Meer at the northern edge of Central Park, which is never as crowded as the southern regions. The area between 106th and 110th Streets covers some 65 acres of grasslands and woodlands, some of it very rugged. The meer, or lake, has a sandy area and steps leading down to the water’s edge. The Urban Rangers—they call themselves Parkies—will lead you to the Dana Discovery Center. Try your luck with the catch-and-release fishing program, which runs Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All equipment is provided, including bait and an instruction booklet. Another option is to head even farther uptown, to Fort Tryon Park, home of the Cloisters, which houses the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s breathtaking collection of medieval European art and architecture. On September 21, the park will host the annual Medieval Festival (noon to 6 p.m.; 212-795-1600), with costumed characters from the Middle Ages, jugglers, jesters, and jousts.

N.Y.C. Police Museum, 100 Old Slip (212-480-3100; FDNY Fire Zone, 34 W. 51st St. (212-698-4520; E.A.T., 1064 Madison Ave., near 80th St. (212-772-0022). Harlem Meer, mid-park at 110th St. ( Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters, Fort Washington Ave., Washington Heights (212-923-3700).

Wildlife: The city's last working farm is in Queens.


You’re in the biggest borough; start off at the Queens County Farm in Little Neck, the last working farm in the city. Watch the demonstrations of eighteenth-century craft-making, cooking, and the like. Outside, sheep and goats are pettable, and there are lots of other animals to get up close and personal with. You’re just ten minutes by car from the Alley Pond Environmental Center, where the hiking trails are easy and where you’ll see plenty of wildlife. For lunch, try Jahn’s in Richmond Hill. This old-fashioned diner and ice-cream parlor’s most famous dessert is the Kitchen Sink—three gallons of ice creams and toppings (your choice), so bring a crowd. Then spend the afternoon at Flushing Meadow–Corona Park. Kids will love the Hall of Science, with 225 mostly interactive exhibits. Outdoors is the playground, challenging kids with a giant spider’s-web jungle gym, among many other elements.

Queens County Farm, 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy., Floral Park (718-347-3276; Alley Pond Environmental Center, 228-06 Northern Blvd., Douglaston (718-229-4000; Jahn’s, 117-03 Hillside Ave., Richmond Hill (718-847-2800; New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th St., Flushing Meadows (718-699-0005).


This is the sound of a 7-year-old boy’s ecstatic endorsement of Fun Time USA: “Noooooo! Daddy, don’t write about it! Then everyone will go and it will be crowded and spoiled!” Well, that’s the sound of a journalist’s son, anyway. Your son or daughter will be shrieking enthusiastically and unhesitatingly inside Fun Time USA, the hybrid amusement park–cum–video arcade in Sheepshead Bay. The 55,000-square-foot space allows a kid, legs safely snuggled up to his or her waist in a thick felt pouch, to build up some serious speed while sliding 150 feet down a twisting two-story fiberglass ramp before plopping happily into a pile of cushions. There’s also room for budding space rangers to hunt down their enemies and zap ’em good before darting behind protective walls inside the Laser World arena. Gentler souls can try “bowlingo,” a miniature bowling alley, where the bowling balls are the size of a Florida orange and the pins are about half the standard height. Bumper cars—each fronted by the cartoonish, helmeted, grimacing face of a football player—bounce and skid across one section of the Fun Time floor. Other sectors have dozens of bleeping video games.

That’s not the only worthy diversion in Sheepshead Bay. Walk out onto the marina pier early any morning, and you’re treated to a very different kind of carny experience. Here the barkers are calling out “Fluke!” “Bluefish!” “We get the big tuna!” These are the dozen or so captains of Sheepshead Bay’s fishing fleet, competing for your angling business. Most boats make two runs: one from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., another heading out around 7 p.m. and returning at midnight, when an incomparable view of the city spreads out twinkling before you. “We’ll go out toward the Jersey coast or up to Long Island, maybe to Raritan Bay or Jamaica Bay, wherever the fish are running and the water’s calm,” says Mike Greenwood, captain of the Lark III, a custom-made 60-footer. Bring your own gear, or consult the helpful folks at Bo-Gi’s Bait and Tackle. “But if you don’t have any poles and hooks,” Greenwood says, “we’ll supply them for free. With any luck, you’ll be eating fish you caught for dinner.”

Even with no luck, you’ve still got pretty good choices. Sheepshead Bay is home to the famous, resurrected, and sprawling Lundy’s seafood restaurant. Smaller and far less formal, but no less legendary, is Roll-N-Roaster, a throwback to a pre-McDonald’s fast-food era. Roast-beef sandwiches are the Roll-N-Roaster specialty, but there’s chowder, shrimp, burgers, and this unbeatable enticement: You can put cheez on anything you pleez.

Fun Time USA, 2461 Knapp St., Sheepshead Bay (718-368-0500; Mike Greenwood, fishing captain, Lark III, Sheepshead Bay pier (718-645-6942). Bo-Gi’s Bait and Tackle, 2126 Knapp St., Sheepshead Bay (718-743-2277). Lundy’s, 1901 Emmons Ave., Sheepshead Bay (718-743-0022). Roll-N-Roaster, 2901 Emmons Ave., Sheepshead Bay (718-769-6000).

Big mouth: The Staten Island Children's Museum in Snug Harbor.


Thoreau on Staten Island: The words seem like a punch line in search of a joke. But it’s true. In the 1840s, old H.D. lived in the city’s fifth and too-often-forgotten borough—staying with the brother of his fellow three-named, naturally inclined author friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. And the concept of Thoreau on Staten Island becomes downright palpable when you leave behind the strip-mall junk of Hylan Boulevard and enter the quiet sandy-pine-and-oak woods of Clay Pit Pond State Park Preserve, at the southwestern end of the island. The 250 acres, home to osprey and red-tailed hawks, are ribboned with two and a half miles of wood-chipped trails.

The hikes and sites are even grander and wilder inside the Greenbelt, 2,800 acres stretching across the center of the island. The Greenbelt’s woodlands, wetlands, and meadows have miraculously remained largely unchanged for more than 200 years, though the park isn’t completely free of the modern: In an ironic touch, the Greenbelt’s highest point, a 110-foot pinnacle that offers panoramic views for up to sixteen miles, is a man-made pile named Moses’ Mountain—after Robert Moses, the legendary parks commissioner, builder of highways, and wrecker of neighborhoods. At the Greenbelt’s northern tip, you can gently reenter the mechanized world by walking the gentle “White Trail” to the quaint carousel of wooden horses in Willowbrook Park. The Urban Park Rangers offer year-round guided walks and educational talks in the visitor’s center. Sara Hobel, director of the Rangers, suggests a visit to the Greenbelt’s High Rock Park, either early in the morning—go to Loose Strife Swamp for a glimpse of elegant blue herons and snowy egrets—or in the evening, when the Rangers lead astronomy and overnight camping sessions.

After hours of pastoral contemplation, you can become part of a Staten Island tradition nearly as old as the Clay Pit hills: arguing about who makes the better pizza. The eternal contenders are Nunzio’s (thicker crust, homier atmosphere) and Joe & Pat’s (thinner crust, more central location). Cleanse the palate of tomato sauce with the one-and-only Italian-ice champ, Ralph’s. Then head to the borough’s newest park, the ballpark. (N.B. Although public transportation can get you to all of these places, a car brought over on the ferry makes life a whole lot easier.) The official, hopelessly unwieldy name is the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George. Note the spectacular setting: Lower Manhattan is the backdrop to an outfield patrolled by the Staten Island Yankees, the youngest minor-league hopefuls in the Bronx Bombers’ system. It’s a five-minute walk from the stadium to the Staten Island Ferry and the perfect ending to a day in the open air. Who needs Walden Pond when you can bounce across the chop of New York Harbor?

Of course, there’s more to Staten Island than pizza and baseball. In the wonderful Snug Harbor Cultural Center, the Staten Island Children’s Museum has a hands-in water exhibit that doesn’t really drench but is still loads of fun. Kid-appropriate cooking classes are on the schedule every week, along with themed arts-and-crafts workshops. From there, it’s another short hop to the Staten Island Zoo, which houses an impressive collection of reptiles, as well as the African Savannah at Twilight exhibit, featuring animals from the African grasslands, including leopards, mandrills, and lemurs. Last stop is Historic Richmond Town. Covering more than 100 acres, there’s a village with buildings that dates from 1695. Learn about the evolution of the borough at the site’s Historical Museum. Throughout the grounds docents don period costumes and demonstrate early-American crafts-making and cooking. The Parsonage serves basic Americana—steaks, mac ’n’ cheese, pizza—in a Victorian house that overlooks greenery and an old schoolhouse. If you’re so inclined and still have the energy, the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, which resembles a monastery, contains a large collection of Eastern artifacts virtually guaranteed to calm the troops before bedtime.

Clay Pit Pond State Park Preserve, 83 Nielsen Ave. (718-967-1976; Greenbelt Conservancy (718-667-2165; Urban Park Ranger Programs; 866-692-4295). High Rock Park, 200 Nevada Ave. (718-667-2165; Nunzio’s, 2155 Hylan Blvd. (718-667-9647). Joe & Pat’s, 1758 Victory Blvd. (718-981-0887). Ralph’s, 501 Port Richmond Ave. (718-448-0853). Staten Island Yankees (718-720-9200; Staten Island Children’s Museum, 1000 Richmond Terrace (718-273-2060). Staten Island Zoo, 614 Broadway (718-442-3100). Historic Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Ave. (718-351-1611). The Parsonage (718-351-7879). Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, 338 Lighthouse Ave. (718-987-3500;

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From the Fall 2003 edition of the New York Family Guide