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Best Kids’ Play Spaces

Judge: Ben Wade, 5, Upper West Side Pre-K Student

Illustration by Edel Rodriguez  
  • When the temperature drops and your child seems intent on forging a yogic connection with Miffy and Friends, it’s time to head to one of the proliferating play spaces around town. Our expert visited five of them to separate the simply fun from the stellar.

  • Fifth Place

  • Little Spirits

    10 E. 38th St., 212-576-1018

    There are two ways to go: Mom or Dad stays ($15 an hour per kid) or Junior gets dropped off ($25 an hour, no diapers). As the main selling point, our tester cited a swimming-pool-size pit full of plastic balls. “And four colors of turkeys!” Ben raved. (Actually, they’re rubber chickens.) Add a trampoline and climbing wall and there’s plenty to tire the kids out.

  • Fourth Place

  • A-Ha!

    1624 First Ave., 212-517-8292

    A strictly parent-child play space, a-ha! caters to a younger crowd, inspiring Ben’s damning postmortem: “There’s no climbing.” But the Moonbounce and mountains of squishy blocks entertained, and Ben issued one positive fiat: “Go in the houses—they’re kid-size, made of wood.” Open play is $15 a head.

  • Third Place

  • ACT Programs, at Cathedral of St. John the Divine

    1047 Amsterdam Ave., 212-316-7530

    During the nose-nipping months from November to March, the church opens up a no-frills “indoor play station” for 5-and-unders accompanied by parents or caregivers. It’s not much more than a cluster of backyard jungle gyms moved into a church basement, but Ben gives high marks to its fail-safe recipe: lots of kids, plastic slides, and a gymnastics mat—“With balls everywhere! Very fun!” Long a local secret, this 900-square-foot kiddie gym offers the city’s best rock-bottom bargain at $6 per day per kid.

  • Second Place

  • Children’s Museum of Manhattan

    212 W. 83rd St., 212-721-1234

    At $8 a head (yes, grown-ups pay, too), the Children’s Museum of Manhattan provides five floors of interactive exhibits for less than the price of a movie ticket. Commercial tie-ins like the Dora the Explorer room rub purists the wrong way, but Ben gleefully skipped across the “troll bridge” and crawled through the tunnels in the Alice in Wonderland exhibit. “They’re long and dark—not scary; it’s fun! No adults.”

  • Winner

  • Sydney’s Playground

    66 White St., 212-431-9125

    Ben voted this 6,000-square-foot Tribeca play space “funner” than the rest because the action-friendly design meant he could crawl, climb, and jump all over the place—and burrow into the holes cut in the walls. For a $12.50 flat fee, your child can ride a pillow down the bumpy slide, search out hidden rooms in the Munchkin-size village—and gaze into the future. That was Ben’s favorite part: “There’s a mirror that makes you look like a teenager. I looked tall.”

From the 2006 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine