Tiny Itineraries: Brooklyn Bridge Park and DUMBO with a Toddler
Looking for postcard worthy views and a leisurely day spent experiencing the best of NYC's urban outdoors? This itinerary is for you!
Fuel Up. Start your day in Brooklyn Heights for a quiet breakfast and coffee at Iris Cafe (20 Columbia Place; http://iriscafe.nyc). This will allow you to hit the major playgound attractions at Brooklyn Bridge Park before the crowds descend en masse.
The restaurant doesn't take reservations for brunch, but if the space is full and you don't want to wait, you can duck into the sister Willowtown Store No 7 (16 Columbia Place; http://store7nyc.com) a few doors down and order a light breakfast and coffee to go. There are benches outside, or you can take the food straight down to Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6. Don’t forget to save the plastic cup from your iced coffee – the kiddo can play with it at the Water Lab.
Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park, a waterfront playground for all ages. Pier 6 (https://www.brooklynbridgepark.org/park/pier-6) houses a bevy of beautifully constructed playground fun for your toddler. Designed in consultation with North Carolina State University's Natural Learning Initiative, each out the destination playground's four main areas are meant for learning through play. You won't find concrete and plastic play structures here. Instead, the spaces are filled with natural elements like wood, ceramics and rock, with lush trees and grasses and bamboo that give a sense of being tucked inside a secret world.
If you visit in the summer months, your will definitely want to go to the Water Lab, with plenty of water jets and pooling puddles to splash in. Bring a swimsuit and water shoes for your toddler (and flip flops for yourself) for maximum comfort and safety. If you're toddler is on the younger side, you will need to stay by their side and keep them away from the higher rocks, which can be treacherous.
Beyond the water park, Pier 6 is home to Sandbox Village, a large enclosed sand area filled with ceramic and wooden structures, perfect for toddlers. Note that it's quite bright in the sand area, with little shade coverage, so brimmed hats, sunscreen and tons of water is a must!
The Slide Mountain area is geared for ages 5+. And although Swing Valley has swings for all ages, if your toddler is like mine, you may want to avoid it - the Tarzan ropes will be irresistible despite being too advanced for your little one.
Do take a stroll through the Marsh Garden, a quiet setting that immerses your little one into the lush waterfront ecosystem, before heading for a stroll along the Brooklyn Bridge Park's waterfront towards DUMBO.
What else to know about Pier 6:
- Where to breastfeed: No one will bat an eye if you nurse in the playgrounds - you'll be in good company. If you are seeking more quiet and privacy, there are benches outside the playgrounds, tucked amongst the grasses and bamboo.
- Where to potty: Restrooms can be found on the first floor of Fornino's Pizza, located directly on the waterfront.
- Stroller parking: Strollers can be parked inside the playgrounds, though space can get limited, especially in the Water Lab. Brooklyn-based blog Weepea gives this great tip: “Stash your stroller in the shade right by the entrance on the upper portion of the Water Lab. That way the seats won’t heat up while the kiddos are playing and when you want to leave it is easy to scoot out of there.”
Stroll over to DUMBO along Brooklyn Bridge Park, taking in the second to none views of the Manhattan skyline, with the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges in the distance. You’ll be astounded by the recently built park – where else, for example, can folks play soccer and beach volleyball on a pier jutting out over the river? There are tons of little gems to uncover along the short stroll, so take your time, soak it in and wander wherever your family’s interest takes you.
Snap some requisite family photos with Manhattan in the background, and then duck into its near hidden playground at Pier 1, perfect for toddlers (or if you’ve had your fill of playgrounds for the moment, save it for later in the day). Abundant tree canopy provides great shade on hot days, the ground is covered with soft padding, and the structures (including a small slide, a storefront, and stone animals) are the perfect size for toddlers. Or walk past the playground to the Vale Lawn where you can kick a ball with your little one, or just lie on the grass.
Jane’s Carousel (Old Dock Street; http://janescarousel.com) is a stunning beauty perched on the rocks overlooking the water, tucked next to the Brooklyn Bridge. Ride the carousel for $2. Our daughter was less than impressed with her first carousel ride elsewhere at 8 months, so we skip riding the horses, but she still enjoys dancing to the music and watching the horses from just outside.
What else to know about DUMBO:
Where to breastfeed: The Max Family Garden (3-99 New Dock Street), tucked in the walls of St Anne’s Warehouse theater, is a wonderful quiet place to breastfeed. So is the Pier 1 playground (2 Furman Street) – with its heavy canopy, you will be completely cocooned from the outside world passing by and snapping selfies.
Where to potty: Pier 2 (with the basketball courts and roller rink), Squibb Park (by the suspension bridge), Pier 1 (closest pier to DUMBO, near the Lizzmonade Stand), and by Jane’s Carousel. Keep an eye out for directional signs as you walk along Brooklyn Bridge Park, or use Google Maps to orient you in a pinch.
Grab lunch. Listen to me, and listen to me good. When you tell folks that you are going to NYC on vacation, someone will inevitably tell you that you absolutely must try the pizza at one of several different pizzerias in DUMBO. They will tell you that it is the best pizza in New York. Please disregard the well intended advice, for two reasons. 1) It is not the best pizza in NYC. It will be good, sure, but not the best. (The best is Giuseppina's in Park Slope). 2) The line ups for these pizzerias are out the door and down the street, because every other tourist to NYC has been told about these restaurants too. Much like Disney World, you are unlikely to walk away from the experience saying "That was a totally relaxing and worthwhile experience. I'm really glad we stood in line for an hour and a half with our bored, whining toddler."
With it's ample grassy areas overlooking the Manhattan skyline, DUMBO is perfect for a picnic on the lawn. Ask your hotel concierge/home rental host to recommend a place close to where you're staying to grab ready-made lunch supplies, or pick something up from any of the following DUMBO eateries. (Or better yet, order ahead and have one adult do the pick up, while the other entertains the little one at either the Pier 1 or Main Street Playgrounds).
Westville Dumbo (81 Washington Street, http://m.westvillenyc.com/locations/dumbo/): High-quality American-style comfort food. There is a kids menu, and the restaurant offers sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs (all beef and vegan soy), as well as loads of tasty market vegetable sides and salads. Reservations accepted, and you can order online through their website.
VHH Foods (55 Water Street, 1E; http://www.vhhfoods.com/location/vhh-foods/): The casual cousin of the exceptional Vinegar Hill Restaurant, VHH Foods lets you get a true NYC upscale dining experience (at least in terms of ingredients and flavor) with your little one in tow. Get an avocado toast or hot dog for your little one, and a veggie heavy salad or protein dish for yourself.
Or if you're a larger family, consider the family meal, with your choice of a roasted chicken, pulled pork or tofu along with side salads for $60. You can take the food away, or eat at tables overlooking the shoreline.
VHH Foods also does breakfast and coffee, and has an onsite bakery.
If you need a break from the sun, both restaurants can accommodate strollers. Or try out Gran Electrica (5 Front Street; https://www.granelectrica.com), which serves delicious Mexican with a twist, and great agave tequila-based libations for the adults.
The restaurant takes reservations for inside seating, while the beautiful back garden under the Brooklyn Bridge is first come first serve. If you go on the weekend, there is likely to be a waitlist for the garden, though they will text you when your table is available, so you could keep exploring nearby.
There are stairs at the front entrance and to the back garden, so it's advisable to fold the stroller before entering. If you have a napping toddler in the stroller, it's going to take some careful navigation with two adults to make things happen, so best to go pre or post nap.
While You Were Sleeping
If your child takes stroller naps, you may wish to keep the fun going, rather than heading back to your hotel/rental.
If your child doesn't need motion to keep sleeping, you can pull up some lawn along the Brooklyn Bridge Park waterfront for a nap of your own, or to read a good book.
If you're looking for an adult beverage, head to the patio at VHH Foods (featured above), or to Celestine (1 John Street; https://www.celestinebk.com), an upscale restaurant with beers, wine and cocktails that can be sipped on a quiet patio overlooking the river. Roll the stroller up the access ramp and roll right onto the patio. As a bonus, once the kid is up, you could stroll next door to Spark! (1 John Street, Ground Level; http://www.brooklynkids.org/spark/), an indoor art and play space created by the Brooklyn Children's Museum.
Or if a walking stroller nap is in order, use the Squibb Park suspension bridge via the Brooklyn Bridge Park (https://www.brooklynbridgepark.org/park/squibb-park-bridge) to meander up into Brooklyn Heights, an upscale residential neighborhood with tons of beautiful old brownstones. If you're into knowing the stories behind historicl buildings, you can read the free Brooklyn Heights walking tour from your phone as you stroll (https://www.walksofnewyork.com/blog/brooklyn-heights-brooklyn).
Avoid walking through DUMBO during your kid's stroller nap - though the sideways are new, many of the roads are cobblestone, and can be tricky to navigate without waking up your sleeping beauty.
Once your little one is up, skip walking the Brooklyn Bridge and instead take to the water: The bridge is swamped with tourists on any sunny day (especially weekends), and walkers need to share the space with cyclists. Local cyclists, frustrated by tourists that don’t know how to stay in their lane, can get aggressive, and tourists on CitiBikes wobble along and veer into pedestrian lanes. With a stroller, expect the walk to be slow (and at times nerve wracking) as you make your way through the crowds.
Consider saving the bridge walk for your next visit to NYC when you kids are older, or do the walk on a weekday, when crowds are lighter. If you want to take in more river views, take a ride on the NYC Ferry (Furman Street and Old Fulton Street; https://www.ferry.nyc), which moves passengers across the river from DUMBO to the foot of Wall Street, or up and down the west side of Brooklyn. Because they are commuter ferries, ticket prices are incredibly reasonable - $2.75 one way for an adult, toddlers ride free. Kids will enjoy being on the boat, and the adults can relax and let someone else (literally) ferry them around while enjoying a beer, wine or cold brew coffee from the ferry’s concession stand. Strollers can be taken on board.