After a busy first day in NYC seeing a Broadway show and visiting the 9/11 Memorial, on our second day of our family weekend in NYC we focused on exploring Lower Manhattan. There is so much to do in NYC with kids that you really need to split up your days by neighborhood. The girls studied immigration this year in school and really want to go to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island but both were still closed to visitors due to the damage sustained during Hurricane Sandy. So, we decided to do the next best thing and see them by boat.
On a previous trip to the city, we’d gone on a Circle Line cruise but this time we decided to do the low budget option — take the free Staten Island Ferry. Some friends from the city were incredulous that we would want to go to Staten Island (we didn’t, we just wanted to take the ferry there then turn right around and head back to Manhattan), but this is such an affordable and enjoyable activity.
We started off with a quick and unremarkable breakfast at The Diner, then took the subway from Fulton Street to Bowling Green. From there it is a quick walk to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. Once you walk out of the subway we were bombarded with vendors hawking sightseeing cruises — putting a little fear, uncertainty and doubt into our minds about our decision but we decided to stick to our guns and try the ferry and save $100.
We slipped through the doors just as they were closing and made our way onto the ferry. The girls were super excited about both the boat ride and the chance to see the Statue up close. Since we were the last ones on, we ended up on the left side of the boat, facing the Brooklyn Bridge, since the other side was already packed.
On the way out, we had great views of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Domino Sugar sign in Brooklyn, and the Verrazano Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island. Upon arrival on Staten Island we followed the herds off the ferry and immediately back on. It is clearly not a closely held secret that taking the ferry is a great activity. The boat back was also packed with tourists, but we at least got a good position by the rail on the left side facing the Statue of Liberty and caught some beautiful views of Lower Manhattan.
My recommendation would be to get there early and go immediately to the right side of the boat. The trip from Manhattan to Staten Island travels closest to the Statue so that leg of the trip is your best opportunity to get close up shots. Another tip, if you head downstairs, you can open the windows for an unobstructed view of the Statue, but you will also encounter a fair share of grouchy commuters. We got at least a few nasty looks and comments trying to get a good photo opportunity.
After our ferry ride, we headed over to the South Street Seaport. The Seaport also sustained damage during the hurricane and is in the process of recovering. The shops and restaurants weren’t anything on par to what it used to be but it is still a fun place to explore with kids. I love the storage containers they have transformed into minishops while the damage is being dealt with. It was also nice to be back where we got married (Bridgewaters in the Seaport) and share that with the kids. After cooling off with some sorbet, it was time to walk north and go to Chinatown for some authentic Sunday afternoon Dim Sum.
While there are so many options, we went with an old favorite, the classic Dim Sum parlor at Golden Unicorn at 18 East Broadway. The Golden Unicorn is spread over multiple floors and a popular place on Sundays so despite the size, be prepared for a long wait. After a grueling 45 minute wait, we were all pretty hot, tired, and hungry. You also need to keep in mind that these places are loud, gaudy, and not necessarily service oriented. Servers push carts around and you order the dim sum (various dumplings, buns, spring rolls, chicken feet, etc) you want and if you are lucky, the carts have descriptions in English. So don’t expect kids meals or crayons but there is something very unique about a walk around Chinatown and an authentic experience.
We had considered checking out the Lower East Side Tenement Museum later, since it reflects our Jewish heritage and ties into the immigration study. We decided against it since you need to purchase tickets in advance for timed tours and we weren’t sure exactly where we would be at a specific time. It also seemed a bit pricey for a 60 minute tour, but it is still something I’d like to do someday.
The kids needed to get out of the crowds and unfamiliar atmosphere of Chinatown (we’ll try to explore more in depth again when she is older), so we headed back to the Financial District. We walked down Wall Street, saw the New York Stock Exchange and U.S. Customs Building, posed in front of the Federal Building (did you know it was home to the first Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive offices in the United States?) The History Here app was a great resource in providing a bit more description for all of these landmarks.
The kids loved exploring the streets and checking out these historic buildings. After going on a scavenger hunt to find the Charging Bull at Bowling Green, it was time to pick up a few souvenirs and hit the road for the ride home.
To capture these memories and make sure the girls wouldn’t forget the details of this amazing trip, I put together a small photo book for each of the girls to capture their favorite memories.
Note: This post contains affiliate links to TripAdvisor, a tool I always use when researching new destinations, but the opinions are all my own.