30 Affordable Ways to Savor the Final Days of Your NYC Summer Staycation

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summer staycation nyc, kids outside central park water summer

With four kids under six years old, I’m often daunted by the freeform weeks of summer stretching endlessly from June through September.

I fret about how our family dynamics will shift when we no longer have our own places to be during the day—be that school, playdates, or Moms groups—and attempt to coexist in our 2-bedroom apartment.

And then I remember: Summer is my chance to reconnect with my kids (those strangers who vanish into school 6+ hours a day) and my city.

“I love summer,” sighed my contented daughter as she curled up next to my husband for a couch snuggle.

“What do you love so much about summer?” I asked.

“Being with mommy,” my son chimed in. “And swimming.”

In summer, there’s less rushing to drop-offs, meetings, naps and pick-ups and more just being together. Our days are more fluid. We linger at the playground or a museum, stop to chat with a friend on the sidewalk, and enjoy picnic lunches at the park rather than scarfing down a granola bar (aka lunch) on the way to preschool.

The summer season of rest from school year routines makes raising a family in New York City sustainable.

I love how our daily rhythms vary from season to season, breaking up what could easily slip into monotony. I enjoy the excitement of back-to-school and reuniting with friends in the crisp fall, taking ski trips and throwing snowballs at the basketball court in the winter, watching tulips spring up along the sidewalks and Central Park return to green in a matter of days, and crafting daily summer adventures as we set out to explore the city, reminiscent of the von Trapp family in the Do Re Mi scene.

Thanks to NYC, we have no shortage of staycation potential. During the school year, we don’t often venture beyond walking distance, but in the summer our radius expands beyond the Upper East Side. It certainly helps that this is the first in six summers that I’m not pregnant, nursing, or protecting a morning nap!

summer staycation nyc, kids, outside, central park, water summer

Gathering Ideas for Your Staycation? Check out Ours!

1.     Eat corn on the cob at a 4th of July picnic in Central Park

2.     Learn to swim without floaties at the New York Sports Club

3.     Meet old friends and make new ones at the playground

4.     Walk the Brooklyn Bridge to explore the waterfront in DUMBO and marvel at the Manhattan skyline

5.     Max out my library card (50 books at a time!)

6.     Sing Vacation Bible School songs

7.     Score barber shop lollipops after my toddler’s first haircut

8.     Run around into happy exhaustion at Simply Sports’ free soccer camp

9.     Design the city of the future at the Museum of the City of New York

10.  Scoot to the dollar store to spend tooth fairy money

11.  Chow down on free summer kids’ meals by John Jay Pool

12.  Play with Spike the lizard—the science teacher’s class pet—who is making the vacation rounds

13.  Swat around tennis balls at Wagner middle school with New York Junior Tennis & Learning—for free!

14.  Make s’mores pizza

summer staycation nyc, kids, outside, water summerpark swing tire outside summer happy

15.  Solve puzzles and play with shapes at the National Museum of Mathematics by Madison Square Park

16.  Sample complimentary Kids Club snacks at Whole Foods

17.  Paint, glue, and bedazzle dioramas during Craft Studio “Summer Afternoons”

18.  Navigate an aircraft carrier and submarine at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

19.  Design a skatepark and play with paint at the Children’s Museum of the Arts

20.  Transit to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum on the new Culture Pass

21.  Escape raindrops inside at The Playroom NYC with Kidpass

22.  Craft at Michael’s Kids Club

23.  Build a project at The Home Depot kids’ workshops

24.  Tumble at the Little Gym

25.  Navigate the 92nd Street Y’s GymMaze

26.  Ride the ferry to Governor’s Island

Bonus points if you clock in some mom time:

27.  Brush up on iambic pentameter with Shakespeare in the Park

28.  Sketch at free drop-in drawing classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

29.  Read “Manhattan Beach” with the One Book, One New York book club

30.  Take a salsa dance class with Manhattan Ballroom Society and stay for the dance party

We’ve made it through #20 (plus 3 bonus points!)—all without dishing out tons of dough. With unscheduled days dwindling in number, that initial summer dread is long gone. Now I’m incredibly grateful for the resources at our fingertips and even more thankful to have wonderful family and friends to adventure with before jumping back into the school year.


Kristin Van de Water is a former journalist and teacher who relies on humor, faith, and her mom crew to get her through the day. Raising four kids in a two-bedroom NYC apartment, Kristin is always on the lookout for life hacks to save time, space, money, and her sanity. Check out her blog, Pinterest, and Facebook!

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