It's One Big Playground

Sunday, May 4, 2008

11:54 a.m. My 7-year-old in tow, I zip to the Upper East Side and the Guggenheim Museum, which is playing host to the work of Cai Guo-Qiang, a Chinese artist with a penchant for dramatic, large-scale works. Dominating the main atrium is a line of seven Chevy sedans hanging from the ceiling, each one a little more exploded than the one below it. ("An ambiguous comment on car bombings or NASCAR racing," wrote one critic.) In one of the galleries, we come across an indoor river that the museum has constructed on which a person can propel himself, via raft, past a huge variety of Cai's installations.

1:10 p.m. A few blocks east and south sits Kidfresh, perhaps the world's only grocery store for kids. There are even mini shopping carts. We glide past the four-ounce package of fresh mashed broccoli ($3.99), eventually selecting a free-range chicken sandwich in the shape of a teddy bear ($3.95), a GoGo Squeez applesauce that, as the name implies, doesn't require a spoon (95 cents) and a spill-proof jug of Wadda juice ($1.50).

3:32 p.m. The Children's Museum of the Arts, in Tribeca, is our next stop. It's two floors of fun primarily for kids 10 and younger. The upper level has a wealth of stations for such activities as watercoloring, chalk drawing, printmaking and sculpting. Downstairs are a video lab and other art stations, as well as some areas for rougher play. My son particularly liked the padded room stuffed with large bouncy balls.

5:58 p.m. Our penultimate stop on this long day of kid adventures is Mars 2112. The Times Square eatery, perpetually crowded, can be reached only by boarding a spaceship, which is really a simulator ride that bumps and jerks before depositing passengers into a Martian landscape. There is an arcade with video games and then, at the end of a corridor, the main dining room, which is meant to evoke the Red Planet, craters and all. We eat Captain Orion's mozzarella fingers ($9.95), the Canis Minor corn dogs ($9.95) and Galactic Mac and Cheese ($10.95).

8:27 p.m. Then it's off to the place we've heard so much about, Dylan's Candy Bar on East 59th Street. Once again we find two floors of fun, and the lower one is a particular treat. In addition to what looks like thousands of chocolate bars, there is a full wall of Jelly Belly beans with dozens of dispensers offering flavors from tutti-frutti to licorice. On the opposite wall are such souvenir-ready fare as M&M pillows, even candy-flavored lip balm, all of it within easy reach of the cotton candy machine, so popular it doesn't stop spinning the whole time we are there. Upstairs we find a long bar and bar stools shaped like peppermint candies, as well as delectable ice cream treats and other sweets.

10:01 a.m. The next morning we begin our day at the Museum of American Finance, ensconced in palatial digs, a former bank building on Wall Street. The museum is very upfront in its desire to teach both adults and children about fiscal responsibility, and to that end we find numerous exhibits on such issues as the 1929 stock market crash (which includes a vintage ticker-tape machine unspooling the bad news). Of more interest to children are the sofa made entirely of nickels and slide shows devoted to such outlaws as Jesse James, John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. There is also an extensive collection of historic U.S. and foreign currency, and an interactive exhibit detailing the government's attempts at preventing counterfeiting.

11:11 a.m. Our next stop, the Children's Museum of Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, is probably a godsend to the city's younger residents, its five floors showcasing exhibits both entertaining and fun. Among the most agreeably inventive is "Gods, Myths & Mortals: Discover Ancient Greece." In addition to helping kids understand everything from architecture to Aristotle, the exhibit includes a large-scale model of a Trojan horse that's as much a play structure as a teaching tool. Upstairs there is a room devoted to "Dora the Explorer" and that show's cast of characters, and one floor up from there is a wonderful play space with a realistic bus, fire engine and corner deli, all scaled for the little ones and packed with kids while we are there.

11:54 a.m. Our 24 hours coming to a close, we decamp to Central Park and its celebrated Heckscher Playground, whose renovation has resulted in a plethora of swings, slides, tunnels and corridors. The place is probably a mob scene most days, especially on sunny Saturdays like this one.

-- Scott Vogel

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