November 2002 -- Watching One of the Parades of All Nations: Every one of the many nationalities that share New York City gets its own day in the sun -- generally a national holiday celebrated with a parade down Fifth Avenue. St. Patrick's Day is the biggie -- it's celebrated more festively here than it is even in Ireland -- but there are scores of others, from the German Steuben Day Parade in September to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in June; Mexicans, Italians, Greeks, Israelis, Poles, and more all have their own celebrations, complete with floats, marching bands, and loads of costumes from the old country. Scout out the uptown parts of the parade route, as some parades -- notably those on St. Patrick's Day and Puerto Rican Day -- get uncomfortably rowdy once they near Midtown. If crosstown traffic seems tied up on a fair-weather Saturday, hurry on over to Fifth -- chances are there's a parade in progress.
Checking Out the Front-Car Views in the Subway: For some reason, kids tend to love making any ride as scary as possible, which on a New York subway means standing in the front car and looking out the window as the train hurtles down the dark track into the tunnel. Signal lights blink on and off, sparks flash from the third rail (the rail supplying electric power to the train), and you get the feeling of descending into a mysterious underworld -- creepy and totally cool.
Taking the Ferry Ride to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: In many ways, the boat ride over is the best thing about this de rigueur sightseeing excursion -- out on the sparkling waters of New York Harbor, with the wind in your hair and the seagulls shrieking overhead, you'll see the Manhattan skyline in all its glory. Even if there's a bit of a wait for the ferry at Battery Park, there are usually street musicians on hand to entertain you. Ride on the upper deck if you really want a dose of salt air and sun.
Eating a Piece of New York Pizza: Thin-crust pizza may have been invented in Naples, but New Yorkers know it was brought to perfection right here: oversized triangles with flat, crisp bread crusts, dripping with tangy tomato sauce and sloppy melted mozzarella. Even the most basic corner pizza stands usually have a couple of tables where you can sit down, and the open glass counters let kids watch the pizza being made -- toss the dough, smear the sauce, scatter on some cheese, fling on a few rounds of pepperoni, and presto!
Spending a Sunday Afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History: Weekends are definitely family time at this magnificent big museum on the Upper West Side, but the more the merrier -- these dim, cool, high-ceilinged halls never seem too crowded. Get there early to nab tickets to the sky show at the Rose Planetarium; slot in some time for a special exhibit, a free tour, or an awesome IMAX film; cruise by the Natural Science Center in the early afternoon for hands-on puttering with plants and live animals (for ages 4 and older).
Watching Sea Lion Feeding Time at the Central Park Wildlife Center: Check out the feeding schedule as you walk in the front entrance -- the Sea Lion Pool is the centerpiece of this tidily landscaped little gem of a zoo, and an audience starts to gather well in advance. Claim a spot on the top steps where short people can most easily view the frisky sea lions, though chances are you'll need to hoist toddlers to your shoulders once the crowds close in. Don't expect fancy tricks, but there'll be enough barking and diving and splashing to satisfy everybody.
Hanging Out at Rockefeller Plaza: The sunken plaza beneath the golden Prometheus statue truly is a locale for all seasons: In winter, it's a tiny ice rink lively with the clash of blades and the tinny blare of piped-in music; in summer, it's an open-air cafe with big umbrellas. In December, it's an especially thrilling holiday sight, with the city's biggest Christmas tree (a real doozy) twinkling with lights. A railing surrounds the plaza at street level, where onlookers hang over and take in the scene; overhead, colorful flags flap from a rank of tall flagpoles. You really feel at the heart of the Big City.
Doing the Times Square Hustle: With kids? Yes, indeed, because the panhandlers and hookers have been displaced by theme stores and restaurants, and the neon is more brilliant than ever. The Toys "R" Us flagship store, Madame Tussaud's New York outpost, a picture window into the MTV studios, the ESPN Zone and Planet Hollywood -- so what if Las Vegas and Orlando feature many of the same players? It still has an only-in-New-York energy and excitement you won't get anywhere else, especially if you've got tickets to a Broadway play to cap it all off.
Heading to a Playground on a Weekday Afternoon: Choose a neighborhood playground, pack a picnic lunch, and head for the sandpits, swings, and slides where New York kids hang out. Mornings are when parents with infants and toddlers congregate, preschoolers start to arrive right after lunch, and the bigger kids hit the ground at 3 or 4pm, when their schools let out. In summer, many playgrounds have sprinklers that are a perfect way for youngsters to cool off without getting all wet.
Enjoying a Sunny Afternoon at a World-Famous Ballpark: You've got two choices in New York: Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where the Bronx Bombers play, and Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens, where the Mets play. Both are handy to the subway, and unless there's a full-blown pennant race in swing, you can usually buy tickets that day, at least in the upper-level "nosebleed" sections (bring your mitt in hopes of high foul balls). Nobody minds if your kids make noise or if you get tired and leave early; and there's plenty of food available -- especially the overpriced hot dogs that are so much a part of the experience.