I'll take Manhattan any time for a quick and rewarding holiday. But as I have learned the hard way, not all of New York is suitable for young families. We were left sleepless amid the mania of midtown. Although Brooklyn was fun to explore, it's nonetheless a 'burb limited by long commutes to most major attractions. But here's the deal: Tribeca is for tots.
Once my eyes had opened, I could see the clues all around, from the busy stroller parking lot at Bubby's diner to a beloved children's museum. Even the collection of toy robots in the lobby of the hip Smyth Tribeca hotel was a tipoff.
New Yorkers know that this lower-Manhattan neighbourhood, an acronym for "Triangle below Canal Street," not only features a resurging skyline and a thriving modern-art scene, but is also home to a baby boom that has attracted plenty of family-friendly services. You'll find parks with playgrounds, kids menus in most eateries and boutiques specializing in children's frocks. The district of 19th-century warehouses-turned-lofts rose from the ashes of 9/11 in part thanks to residents such as Robert DeNiro, whose Tribeca film festival helped create what Forbes magazine dubs New York's most expensive zip code. How fitting that the annual celebrity event added a family program in 2011. (This year, there's a street fair and free screenings starting April 28.)
With native New Yorkers in my family, I make frequent trips there with my husband and our five-year-old son. We've visited Tribeca in all seasons and found it ideal both as a launching point and as a comfortable home-away-from-home. And if the 'hood doesn't contain all you want to see and do in New York, it's well-served by public transit.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Book a king suite at Smyth Tribeca, one of the luxe properties of the Thompson chain. These L-shaped rooms have a king bed and a separate living area with a pullout sofa, perfect for making sure everyone gets enough sleep. The small but comfortable lounge offers a convenient place to gather over snacks and some downtime after a full day of touring. These rooms also come with a tub plus shower and two TVs. Ask for an upper floor and you'll get something of a view (while the lower floors have no view). The room-service menu from on-site bistro Plein Sud offers goodies for all age groups, including buttermilk pancakes, savoury dishes and good, strong coffee. Rates start at $359 a night. 85 W Broadway; thompsonhotels.com
WHERE TO EAT
Bubby's defines itself with a mission to "Defend the American Table," which translates into sources of good, local and many organic ingredients. Originally a pie company that opened in the early nineties, the diner has become a neighbourhood favourite where you can generally find at least three generations at the table. Families come for reliable, truly tasty classics like fried chicken, meatloaf and burgers, plus lighter fare including vegetarian chili, made with roasted veg. Most importantly: Servers are friendly and patient. It's open 24/7 and breakfast starts at 7 a.m. Weekend brunch is busy and lineups are to be expected (note that the kids menu is not available during brunch). 120 Hudson St.; bubbys.com
At Max, a mid-scale, busy Italian trattoria, the pizzas are topped with good, house-made mozzarella and the generous pastas are also made in-house. When it arrived piping hot at our table, the house pizza, "La pizza di Max," is topped with mozzarella, Parmigiano, sausage and caramelized onions, and disappeared in a flash. The menus balance young and adult appetites with items from a "tartina," or baguette smeared with Nutella and strawberry jam, to eggs baked in lamb ragu. With a nod to the old country (where children are expected to behave in restaurants), the ambience is grown-up but there's also a flare of family fun about the place. Reservations are recommended. 181 Duane St.; max-ny.com
For picnics in nearby parks, and a way to save on restaurant bills, visit the local Whole Foods Market for prepared foods plus fresh fruits, veg and baked goods. Breakfast is sold by the pound, which tastes better than it sounds, with a range of egg dishes that includes mini pizzas, plus oatmeal and fresh juices for take-out or eating in at the counter. 270 Greenwich St.; wholefoodsmarket.com
WHERE TO PLAY
Washington Market Park on Greenwich Street is an enclosed, intimate park that offers a playground for toddlers, an adjoining field of green and a sweet little gazebo. You and your kids will meet a lot of residents here. There are benches for parents and it's a good way to tap into the kind of valuable information only locals know. nycgovparks.org
The amazing eight-kilometre Hudson River Park runs from Battery Park right up to 59th Street – and that covers Tribeca's waterfront. It's a remarkable story of urban rejuvenation, with a public program that has transformed derelict lots into a busy, beautifully designed parkland. It's home to plenty of water-based activities, from boat-building to kayaking, and countless land-based activities including paths for walking and cycling, skateboard parks, lush grass, Astroturf piers and great splash pads. (The southern end of the park is rebuilding after last year's hurrican, check for some park closures on the website). In the summer, it's easy to stay and play all day in this entirely modern space. But bring a hat: the trees are as young as the project. hudsonriverpark.org
WHAT TO SEE
The Children's Museum of the Arts won "Best Museum Redesign" from Time Out Kids New York magazine when it reopened late in 2011. The new bright, 10,000-square-foot space is a rich and welcoming hands-on art museum complete with a media lab, sound stage, rotating exhibits and a WEE Arts Studio for artists under 5. Ah, there's also a quiet room for downtime. A number of programs and workshops require registration, so plan ahead. Closed Tuesdays. Admission $11; pay-as-you-wish Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m. 103 Charlton St.; cmany.org
WHERE TO SHOP
New York is a shopper's paradise and Tribeca does not disappoint. There's a rash of kiddie boutiques, from the cute Babylicious, to shoe shop Shoofly, Koh for Kids and Tribeca Girls. And true to its arty vibe, the area is rich with one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Stroll the streets and check out what artists are selling at their curbside stands, from laser-print T-shirts to hand-crafted toys. Really, it's all at your doorstep.
Up-to-date event listings and other info can be found at nycgo.com.