Grab a ride on the historic Cyclone in Brooklyn or take in a monumental sculpture exhibit in the Bronx if you're heading to New York City with kids this summer.
For sandy beaches on the ocean, rides for all ages and a feel of old — and charmingly seedy — New York, head to Coney Island's amusement district while you still can. Plans to revitalize the area could make this the last season for many of the attractions.
Put the little ones on the spinning teacup at Astroland while the big ones take on the 81-year-old Cyclone, among the nation's most revered roller coasters with 2,640 feet of track and terror-inducing drops of up to 85 feet. It's not for the faint of heart but worth a try if you have half a stomach for the big boys.
The water flume is great for cooling off before you hit the famous boardwalk on your way to Deno's Wonder Wheel another historic draw that stands 150 feet and offers riders panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean, the New Jersey shore and the New York City skyline.
After chowing down on hot dogs (you can't visit Coney Island without eating one) wiggle your feet at the beach or take in a full schedule of special events, including Friday night fireworks displays and the 25th annual Mermaid Parade — yes, people dress as mermaids — on June 21.
Astroland is open weekends for now but goes daily June 15. Admission is free to the midway, beach and boardwalk, which also leads to the New York Aquarium where you can join the birthday bash June 14-15 for Akituusaq (pronounced ah-kee-TOO-sack), the whiskered and irresistibly cute walrus born there last June. Sign a Wall-rus birthday card for the zoo's biggest baby and join a contest to guess his weight.
But there's a bigger world in Brooklyn for families offering a well-rounded selection of museums and good eats that include the overstuffed deli sandwiches and world-famous cheesecake at Junior's.
Remember, though, Brooklyn is just one-fifth of the New York City mashup.
In Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, the hands-on New York Hall of Science is one big illusion from June 21 to Sept. 14 with a special exhibit on magic that covers mind reading, levitation and the mysteries of a disembodied head. Video presentations by magicians Penn & Teller and Jade, among others, don't reveal any secrets but provide a behind-the-scenes peak at some of their touring shows. They also consulted in putting the exhibit together.
More than 400 interactive exhibits dishing up biology, chemistry and physics round out this expansive gem that has doubled the size of its outdoor science playground to 30,000 square feet of exhibits for children ages 6 and younger, complete with a giant bird's nest, three sandboxes and a water play area.
Music, music and more music highlights family fun in Manhattan this summer, much of it in the borough's parks with some 2008 schedules not yet posted or just surfacing. Central Park's SummerStage series of free concerts kicks off June 13 with a salute to gospel and soul, performed by Mavis Staples and Stephanie McKay. The eclectic series that ends Aug. 17 includes '80s funk from Vampire Weekend, Latin superstar Victor Manuelle, Israeli pop star Yael Naim and rock from around the world, including Africa and Brazil. The New York Philharmonic takes to Central Park's Great Lawn to begin its free park series June 24 when Bramwell Tovey conducts a performance of Shostakovich's "Festive Overture," Mendelssohn's "Symphony No. 4, Italian," Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and selected marches from Sousa. One of the city's largest free arts festivals, the River to River Festival, hosts more than 500 events and performances from June through September at a variety of locations in downtown Manhattan with June 14 set aside as Children's Day. There's catch-and-release fishing and music from the Suzi Shelton Band at Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park in Battery Park City that day, along with Pirate sails aboard the schooner Pioneer from South Street Seaport and a fireworks show accompanied by the Brooklyn Philharmonic in the evening.
Heading north, top off your New York City adventure in the Bronx with a stroll through the Moore in America outdoor sculpture exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden. Through Nov. 2, about 20 pieces will be on display in the garden's 250 acres and among its 50 gardens and plant collections.
Where there are gardens, there's plenty of dirt. Kids can root out the mysteries of Charles Darwin at Bronx Botanical through June 29, with experiments explaining how seeds travel by water. They can learn the ways of worms through June 1 through collage work and a composting project promising a sift through compost to take home for the plants.