You know Fresh Orthodontics is all about keeping our amazing Park Slope braces and Invisalign patients entertained, whether it’s through in-office shenanigans or by offering up suggestions for what to do with kids in Brooklyn. Well, we’re back at it again. Dr. Khanna decided it was time to roll out another installment of our popular posts on local family fun. However, instead of highlighting things to do in NYC with kids, we’re going hyper-local by focusing on what to do in Prospect Park. After all, our practice is only a five-block walk away. Plus, we’re pretty lucky to have such a beautiful outdoor oasis in the middle of our bustling borough and 2017 marked the park’s 150th anniversary. While you can certainly take full advantage of the many free and affordable happenings, if you’re a Brooklyn resident, you might want to consider a Prospect Park Alliance membership You’ll not only help to keep the park beautiful, but you’ll also receive a ton of perks including free tours, invitations to exclusive events, major discounts and more. Yet, regardless of whether you spring for a membership or not, here’s our guide to some of our favorite Prospect Park activities:
The Lefferts Historic House, in Prospect Park’s Children’s Corner near the Willink entrance, allows you to step back in time. The 18th-century farming village was built by a Dutch family in the village of Flatbush. It boasts a working garden, exhibits, period rooms and artifacts. Kids can play with old time toys, games and tools and take part in activities like butter churning. There are also plenty of seasonal events held at the site. Scharen Knippen is next and is running on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 4pm throughout October. This celebration of fall includes the old Dutch craft Scharen Knippen. Attendees will use 19th-century patterns, some designed by Mrs. Lefferts, to cut out Halloween and autumn scenes. There will be potato sack races and historic games and toys too. On Saturday, October 28, also from 2 to 4pm, master storyteller Tammy Hall will help kids get into the Halloween spirit with scary stories that were told in the village of Flatbush 200 years ago. On Sunday, November 26, from 1 to 3pm, attend Winter on a Flatbush Farm and get ready for winter just as they did in the 19th century. Learn to make a candle, spin wool thread and snack on Dutch treats while waiting for St. Nicholas’ to arrive at 3pm. Be sure to RSVP to the events and, as always, admission is a $3 suggested donation.
The Prospect Park Alliance will hold its 38th annual Halloween Haunted Walk + Fair on Saturday, October 28 from 12 to 3pm. Thousands of families will gather for this free event. The walk is better for kids ages seven through 12. Attendees don their best costumes and take a haunted walk through the woodland Lookout Hill where there will be zombies, witches, werewolves and all sorts of spirits. The family-friendly fair on the Nethermead is meant for all ages. There will be treats from the city’s top food trucks and festive games and activities. While not in Prospect Park, there is an after party at City Point (445 Albee Square West) called BKLYN BOO! from 2 to 5pm. There’ll be live DJs, trick or treats, a pumpkin patch, a disco costume contest and fun for kids and adults alike.
Smack dab in the center of Prospect Park is the Ravine, Brooklyn’s only forest. The densely wooded area is home to foliage, a stream, waterfalls and plenty of birds and creatures. If you’re searching for fun things to do in Brooklyn this weekend, add a family hike to the list. With the spectacle of fall turning the leaves vibrant autumnal shades, it’s the perfect time to bask in nature. There are actually quite a few hiking trails in Prospect Park and most are kid-friendly and short so little legs will be able to keep up.
The LeFrak Center, located near the Lincoln Road and Parkside/Ocean Avenue entrance, is among our favorite things to do in NYC with teenagers, school-aged kids and even toddlers. The recreation destination is home to the Bluestone Café so you can fuel up before the myriad activities offered all year long, including seasonal ice skating, biking, roller skating, boating, a splash pad, classes, leagues and more. Up next is ice skating season, which kicks off October 29. With two outdoor ice rinks, there’s plenty of space to let loose. If you want to get the kids involved in more structured activities, sign them up for youth hockey, figure skating or curling (ages 15 and up).
5. The Carousel
No list of things to do in NYC with toddlers or kids would be complete without a mention of the Prospect Park Carousel. You’ll find the super popular attraction in the Children’s Corner near the Willink entrance. The Carousel, which features 53 horses, a giraffe, chariots pulled by dragons, a lion and a deer, is magical. It was carved (yes, carved!) by Charles Carmel, a renowned carousel designer, in 1912 and is one of only 12 of his carousels left in the world. Thankfully, it was restored by the Prospect Park Alliance in 1990. The Carousel is open seasonally, Thursday through Sunday, as well as holidays, from 12 to 5pm. The cost is $2 per ride or $9 for a book of five tickets. Those with a Family Supporter membership get unlimited, free rides and children under 12 ride free on Thursdays in August. On Saturday, October 28 and Sunday, October 29, brave the Haunted Carousel and enjoy a spooky ride to Halloween tunes.
GrowNYC holds two top-notch farmers markets in Prospect Park that serve as gathering places for the community, a source of fresh, regional, organic produce and food, unique vendors and fun for the whole family. The Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket is open Saturdays, year-round, from 8am to 4pm at the northwest corner of Prospect Park (Prospect Park West and Flatbush Avenue) and the Bartel-Pritchard Square Wednesday Greenmarket (Prospect Park West at 15th Street) is held year-round from 8am to 3pm on, you guessed it, Wednesdays in the southwest corner of the park. Getting your shopping done while simultaneously keeping the kids entertained has never been easier.
Some of the coolest free family activities in NYC can be found at the Prospect Park Audubon Center at the Boathouse (101 East Drive). It’s the first urban-area Audubon Center in the country and was made possible through a partnership between Audubon New York and the Prospect Park Alliance. Housed in the historic Boathouse, it has hands-on exhibits, live animals and programming for all ages. It’s open Thursdays and Fridays from 12 to 4pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 1pm. On the weekends, and some Thursdays and Fridays, head to the Center for the Nature Exploration program for families. The events include games, educational activities, walks and much more. You can also borrow a free Discovery Pack, which is a kit filled with nature activities, binoculars, nature journals and magnifying glasses so you can explore the park with the kids. On weekends, April through October, don’t miss out on the free Pop-Up Audubon program that meets in different natural habitats in the park and leads families through the various areas to learn about the ecosystems. On Saturday, October 28 from 1 to 4pm, the Audubon Center will be hosting Creepy Crawly Halloween. Attendees can participate in fun activities and experiments and learn more about animals that give people the creeps.
The Donald and Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area, located on Nellie’s Lawn in the northeastern section of the park, is the coolest. It even received a “Best of New York” designation from New York Magazine. It was created using trees damaged during storms and recycled materials to help kids engage in unstructured play and connect with nature. They can run, jump and climb all over the trunks and stumps. Don’t worry, nothing is too high off of the ground.
The Prospect Park Zoo is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society and animals are in environments that mimic their natural habitats. It’s a truly interactive experience. There are almost 400 animals and over 100 species, including the always-popular sea lions, river otters and red pandas. Admission is affordable and the zoo is open all year. There’s a discovery trail, a barnyard with animals little ones can feed and pet, the aviary and, of course, the sea lion court, as well as indoor exhibits. In addition to strolling through the zoo, take part in family programs and activities for kids of all ages. In fact, Boo at the Zoo, the annual Halloween fete, is coming up on Saturday, October 28 and Sunday, October 29 from 11am to 4pm. Kids will learn all about bats and can enjoy a scavenger hunt, have their faces painted, do Halloween crafts and games and visit the animals. Older children will love the Spooky Barn. The festivities will wrap up with a kid-friendly dance party at the 4pm sea lion training.
Brooklyn Nature Playtime! is a series of seasonal activity cards created by the Prospect Park Zoo, Prospect Park Alliance and Tinkergarten and funded by the Disney Conservation Fund. You can download the free sheets that will guide you through the park’s natural areas using creative play for the whole family. The cards feature ideas for arts and crafts, games, scavenger hunts, insect observation and other activities to foster a love of nature and exploration. The fall version has instructions for whipping up magic nature potions, creating collages on the ground with leaves, acorns and rooks and a scavenger hunt of textures, colors and shapes.
11. Horseback Riding
Hop on a horse and traverse Prospect Park. The three-and-a-half-mile bridle path is a scenic route with varying terrain. Obviously, most Brooklyn residents aren’t keeping horses in their home. Well, no worries. The Kensington Stables (51 Caton Place) are located just outside of the park. You can rent horses for a trail ride. They also offer lessons, children’s programs, teen horsemanship and pony rides.
In addition to the Zucker Natural Exploration Area, there are seven other playgrounds in Prospect Park that can be found along its perimeter. There are the more standard but still awesome and less crowded Third Street, Stewart and Lincoln Road Playgrounds. Then you have the new(ish) Vanderbilt Playground that’s a neighborhood favorite. For those in search of a destination playground, you can’t go wrong with the innovative Harmony Playground and Imagination Playground or the Garfield Tot Lot. In the summer, there are water features at several of the playgrounds where the kiddos can cool off.
The Harmony Playground is a celebration of the music and entertainment of the famed Prospect Park Bandshell and, appropriately, has a music theme complete with enormous music notes that can be played and instruments that shoot out water in warmer weather. It boasts areas for both younger and older kids, swings, a sandbox and a cutting-edge jungle gym with slides, tunnels and more. The Imagination Playground is a whimsical place inspired by children’s stories. It has a bronze dragon sculpture that serves as the water feature in the summer as well as statues of Ezra Jack Keats’ beloved character Peter and his dog Willie. Children can climb all over them too. There are a variety of stages, animal masks and everything necessary to spark little imaginations. Lastly, the Garfield Tot Lot is one of the more perfect things to do in NYC with toddlers. The playground is designed exclusively for the very young crowd and has a mini-jungle gym, a slide and safe areas for tots to wander. It’s surrounded by benches and trees so kids can stay cool and you can relax or take lunch breaks.
13. Ride Your Bikes
Put on your helmets, jump on your bikes and go for a long ride in Prospect Park. Bicycling is only allowed on the main Park Drive, Center Drive and Wellhouse Drive. There’s a 3.35-mile loop that’s car-free during the weekend, making it ideal for younger riders. You can see the rules and safety guidelines here. If you don’t have bikes of your own or you want to try out a specialty bike like a four-wheeled, six-person double surrey, a chopper, or one with a kids trailer, rent them at the LeFrak Center through October 23. The next biking season at LeFrak will begin in the spring. They even give you helmets and a map of the bike paths.
14. Picnics and BBQs
In the spring, summer and fall, Prospect Park is a great place to get together with friends and family and dine al fresco. Considering the park is well over 500 acres, it shouldn’t be hard to find a spot to claim in order to spread out a blanket and have a picnic lunch or dinner. If barbecuing is more your speed, there are designated areas around the park where you can use a charcoal grill to cook up some burgers (or veggie burgers). Just be sure to follow the guidelines for the safety of furry friends and other park-goers. If there will be more than 20 people in your group, you will need to get a permit. If you’d like to skip cooking and have some culinary delights while relaxing on the grass, stop by Smorgasburg to stock up before your picnic. Smorgasburg Prospect Park, which runs April to the end of October, is open rain or shine on Sundays from 11am to 6pm on Breeze Hill (East Drive at Lincoln Road). It features over 100 local and regional food vendors with cuisine from all over the world. It’s seriously a foodie’s dream.
15. Play Frisbee or Just Lounge on the Long Meadow
The Long Meadow holds the record for the longest uninterrupted meadow in any urban park in the United States. It’s almost a mile in length and runs from Grand Army Plaza to Prospect Park Southwest. While that’s a fun fact to file away, it also means there’s plenty of room to hang out even on sunny, weekend days when the park is full of visitors. In addition to being a popular place for summer concerts and birthday parties, it’s ideal for relaxing. Fly a kite, read books, have a picnic, have a catch or toss around a Frisbee. The options are endless!
While it doesn’t feel like it outside, winter is a few months away. Even in the freezing weather, you can still gallivant around Prospect Park. Our favorite snowy activity? Sledding! There are hills galore ranging from the gently sloping ones of the Long Meadow to the steeper, speedier southwest side of Lookout Hill.
17. Drummer’s Grove
This area by the Parkside and Ocean Avenues entrance is the place to go to see musicians and dancers. In 1968, the Congo Square Drummers met in the spot to make music, which drew a crowd. It became so popular, that more artists, vendors and craftspeople took up residence and the area was formally christened Drummer’s Grove. Now, there’s even seating and the drum circle continues from 2pm until dusk, April through October, attracting percussionists from all walks of life. It’s such a lively place to bring the kids to take in culture, dance to music and have an absolute blast.
The Prospect Park Tennis Center has hard and clay courts for players of all ages and a seasonal inflatable bubble that covers the courts and transforms the Center into an indoor tennis spot in cooler weather. It’s open year-round for day and evening play. You can rent a court and have a family game. The indoor season will run from October 23 through May 6 and the Center will be open 7am to 11pm daily. Not into tennis yourself? Register the kids for one of the youth programs. The Junior Development Program has outdoor and indoor sessions and caters to kids as young as five-years-old while the Special Aces Program is designed for children with special needs.
The Prospect Park Alliance hosts a variety of volunteer opportunities, including those for youth and families, April through November. Dedicate some time to keeping the park clean, safe and green. On select weekends every fall, the Junior Volunteer Corps welcomes families with children ages four through 13 and elementary-school community groups for days of service. Join in beautifying the park while children learn the importance of giving back and preserving the natural world. Register online before signing up for events. Up next: It’s My Park! Day on Saturday, October 21 from 10am to 1pm. The Prospect Park Alliance will be teaming up with REI in a citywide effort to spruce up green spaces. In Prospect Park, the focus will be on Lookout Hill with cleaning, path maintenance and restoration work.
20. Seasonal Events
While we covered Halloween happenings given that it’s October, there’s always a celebration at Prospect Park. In the summer, the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival holds its insanely popular concert series at the Bandshell. It’s one of the city’s longest running, outdoor performing arts festivals and most of the shows are free. While many acts skew towards the adults and teens, there are some that are kid-friendly. There’s also catch-and-release fishing at the Lake, movie screenings under the stars, fireworks, community yoga, outdoor performances by the New York Philharmonic and much more. In the winter, families can often celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks over Prospect Park. The Prospect Park Alliance hosts events during spring break, summer break and winter recess as well at Lefferts House, the Audubon Center and the Prospect Park Zoo, ranging from the Harvest Festival and Winter Festival at Lefferts House to Thanksgiving in Prospect Park programming. The list of seasonal events could go on and on. Be sure to keep an eye on the Prospect Park Alliance’s events calendar or sign up for the newsletter.