Extending from Yonkers to Peekskill, the Rivertowns are bohemian, creative, and packed with historic sites, parks, and natural attractions. If your kids can’t find happiness here, they’re just not trying.
Be a blockhead at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center, an indoor fantasyland in Yonkers’ Ridge Hill shopping center (39 Fitzgerald St 866-243-0770; www.legolanddiscoverycenter.com/westchester). Kids of all ages will go bonkers for the rides, play areas, and activity stations where they can do everything from build and race a LEGO car, ogle famous New York City landscapes made from LEGOs, and test their sharpshooting skills in the Ninjago Laser Tag Training Camp. Don’t miss the eye-popping 4D movie, complete with water effects. Book online to save money on the entry fee, and reserve an early slot (it opens at 10 am) before the field-trip and summer camp kids descend. Add lunch at one of the adjacent restaurants and a movie upstairs at the Loews for the perfect rainy-day fun time.
Anchored on the Hudson on the Yonkers waterfront, The Science Barge (99 Dock St 914-375-2151; www.groundworkhv.org/programs/sciencebarge) is a floating “urban farm” that promotes sustainable energy and agricultural process. There’s a hydroponic greenhouse, where plants sprout without soil, and solar panels and wind panels that make the barge’s electricity. On Art & Science Sundays (sponsored by the Junior League of Bronxville), kids ages 4 to 10 can build their own take-home hydroponic farms, make Japanese sock kites, or go crabbing off the pier. The gangplank is down from mid April to November; walk-ons are welcome on weekends from noon to 6 pm for a $5 suggested donation. The pier is also a popular fishing spot, so bring your poles.
The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers (511 Warburton Ave 914-963-4550; www.hrm.org) hosts a bounty of family-oriented activities, from art and science clinics to puppet shows and tea parties. But the star of the show, if you will, is the Andrus Planetarium’s new Megastar telescope. This powerful sky-gazer projects millions of stars onto the planetarium dome, giving the sense of being in a scene from Guardians of the Galaxy. Weekend star shows are tailored for all ages. Tickets are $4 for adults, $2 for kids, but the Friday night planetarium show is free. Before or after, enjoy the museum’s other attractions, particularly the Red Grooms Bookstore (it’s like walking into a real-life cartoon), Hudson Riverama, and the huge, 24-room dollhouse housed at Glenview, a breathtakingly restored 19th-century mansion attached to the museum. The holidays are especially magical here, when Glenview is all dolled up for Christmas.
Farther north in Dobbs Ferry, Curious-on-Hudson (145 Palisades St 914-412-8393; www.curiousonhudson.com) is housed in several airy, loft-like rooms, full of books and art, in a renovated brewery. Founder Adele Falco finds experts in various fields, from fiber arts to engineering, to lead kids in grades 3 and up through hands-on workshops in an ever-changing menu of subjects like wood-working, architecture, robotics, computer coding, and even comedy improv. “Curiologists” teach preschoolers science basics, while “You Go (Far!), Girl” is an engineering class for girls. No wonder parents from as far as Rye are bringing their children to get curious. Classes start at as little as $25.
Pierson Park in Tarrytown is a thing of beauty (238 W Main St 914-631-8347; www.tarrytowngov.com). Next to the high-end Hudson Harbor Development, this recently renovated green space features a small splash park, playground, tennis courts, picnic area, and a concert pavilion for summer jazz. It also flows seamlessly into the Scenic Hudson RiverWalk Park (www.scenichudson.org/parks/riverwalkparktarrytown), part of the Westchester County RiverWalk project that, when finished, will stretch 51 miles from Yonkers to the Putnam County border. Stroll or pedal along the river with the Tappan Zee Bridge to the south and the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse to the north. (Built in 1883, it can be toured on select days in the spring and summer; go to www.sleepyhollowny.gov for info.) Wrap up your visit with a frozen treat from Lighthouse Ice Cream Kompany (127 W Main St, Tarrytown 914-502-0339; www.lighthouseicecreamkompany.com), and dream about the new town pool that could be open by the summer of 2015, on the site of the old rec center.
At Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow (381 N Broadway 914-631-8200 weekdays, 914-631-3992 weekends; www.visitsleepyhollow.com) time stands still in the year 1750, when England’s Philipse family owned the entire Rivertowns region. Kids can tour the intact manor house, where African slaves slept 23 to a room; watch waterpower grind corn into meal; get hands-on experience with herbal medicines and textile crafts at the outdoor Activity Center; and learn how the tenant farmers threshed and harvested their crops—all explained by folks in period dress. Special events include Cornucopia! on Labor Day Weekend, a celebration of all things corn, and the super-scary Halloween attraction Horseman’s Hollow. Up the river in Croton-on-Hudson, Van Cortlandt Manor (525 S Riverside Ave 914-631-8200; www.hudsonvalley.org) offers a glimpse of domestic life in a patriot home. And the annual The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is a must-do in the fall.
Cool off in the spray park at the Louis Engel Waterfront Park.
Unplug the kids from their iPads and game consoles and hit the trail at Rockwood Hall in Rockefeller State Park Preserve (Rte 9 in Sleepy Hollow; www.nynjtc.org). This easy, two-mile loop is a former carriage trail that circles around a now-demolished Rockefeller mansion. The hard-packed trails are stroller friendly, the oaks are magnificent, and a broad, sloping meadow with river views is the perfect spot to picnic while watching the boats go by.
On a hot summer’s day, Ossining’s spray park is the place to cool off. Located in Louis Engel Waterfront Park (160 Westerly Rd 914-941-3154; www.villageofossining.org), it’s got water cannons, geysers, and buckets, and is adjacent to two playgrounds, each for different ages. Even cooler (if you have a junior true crime fan or history buff in the house): It all sits in the shadow of an unused guard tower from the legendary Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Afterwards, drive inland to Wobble Cafe (21 Campwoods Rd 914-762-3459; www.wobblecafe.com), where the menu will satisfy health nuts and those with a sweet tooth. Best of all it has a play area for little ones.
Perhaps the best ice cream in the Rivertowns can be had at The Blue Pig in downtown Croton-on-Hudson (121 Maple St 914-271-3850; www.thebluepigicecream.com). Owner and chief treat-maker Lisa Moir uses organic, locally grown ingredients (like lavender, mint, basil) and milk from Hudson Valley Fresh, a dairy cooperative. Her ever-changing menu of exotic flavors depends on what’s in season; August, for example, brings Sweet Corn. There’s usually a non-dairy option, too (Vegan Oreo, anyone?). It’s a small, eco-friendly place, painted blue, of course, with an outdoor seating area; parking’s tight, and the line can be out of the door, but no one seems to mind waiting. In the cooler months, Moir also serves soup.