Drop-in Indoor Play Spaces in Manhattan: 10 Places for NYC Kids to Play Inside
Although we recently updated our roundups of drop-in play spaces in Queens and Brooklyn, it had been a while since we overhauled our list of Manhattan play spaces—so long in fact that a few of our old picks are now closed. But don't worry: There are still plenty of spots where young kids can run around freely indoors without signing up for a pricey annual membership.
We found 10 awesome indoor places in Manhattan that currently offer open play hours. Some allow you to drop in while others ask that you make reservations, but none require any kind of long-term financial commitment. From traditional preschooler play spaces like Chelsea Piers' Little Athletes Exploration Center to more offbeat romping spots like the animal-centric Art Farm in the City, here's the scoop on the best places to play indoors in Manhattan.
The Heimbold Family Children’s Playing and Learning Center – Midtown East
Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street
Open play: Saturday noon-5pm
$15 per child
Ages 1 and up (children must be walking independently to be admitted)
Scandinavia House's awesome indoor play spot was my son’s second home before he started school. This is where he was introduced to Brio trains, Legos, Pippi Longstocking and the adorable Moominvalley. The center was completely redesigned in 2011 and we were absolutely blown away. Inspired by early childhood centers in Scandinavia, the space features a reading room full of English and Scandinavian language books connected to a softly lit sensory room by a kid-sized tunnel. This isn't a place for wild romping (and believe me, the staff will chastise you and your child if that happens). Instead, it's a great spot for relaxing and imaginative play. Open play hours are offered Saturdays only.
Elliott's Gymnastics – Upper West Side
131 West 86th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues
Times vary. Visit the website for a complete schedule. Reservations required. Call 917-517-8721.
$15 per child
One of our bloggers raved about the classes at this Upper West Side spot. But even if your kids aren't enrolled in the gymnastics program here, they can still enjoy the developmental gymnasium's facilities on select weekday afternoons.
Indoor Playground Drop-In – East Village
14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues
Open play: Thursday 2:30-4pm and Sundays 9:30am-12:30pm; not offered during the summer.
$17 per child, $80 for five-class punch card
Ages 6 months-3 years
The padded playroom on the top floor of the 14th Street Y was another of my son’s favorite haunts when he was young. The no-frills classroom-sized space is clean, with soft climbing and sliding structures for the toddler set. Occasionally staff will bring out large toys, bubbles or giant balls. The Y doesn’t offer programming when school is out, so call ahead to confirm hours.
City Treehouse – Chelsea
129A West 20th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues
Open play: Daily 10am-5pm. Reservations required. Call 212-255-2050.
$20 per hour, discounts for multiple hour packages
Ages 2 months-8 years
Formerly a members-only facility, this boutique play space now offers open play daily, though reservations are required. The beautiful, nature-themed play area features a two-story treehouse complete with a slide, and a multilevel water table and stream. Bonus: First-time visitors can check the place out for only $10 per hour.
Little Athletes Exploration Center – Chelsea
Field House at Chelsea Piers, 23rd Street and the Hudson River
Open play: Schedule varies. Please call 212-336-6500, ext 0 to confirm daily hours.
$12 per session, discounts for multiple sessions
Ages 6 months-4 years
I cried when my son aged out of this awesome play space (back then it was called the Toddler Adventure Center). He enjoyed sliding, climbing and crawling through the big play structure, but he especially loved dive-bombing into the ball pit. The center also has interactives on the wall, additional slides, soft playthings and a tiny rock climbing area.
The Art Farm in The City – Upper East Side
419 East 91st Street between First and York Avenues
Open play: Monday-Thursday 12:30-3:30pm.
$20 per child, discounts for weekly or monthly packages
Ages 6 months and up
Don't have a pet of your own? Kids can get up close and personal with the animals at The Art Farm, while also enjoying art projects and a well-appointed playroom. For a different kind of fun, drop by on Saturday or Sunday mornings from 8-10am, when children can help feed the animals ($15 for kids, $5 for adults).
TLB Music Playroom – Upper East Side
266 East 78th Street between Second and Third Avenues
Open play: Monday-Thursday 9:30am-5pm, Friday 9:30am-3pm, Saturday-Sunday 9:30am-1:30pm
$25 per hour, discounts for multi-session packages
Ages 6 months-6 years
This music education program has a cozy playroom featuring slides, a play kitchen and market, a soft block area, a short rock climbing mountain, a train table and lots of puzzles, books and toys. The small space can only accommodate 15 children so reservations are recommended.
ACT Indoor Playstation – Morningside Heights
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 111th Street
Open play: December-March: Monday-Thursday noon-3pm.
$6 per child, 6 months & under free
During fall and winter afternoons, this early childhood education program opens its spacious gymnasium to the public. The child-size equipment includes slides, balls and places to crawl, all on a safe mat area. And at $6, it's the cheapest indoor play option in the borough! The center closes during school breaks, summer and holidays so it's best to call ahead to confirm it's open.
Indoor Playground – Chinatown
Chinatown YMCA, 273 Bowery between Houston and Stanton Streets
Open play: Monday-Friday 10am-noon
$15 per visit, $100 for 10 visits
On weekday mornings, kids can drop in for some indoor fun at the massive, well-appointed 3,200-square-foot gym at the Chinatown branch of the YMCA. Let them run, jump, climb and balance freely—there's plenty of space!
Creative Dream Playhouse – Kips Bay
25 Waterside Plaza at 26th Street on the Plaza Level
Open play: Monday-Wednesday 7am-7pm except in July and August; reservations must be made 24 hours in advance.
$11 per hour; drop-off care available for $18 per hour
This popular party place began offering open play sessions on select weekday mornings in early 2014. Drop-off care is also available. Tots can enjoy all kinds of unstructured imaginative play in the 3,000-square-foot facility, which features a play kitchen, an art table, a wide variety of toys and blocks and other play stations. It's a socks-only space, snacks and beverages are provided, and there's even a cozy waiting area for parents. Note: Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance.
If you're wondering about Wiggles & Giggles Playhouse in Washington Heights, in September 2014 this former play gym transformed into a bilingual preschool alternative called Little Red Rocket and no longer offers open play.
Find out about other great indoor havens for kids in our Indoor Play Activity Guide.
This post originally published in December 2009.