If you have a 13, 14 or 15-year-old girl in your life, and want to enjoy some family-friendly fun in Brooklyn, here are some great ideas for outings, destinations and things to do.
The following list, which barely scrapes the surface of the many things to do in Brooklyn, was developed with the assistance of Rachel, a 13-year-old Bostonian who visited Brooklyn for one weekend in the summer of 2012. She visited, and then rated, a half-dozen different Brooklyn experiences, from flea markets to ice cream parlors, on such factors as "fun," "affordable," "once in a lifetime," "come back with friends," and of course that indefinable "Rachel factor."
Visit Brooklyn Bridge Park, See Lady Liberty, Fulton Landing
We're going to start in DUMBO, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Statue of Liberty is right there as you round the corner of Brooklyn Bridge Park, a large green expanse that's very accessible from the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn Bridge Park boasts good food stands, including gourmet hot dogs, ice cream, and Mexican style food, and a wine bar where adults can stop and relax over a drink.
Close to the Fulton Landing entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park, there's a nice playground for younger kids. Check the excellent schedule of special events in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It changes seasonally, and you might catch a live concert, opera, an outdoor summer movie, a Halloween event, free exercise classes, chess classes and much more.
Fulton Landing & Ferry
The Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, housed in an old lighthouse painted white, is right there, too. It doesn't open until 1pm, so don't plan on ice cream before lunch. But it's very popular, often with lines out the door.
Plus, visitors can hop on board a ferry boat that goes either north to hipster Williamsburg, or over to Governors Island. Adult fares run $3, and a ferry boat ride up and down the Brooklyn shore of the East River might take over an hour, but it looks like (and is) fun for a longer outing.
While some teens might find it cool that Fulton Landing is a historic site, that one used to be able to see the Twin Towers from this vantage point, or that many people come to the tip of Brooklyn for wedding photographs, in full wedding regalia, many find these facts yawners.
Of greater interest is the fact that the Empire State Building, visible from here, is lit with colors that change seasonally and for holidays including Christmas (red and green), St. Patrick's Day (green), and July 4th (red, white and blue), among others.
"Brooklyn Bridge Park has a nice view, and in the summer there are rentable bikes," said one teenager, summing it all up. "You can see the Statue of Liberty, and also the sunset." Note that one nice way to get to Brooklyn Bridge Park is to first walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Parental tip: Younger teens might best be accompanied by an adult. This park is a big, undefined open space, and it is not instantly obvious what there is to do. And, while one can get to DUMBO by subway, there's a ten-minute walk from the station past several high-speed traffic light crossings, to the Brooklyn Bridge Park area, another reason to make this a family outing.
Teen rating: All together, this area rates about a 9 out of 10 from a younger teen perspective. The "fun factor" rating is about 9 out of 10. Ditto the "cool factor." Why? "Because there's good food here, you can run along the track, have a picnic on the grass," says one teen, or dance through the pathways — "and there's nothing like this at home," with views of Manhattan, the bridges, the boats plowing through the water of the East River.
How much time to spend here: Allow a half an hour here, to look around, and more if you want to try the ice cream, jog, or picnic. Allow several hours if there is a special event or if you plan to take the ferry from DUMBO to any other destinations.
Brooklyn's most upscale merry-go-round, Jane's Carousel, is beautiful. Stunning. And, it's a family sort of place. Precisely because of that fact, it may hold more appeal for younger kids than their teenage siblings.
As one teen visitor said, "It has a nice view, and also it's a nice place for a picnic in the summer... But, basically, there's not that much to do other than hang out with friends if there isn't live entertainment in the vicinity," she said.
You might spend a half-hour or an hour in the early morning or evening in the summer — when it's not too hot, and not overly crowded with very young children. And, indeed, occasionally there are great shows outdoors at a historic warehouse or a nighttime movie in the summer in the other part of Brooklyn Bridge Park.
If your teen is simply starving for chocolate or ice cream, nearby is a sweet-tooth palaces, Jacques Torres, a famous chocolate shop. One can also find pizzerias, restaurants and a bagel shop in DUMBO, and, about a five-minute walk away, some not inexpensive food vendors near the Fulton Landing at the foot of Fulton Street.
What's best about Jane's Carousel area, from the perspective of a teenage girl? The views, for sure. You can see the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, which are indisputably cool, as well as Manhattan skyscrapers, also generally beyond teen reproof. There's the river (East River) and the sound of the subway. In short, there's nothing like this at home. Unless home happens to be Brooklyn...
Teen rating: The area rates about a 6 out of 10 for fun, with the added benefit that you can get there by subway, taxi or car (if you can find a place to park).
How much time to spend here: Allow 10 minutes in the Jane's Carousel area, just to see it and ooh and aah over the beautifully restored old-fashioned horses and the view, and then head over for hot chocolate or a treat to Jacques Torres, to check out the local Powerhouse Books, performing arts hub St. Ann's Warehouse or DUMBO's shops (mostly expensive and for adults).
Vintage Shops and Flea Markets
Brooklyn is home to a lot of outdoor and indoor vintage markets, antique shops and junk stores. Teenage girls under, say, age 15 aren't necessarily "into" vintage clothing or antiques. Still, visits to such places as Brooklyn Flea in Williamsburg and Fort Greene, or Yesterday's News in Carroll Gardens, can be entertaining for a while.
The trick, observed one teen visitor, is to "go with someone who knows what you're looking at, or who is old enough to have stories about the old days when things were different."
For parents, aunts and uncles or grandparents willing to show their age, young teenager girls might find it fascinating to:
- Know whether an old fashioned one piece ladies bathing suit was actually meant for swimming
- Learn how many songs there are on a 45 vinyl record ("really?")
- Guess why a grubby old lighting fixture with the words Ebbets Field painted on it might be valuable.
Vintage shopping is different from mall shopping, a teen is quick to note. "Some of the stuff here is expensive," observed a 13-year-old. And chances are, she'd never wear it. "So, maybe it's a once in a lifetime visit," she thought. But if you go with someone who is older, or "from the generation of the things being sold," it can be interesting."
Parental tip: Engage the salespeople at these shops or marketplaces. They're often colorful and some are experts in what they're selling. And, the conversations can prove memorable. For instance, the owner of an expensive vintage ladies clothing compares contemporary body types with those in the Victorian era when women were required to wear corsets and tightly laced shoes. "Our waists have expanded," she mused, "and so have our feet." Now, that's food for thought.
Teen rating: Based on a tiny sampling, vintage shopping in Brooklyn rates about 8 out of 10 on the "fun factor," but only about 7 out of 10 on the "cool factor."
How much time to spend here: Vintage shopping may prove a brief foray. Allow ten minutes per vintage store and a half-hour to an hour per market for visitors who are young teenage girls. Older teens may find it more interesting.
Prospect Park Zoo
Prospect Park Zoo may prove to be a good place to take a young teenage girl on an outing in Brooklyn. Why? Because the animals are just too cute. Maybe some people think of zoos as places for little kids, but they are also awesome outings for teenagers of a certain bent.
And, the Prospect Park Zoo is affordable, easy to reach, small enough to take only 45 minutes to explore.
It is also near other places of interest, such as Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Central Library, as well as the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Allow a half hour to an hour, depending on whether you stop at the snack bar, and on how much your teen likes little critters.
Ice Cream at Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain
For families and kids of all ages who like to indulge in ice cream cones, ice cream sundaes, ice cream floats, and all kinds of different flavors of ice cream, Brooklyn offers choices you can't top.
Take stage-set perfect Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain, for instance. This cute little shop, tucked away on a mostly residential street in the trendy brownstone neighborhood called Carroll Gardens, looks like a vintage drug store out of the movies. In fact, it once was a pharmacy, and it is sometimes used by filmmakers as a location for movies. Three cheers for authenticity!
Freshly baked cookies lend an inviting perfume to what feels like an old-fashioned ice cream parlor experience. Sit in a booth, or on a stool at the counter. Gab with the waitresses, who somehow look like they've stepped out of the 1940s. Luxuriate in what feels like a slower time in a place that's decked out with old mirrors and old fashioned kitchen gizmos that make for good intergenerational conversation.
And the ice cream? What about the ice cream? Ambiance aside, evaluating just ice cream itself, it rates as an "amazing" ice cream parlor, in the judgment of a 13-year-old ice cream expert.
Favorite picks: The Betty Boop (chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream) and a baby scoop of strawberry ice cream topped with fresh homemade whipped cream. Yes, both.
This is definitely the kind of place a teenager might want to come back to, because, simply, "It looks good, and the food is good too."
You may wish to spend the rest of your life in this lovely ice cream bubble. Realistically, however, plan to spend a half hour or 45 minutes here with your teen, or longer if the service is slo-mo, you linger, or they get busy.
Teen Rating: It's "not really cheap," says a visiting 13-year-old, but she gives it a 10 out of 10 rating anyway, based on a number of factors: fun, the yummy factor, going with either friends or adults, and just plain "cool."
For a young teen girl visiting Brooklyn, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. But if she lives here, you can bet your bottom dollar, she'll be back.
Hailing a Yellow Cab in Brooklyn (or Anywhere in New York City)
New Yorkers, including Brooklyn residents, don't think twice about hailing a yellow taxi on the city streets. But for many visitors, especially impressionable teens, it comes as a complete novelty that a person can stand on the street and wave down a cab.
Truth be told, most taxi-users in Brooklyn have to use a car service, because there aren't that many yellow cabs cruising most neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Exceptions to the rule are Brooklyn Heights and sometimes Williamsburg, which have a lot of Manhattan-Brooklyn traffic.
Teen Rating: For out-of-town teens especially, taking a yellow cab from Manhattan to Brooklyn, vice versa, or anywhere from Brooklyn gets a 10 out of 10 rating, just for the sake of novelty. Ditto for kids who are used to the subways, and may rarely, if ever, hop in a yellow taxi.