Quaint towns, cream-colored beaches, thick wooded areas -- Long Island is a favorite weekend escape for many New Yorkers and a permanent home for a few million more. From the outskirts of Manhattan to the picturesque Hamptons out East, parents might find all of the options a bit overwhelming when planning family fun for toddlers or preschoolers. Despite the choices, though, there are several must-see places to visit on the island that are perfect for toddler and preschool fun.
Engaging Indoor Learning Centers
The engaging and kid-friendly exhibits at the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City in Nassau County is sure to awaken your young son's senses and keep him entertained for hours. The many hands-on toddler activities include the Tot Spot, a miniature town that will captivate your young son as he enjoys delivering mail and visiting the market. At other galleries, he can blow giant bubbles, play with tools, visit a beach and move and dance to a beat. At Communication Station, your son can practice being a news anchor, and in the backyard exhibit, he can weave a spider web or even become a ship's captain. The museum's hours vary by season, but it is open all year. An underwater sea adventure will likely delight your little one at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead in Suffolk County. Colorful fish, stingrays, sharks, penguins and squiggly eels await. The aquarium dedicates each section to aquatic places from all over -- from the shores of Africa to the lost city of Atlantis. For an extra thrill, enjoy snapping photos as your son interacts with starfish, whelks, clams and crabs in the “Touch Tank.” Daily events include shows with sea lions, otters, sharks and penguins. For a birthday or another special occasion, consider booking an aquatic birthday party, a themed sleepover with the fishes or an up-close Penguin Encounter in the summer or winter. Additional fees apply. Nemo's Family Fun Center also has an arcade that is open on weekends and school holidays for children of all ages.
If your little girl is like most, she will love playing with the many animals at White Post Farms located in central Long Island in Melville, which is in Suffolk County. Besides petting and feeding the mammals and the exotic Brahman bull, Billy, you and your toddler can enjoy walking through "Ronnie's Birdie Landing," a free-flight aviary where for nominal fee, they will give you a feeding stick you can feed the birds right out of your hands. Take a break when the warm weather arrives and watch your little girl tire herself out in the dry bouncy castles, which require socks and are open on weekends only. Certain height restrictions may apply for some of the bouncers. End your visit with a pony ride, a train ride and laughs at "The Singin' Chicken Show" and "The Animal Band Jamboree." The Long Island Game Farm in Manorville offers a more exotic petting farm and zoo experience, with a variety of unique animals -- from lemurs and monkeys to camels, giraffes and alligators. Kiddie rides include the Spinning Teacups, the Rio Grande Mini Train and a carousel. Help your toddler or preschooler bottle feed baby animals at Bambiland or get a few nice snaps as she goes on her first pony ride.
Low-cost Adventures Outdoors
If you are looking for a low-key outing, pack a picnic lunch and venture out with the whole family to the charming and historic Heckscher Park just outside of Huntington's town center in Suffolk County. With a large colorful playground and a serene duck pond often filled with model boats, entertaining your young son will be easy and cost-free. He is sure to love the variety of slides, swings and climbing forts, and he may even make some new friends. Heckscher Park also hosts family-friendly movies on the lawn in the summertime. In addition, rest assured, there are plenty of benches for parents, fences to ensure your son's safety, and usually an ice cream truck not too far away. Jones Beach on the South shore offers sand, sun and tasty cafe food in the summertime. If you are looking for a quieter beach, try Robert Moses State Park a bit further East. In the Fall, pumpkin and apple picking in the Hamptons can bring a lot of excitement. Enjoy watching your little boy's face light up as you journey through one of the cornfield mazes in Bridgehampton or sip fresh apple cider.
When it comes to the outdoors, Adventureland is a great destination for an action-packed afternoon that's filled with funnel cakes, face painting, spinning rides for toddlers and preschoolers, and a variety of carnival-type games. This bustling theme park located in Farmingdale is open mid-morning to as late as 10:30 pm weather permitting from March to October. Kiddie rides include Alfie's Swings, the spinning cars and even water rides, such as the Little Dipper and the Crocodile Run. Splish Splash, a water park in Calverton, is definitely adult-friendly but is sure to lure your young daughter in with its Octopus Pool, Elephant Slide and impressive Pirate's Cove water playground, all designed especially for toddlers and preschoolers.