Prospect Park’s acres and acres of green space with more flora and fauna than seem possible in a city connect some of Brooklyn’s best neighborhoods. On sunny days, this is where you’ll see New York’s diverse population in the best possible light. Spot and Fido love it here, too, especially when they can run free with all of their dog friends during off-leash hours from 5am to 9am, and 9pm to 1am. But the family members who might love this spot the most are the kids. Whether clambering over from a home base nearby or hopping over from Manhattan, they’ll discover more playgrounds than they’ll know what to do with along with an abundance of snack spots, and sporty activities (plus public facilities for more immediate needs) for all ages.
Carousels are timeless entertainment and this seasonally-open installation has a double historical significance. What is now officially the Prospect Park Alliance Carousel debuted with great fanfare in 1912 and then later marked a symbolic end to Brooklyn’s decline with its renovation in 1990. Robust grownups can easily traverse the park from any starting point to get here, but since you have the kids in tow and a long day ahead of you, cut down on the schlepping time. If you’re not staying nearby, take the B, Q, or S (Franklin Ave Shuttle) train to the Prospect Park station and you’ll be just a stroll away.
After a couple of turns on the merry-go-round and possibly a special-trip stop at the Imagination Playground (look for the giant dragon fountain nearby on the East Lake Drive park road), pick either the Prospect Park Zoo or the year-round outdoor skating rink at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside for your next destination. Trust me—you don’t have time for both. One compromise, in the warmer months, is to rent a paddle boat at LeFrak and wade out into the lake where you’re sure to encounter swans and the turtles that thrive on little rocky islands, and at least hear the local bullfrog population.
If inquiring minds still want to know more about wildlife in the park, the Audubon Center is your next stop. The free activities are delightful but check the schedule in advance because the program only operates certain days, which change with the seasons. The most fascinating detail for the bigger people here is the building itself, which was once the park’s grand boathouse. Take in the colorful views of the lake from second-floor verandah (or the ground-level patio space if the building is closed). Nearby is the storied 150-year-old Camperdown Elm tree: look for a rotund tree with weeping branches surrounded by dense plant life and a metal fence.
If it’s that time of day when everybody needs a little space, your best bet is the Long Meadow, famous for its uninterrupted 90-acre expanse and a great spot for plonking yourself down on the grass. A low key-stroll along park paths and West Drive road will lead you to the Prospect Park Bandshell. Something else to check in advance: is there a free concert on the roster for tonight? If not (or if the music just isn’t your scene), give in to one last playground stop at the corner of Prospect Park West and 11th St before making your exit.
If the kids are still jumping around and mom or dad needs an iced coffee, the cute and kid-friendly Elk Cafe is your best bet. If the whole family is ready to settle down for a fun meal, try to the Fox and the Crepe one block away.