New York City shines year-round, but especially during the holidays, when it is truly a winter wonderland. The official start of the season is Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The best place to watch is anywhere along Central Park West, since the crowds get thicker the closer you get to Macy's and all those television cameras.
My own favorite family adventure always has been the night before the parade, when the balloons are inflated in the streets around the American Museum of Natural History. Take the kids and watch as a beloved character's’s arm or leg comes to life, whether it's Kermit the Frog, Barney, or Horton the Elephant. Be sure to visit the museum, too, during daytime hours, of course. The dinosaurs and life-size whale suspended from a ceiling are there year-round, but the glittering origami Christmas tree is only for the holidays.
The World’s Largest Menorah shines for eight nights at the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, right in front of the Apple Store, already a landmark for its see-through glass-like cube design, and the FAO Schwarz toy store. The New York State Theater in Lincoln Center is where Sugarplum Fairies dance nightly in the annual The Nutcracker ballet, another city tradition, as are the high-stepping Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Grab your skates, or rent them, and take a spin on the world's most famous ice skating rink, in Rockefeller Center, in front of the world-famous tree. Or, avoid the tourist crowds and head to Central Park's Kate Wollman Rink, a favorite of locals. This is where I learned to skate, and taught my kids. The rink offers amazing views of surrounding skyscrapers.
Some of the best things in my hometown are free, and I’m not just talking about the people watching. Department stores Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Lord and Taylor are famous for their spectacular animated holiday windows. There's a different theme each year. It might be old-fashioned Victorian holidays one year, futuristic Space Age holidays the next. Also free is the laser light show that turns the high, vaulted ceiling of Grand Central Station into a magical extravaganza.
The same people who sponsor the New York City Marathon, held the first weekend of November, also sponsor the Midnight Run through Central Park. It's a great way to get away from the crowds in Times Square, where it's just you and a million or so of your closest friends watching the ball drop on New Year's Eve.
For more ideas about what to see and do in NYC at the holidays, check the NYC Convention & Visitors Bureau website. Or, just ask me.