Ahh, adulting, the eternal struggle of the millennial. Who wants to do their own laundry, cook their own meals, and choose between following their passions and having an actual savings account? Sure, we might be stuck in arrested development, but between rising rents and Metrocard prices going up again, being an actual adult in NYC can be understandably frustrating.
There are perks, though, like eating at the best restaurants, enjoying the most exciting nightlife, and, well, acting like a kid whenever you feel like—or, more realistically, when you can afford to stop thinking about health insurance for a minute. Time to get way-too-excited about life and forget your cares for a few hours by regressing into your childhood at these carefree NYC spots.
M&M’s World New York
New York, NY
Okay, hear me out: the Times Square M&M store is actually pretty awesome. There are tons of fun and free M&Ms-themed activities, and you can try bunches of unique flavors of M&Ms, from the seasonal ones you miss (yay peppermint!) to the sort-of-terrible ones you wish you hadn’t tried (eww, strawberry peanut). You can even get M&Ms custom-printed on the spot—but, despite your best attempt to feign innocence, they won’t let you print anything even remotely suggestive, sorry.
Best of all, there’s a wall with hundreds of different types of M&Ms available for you to dispense yourself, and your parents won’t be there to say you can’t fill your bag up all the way. Because you can. You can fill it up all the way. I mean, you’ll have to pay for it, and it’s definitely not cheap. But you can do it!!
Honestly, anywhere in Times Square will make you feel like a kid again, if you shut off the part of your brain that hates slow tourists and faux-glamorous capitalism. Pretend like you’ve never seen a skyscraper before, forget that you can get the same crappy merchandise on Amazon for half the price, and make a whole day of it!
150 Greenpoint Ave
Brooklyn Bazaar is one of those places you can act like a kid and also get completely wasted at the same time. There’s always something happening, from weekend indie markets, to film screenings, to sick concerts. They’re so great, we frequently post them on our carefully-curated NYC Event Calendar.
The best part is, no matter what event you happen to attend, there is always something else super fun to run off to. Get tipsy at the bar, enjoy great food vendors, challenge your friends to an arcade game, ping pong, or mini golf, or rent out a karaoke room and sing your brains out without making a public fool of yourself. It’s the hip Brooklyn version of Dave and Busters, and it’s all in a super-glam three-story art-deco-era building.
American Girl Cafe
609 5th Ave
New York, NY
Every holiday season when I was a kid, with literally no prompting, I received an American Girl catalog in the mail, featuring these hella-expensive dolls with accessories that cost more than mine did. How did American Girl find me, a doll-less girl with a unisex name, in the middle of suburban Illinois? How did they know?! I read the books over and over, gazing at their tiny 80s-era illustrations and wishing I could have a Samantha doll with a $300 canopy bed.
If you never got to live out your American Girl doll dreams, you should totally make a reservation at the American Girl Cafe. Picture it: you’re sitting at brunch, sipping a Shirley Temple in a light-filled room, hanging out with an American Girl doll that looks sort-of like you.
Yep, the host will ask if you want a doll to sit with at lunch, and when you say yes, no one will look at you like you’re crazy. It’s totally normal at this idyllic celebration of consumerism, romanticized American history, and little tiny foods.
Plus, it’s apparently a pretty great experience. No shame.
Is it fair to include an entire neighborhood on this list? When it comes to Coney Island, yes, yes it is. Coney Island USA, also known as “America’s Playground,” has changed a lot in the last few years, but it still does one thing very, very well: bringing out the kid in everyone.
I mean, how lucky are we to have this beautifully nostalgic boardwalk, full of cotton candy and carnival games and a freaking world-famous roller coaster, a mere $2.75 subway ride away? There really is something for everyone, from the vibrant personalities hanging out on the beach, to cheese fries and hot dogs eaten in amusement ride lines.
The “shoot the freak” game might be gone, but there are still fireworks and karaoke every Friday in the summer, and surprisingly excellent concerts at the boardwalk amphitheater. And is there really anything better than sitting on the beach, enjoying the scent of salt water and funnel cakes, with the Wonder Wheel spinning in the background? It’s the easiest, cheapest way to feel like a kid again in New York City.
Various locations around NYC
These days, we might have aerial gymnastics and pole dancing and all that, but admit it: roller skating is still the most fun. I have vivid olfactory memories of skating at my super-1970s-era hometown roller rink—the gaudy printed carpets, the melting Slurpees, and the old popcorn smell.
NYC rinks have modernized a lot (many have been built in the last few years and are shockingly clean and shiny), but you can still rely on them for a slick skating stage and gaudy rental skates that will definitely give you blisters.
As long as you’re with the right people, you really can’t have a bad time roller skating, so pick your poison. However, I have do have two favorite spots: First, on a sunny day, head to the Pier 2 Roller Rink for some chill outdoor skating and a spectacular view of Manhattan.
Second, if you want something a little more, well, flashy, put one of the Dreamland Roller Rink events in your calendar. Lola Star knows how to make a skating party feel like it was planned by an actual unicorn, with perfect retro themes and lots of vibrant sparkle. They’re usually held at Prospect Park’s LeFrak Center, with space for fun skating tricks and an Instagram-ready photobooth.
New York City Ballet
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY
When you’re a kid, ballet dancers look enchanted. They spin around on pretty shoes like fairies, wearing the most extravagant costumes with sparkling crowns on their heads. Or they leap across the stage, fighting dragons and, of course, saving the fair maiden in the end.
When you get older, you learn about the pain and strength (and particular physique) it takes to be that prima ballerina, and some of the magic is lost. Until, of course, you see an actual ballet at Lincoln Center and become hypnotized by the gorgeous sets, beautiful live music, and incredible costumes. NYCB dancers are some of the best in the world, and seeing one of their performances at Lincoln Center will change how you see the world of ballet.
Tickets can be expensive, but if you’re under 30, here’s a fun tip: head to the venue the morning of many performances, and you could score a ticket for $30. There’s nothing better than paying hundreds of dollars less for the same performance as those wealthy patrons in their box seats (even if your view isn’t quite as fabulous).
Paint your own pottery
Various locations around NYC
Sure, you could take an actual pottery class and make a set of trendy Mid-Century Modern handleless teacups or something, but we aren’t aiming for “art school grad who regrettably works in Midtown” here. We’re going for “sad adult who wishes they didn’t have to call the exterminator again this month.” And for that, a paint-your-own-pottery spot is ideal.
You don’t have to paint anything in particular or follow any guidelines, and literally every skill level is accepted. I mean, honestly, you don’t even have to pour your own paint. Just pick a piece of pottery from the shelf, paint three layers of glaze, and pick up your fabulous masterpiece in a week. Wow, what a great artist you are!
Besides, there’s nothing more rewarding than putting some cheap bodega flowers into a vase for a party, saying, “Oh, this? I painted it,” and walking away, leaving your guests wondering about your secret life where you have enough time to make pottery all day.
There are quite a few shops in NYC, but my personal recommendation is to pick the one most convenient for you. Most paint-your-own-pottery spots use pottery and paint from the same suppliers, and in NYC, they all charge roughly the same studio fees. Bring some friends for a fun and relaxing afternoon, and depending on the shop, you might be able to bring wine, too. See? Some parts of being an adult are pretty rad.