As a Mom to two young daughters, I have long known that my favorite method of parenting is taking my girls on excursions. Sign us up for anything that gets us out of the house to expose my girls to the arts, culture, and nature! When the pandemic first entered our lives, it was a struggle to be homebound amidst the global suffering caused by COVID-19. But, with great challenges, we also face opportunities. One silver lining of the last year and a half is the grand opening of the Little Island Park in Manhattan on May 21, 2021. This new park is a great place for families to spend the day outdoors with their little ones. Little Island truly adds to the tapestry of beautiful green space in the New York area.
What’s the story behind this new park? Little Island is a 2.4-acre public park located in the Hudson River, on the west side of Manhattan, between 14th and 13th Streets. The history of the area is fascinating. The site of the park was once a crucial spot for cruise lines operating in the 1900’s. In fact, survivors of the Titanic were brought back to safety to this very pier on RMS Carpathia, which is commemorated with a plaque. Over the years, the area had a thriving arts scene, which boasted concerts and events. It was also a place of refuge for the LGBTQ+ community, when they had few places to feel accepted and stigma free. However, after Hurricane Sandy, the area fell into serious disrepair. It took the vision of Barry Diller and his illustrious wife and iconic fashion designer, Diane Von Furstenberg, in partnership with the Hudson River Park Trust, to reimagine the space.
Their vision was to create an urban oasis, which is free and accessible to the public. The park is designed to inspire imagination and creativity, and offers visitors a special opportunity to connect with nature and art. The look of the park is incredibly unique. The landscape design was conceived as a leaf floating on water, comprised of tulip like structures blooming along the Hudson River. Signe Nielsen, the award-winning landscape architect responsible for designing the park’s physical environment, notes on the Little Island website that visitors are meant to cross from land into water in order for our mindsets to change and to enter what feels like an enchanted forest.
The lush environment of Little Island includes 35 species of trees, 70 species of shrubs, and 200 species of perennials to create an immersive experience for visitors. Little Island incorporates open lawns, seating areas, and walking paths perfect for exploration. The “Play Ground” is an area where you can stop by to purchase food. The park also includes amphitheaters to host performances. While there aren’t any traditional play structures, three areas must be highlighted for anyone traveling here with a little one in tow.
1.) Make sure to visit the musical dance floor near “The Glade”. Each square makes a musical sound whenever you place your weight on it. My 5-year-old daughter spent a good 45 minutes jumping on this play space, making music with each leap!
2.) Check out the spinning black and white optical illusion pinwheel structure on the “Southeast Overlook”, which you can spin to your heart’s delight. Totally trippy and so much fun!
3.) Stop by another musical installation, akin to a piano, near the North Bridge. Kids loved banging on the keys and it was a beautiful sight to see children share the space making music together.
As part of Little Island’s commitment to engaging the local community, there is free programming available for families. The options include:
1.) Creative Break, which is a weekly artmaking activity session for children of all ages, led by Little Island teaching artists. Creative Break is offered on Wednesdays at 11 AM and 3 PM in “The Glade” and Thursdays-Saturdays at 11 AM in “The Glade”.
2.) Art Cart, which is a mobile DIY artmaking station featuring different activities on Thursdays at 3 PM in “The Glade”.
3.) Little Library, which brings literacy activities to kids on Fridays at 3 PM in “The Glade”. Friday, September 24th includes Teatro SEA Teaching Artist Paola Poucel presenting "The Colors of Frida," a bilingual, one-woman show about the great Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, which combines storytelling, music, visual arts, puppets, and audience participation.
4.) New Victory Labworks, which is a space hosted by the New Victory Theater where BIPOC artists experiment and create work. This series provides a glimpse at how artists develop family programming for the stage.
*Hours + Information*
Little Island is open daily from 6 AM – 11:30 PM through October 31st. From October 31 – March 2022, the park will be open from 6 AM – 8 PM. From 6 AM – 12 PM, no reservations are necessary. From 12 PM and on, free timed entry reservations are required. Children ages 3+ need a reservation. Tickets can be ordered through the Little Island’s website and printed out or shown on a mobile phone upon entry. If you’re planning out your travel itinerary, Little Island is just a quick PATH train ride away. We took a Lyft on the way there and headed home via the Christopher Street PATH station.
One of our very favorite things to do on this trip was soaking in the amazing views of our beloved Hoboken from the park. We waved hello across the Hudson River to Lackawanna Terminal and the W Hotel. To get our fill of a traditional playground, we also made a stop to Pier 51, which is another great nearby attraction. We hope you enjoy your trip to Little Island as much as we did!