|by Danielle Lipp||State Parks, New York City||16|
Did you know that Central Park has free activity kits at various visitor centers? You can borrow one as long as you have a photo ID you can hand over as a deposit, just like when you rent shoes at a bowling alley. Click these links for more info…
Chess & Checkers House: Channel your inner Bobby Fischer with chess and checkers game pieces for play on one of the facility's 24 mosaic-topped tables.
Belvedere Castle: Grab a Discovery Kit backpack filled with binoculars, a bird guide, and colored pencils and paper for self-guided birding discoveries in the Ramble.
North Meadow Recreation Center: Stay active with a Field Day kit tote bag packed with a wiffle ball and bat, cones, a playground ball, and other sports equipment for play around the North Meadow.
Charles A. Dana Discovery Center: See what's biting in the Harlem Meer with catch-and-release fishing equipment, including fishing poles, bait, and basic instruction.
FREE AND AFFORDABLE GUIDED PARK TOURS
Another free park feature: a variety of guided walking tours (led by volunteers) offered year-round, including Amble Through the Ramble, a stroll through the park's 38-acre woodland, and Views From the Past, a journey through the beginnings and history of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux's urban masterpiece.
And for those willing to spend a little money to get a more personalized experience, custom walking tours with an advanced-level guide can be arranged for groups of up to 25 people ($12 per person, $100 minimum cost). And if you really want an unparalleled park experience led by a true insider, try one of the park's new private van tours, in which Sara Cedar Miller, official Central Park photographer and historian and best-selling author of Central Park An American Masterpiece and Seeing Central Park, helps you design your own themed itinerary. Miller is uniquely qualified to share never-published secrets and stories about the 843-acre park. Among the suggested options is a Garden Tour, in which the curator of each garden visited joins in on the tour. The high level of expertise is reflected in the price: A one-hour tour for up to seven people is $500 and includes one free signed copy of Miller's most recent book.
All of these activities come courtesy of the nonprofit Central Park Conservancy, which raises funds and manages day-to-day operations of the park.
Another lesser-known fact: Becoming a member of the Central Park Conservancy can save you money year-round—not just inside the park, but all over NYC. A $50 one-year "Gardener" level membership ($48 of which is tax-deductible) gets you access to the Central Park Perks program, which offers discounts to nearly 100 hotels, restaurants, stores, museums, and other activities citywide. Perks include two-for-one admission at The Museum of the City of New York, National Academy Museum, and The Paley Center for Media (admission at each is $10); 10 percent off room rates at the Hilton Garden Inn Times Square, Loews Regency Hotel, and InterContinental The Barclay; and 10 percent to 15 percent off the bill at restaurants like One Fish Two Fish, Penang, and Sarabeth's, among many others.
Check out our New York City destination page! With hotel reviews, an interactive map, and a forum where you can ask trip-planning questions.