Pant With the Panthers at the Bronx Zoo

When you’ve cleared the decks for a family day, head up to the Bronx Zoo, with 265 acres that 650 animal species call home. Even if your kids aren’t animal enthusiasts, they’ll be thrilled to check out red pandas and snow leopards on the Himalayan Highlands and ride a monorail through Wild Asia, where deer and antelope play.

And your own heart will race when you hear an elephant trumpeting through the jungle or a lion roar, or watch a giraffe grab a leafy snack from the top of a tree. When you’ve seen it all, head over to nearby Arthur Avenue, a longtime Italian enclave where real New York pizza waits, perfect for a long, breathless recap of all the animals.

[Photo: Ian C]

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Amusement at a Seaside Playground

When New Yorkers want a family getaway, they leave town without leaving the city by day tripping out to legendary Coney Island. Only a MetroCard swipe away, this seaside playground nestles right up against the Atlantic Ocean, with a wide beach populated by New Yorkers of every stripe. Slather the kids in sunscreen and let them go wild in the sand and surf, like city kids have done for generations. When it’s time for a change of scenery, head to the far side of the boardwalk, where bumper cars and go karts will satisfy your kids’ need for speed.

Not fast enough? Catch a ride on the Cyclone, an original wooden roller coaster that’s been doling out serious thrills since 1927. Hold hands during the butterfly-inducing incline, then feel the wind and catch a glimpse of the sea as you plummet down the hills and around the bends. Go ahead and squeal with delight, you won’t be alone. Across the street, a reborn Luna Park has even more amusement park adventures waiting. When it’s time to reflect on all the action, take the kids to one final New York icon, Nathan’s Famous, where a classic hot dog awaits hungry families still beaming from a day of fun.

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Frank Sinatra and a Ballpark Frank

For a group outing in New York City, find a spot with plenty of room, like the 50,000 seats waiting for you at the new Yankee Stadium. You’ll feel the excitement even from the sidewalk outside, where a sea of Derek Jeter jerseys leads you into the massive concourse. If you’re hungry, a ballpark frank is a classic, but in this new era your crew can also grab sandwiches from Nolita favorite Parm, or steak from fifth-generation butcher Lobel’s.

Once you’re settled into your seats you’ll be talking up the perfect sightlines, which show off the massive centerfield scoreboard and the glowing Kentucky bluegrass below. The game starts, and the knowing crowd will soon be riffing on the opposition. The Bleacher Creatures will get waves from the Yankee defense. The tension builds. You nod to the beer man for another round. You’ve got America’s Pastime and a billion-dollar building that only New York City could produce. Win or lose, you’ll still be soaking in the camaraderie as you file out, with Frank Sinatra over the loudspeakers singing “New York, New York.”

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[Photo: Rian Castillo]

Put Some Spin On It

For your next group get-together, grab a paddle and bring on the competition. New York’s take on Ping-Pong injects some serious glamour, so break out of the bar routine and take your friends to SPiN in the Flatiron District, a posh Ping-Pong parlor where you can perfect your serves, slams, and boo-yas. Hold court and talk trash at one of seventeen tables, or grab some beers with your buds and check out the expert paddle-work of the pros—their crazy skills just might rub off on you.

The casual crowd is ready to yell like mad when a rally won’t die or somebody pulls off a crazy shot, helping you feel like the champion you are. Full-service means you won’t waste time fetching balls, as there’s staff for that, as well as for mixing up your crew a creative collection of cocktails for the losers to pay for. An interior that feels more like a nightclub than a basement rec-room makes the atmosphere even livelier—your crew can take solace there after you’ve schooled them in the awesome power of your topspin.

[Photo: Anthony Quintano]

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Griffith Observatory: Scan the Stars

For a truly unforgettable moment, skip the candlelight and classical music and take your significant other to the most romantic spot in Los Angeles. Date night doesn’t get any better than a moonlit visit to Griffith Observatory, which overlooks the Hollywood basin and gives couples unbeatable, celestial views of LA’s sparkling sprawl, from the base of the mountain to the Pacific Ocean. At night, the stargazing is nothing less than awe-inspiring, so be ready to ponder life’s great mysteries as you play name-that-constellation.

Show up early and check out the observatory, exhibit hall, and planetarium, which were designed to make astronomy accessible to the public, or pay tribute to one of Hollywood’s most iconic actors, James Dean. Rebel Without a Cause was filmed here, and the actor commissioned artist Kenneth Kendall to create a sculpture of himself that’s still on display today. Couples can make a complete day outing, as the 4,000-acre park includes hiking and horseback riding, but nothing makes the heart soar more than watching the sun set over the ocean from the best vantage point in LA.

[Photo: John McStravick]

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Amor y Amargo: Cocktail Hour, Elevated

For your next couple’s night out, impress your partner with a sophisticated take on the cocktail. New York’s next-generation parlors are waiting to hook you up with the world’s finest tequilas, whiskeys, even tiki drinks, along with the less-traveled realm of bitters. For the best of both, visit Amor y Amargo in the East Village, a “bitters tasting room” that raises the use of herbal essences in cocktails to an art form. Step through the wooden door and behold an intimate, blue and yellow-accented space, perfect for conversation with your partner or your neighbors. Admire the tile bar and pressed-tin ceiling, which lend some classic New York atmosphere.

When it’s time to order, let the menu lead you to something like the Eight Amaro Sazerac, which combines the spirits of New Orleans and Italy in a densely layered glass. Take your time savoring the hints of orange and Chartreuse liqueur—these drinks were made for sipping. Or hash out something bespoke for your paramour. Tell the bartender “smoky” and “spicy,” and wait for a complex blend of mezcal and habanero bitters to appear. Your partner leans in, intrigued. There’s an upbeat soundtrack. The bartender circles back to add a little more to the story, then gives you some space to be alone. After all, the name of the bar translates to “Love and Bitters.”

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The Santa Monica Pier: A Family Affair

Grab the crew and head over to the Santa Monica Pier for a can’t-miss family fun experience. The kids will go nuts over this iconic attraction, filled with exciting rides, live entertainment venues, and casual, family-friendly restaurants. So let them get the sillies out among the flashing lights, nickelodeon tunes, and arcade games. Treat them to a famous hot dog-on-a-stick, where too much mustard is never enough, but not before taking them on a spin on the historic carousel and a sky-high ride on the Ferris wheel.

A friendly game of skeeball in the classic arcade will indulge the wee ones’ competitive streak, and with prizes ranging from handheld games to life-size stuffed animals on the line, you might just get in on the action yourself. Before it’s over, don’t forget to line up the brood and say cheese: the pier happens to be one of the top ten most Instragrammed places in the world.

[Photo: kadman420]

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Chocolate to the Max

When your kids have earned a family fun day, surprise them with a visit to chocolate paradise Max Brenner. The café’s central location near Union Square is a lot more convenient than tracking down Willy Wonka’s factory. It’s a feast for the senses, beginning with the sense of smell, as the sweet aroma of chocolate fills the room, exciting the kids for what’s in store.

Their eyes will pop when they see the menu and its chocolate crepes, chocolate bagels, and even chocolate pizzas. And where else can they order a chocolate syringe from a secret chocolate menu? Watch the smiles grow as a warm mud cake arrives, complete with its own chocolate swimming pool and whipped cream mountains. Or maybe you’re ready for some family quality time, with everyone pitching in to dip bananas and strawberries into a decadent pot of fondue. You’ll also find a full menu for mom and dad, with White Russians and Chocolate Martinis. They’ve earned a treat, too.

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[Photo: Tom Newby]

Father’s Office: A Burger Worth Its Wait

Ready for a true LA dining adventure? Grab your foodie friends and head to Father’s Office, where chef and owner Sang Yoon is waging a casual dining revolution. Be warned: casual means no reservations, no table service, no substitutions, and–gulp–no ketchup, but it’s all worth it. Arrive early and head straight to the bar, where a knowledgeable bartender will guide you through a selection of 36 craft beers on tap–just what you need to take the edge off the wait for a table.

Before you know it, you’ll be seated in front of their signature Office Burger, a dry-aged beef patty topped with caramelized onion, Maytag blue cheese, melted Gruyere, applewood-smoked bacon, and arugula. Be generous and share an order of sweet potato fries, served with garlic parsley aoili, with your mates. Don’t worry, they’ll make more, and while they do, you can show off your knowledge of the restaurant’s one-of-a-kind, beer-purifying tap system, which is made from high-tech medical tubing originally designed for dialysis. The revolution is here, and your crew is invited.

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[Photo: vmiramontes]