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Upper East Side: Essential Things Parents Must Know

Upper East Side: Essential Things Parents Must Know

The Upper East Side of Manhattan is quickly becoming a go-to area for growing families. Here's what you need to know about the neighborhood if you're considering a move to the Upper East Side.

By Katelin Walling

While it used to be known as the neighborhood where mainly old money and upper-crust socialites lived, the Upper East Side of Manhattan—made up of the sub-neighborhoods of Yorkville, Carnegie Hill, and Lenox Hill—has become a destination for growing families who aren’t yet ready to break up with Manhattan. With the rising popularity of the family-friendly neighborhood—strollers, kids on scooters, and families brunching on the weekends are a common sight—there’s no need to worry about lack of housing options. In the past few years, there have been more than 20 buildings that are either brand new, newly renovated, or have transitioned into condos, according to Curbed New York. 

Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering moving your family to the Upper East Side.

Schools on the Upper East Side

Public Schools on the Upper East Side

The NYC Department of Education website lists 24 public schools on the Upper East Side, including pre-kindergarten programs, kindergarten and elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and a few schools that span elementary, middle, and high school grades.

Private, Religious, and International Schools on the Upper East Side

The New York State Association on Independent Schools lists more than 30 private and religious schools on the Upper East Side, and that’s only including those schools that are part of the voluntary association.

Private schools on the Upper East Side include:

  • The Brearly School
  • The Dalton School
  • The Gillen Brewer School
  • Rudolf Steiner School
  • The Spence School

Religious schools on the Upper East Side include:

  • Convent of the Sacred Heart
  • Dominican Academy
  • Marymount School of New York
  • The Ramaz School
  • Saint Ignatius Loyola School

International schools on the Upper East Side include The International Preschools and The New York International School.


Public Transportation on the Upper East Side

Subway Lines on the Upper East Side

The main subway line that runs north-south on the Upper East Side is the 4-5-6 line. You can also catch the N-Q-R at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue (the southern most street on the UES), or hop on the F at Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street Another fun option is to ride the tram from the Manhattan Tram Station (60th Street and Second Avenue) to spend the day on Roosevelt Island with your family.

The big subway news that most Upper East Siders—particularly those who live east of Lexington and Third avenues—are looking forward to: The Second Avenue Subway, New York City’s first major expansion of the subway system in more than 50 years, according to Being built in phases, the first phase is scheduled to be completed in December 2016, and will provide service from 96th to 63rd streets as an extension of the Q train.

Bus Lines on the Upper East Side

If riding above ground is more your style, there are seven bus routes that travel North-South—M15, M101, M102, M103, M2, M3, and M4—and five routes that run East-West across Central Park—M66, M72, M79, M86, and M96.


Things to Do with Kids on the Upper East Side

Museums on the Upper East Side

The Upper East Side is home to 12 museums, from bigger institutions, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to smaller collections such as Asia Society Museum and The Frick Collection, to some niche exhibits with which you might not be familiar, including The Grolier Club and Herbert & Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica. With this selection, plus living within walking distance of Museum Mile, which houses seven of the country’s finest museums, there’s sure to be an institution that piques the interest of everyone in your family.

guggenheim museum
David Heald © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and houses modern and contemporary art.

As the home of Museum Mile, the neighborhood hosts the Museum Mile Festival, typically in mid-June. The festival gives New Yorkers free access to the museums situated along Fifth Avenue, plus live bands, entertainment, and art activities for kids. Museum Mile museums include:

  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
  • The Jewish Museum
  • Ronald S. Lauder Neue Galerie
  • El Museo del Barrio*
  • Museum of the City of New York*

*These museums reside just outside the confines of the Upper East Side at 104th Street.

Parks on the Upper East Side

Carl Schurz Park

This 15-acre park, nestled between East End Avenue and the East River (and running from 84th to 90th streets), is home to Gracie Mansion—the mayor’s official residence—and is divided into two sections: active and passive areas. The active area, south of 86th Street, includes the Catbird Playground, a basketball and deck hockey field, and two off-leash dog parks (one for dogs weighing 25 pounds and less and one for larger breeds). The passive area, north of 86th Street, includes a statue of Peter Pan, lawns (no dogs or sports are permitted), garden pathways, woodland areas, and scenic overlooks. Spanning the six blocks along the East River is John Finely Walk, a promenade lined with benches offering views of the East River, Roosevelt Island Lighthouse, and more.

gracie mansion carl schurz park
Courtesy The Gracie Mansion Conservancy
Gracie Mansion, built in 1799 by a prosperous New York merchant named Archibald Gracie, is the official residence of the Mayor of New York City.

Central Park

Adjacent to Manhattan’s largest park, the UES gives New Yorkers easy access to many of Central Park’s attractions. The Central Park Zoo, located between 63rd and 66th streets, showcases animals from tropical, temperate, and polar climates from around the world—the sea lions and penguins are among favorites. Wollman Rink, a popular ice-skating local, becomes Victoria Garden in the summer. Located between 62nd and 63rd streets, the family amusement park features 12 handcrafted rides, games, and classic concessions. Plus, Central Park has six playgrounds located along Fifth Avenue, including the Ancient Playground (inspired by The Met’s collection of Egyptian art) at 85th Street, James Michael Levin Playground (featuring a spray fountain with Alice in Wonderland characters) at 76th Street, and Billy Johnson Playground (inspired by Central Park’s landscapes) at 67th Street.

John Jay Park

This 3-acre park, situated between Cherokee Place and FDR Drive (running from 76th to 78th streets), features basketball and handball courts, bathrooms, a playground, a spray shower, and two outdoor pools—an intermediate, handicapped accessible pool and a diving pool. The pools offer lap swimming hours and programs for those with disabilities.

Playgrounds on the Upper East Side

In addition to the playgrounds mentioned above in the parks, there are seven other playgrounds smattered across the Upper East Side, including:

  • DeKovats Playground at Asphalt Green: 90th Street and York Avenue
  • Marx Brothers Playground: Second Avenue, between 96th and 97th streets
  • Ruppert Park Playground: Second Avenue, between 90th and 91st streets
  • St. Catherine’s Park Playground: First Avenue, between 67th and 68th streets
  • Stanley Isaacs Playground: FDR Drive, between 95th ad 97th streets
  • Samuel Seabury Playground: Lexington Avenue, between 95th and 96th streets
  • Twenty-Four Sycamores Park Playground: York Avenue, between 60th and 61st streets


Luxury Living on the Upper East Side

Along with townhouses and tenements, you’ll find an abundance of luxury buildings on the Upper East Side that offer rental units for families. There are two major perks to living in a luxury building for families: building quality and amenities. In luxury buildings, you’ll find better appliance packages (hello, dishwasher!), design finishes (such as crown molding, higher-end fixtures, and often granite or marble countertops), and layouts that make the apartment feel more spacious than similar apartments of the same square feet. Luxury building amenities often include a doorman or lobby attendant (which is helpful in receiving packages and improves apartment security), in-building gyms or fitness centers (higher-end buildings even offer playrooms for children to play while parents workout), and on-site laundry (either on a certain floor or in each unit).

stonehenge nyc kitchen
Courtesy Stonehenge NYC

Luxury apartment buildings, such as Stonehenge NYC's buildings, offer higher-end kitchen appliances and fixtures.


Shopping on the Upper East Side

Grocery Stores on the Upper East Side

Along with the NYC standbys of Gristedes, Morton Williams, Key Foods, and D’Agostino, plus a handful of independent stores and bodegas, there is a Fairway Market on 86th Street, between Second and Third avenues, and a Whole Foods Market on Third Avenue, between 87th and 88th streets. If you live in the lower part of the Upper East Side, there’s also a Whole Foods Market on 57th Street, between Second and Third avenues.

whole foods upper east side
The Upper East Side Whole Foods Market, the ninth location in Manhattan, opened in February 2016. 

While there are no Trader Joe’s on the Upper East Side, there are two easily accessible options via the bus. You can either hop on the M15 on Second Avenue to get to the TJ’s on 14th Street, between Third and Fourth avenues, or you can catch the M72 to shop at the TJ’s on Broadway, between 71st and 72nd streets.

Everyday Shopping on the Upper East Side

There are two major shopping areas on the Upper East Side: 59th Street and 86th Street. In the 59th Street area, you’ll find stores such as:

  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • The Container Store
  • Gap
  • H&M
  • Home Depot
  • Sephora
  • TJ Maxx
  • Zara

In the 86th Street area, you’ll find stores such as:

  • Banana Republic
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Best Buy
  • The Children’s Place
  • Gap
  • H&M
  • Lush
  • Modell’s Sporting Goods
  • Nine West
  • Petco
  • Sephora

Need to make a Target or Costco run? No problem: The East River Plaza, located off FDR Drive between 116th and 119th streets, is easily accessible via the subway or the M15. You’ll also find Best Buy, Bob’s Discount Furniture, Marshalls, Old Navy, and PetSmart there.

Luxury Shopping on the Upper East Side

The Upper East Side also offers a variety of luxury shopping options. While Bloomingdale’s is located on the lower edge of the neighborhood, the Fifth Avenue shops are nearby on the outskirts of the Upper East Side, including Armani, Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany & Co. Bonus to living near these luxury stores: The holiday lights and decorations are spectacular.

bloomingdales upper east side
Courtesy Bloomingdale's
Bloomingdale's, located at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue, offers shoppers high-end, luxury brands such as Armani, Canada Goose, Frye, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, and Vera Wang.


Main image: Stop by the Central Park Zoo (located between 63rd and 66th streets on Fifth Avenue) to snap a few photos of the sea lions.

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