With 1,700 parks and recreation areas, New York City could be considered as green as it is granite. And because Gotham never does anything halfway, a good number of these venues are sprawling cities within a city, with enough activities, gardens, events, lakes, landscapes and secret sanctuaries to fill your itinerary from dawn past dusk. Here we’ve picked the best ‘day trips’ to an outstanding park in each of the five boroughs. Your cultural yearnings, outdoor hankerings and culinary cravings will be sated in all five places as easily as, well, a walk in the park.
Start your tour in Central Park, the first public park in the United States, at the 96th St./Central Park West entrance, and head north to the Pool, the name for the big pond starting at 100th St. Make your way along the twisted path to the waterfall, one of the most serene spots around.
Back on the road, head east to the Vanderbilt Gate and Conservatory Garden, the only formal gardens in the park.
Stop midpark at 79th St. at whimsical Belvedere Castle. This is a great place to view the Great Lawn and the Ramble. It is also home to a National Weather Service station. From there, amble through the Shakespeare Garden. This terraced four-acre oasis devoted to the Bard features flowers and plants mentioned in his poems and plays.
Next, a tribute to a more modern-day poet can be found between 71st and 74th sts. on the park’s west side at Strawberry Fields. The memorial to John Lennon, dedicated in 1985, is a designated quiet zone. Despite the rules, devotees of every age bring their guitars and other instruments to (quietly) play “Imagine” and other famous Lennon tunes.
Hunger hitting? Check out the Loeb Boathouse Lakeside Restaurant. True to its name, you can also rent a rowboat there. Explore the lake and observe the 26 species of butterflies known to inhabit the area.
At some point, you’ll also want to stop by the Central Park Zoo, where two playful snow leopard cubs born at the zoo last year delight visitors.
Wherever your stroll through Central Park takes you, keep an eye out for the green Audio Tour signs giving a number you can call for a quick history of an iconic spot told by a famous New Yorker.
After a day as full as this, you’ve earned a splurge dinner in one of Manhattan’s most storied establishments, Tavern on the Green. Newly renovated, this NYC standby maintains the elegant glass doors that open onto the patio as one of the main attractions. Reservations recommended.
Afterward, spend the evening at a free concerts at SummerStage at the Rumsey Playfield, which is just a few blocks up on the East Side at 71st St. For more information, visit www.centralparknyc.org.
The 585-acre park known as Prospect Park is one of the most wooded areas of New York City. Start your exploration at the Grand Army Plaza entrance, where the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch in front of sprawling Eastern Parkway brings a bit of Paris to New York’s most populous borough. Head south on the East Drive or through the Long Meadow to the Donald and Barbara Zucker Natural Exploration Area, an artistic, almost otherworldly play space for children and adults made from the remains of trees damaged during Hurricane Sandy and other major New York City storms.
Keep heading south on East Drive to the Children’s Corner and stop in at the Prospect Park Zoo, where dozens of different wild and farm animals reside. There’s a barn filled with sheep and goats, and, elsewhere, adorable red panda cubs romp. The lively troupe of Hamadryas baboons will entertain you for hours if you let them.
Nearby is the Carousel, sporting horses by master carver Charles Carmel, and Lefferts House, celebrating family life in 1820s Brooklyn. Every Sat and Sun in July, you can join a tour of the second floor, which is rarely open to visitors.
Head across the meadow to the Picnic House, where you can sit down and enjoy lunch or a snack at the Movable Feast Café.
Continue south to the LeFrak Center at Lakeside. The skating pavilion switches to roller-skating and a water play area in the summer.
Prospect Park also offers free concerts and performing arts in the summer at the Bandshell. Time it right, and you might catch a show featuring Nickel Creek (Jul. 24) or the Dance Theatre of Harlem (Jul. 31).
To end your outing, exit at 9th St. and walk two brownstone-lined blocks to Seventh Ave. You’ll find yourself in the heart of Park Slope, where dozens of restaurants, bars and shops line the avenue in both directions. For more information, visit www.prospectpark.org.
First and foremost, as you enter Flushing Meadows Corona Park, don’t forget to look up at the Unisphere. The 12-story, 350-ton globe was the centerpiece of the 1964 World’s Fair. Key pieces of World’s Fair history live in the Queens Museum New York City building, also in the park. Before leaving the museum, you must check out the mesmerizing Panorama, a huge, to-scale replica of New York City that actually turns from day to night.
Culture doesn’t stop there, though. The New York Hall of Science, housed in one of the few remaining structures from the 1964 World’s Fair, is home to 450 exhibits, including an outdoor science playground.
On top of that, the Queens Theatre, Queens Zoo and Queens Botanical Garden are also in the park. Each of these sites has its own jam-packed schedule, so be sure to check out the calendar of events on the park website to help you decide what to do.
If a day spent strolling is your intention, take advantage of the Flushing Bay Promenande, a 1.4-mile walking path along the water. Also in the park are six themed playgrounds, dozens of ball courts, fields and skate parks. There is even a model aircraft field. For lunch, make like a typical New Yorker and grab a hot dog at one of the food carts throughout the park. For more information, visit www.nycgovparks.org/parks/fmcp.
Besides some of the most spectacular views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, you’ve got another great reason to ride the Staten Island Ferry: Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
Get off the boat on Staten Island and take the S40 bus at Ferry Terminal 11 to Snug Harbor Road. Or, if you’re in the mood for a robust walk, head northwest along the waterfront esplanade as far as the path will take you, then turn onto Richmond Terrace until you reach Snug Harbor. This 83-acre center was formerly the site of a retired sailors’ community. The campus houses 26 historic and architecturally significant buildings, three botanical gardens, a working farm, the Veterans Memorial Hall and the music hall.
Start your tour at the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art (Building G), which is also the visitor’s center. While you’re strolling the grounds, don’t miss the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, the only authentic, classical Chinese garden on the East Coast, based on Ming Dynasty gardens from the 14th century. Discover the narrow passageways and banana-leaf gates that lead to inner gardens landscaped onto a hillside.
Head back to the “front five,” a row of historic buildings along the waterfront, to Building D, which is now the Noble Maritime Collection. Named for and started by the American painter John A. Noble, the building houses plenty of maritime art and history as well as the artist’s houseboat, which he used as a floating studio.
There are no dining facilities in the Snug Harbor compound, although you are welcome to bring your own picnic to one of the designated areas. For more information, visit www.snug-harbor.org.
Located amid the mansions and tree-lined streets of the residential Riverdale neighborhood (you won’t believe you’re still in New York City), Wave Hill offers stunning views of the Hudson River and the Palisades.
When you arrive, head straight to the Great Lawn and the Pergola Overlook for the views. Then stroll through the Perennial Flower Garden, Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, Wild Garden and Aquatic Garden, which are all in their July glory. After a short hike on the Woodland Trail, you’ll be ready for lunch at the Café in the recently renovated Wave Hill House, a former Hudson River mansion.
After lunch, make your way across the Great Lawn to the Glyndor Gallery. Among other exhibits currently on display, you’ll see fireflies like you’ve never seen them before in Gregory Crewdson’s photographs. For more information, visit www.wavehill.org.
So, pick a borough, any borough, and let our verdant sanctuaries inspire you, relax you and impress you.