May 4, 2013

Island Adventures: 16 Places to Go in the New York Archipelago

Commuters in New York City need not be reminded that the city, at its geographical essence, is a vast archipelago. Every day over a million people venture forth through the city's network of islands and parts of islands, sailing through the New York Harbor from Staten Island to Manhattan or crossing the East River and Hudson River and the tidal straight of the Harlem River via car, bus, train, or bike to their appointed destinations.

Rockaway Beach

Thousands of people go to work in the New York islands every day just to work on boats. These island-hoppers include members of the commercial shipping trade, the tourist industry, local law enforcement, and the armed services. In addition, thousands of vacationers come and go from the archipelago, boarding ocean liners to explore distant islands with more swimmable waters.

In short, the New York archipelago is a beehive of activity at all times. For proof, take a gander at the Live Ships Map from MarineTraffic.com. The map shows passenger ships, fishings vessels, tugs, and so forth in real time. MarineTraffic has an app, too.

In the midst of this busy city of many ports of call, what are some of the best locales for a quick island holiday? While the following list does not to present itself as a novel idea, the places constitute a partial repertory of itinerant adventures. Not all have sand. With temperatures beginning to climb, our thoughts drift from our work to the fantasies of island leisure. Is that an ocean breeze in the air? Perhaps.

Is there anything better than an early summer evening on Coney Island?
In this picture from July 14, 2012, musician Billy Bragg celebrates the 100th birthday of Woody Guthrie, who spent some of his happiest years living on Coney Island.

People often need a break from the everyday routine to get a new perspective. The list below includes many places with offbeat or unusual views of the city.

"There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs - commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there." - Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Adventurous Perspectives: 16 Places to Go in the New York Archipelago 

Battery Park
Battery Park. For a couple of centuries, before Ellis Island, immigrants arrived in New York at this point at the tip of Lower Manhattan, passing through Castle Garden. Today, visitors congregate near the rails to gaze at the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. more

Brooklyn Bridge Park. The new park, repurposed from working piers, features close-to-water views of Manhattan, offering a surprising new vantage point to those of us more accustomed to strolling the Brooklyn Heights Promenade high above the park. If you're up for it, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  more



City Island. Part of the Bronx, City Island is known for its boat building heritage. A major center for yacht building from the Civil War to 1980, the shipyards of City Island built many illustrious vessels, including some of the largest yachts of their day. Stroll through this New England-like community, and plan a stop at one of the island's seafood restaurants. more

Coney Island. A western barrier island in the Long Island chain, Coney Island was once separated from the mainland of Brooklyn by Coney Island Creek. In 1823, the island was connected to the mainland by a road made of seashells and later by landfill. more

East River Ferry. Operated by NY Waterway, the East River Ferry's regular weekday service connects two stops in Manhattan, one on E. 34th St. in Midtown and the other downtown at Wall Street's Pier 11, with four resurgent waterfront communities in Brooklyn and one in Queens. more

Governors Island
Governors Island. Public access to Governors Island resumes Saturdays and Sundays starting May 25, 2013. Visitors to Governors Island can walk the 2.2. promenade around the whole island and enjoy access to the northern part. The southern part is awaiting development. On December 7, 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H. W. Bush met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Governors Island, then the headquarters for the Coast Guard, to discuss arms reduction. For a minute there, it looked like world peace. more

Intrepid Museum. The star attractions on these piers along the Hudson River are the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum on W. 46th and 12 Avenue at Pier 86, where everyone gawks at the ships, and the popular Circle Line Sightseeing tours that depart from Pier 83 to the south. Note: Near the Memorial Day weekend, the area usually serves as the focal point for Fleet Week, but in 2013, due to the federal sequester, Fleet Week has been cancelled. Boo. more

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. In addition to the sights of many birds flying overhead or darting furtively through bushes, a walk here offers distant views of the Emerald City. more

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge offers an unusual perspective on the city


Pier 15. The well-designed sleek pier just to the south of the South Street Seaport invites new perspectives of the East River, the bridges, Brooklyn across the way, and the changing skyline of Lower Manhattan. It's also a great place to catch an exceptional sunset. more

Pier 54. The RMS Titanic was supposed to have arrived at Pier 59, the home of the White Star Line. As we know, it never made it back. The RMS Carpathia, bearing the survivors of the doomed ship, dropped off the empty lifeboats at Pier 59 and then sailed back to Pier 54, the home dock for the Cunard line. Tens of thousands of people gathered around Pier 54 to hear the stories of the maritime disaster. You can still visit what's left of the pier, marked by a rusty arch that bears the faded lettering of the Cunard Line. more

Red Hook
Red Hook. This waterfront neighborhood in Brooklyn, hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, is a resilient place with good local distilleries, casual eateries, and exceptional views of New York Harbor. There's more to do here than shop at IKEA, although the superstore's ferry service makes for an easy and fun outing.

Riverbank State Park. In addition to a large sports complex, this sprawling park high above the Hudson River offers sweeping views of the river, the George Washington Bridge, and the Palisades. The park, opened in 1993, sits atop the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant. Don't let that deter you from a visit.

Rockaway Beach. The walk at Rockaway stretches a long 5.5 miles. Because of the size of this beach community in Queens on the south shore of Long Island, visitors on a day trip to Rockaway may not have enough time to experience all of its history and attractions except for a relatively small stretch of the beach. more

Roosevelt Island
Roosevelt Island. Taking a tram high over the East River should provide a good enough excuse to visit the island, once home to a smallpox hospital and an octagon-shaped asylum. The splendid ruins of the hospital are still there, and the asylum has been repurposed for swank housing. Stroll to the southern tip to visit the new Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, built from the original design by Louis Kahn. more

Staten Island Ferry. Commuters and hordes of visitors crowd the ferries to and from Manhattan. And what's not to like? It's a free trip on a boat with views of the Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. A round-trip on the ferry can provide a quick cure for cabin fever, or whatever we would label the feeling of being stuck in the concrete jungle. more

Times Square. Whoa. What thing is not like the other thing? Wait. There's an explanation for its inclusion on this list. Once upon a time, on the island of Mannahatta, a verdant paradise in a complex archipelago near the Atlantic Ocean, two streams came together in the area now called Midtown. The convergence of these streams naturally attracted people and wildlife. From a certain perspective, it's still there.

Times Square, where the island streams converge



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Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from the archives.
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