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Riding the Staten Island Ferry, and Then Some

Riding the Staten Island Ferry is still a popular tourist attraction in New York. The most common practice is to board a ferry at the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, ride the ferry to see the sights, disembark at the St. George Terminal in Staten Island, and then immediately turn around for the next trip back. There’s nothing wrong with this. The ferry trip is free, arrives and departs with predictable frequency, and the 25-minute ride offers photogenic views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Plus, for New Yorkers, it’s sometimes nice to be reminded that people travel to New York from all over the world to see firsthand what all the fuss is about. They seem to be enjoying the experience.

At Empire Outlets, NYC's first outlet mall, adjacent to the ferry terminal in Staten Island.

Still, it seems rude to visit another borough and not even say hello. While I would still suggest a visit to a Staten Island destination such as Snug Harbor Cultural Center (especially the Noble Maritime Collection), just a bus ride away, here I recommend a couple of attractions within easy walking distance of the ferry terminal.

Empire Outlets

The first destination is Empire Outlets, a stylish outlet mall adjacent to the terminal that opened in May of 2019. The center includes a fashionable collection of name brand stores (American Eagle Outfitters, GAP Factory Store, Nordstrom Rack, Nike Factory Store, Banana Republic Factory Store, among them), along with a few places for coffee or snacks. One reason to go would be to enjoy the architecture, with a signature design by SHoP Architects. Take a look at the fanciful tulip seats in the courtyard. As outdoor malls go, few have this sort of stunning backdrop, with the New York Harbor and the distant skyline in the distance. 

Staten Island Borough Hall

Across the street from the ferry terminal, stop by the stately Staten Island Borough Hall on top of the hill at 10 Richmond Terrace. Carrère and Hastings designed the 1906 building in the Beaux-Arts style (French Renaissance, to be specific).

The Promenade at Lighthouse Point is lined with big red anchor buoys.

The next destination is the National Lighthouse Museum. Walk south just a little ways past the Ferry Terminal Viaduct and look for the street that leads down to the shoreline. Follow the Promenade at Lighthouse Point. Located on the former site of the United States Lighthouse Service’s General Depot, the museum is housed in the depot's foundry building (1912) and is clearly marked. The outdoor seating area on the water side of the museum should be bookmarked for future visits in warm weather.

Outdoor seating near Pier 1 adjacent to the museum

The museum, opened now for about five years, is small but highly entertaining for those who love the romance of lighthouses. Inside, past the gift shop, small replicas of lighthouses line the shelves surrounding a lighthouse scaffold. It’s fun to spot favorites, like Jeffrey’s Hook Light (the Little Red Lighthouse) that sits under the George Washington Bridge or the mansard-style Hudson-Athens Lighthouse up the Hudson River in Columbus County. Inside the lighthouse, visitors can view an introductory film about the era of lighthouses and the efforts to restore and preserve them.

National Lighthouse Museum, Staten Island

Exhibits include the story of the General Depot which served as the national headquarters for all lighthouse operations in the United States from 1864 to 1939. It did come as a surprise to learn that the depot provided the testing and distribution of lighthouse supplies nationwide. Of the eighteen original buildings here, only six now remain. Some of the stories are more local. One wall panel tells the story of Kate Walker (1846-1931), the legendary keeper of the sparkplug Robbin’s Reef (Kate’s Light) that is viewable from the Staten Island Ferry. While visiting the museum, a staff member is likely to offer a personalized tour and answer all your lighthouse questions.

Learn fun lighthouse facts at the National Lighthouse Museum on Staten Island.

The museum has ambitious plans for expansion, but in the meantime, look for their special events and seasonal boat tours to area lighthouses. A visit will likely kindle a desire to see every lighthouse in New York and beyond.

The view from the Staten Island Ferry heading back to Manhattan

Now, you may return to the ferry.     

Websites:
Empire Outlets
https://empireoutlets.nyc/

National Lighthouse Museum
http://lighthousemuseum.org/



Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Sunday, February 9, 2020

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