Most of my students are newcomers to New York. Some already understand that New Yorkers love to get away from the city, especially on long weekends during the summer, but if you didn’t make plans, it’s not too late to have a fun three-day weekend. There a lots of interesting places to explore within the five boroughs of New York City, and there are plenty of easy day trips outside of the city that don’t require finding a “last minute” car rental.
Here are five ideas for outdoor excersions that will feel like mini-vacations.
- Explore Manhattan’s Northern Tip
You can start by catching the A train to 207th Street. From there you can visit Fort Tryon Park. The park offers beautiful Hudson River views on winding paths. This is also where you can find visit The Cloisters. You can then walk to Inwood Hill Park, which offers hiking trails with old growth trees. There is also a Nature Center there where you can learn more about the local ecology. Sometimes there are additional activities sponsored by the Parks Department, such as kayaking.
Along the route from Fort Tryon Park to Inwood Hill Park there are other attractions like the Dykeman Farmhouse Museum – the only remaining Dutch colonial house in New York (circa 1764). There are several good restaurants in the neighborhood. I would recommend Indian Road Cafe and Bocaditos Bistro.
Adjacent to Inwood Hill Park is a small park, Isham Park. In Isham Park, you will find Bruce’s Garden. This is beautiful community flower garden named for Bruce Reynolds, a local policeman who was killed on 9/11.
- Discover Governor’s Island
Governor’s Island is a 172 acre island only about 800 feet from Manhattan. You can get there via a very short ferry ride. Govenor’s Island used to be a Coast Guard base, but the Coast Guard gave it up, and now it is owned by New York City. During the summer and into the fall, the houses on the island are used by many different arts groups. There are all kinds of exhibitions and activities on this small island. You can also just walk around and enjoy the views of the harbor.
Because Govenor’s Island is so close to Manhattan, this is a great option if you have a limited amount of time. All the information you need to plan your day trip is available at the website linked here or above.
- Coney Island and Brighton Beach
Coney Island and Brighton Beach are two of the cities ocean beaches. They are connected to each other by a boardwalk and you can easily walk from one to the other. Both tend to get crowded, especially on weekends. This is because they are easy to access by subway and near areas where a lot of people live. The ocean temperature is cold even during the summer although many people enjoy swimming – or at least running into the water to beat the heat. Brighton Beach is sometimes called “Little Odessa by the Sea” because there are many immigrants from Russia and Ukraine in the area. You will find Russian and Ukrainian restaurants along the boardwalk. If you continue west, you will reach Coney Island. The New York Aquarium is right off the boardwalk between Coney Island and Brighton Beach. There are more places to eat in Coney Island, including the original Nathan’s Hot Dogs. There is also an amusement park (Luna Park) with rides and games.
While you can easily spend a day here, if you get bored and want to move on, it’s easy to get to other Brooklyn attractions and neighborhoods by subway, bike, or even on foot. These include: Sheepshead Bay, Green-Wood Cemetery, Prospect Park, and Park Slope.
Subways: The D, F, N and Q trains all have Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island as their last stop. This is near Luna Park the boardwalk. The F and Q stop at West 8th Street for the Aquarium. The Q also stops at Ocean Parkway. The B stops at Brighton Beach.
- Beacon, New York, Dia Beacon, and Storm King
Beacon is a small city on the Hudson River about 90 minutes north of Manhattan via MetroNorth. You can catch a train to Beacon at Grand Central Station. Beacon has many restaurants and small shops. If you are sitting on the left side of the train, you will be able to enjoy a great view of the Hudson River most of the way.
Dia-Beacon is a museum featuring large and small installations by emerging and established artists. Dia is a short walk from the train station.
If you plan to stay in Beacon for dinner, and/or to want to listen to music, or explore the nightlife, make sure you know the train schedule. Train service stops at around eleven. Click here for a link to Metro North.
Storm King Art Center is located near Beacon. Storm King is a large outdoor sculpture park set on 500 acres in the Hudson Valley. It is easy to spend an entire day at Storm King! You can go directly to Storm King by bus from Manhattan. This includes your admission to Storm King. The trip will take less time than the train although it is not as scenic. Another option to take a taxi or Uber from the train station in Beacon. Taking a taxi or Uber will probably wind up costing more than the bus unless you are sharing the ride with a few other people. However, if you take a taxi or Uber, you’ll be able to return to Beacon whenever you want, and you can have dinner at one of Beacon’s fine restaurants, take an evening stroll in town, and even find a venue with music. (Just make sure you catch the last train back to Manhattan!)
- Hike Bull Hill in Cold Spring, New York
Like Beacon, Cold Spring is on the Metro-North Hudson train line – the one with the great views of the river! It is smaller and quieter than Beacon, but also has some good restaurants and small shops. It is a little bit closer to Manhattan – about an 80 minute train ride away. There are some great hiking trails in or near the town. Bull Hill is the closest trail from town. It is less than a mile walk from the train station. The hike will take about four hours and is considered “moderately strenuous” so make sure to bring snacks and water. There is a description of the hike and how to get to the trail from the train station here.