GTFO: Top Ten Outdoor Activities in NYC

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Even as New York moves further and further in the direction of the old normal, the best place to be is still outside. Summer in the time of COVID has honestly been better than I expected, but thinking about it now, I’m not too surprised that post-pandemic NYC has risen to the occasion. Streetfront dining and backyard garden seating are amazing (and consistently covered in flowers). Rooftop bars aren’t generally my thing, but I’ve learned to embrace them. Plus fireworks in Coney Island, picnics in the park…I could write a whole long list of things I love about summer in the City, but here are my top recommendations as to what to do outdoors in NYC right now.

Governors Island: I spent the afternoon here just last weekend (full post)—Governors Island is small, but there’s plenty to do and view. It’s only 800 yards from Manhattan and has some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline in the entire city. There are also a few great restaurants and food trucks, the longest slide in NYC (three stories high), bike rentals (including adult sized big-wheel tricycles and family sized rickshaws), and lots of green space. It’s a great place to unwind, and especially great for kids.

Coney Island: I lived a stone’s throw from Coney Island for a couple years in the significantly less fun, and creepier, neighborhood of Brighton Beach. Weird times. My feelings towards the other end of the Riegelmann boardwalk run a lot warmer. It’s an absolutely classic and photogenic NYC location. Oceanfront eats abound, the beach is really nice, and Coney Island Brewery is open. Luna Park, pretty objectively the main attraction and home of the Cyclone, is currently closed. But there’s plenty else to do, and great gift shops. It’s far enough from Manhattan to feel like a day trip from the City. Also, the Warriors are from here. For those unfamiliar with The Warriors, it’s one of the worst movies ever made and involves gang members dressed in what look like jazz dance costumes failing to navigate New York after living there their entire lives, due to their lack of familiarity with the MTA. In sum. So watch The Warriors if you like horrible shit, then take the Q (or N, or D, or F) to the end of the line. And eat at the original Nathan’s Hot Dogs while you’re there.

New York Botanical Garden: What it sounds like—flowers, flowers, and more flowers. It’s calming, and kind of transports you away from New York. It’s in the Bronx, but there’s another one in Park Slope that I’ve never been to but assume is also lovely. The one in the Bronx is $18 admission for adults, $12 for students.

Farmers Markets: There are several around the City, but I always go to the Union Square Greenmarket. There’s obviously a ton of produce, in addition to great flowers and a bunch of other cool stuff (honey, homemade sauces…that kind of thing).

Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge: It’s good exercise, especially in the heat. Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot is one of those things that never fails to make me grateful for this town. In addition to the incredible views of the City, it drops you right in Dumbo, which is one of my favorite neighborhoods in NYC. More great waterfront views, tons of great nightlife and shopping. I like to start with lunch in South Street Seaport, then walk into Brooklyn and spend the afternoon in Dumbo. Make sure to stick around for sunset over the East River. Check out my neighborhood guide for tips on what to do once you get to Brooklyn.

South Street Seaport: Onto one of my other go-to spots in Manhattan, in close proximity to the Brooklyn Bridge, Tribeca, and Battery Park. It feels like an old seaport (because it is), and reminds me a lot of Pike Place in Seattle. It’s a big open shopping plaza with a great grassy seating area by the water. Ample picnic space with a view of some old schooners.

The Parks: There are so many amazing parks in New York. Obviously Central Park and Washington Square are classics and not to be missed, but I really love Tompkins Square. It’s quieter, and quintessentially East Village. Also positively magical towards the end of the day.

Roosevelt Island: Another beautiful little island just off Manhattan. Accessible via the F train or the tram from Yorkville, suspended high over the river. I think the tram is overrated and a pain. But Roosevelt Island is a great place to walk along the water, and has a gorgeous park at the southern end which currently has a beautiful installation commemorating the hundredth anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. FDR Four Freedoms Park currently has a huge sunflower printed, incredibly Instagrammable staircase emblazoned with the nineteenth amendment. On the other end of the island is the Manhattan Park Pool Club, which currently has their pool painted rainbow. Gorgeous, albeit not as vibrant as it is in official photos. I usually like to take my own pictures but here’s a good one from Curbed, because there were a bunch of obnoxious children preventing me from getting a good shot when I was there. It’s $40 for the day, but they’re open late and the price isn’t bad for a pool club in the City. Side note—Roosevelt Island has its fair share of creepy stuff. There’s an old smallpox hospital and an apartment complex that used to be an insane asylum. I actually considered living there, but given the suspiciously low price I thought the place might be haunted.

Met Rooftop: Just opening back up. One of the only rooftops I really like—amazing views (lot of amazing views in this post, and in the City). Food and drinks are great if not super well-priced, and as of August 29th, the museum is (or will be) back in action. The rooftop is the safest option, and now features an exhibit from Héctor Zamora. Top of my list for this weekend.

Rooftop at the Met

Outdoor Movies: Several locations are now hosting social distanced movie screenings outside, picnic style or drive-in. Have not been yet this year. My (very) few close friends are all out of the City at the moment and I don’t have the confidence to go alone. But based on past experience with Bryant Park summer screenings, this is definitely worth doing and probably great for a first (or second, or hundredth) date. Check out Syndicated in Bushwick, and the Skyline Drive-In in Williamsburg.

Bottom line—staying outside is not a huge problem this time of year if you can handle a little heat. I’ve spent a lot of time waterfront lately, and the wind off the waves helps. Sweat it out in the City. Look forward to Fall, which is by far my favorite season in New York. Most of the above activities are year-round or at least continue well into October.