There are few things I love as much as summertime in New York (fall in NYC being one of them). There’s an incredible energy to the City in the warmer months, unmatched by anywhere else I’ve been. It’s romantic, wild, and at times almost euphoric. It’s also hot and smelly and crowded, but you take the good with the bad. With only a month left, I’m making it my goal to hit up a bunch of my favorite summer hotspots, and a few new ones too. Here are my top picks for a fabulous finale to summer 2021—
Governors Island: Governors Island is basically a huge suburban park with a perfect view of Manhattan. You wouldn’t know you were in the City…except for the fact that you can see it only a few hundred meters across the water. There’s a massive slide, bike and go-cart rentals, multiple unique playgrounds, a bee sanctuary, a lavender field (fragrant and photogenic), rentable grills, and glamping, among other attractions. I’ve done a post on Governors Island with more in detail suggestions on what to do. There are also two great restaurants and several food trucks, so you really can spend a long day on the island and eat like you’re vacationing in Montauk (Island Oyster rocks 🦪 🤘🏻). Governors Island is a great place to go with kids, and the ferry ride from downtown Manhattan in itself is something of an attraction—views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty are simply the best you’ll find in New York.
Coney Island / Brighton Beach: Ah, my old creepy, intensely Russian home. I have so many feelings on Brooklyn’s deep south (as seen in this rambly post), and while not all of them are good, Coney Island is an amazing and iconic place to spend a summer day. Luna Park is the main amusement park in Coney, home to the Cyclone and the creepiest mascot in history. The park is pretty big considering it’s in Brooklyn, with plenty of rides to keep you busy most of a day. I highly recommend buying your wristbands (which allow you unlimited rides) online to avoid waiting at the park. You’ll already be spending plenty of time in line for rides and food if you decide to eat on the pier, which you should. Beach food on the Riegelmann Boardwalk is part of the Coney Island experience, and my favorite place to eat there is Ruby’s. They serve traditional boardwalk classics like fries and cheeseburgers, to the tune of classic dad rock some drunk sixty-year-old put on the jukebox. It’s cheap, as high-quality as you’ll get for the price, and an absolute Coney Island classic. Ruby’s serves Coney Island beer, but you might also consider paying a visit to Coney Island Brewery a bit further down the pier. If you’re mostly looking to spend a day at the beach, I would advise going to nearby Brighton Beach instead of Coney Island. It’s less crowded and cleaner, and the people there are more interesting (“interesting” could potentially mean “scantily clad elderly”).
Shakespeare in the Park: One of my favorite (and one of the most iconic) New York summer attractions is the renowned Shakespeare in the Park outdoor theater program. Every summer, one or more Shakespearen plays is brought to life at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, and admission is 100% free. This year’s play is an adaptation of the comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor by Jocelyn Bioh, set in Harlem, following a community of West African immigrants. It runs until September 18th, so there’s plenty of time to go. The catch is that actually getting a ticket can be quite hard. Usually, you wait in line the day of the performance at one of several distribution centers. Because of the pandemic, there is currently an online lottery being used for ticket distribution, so as far as I can tell it’s a matter of luck.
JFK Roll-A-Rama at the TWA hotel: I’ve yet to hit this one, but I’m planning on it this weekend. Roll-A-Rama at JFK airport is a new (and incredibly Insta-friendly) retro style outdoor roller rink themed to perfection. Rink-side, an old airplane has been converted to a cocktail lounge, and throwback songs set the 60s mod mood. It’s a pretty good deal too—the $20 price of admission includes skates. Note that they’re only open on weekends.
Seafood of the City: Being on the water and in close proximity to New England (and just being New York City), NYC has some of the best seafood in the world. As is the case with everything in the City of Cities, the number of choices can be overwhelming. Lure Fish Bar in Soho would be my top recommendation for more upscale seafood, followed by The Mermaid Inn on the UWS (a little more casual). Luke’s Lobster Bar is a great lunch option with multiple locations, laid-back if somewhat expensive. The Crabby Shack in Crowne Heights is also amazing, and well-priced. They put crab in everything from grilled cheese to tacos, and it always works perfectly.
NYC Pools: If you’re looking to swim in some degree of seclusion, there are few options in the City that aren’t ridiculously expensive. The closest you’ll come to an affordable private swim is a day pass to the Roosevelt Island Rainbow Pool, which is priced at $50. In addition to being a relatively quiet, secluded swimming spot, the Rainbow Pool is an annual art installation of sorts. Every summer, the pool and pool area are painted with bright, multicolored designs perfect for pictures. Another more all-inclusive albeit pricey option is The Profundo Day Club at the Ravel Hotel in Long Island City. A day pass costs $75, and it’s adults only, offers cocktails and food, and has a great view.
Washington Square Park: WSP in the summer is truly a singular experience. Washington Square in general is pretty unique, and often wild. It’s also basically NYU’s quad, so I have a nostalgic attachment to it and low-key wanna cry every time I go there. And side note, there are a huge number of bodies buried underneath the park. But all that aside, it’s a beautiful place for a picnic, and has a huge fountain you’re allowed to swim in (I don’t know if you’re technically allowed, but literally everyone does). WSP is also home to an incredibly varied group of vendors, performers, and other weirdos looking to interact with you in a semi-professional context. Now that marijuana has been legalized in New York, there are also frequently things like “weed slushies” for sale. When I was there last week, there was a group collecting strangers’ stories to incorporate into a project of some sort, which I thought was pretty cool. That’s how Washington Square is—there’s always something new to be found. It’s like the bohemian heyday of Greenwich Village brought back to life.
Pixar Mini-Golf in Battery Park: This is a new one, which I haven’t been to yet but reallly want to try—Pixar themed mini-golf at the southern tip of Manhattan, right by the water. At $40 a ticket, it’s not cheap, but I think it’s worth the price as a one time thing. It’s only here through October. Open every day from 10 to 8, with special adults only hours on weekend nights. Aside from being a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon, Pixar Putt is very photogenic, and a nice throwback when you’re feeling in the mood for some nostalgia.
Restaurant Week: It’s really more of a restaurant month, which runs until August 22nd. Each year, hundreds of restaurants across the City participate in the event, which offers meals from New York’s best restaurants for far below normal price. It varies based on the place what meals are available and what’s included, but the prices are $21 a person for lunch, and $39 for dinner. Considering a lot of these places are upscale New York hotspots, this is an extremely good deal. To give you an idea, dinner at many of these places would usually cost $75 or $100 dollars per person, sometimes more—so Restaurant Week is a must-do if you’re in the City this summer. Reservations can be made on the event’s website.
Waterside Parks: As wonderful as Central Park and Washington Square may be, there’s something nice about being by the water on a summer day. Luckily, plenty of New York’s parks are near or even surrounded by water. Little Island NYC is a gorgeous manmade island in Hudson River Park. Aside from the beauty of the place (it looks like something out of a Doctor Seuss book), there’s a huge playground, an amphitheater, and various vendors. Little Island seems to be going for a “self-contained universe” thing, because they basically do it all. There’s also a variety of programming and events held on the island, most of them kid-friendly. Reservations are required after noon, but there’s no time limit to how long you can stay. Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park is another great waterside park with a massive water playground, two story slide, giant sandbox, and flower field. You can also catch the ferry to Governors Island from Pier 6.
Summer Streets: This Saturday morning and afternoon (August 14th), almost seven miles of New York’s streets will be car free, making way for one of the City’s biggest annual events. I’ll call it a street fair because I don’t know what else to call it, but Summer Streets is different from most events of its kind because its focus is less on food or shopping and more on movement-based activities. Summer Streets is especially great for kids, with four attraction-filled “rest stops” throughout Manhattan. There’s too much to describe it all in detail here, but highlights include a parkour park, kids’ fitness classes, art workshops, and walking tours on various areas of New York history.
Outdoor Markets: There are so many fabulous farmers markets and food fairs in the City, it’s difficult to choose just a few…but I’m confident in my choices amongst the boroughs, because I’m kind of obsessed with all three of these: check out Smorgasburg in Williamsburg, the Queens Night Market in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (it runs from six to midnight every Saturday), and the Union Square Greenmarket (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in Union Square). Smorgasburg is best for trendy small bites and drinks, Queens Night Market has wonderfully authentic ethnic food, and the USG is primarily a farmers market. All three are constantly changing, and a great way to spend the day (or night) eating for a relatively low price.
Skyline Drive-In: This drive-in theater in Williamsburg does a wonderful job walking the line between classic retro and Williamsburg cool…and $55 entrance fee notwithstanding, a great job in general. Honestly, it sounds like a lot, but it’s per car, and you’re allowed to squeeze up to seven people in there. I personally do not have seven friends, or a car, so luckily they do also offer outdoor seating at $20 a person. Radio service is good, the bathrooms are nice, and the view of the Manhattan skyline is INSANE. The concession stand is also great, and it’s kosher (🙌🏻). I used to keep kosher and can confirm after many bouts of Jewish munchies that kosher fast food style American is usually most definitely not great. Rocky Horror Picture Show is playing Saturday August 21st, and since my cats are named after characters from the movie and I love this place, I’ll be there with bells on even though the Rocky Horror theater experience annoys me (due to the enthusiasm and group participation). Everything becomes less irritating when you’re watching the sunset over Manhattan with a slice of not-shitty kosher pizza in hand.
Feast of San Gennaro: Lastly, one of my favorite New York food events, which I tend to see as the official end to summer in New York. Held annually in Little Italy in honor of San Gennaro of Naples, the Feast of San Gennaro is essentially a great excuse to eat a huge amount of carby Italian food. This year’s festival runs from September 16th-26th, and in the age of extensive outdoor dining, I’m expecting the setup to be even more beautiful and *European* than usual. There are canoli, pizza, and meatball eating contests, among a variety of other events marking the Feast of Sam Gennaro. And, of course, a lot of delicious food and good deals.