May 23, 2012

The Great (Local) Outdoors


The Best Of Beaches, Camping, Nature And Water—In And Out Of NYC

By Jennifer Lehner


 

You and the kids may be dyed-in-the-wool
urbanites—but come summer, that doesn’t mean that you don’t crave cooling ocean
breezes and sand between your toes, yearn for the chance to break out
binoculars (you just have to find them first) and gaze up at the stars, and
desperately want to set up a tent somewhere other than your coop’s living room.
Here’s how you can get out of your walk-up and into the NYC “wilderness” as
soon as the weather warms.


BEACHES

BEACH MOST LIKELY TO
INSPIRE A RAMONES SONG

Rockaway Beach | Queens

It’s not hard, not too
far to reach
” crooned the Ramones in their 1977 song about this urban
coastline which stretches for miles along the Rockaway Peninsula. Near 103rd
Street, there is a wider swath of beach for the taking and past 73rd Street,
the packed sand gives way to a quieter, dune-studded conservation area (with
seven playgrounds and the city’s only surfing zone sprinkled in-between). Don’t
miss July’s 17th Annual Sandcastle Contest for creative kid-builders.
nycgovparks.org

BEACH BOARDWALK WITH A
RETRO FEEL

Point Pleasant Beach | New
Jersey

On this slice of the Jersey shore,
you’ll find a mile-long boardwalk (dubbed Jenkinson’s) with an old-timey, but
not-too-cheesy, vibe. Buff lifeguards cruise the beach on those groovy dune
buggies, candy apples practically sell themselves and mini golfers roam free.
jenkinsons.com

KITSCHIEST BEACH &
BOARDWALK

Coney Island | Brooklyn

Embrace this end-of-the-line (subway,
that is) beauty in all of its in-your-face glory. Ride the historic, wooden
Cyclone coaster or catch a Brooklyn Cyclones baseball game at MCU Park. Or
start off summer with a splash by donning appropriate Ariel attire and marching
in the Annual Mermaid Parade on Saturday, June 23 at 2pm. You could also just
people watch while enjoying a hot dog and crinkle-cut fries at the original
Surf Avenue location of Nathan’s Famous.
coneyislandfunguide.com

IF KITSCHY IS NOT YOUR
THING

Manhattan Beach Park |
Brooklyn

Originally built as an
exclusive resort for wealthy bathers, Manhattan Beach features barbecuing
areas, basketball, handball, volleyball and tennis courts, baseball diamonds
and playgrounds. It also proves to be a calmer and quieter alternative to its
Coney Island neighbor. In June, kids will delight in watching all of the
horseshoe crabs emerge from the Atlantic Ocean as they lay their eggs on the
beach.
nycgovparks.org

SHELLIEST BEACH

Sandy Hook | New Jersey

A mere 40-minute ride from
NYC on the SeaStreak Ferry, this 1,665-acre barrier peninsula offers views of
the Manhattan skyline, free tours of its lighthouse—the oldest operating one in
the country—and miles of sandy shores perfect for beachcombing. s
andy-hook.com

BIGGEST WAVES

Long Beach Park | Nassau
County

Get your surf groove on at this
five-mile stretch of sandy white beach, the westernmost of the outer barrier
islands off of Long Island’s south shore. An hour’s ride on the LIRR, Long
Beach boasts some of the most killer waves around. Sign up interested
youngsters (ages five and up) for lessons at Skudin Surf.
longbeachny.org

MOST SWIMMING OPTIONS

Jones Beach | Wantagh

This world-class swimming hub boasts 6.5
miles of ocean beach, a gentler bathing area ideal for little ones and two
swimming pools. When you tire of the backstroke, head to the boardwalk for a
round of miniature golf or visit the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center. It’s an
hour and fifteen minutes via the LIRR to Freeport, where buses pick you up and drop
you off right at the beach.
nysparks.com

WORTH THE TREK

Robert Moses Beach | Fire
Island

While it lacks in proximity, it makes up
for it in spades by being calmer, cleaner and less crowded than its more
conveniently located counterparts. Offering five miles of beautiful ocean
beaches, as well as amenities like chair and umbrella rentals, concessions and
restrooms with showers, Robert Moses Beach is the perfect summer daytrip
destination. (Though, that easternmost stretch called Lighthouse Beach is
clothing-optional.)
nysparks.com


CAMPING

COOLEST CAMPING FOR
KIDS

Urban Park Rangers |
nycgovparks.org

Fridays and Saturdays in July and
August, families can join the Urban Park Rangers for an overnight camping
experience in New York City. The night includes a cookout and other evening
activities like stargazing, nocturnal walks, orienteering, nature crafts,
campfires, fishing and bird-watching. The program is free, but registration is
required and campers are chosen by a lottery system. Participating locations
include:

oVan Cortlandt Park | Bronx

oMarine Park | Brooklyn

oCentral Park | Manhattan

oAlley Pond Park | Queens

oHigh Rock Park | Staten Island

MOST MAGICAL STARGAZING

The City That Never Sleeps is not the
ideal venue for aspiring astronomers, but there are still a couple of places
that offer the least light pollution—perfect for spotting shooting stars.

oFloyd Bennett Field | Gateway National
Recreation Center | Brooklyn

nps.gov/gate

oGreat Kills Park | Staten Island

 


 

BEST PLACE TO SNOOZE
WITH ANIMALS

Family Overnight Safari |
Bronx Zoo

This popular family event books up early
and features a picnic dinner, hands-on animal experiences, scavenger hunts, games,
sing-alongs, guided walks and a sea lion wake-up call.
wcs.org


NATURE

BEST FOR BIRD-WATCHING

Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge | Gateway National
Recreation Area | Queens

 

Look for long-legged waders like egrets,
herons and ibises; shorebirds like sandpipers and plovers; and a variety of
songbirds such as olive-sided flycatchers and blue grosbeaks at this bird
sanctuary—one of the largest in the northeastern United States.
nyharborparks.org

MOST MAGNIFICENT TREE

Magnolia Tree Earth Center |
Brooklyn

The 40-foot Magnolia grandiflora at this
nature center was declared a living landmark in 1970 and is an excellent way to
teach your kids about the importance of trees (and sadly, their rarity) in
urban landscapes.
nycgovparks.org

PERFECT RAINY DAY
ACTIVITY IN CENTRAL PARK

Charles A. Dana Discovery
Center
| Central Park | Manhattan

The kids had their heart set on
exploring Central Park, but it’s raining cats and dogs. Now what? Dash between
the raindrops to the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center for a perfect (not to
mention, dry) view of the 11-acre Harlem Meer and learn all about the wildlife
found there, including great egrets, cormorants and bullfrogs.
centralparknyc.org

BEST NATURE CENTER IN
DISGUISE

The Henry Luce Nature
Observatory at Belvedere Castle
| Central Park | Manhattan

From this vantage point, you can view
migrating hawks and monarch butterflies, turtles sunning themselves on pond rocks
and birds flitting about the Ramble. Plus, there’s plenty to see inside the
Woodlands and Water Discovery Room.
centralparknyc.org

OLDIE BUT A GOODIE

Alley Pond Environmental
Center
| Alley Pond Park | Queens

Tucked inside the 635-acre Alley Pond
Park, this nature center—which opened in the ’70s— was one of the city’s first
of its kind. Its Animal Room lets kids get up close and personal with the likes
of Bernie the Corn Snake, Loke the Prairie Dog and Henry the Ring-Necked Dove. It
boasts a myriad of family programs including nature walks on the Alley Pond
Nature Trail, nature photography classes, animal care training and stargazing
workshops.
alleypond.com

GREAT FOR BAT-WATCHING

Bats abound in the city, but during the
day they stay tucked away, hanging upside down and hiding from predators. The
best time to see them is in the summertime at dusk, especially on humid
evenings. Here’s where to go to catch a glimpse of these furry, flying
creatures:

oThe
Gerritsen Creek Nature Trail | Marine Park | Brooklyn 

 


 

oThe
Great Hill | Central Park | Manhattan 

 


 

oJamaica
Bay Wildlife Refuge | Gateway National Recreational Area | Queens 

nps.gov/gate

oSpring
Pond | Blue Heron Park | Staten Island 

 


 

THE BEST OF BOTANICAL
GARDENS

New York Botanical Garden |
Bronx

Oh, the many reasons to visit this
massive, gorgeous garden this summer: the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, the
country’s largest Victorian glasshouse; the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden
featuring a boulder maze, hedge maze, a natural wetland and Discovery Center;
and the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden—where kids can dig, plant and grow in one
of the many hands-on gardening activities on offer.
nybg.org

Brooklyn Botanic Garden |
Brooklyn

This oasis is home to the country’s
longest operating Children’s Garden (it opened in 1914) and its 52 acres are
the perfect size to explore with young ones. Go in June when the Cranford Rose
Garden’s blooms are at their most magnificent.
bbg.org

Queens Botanical Garden |
Queens

The Bee Garden houses plants and trees
that attract bees or flavor honey—if nothing else, it provides an ample
opportunity to have that proverbial talk with your kids (wink, nudge). The
shady Woodland Garden, with its woodchip-covered walking trails and streams,
will make the whole fam forget that you’re actually smack dab in the middle of
Flushing.
queensbotanical.org

Snug Harbor Cultural Center
and Botanical Garden
| Staten Island

Children will love the Connie Gretz
Secret Garden, a charming space inspired by the 1911 children’s classic of the
same name featuring a turreted castle and a hedge maze leading to its very own
secret, brick-walled garden of dogwoods, roses, and other blooming trees and
flowers.
snug-harbor.org

MOST ECLECTIC COMMUNITY
GARDEN

Liz Christy Garden | Lower
East Side | Manhattan

Located on the northeast corner of
Bowery and Houston Streets, the city’s oldest community garden houses: a pond
home to fish and red-eared slider turtles, a wildflower habitat, wooden
furniture perfect for afternoon storytime, a grape arbor, a grove of weeping
birch trees, fruit trees, a dawn redwood, vegetable gardens, berries, herbs and
hundreds of flowers. After racking up 20 hours volunteering, your family is
granted a key.
lizchristygarden.us

MOST SCENIC BIKING

Here’s a sampling of some of the most
family-friendly biking opportunities in all five boroughs. Don’t forget your
helmets!
nycbikemaps.com

Pelham Bay Park and Orchard
Beach | Bronx

A moderate 6.25-mile round trip that takes
you through a mix of woodlands, beaches, bays, saltwater marshes and meadows.

Owl’s Head Park to the
Verrazano-Narrows Bridge | Brooklyn

An easy 4.5-mile round trip that offers
stellar ocean views and cooling breezes on even the hottest days.

79th Street to the Little Red Lighthouse | Manhattan

 

A moderate 10-mile round trip that
parallels the Hudson River and takes you to the lighthouse immortalized in the
1942 children’s classic,
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray
Bridge.

Alley Pond Park to Fort Totten and Little Bay Park |
Queens

 

A simple, scenic 6.5-mile round trip
that takes you around Fort Totten, a Civil War fortress.

Silver Lake Park | Staten
Island

An easy 1.3-mile loop that offers views
of Silver Lake’s ducks, gulls and cormorants.

NEW & NEAT
NATURE-MINDED EXHIBIT

Field Station: Dinosaurs |
Laurel Hill Park | Secaucus, New Jersey

Just opening to the public, and the only
permanent exhibition of its kind,
Field Station: Dinosaurs boasts over
30 life-sized animatronic dinos set against the backdrop of the New Jersey
Meadowlands (less than ten minutes from NYC) and lying at the base of a
150-million-year-old rock formation. Puppet and game shows, plus an archaeology
site where kids can dig for reproduced fossils, are sure to please.
fieldstationdinosaurs.com


For more family adventures, see The Great (Local) Outdoors: Part II.

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