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Hot Town! Summer In The City

School’s out, and the days are long—sure, it may be hot, but we think there’s no time like summer to get out and take advantage of all the city has to offer. We’ve selected from seasonal classics and new favorites to put together this guide to NYC summer fun. Set on getting away? Check out the Poconos’ flourishing indoor water park scene, or road trip to one of the many summer fairs and festivals happening in New York State and across New England.

[Editor’s Note: For our accompanying story on the water park scene in the Poconos, click here.]

DA3_0285, 5-25-10 Rockaway Beach Opening- DA
Surfers on Rockaway Beach. Photo by Daniel Alvila/NYC Parks

Beachy Keen

Just 40 minutes from Wall Street on the Seastreak Ferry, New Jersey’s Sandy Hook Beach offers great views of the Manhattan skyline, and its 1,665 acres provide ample opportunities to surf, swim, and sunbathe—and perhaps you’ll spy some of the 300-plus species of migratory birds that flock to the peninsula. Located on Fire Island, Robert Moses Beach is cleaner and calmer than most of what you’ll find closer to the city. With five miles of oceanfront and amenities like chair and umbrella rentals, concessions, and an 18-hole golf course for players age 10 and up, it’s a perfect summer day trip. Jones Beach in Wantagh offers 6.5 miles of beautiful white sand, and is a paradise for swimmers of all ages, with a smaller bathing area for little ones and two swimming pools. When you tire of the water, play mini golf on the boardwalk, or check out the Theodore Roosevelt Nature Center, where kids can familiarize themselves with local marine life. It’s about an hour and 15 minutes on the LIRR to Freeport, where buses will pick you up and drop you off at the beach. Or, like the Ramones once sang, you can “hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach”—on the A-train! With seven playgrounds, two skate parks, and NYC’s only legal surfing zone, the kids will be kept busy all day long. If you’re looking for some beach day thrills, head to Luna Park in Coney Island, where the family will have a blast on 29 rides, from the milder “Happy Swing” to the 55 mph Thunderbolt!

[For our complete guide to great local beaches, click HERE.]

Make a Splash

Created for children 12 and under, the Splash Pad at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside is Prospect Park’s largest water area, and features 47 water spray jets covering 16,000 square feet. It’s the perfect way to cool off, whether you’ve been hitting LeFrak’s roller rink, or it’s just another summer scorcher. The rugged little Teardrop Park lies in the heart of Battery Park City, and in addition to water play offers a children’s slide, sandboxes, and an “Ice Fall” art installation. Kids will love “rock-hopping” through the park’s terrain, and the park’s Wednesdays in Teardrop program features fun lawn games and art projects for school-age children. Parents can relax under umbrellas as the kids splash in the fountains at the Chelsea Waterside Play Area, which also boasts award-winning “access for all” equipment, allowing children of many ages and abilities to join in on the fun. Be sure to hit the immersive water feature at Central Park’s Hecksher Playground, where water flows from the highest part of a climber into elevated water channels that are perfect for kids to splash through. Once the stream hits ground level, water jets spray into the air. For younger kids, there’s also a semi-enclosed area with a lower, gentler spray.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle 

Car-free Governor’s Island is considered to be one of the best places to bike with the family in NYC. Families are welcome to bring their own bikes, or rent on the island. During Free Bike Mornings (weekdays from 10am-noon), adults and children’s cruiser bikes are free for an hour. As NYC’s largest public park, Pelham Bay Park boasts five miles of bike paths that skirt the edges of the park’s forest and provide opportunities to see all that the park has to offer, including Turtle Cove—a small inlet along the road to City Island, and a popular feeding spot for birds such as herons and egrets. The West Side’s Hudson River Greenway is the longest bike path in the city—running from Dyckman Street in the north to Battery Park in the south. You’ll pass the Little Red Lighthouse (under the George Washington Bridge), and Grant’s Tomb (at 122nd and Riverside Drive). Ride from Prospect Park to Coney Island on the Ocean Parkway Bike Path, which is tree-lined and removed from car traffic. Completed in 1894, it’s also the country’s oldest bike path!

[For our complete guide to where to bike in NYC, click HERE.]

Hudson River Park May 13, 2012 © Julienne Schaer
Mini Golfing at Pier 25. Photo by Julienne Schaer

Par for the Course 

What’s better than a round of mini golf on the river? Tribeca’s Pier 25 at Hudson River Park is home to a 13,000-square-ft, 18-hole course! Complete with waterfalls, sand traps, and streams, it’s a great place to spend a weekend afternoon with the family. If you want to put a scientific twist on your golf experience, the Rocket Park Mini Golf course at the New York Hall of Science in Corona, Queens, offers children ages 6 and up the opportunity to putt on the nine-hole course while learning the basics about scientific concepts such as gravity, propulsion, and velocity! Tend to get hungry after hitting the links? Red Hook’s Brooklyn Crab has its own eight-hole mini-golf course (as well as shuffleboard and a bean bag toss), and after a round you can feast on blue claw crabs at the restaurant. In addition to its 80-stall range, Randall’s Island Golf Center boasts a 36-hole mini-golf course that features a waterfall, a steam, and even a cave—and you can take a shuttle there directly from the Upper East Side at 3rd Avenue and 72nd, 77th, 86th, and 96th Streets.

[For our complete guide to mini-golfing in NYC, click HERE.]

On the Water

Van Cortlandt Park’s freshwater lake has drawn city fishermen since it was created in the 1690s, and between casts be sure to check out the ducks, swans, and other animals that call the park home. With nearly 200 acres of dunes and grasslands, Queens Breezy Point Tip is known for its summer flounder and blue fish, and is also a haven for rare birds such as the Piping Plover. Central Park’s Harlem Meer is a popular fishing site right in the middle of the city. Species of fish like largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, bluegill sunfish, carp, and chain pickerel can be found in this fresh water aquatic haven, alongside a variety of waterfowl, turtles, and plants. And believe it or not, Battery Park is a great site for saltwater fishing—some fishermen have even caught bass up to 30 lbs (a tip from the locals: use a bunker as bait)! In addition to its golfing facilities, Pier 25 is also home to the Offshore Sailing School, which offers free lessons for up to three tweens and teens (7-17) when you pay two adult tuitions. Central Park’s Loeb Boathouse is a classic spot for enjoying time on the water. Rent a rowboat (which seat four), and pack a picnic basket for lunch on the lake, or, for $30 per hour, charter an authentic Venetian gondola for six. At Pier 96 (and at 72nd Street starting June 6), Manhattan Community Boathouse offers free walk-up kayaking (though paddlers under age 16 must share the boat with an adult) on weekends through mid-October and weeknight evenings through August. They also offer free public classes that cover paddling basics and safety techniques.

Broadway in Bryant Park
Broadway in Bryant Park. Photo by Bryant Park Corporation

Catch a Flick

What’s better than enjoying a movie under the stars? Bring your lawn chairs and picnic baskets to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum’s flight deck to check out some scientific flicks such as “October Sky” and “Wall-E” on Thursdays, July 9-August 6. Hudson River Flicks Family Fridays will take place weekly (July 10-August 12) at Pier 46, showing a variety of kid-friendly classics and more recent releases—and popcorn is provided for free! HBO’s annual summer film fest will take over Bryant Park on Mondays starting with “Ghostbusters” on June 22—but come back at lunchtime on Thursdays starting July 9 for Broadway in Bryant Park, a series of live performances of current on and off-Broadway hits. At Syfy’s Movies With a View in Brooklyn Bridge Park, moviegoers will watch flicks against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline at sunset. The quirky line-up features classics like “Dr. Strangelove,” “High Noon,” and a few newer flicks like the hilariously cheesy “Sharknado 2.”

[For our complete guide to outdoor movies in NYC, click HERE.]

Fairs, Festivals, and Family Fun 

Experience America’s oldest folk life festival at the Kutztown Festival (June 27-July 5), which celebrates Pennsylvania’s Dutch heritage and history. Mom and dad can browse traditional American crafts and folk art while kids enjoy entertainment at the Children’s Farmyard Theater, and quaint diversions like the hay maze and the Hex express—a train fashioned from 55-gallon drums and pulled by a tractor. Enjoy an historic 4th of July weekend at Boston Harborfest, (July 1-5), which celebrates Boston’s rich colonial and maritime history. In addition to the Boston Pops Fireworks spectacular on the 3rd and 4th, take in Revolutionary re-enactments, free concerts, cruises, museum exhibits, and more. Head to northern New Jersey for the Warren County Farmers’ Fair and Balloon Festival (July 25-August 1) to catch the mass hot air balloon launches every evening at 6:30pm after checking out the daily farm events and agricultural exhibits. You can even book your own hot air balloon ride! For a classic county fair, the six-day Dutchess County Fair (August 25-30) in Rhinebeck, NY, is one of New York State’s largest, and features thousands of farm animals, agricultural exhibits, free shows, and even “turn-of-the-century treasures,” like storytellers in period costume and a cider mill.

[For our guide to summer fairs and festivals in NYC, click HERE.]

Explore Nature

Brooklyn Botanical Garden Children's Garden
Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Photo by Caroline Voagen Nelson; Courtesy of Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Check out Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s new Discovery Garden, which opens June 6 and offers children the opportunity to explore plants and the ecosystem through hands-on play and scientific investigation in three local ecosystems—woodland, meadow, and marsh. Renowned as a prime birding spot, the 9,000-acre Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge attracts thousands of land and shore birds who stop there during migration. In the last 25 years, over 325 species have been recorded at the refuge. The wide variety of bird species and the well-positioned benches around the trail at the 45-acre West Pond provide kids and families with a remarkable place for bird watching. Located at the highest point in Wave Hill, its Wild Garden provides dramatic views of the Hudson River far below and a narrow path for exploration. Along the path you’ll find a charming gazebo with a scenic view—a perfect for tired little ones to relax. The beauty of the New York Botanical Garden’s Thain Family Forest is part of the reason the founders selected the Garden’s site back in 1895, and today, it’s the largest uncut expanse of New York’s original wooded landscape. When you visit this thousands-year-old forest, you’ll see marks left by glaciers, walk along Native American hunting trails, and pass trees that have been growing since the Revolutionary War!

[For more places to enjoy nature in NYC, click HERE.]

For even more summer fun, check out:

  • Our complete guide to great local beaches, HERE.
  • Our guide to the best free NYC swimming pools, HERE.
  • Our guide to biking in NYC, HERE.
  • Our guide to outdoor movies in NYC, HERE.
  • Our guide to mini-golfing in NYC, HERE.
  • Our guide to summer fairs and festivals in the city, HERE.
  • Top summer reading picks for parents, HERE.