Green Queens: Astoria Park and Beyond

Heather Liang

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Astoria is traditionally known as New York City's Greek neighborhood, but its diversity extends far beyond that. The area is celebrated for its many delicious global cuisines as well as its art institutions, shopping and cultural destinations. These features make the lively neighborhood a draw (coupled with the fact it's just a 20-minute subway ride from Midtown Manhattan), but Astoria is also an exceptionally good spot to take a break from the bustle of the City—particularly in Astoria Park. This 60-acre green space sits along the East River in the northwest section of Queens, between the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (connecting the borough to Manhattan and the Bronx via Randall's Island, thus its former name: the Triborough Bridge) and Hell Gate Bridge. While the park can be reached by car via the RFK Bridge (Hell Gate provides rail service only), it's also easily accessed by subway. Below we highlight the park's most outstanding features—within and around it.

Near the Subway
The N and Q trains service Astoria Park; get off at Ditmars Boulevard or Astoria Boulevard, walk northwest (along Hoyt Avenue from the Astoria Boulevard stop) and you'll soon hit the park. But several places along each route offer reasons to divert your course. Disembark at Astoria Boulevard, walk slightly south rather than north and you'll reach Titan Foods, a supermarket said to sell more Greek specialties than anywhere else in the country. (Visitors stop here by the busload, so be ready for crowds.) Continue on that same path along 31st Street and you'll come across Rosario's Deli, an Italian grocery that's great for grabbing a scrumptious sandwich for your trip to the park; it also happens to serve a killer slice of pizza. For food and drink with more atmosphere, head north of Astoria Boulevard to the Sparrow Tavern, which houses a full bar and an eclectic menu.

If you choose Ditmars Boulevard as your subway stop, you won't be disappointed. Walk southeast once you emerge above ground and you'll run into Sal, Kris & Charlie's Deli, home to some of the largest and most affordable sandwiches you'll find in the City—a perfect pit stop on your way to the park. Just outside of the Ditmars stop is Astoria Bier & Cheese. In addition to the obvious, it dishes up a selection of charcuterie and sandwiches. Save room for dessert? You'll hope you did when you walk past Artopolis, specializing in Greek pastries like baklava, kataifi and deep-fried honey delights. Closer to the park along Ditmars Boulevard is Bowery Bay, a gastropub serving a concise menu of American fare and an impressive variety of drinks. Just down the street is Astoria Beer & Brew. Pop in for any number of reasons: to drink a beer, hear live music, attend a tasting, take a brewing class or shop for home-brewing items. Just outside the park, Agnanti has sidewalk seating, a picturesque setting and fresh and tasty Greek fare. It's the last place you'll hit before entering the park off Ditmars Boulevard.

Having trouble deciding whether to get off the subway at Astoria or Ditmars? We understand. There's good news for the uncommitted: Elias Corner—with fish so fresh they're practically still flopping in the front-of-room refrigerated display—and the authentically Czech Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden are fairly equidistant between the two. More good news: the walk between the Astoria and Ditmars subway stops is roughly 10 minutes, making it convenient to hit up all of the spots we've recommended, if you have the time.

Inside the Park
Once inside Astoria Park, you'll find many of the outdoor pleasures that a conventional New York City park offers—tennis courts, playgrounds, basketball courts, athletic fields, walking trails, a dog run and the like. Setting this park apart from others, however, is the view of the East River and the Upper Manhattan skyline. It's worthwhile to pick up a picnic lunch at one of the establishments mentioned above and plan to relax along the park's waterfront while enjoying the boats floating by. Astoria Park boasts its own green space similar to Central Park's Great Lawn. The large expanse, between the park's pool and Hell Gate Bridge, is an ideal spot to unwind, sunbathe or simply appreciate the stunning vistas.

If you're looking for a bit more activity, take advantage of the all-weather running track, which offers great views of the RFK Bridge just above it, and the fitness stations and equipment surrounding it. The park also features a newly renovated skate park, which is a fun place to watch talented boarders hone their skills under the bridge. Another of Astoria Park's claims to fame is its pool, the City's largest—so massive it meets Olympic standards (indeed, its disused adjacent diving pool, which is meant to be converted to an amphitheater, hosted US Olympic trials on multiple occasions). Kids will enjoy an afternoon at the cheerfully colored Charybdis Playground in the northern section of the park, named for the sea monster from Greek mythology.

What's Happening
Astoria Park's events begin in spring with some low-key happenings like an Easter egg hunt for children and the Astoria Civic Association Bike Race (also for kids), held in late May or early June. In the summer, the pace picks up with the Astoria Park Festival—a four-day extravaganza in June that includes games, rides, food and tons of entertainment for families; the July 4 Independence Celebration, complete with fireworks; the Waterfront Concert Series; Movies on the Waterfront (this summer's lineup includes Ghostbusters, The Princess Bride and Frozen); and Shore Fest in September, when Shore Boulevard becomes vehicle-free and filled with fun for the whole family. Best of all, these events are free of charge. More information can be found at astoriaparkalliance.com and centralastoria.org.

Take a Walk
The neighborhood surrounding the park offers more than good eating; it's got a few of the City's most spectacular cultural sites. If you're game for a bit of a walk from the park, it will be worth your while to make a visit to one or all of them. Roughly 20 minutes south sits lovely Socrates Sculpture Park, an open-air exhibition spot for artists as well a small green space in its own right. On your walk there, be sure to stop at the Astor Bake Shop for breakfast pastries, sweet treats or savory concoctions courtesy of chef George McKirdy (formerly of Tribeca Grill). Steps away from Socrates, the Noguchi Museum features the stunning sculptural works of artist Isamu Noguchi, which were created from a variety of materials. The museum's sculpture garden is undergoing renovations and should reopen this summer, but the museum itself remains open. The Museum of the Moving Image is farther out and better accessed by car or subway (take the M or R to Steinway Street, or the N or Q to 36th Avenue). It's dedicated to the social impact of film, television and digital media—the only museum of its kind in the country.

Good to Know
Astoria Park is open year-round from 6am to 1am, but some of its features (such as the pool and tennis courts) are seasonal. Check nycgovparks.org for more information. If you'd like to play tennis on the park's courts, you'll need a permit. As with all of the City's public parks, there are restrooms and drinking fountains scattered throughout for public use. Driving to the area? Street parking is available surrounding Astoria Park, but pay attention to signs for metered parking and alternate-side rules.

For more on Astoria, see our guide to the neighborhood's highlights
 


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