Summer Harbor Guide
by Michael Hsu and Mallory Passuite, 05/29/2013
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New York City may be renowned for its inland attractions, but the stunning breadth and grandeur of its surrounding waterways should also not be missed—especially during the warmer months of summer. The easy accessibility and gentle, steady winds of New York Harbor (which first made the City a center of shipping commerce) create the ideal conditions for city-dwelling seafarers and landlubbers alike to connect with the open water.
In addition to providing breathtaking views, the City's miles of public shoreline also offer spots to bike, kayak, sail and, of course, sunbathe. We've put together daylong itineraries that string together some of the City's best waterfront attractions, from the historical to the recently unveiled. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, you'll find plenty to discover—and return to—all season long.
Day One: West Side
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Your day starts bright and early at Castle Clinton, a departure point for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This circular sandstone fortress, built in 1812 as a defense against British invasion, has since been used as an opera house, an immigration station and the home of the New York City Aquarium. Today, it's a gateway for the nearly 4 million visitors to Liberty and Ellis Islands each year. (Although the Statue of Liberty is open to visitors, the American Family History Center at Ellis Island remains temporarily closed. Book tickets to see the Statue online in advance of your trip at statuecruises.com.)
Summertime crowds and heightened security measures can mean wait times of several hours, so depart early, when crowds are thin; the security screening now takes place at the promenade in Battery Park, before passengers board the ferry. To further reduce your wait time, purchase your ferry tickets from Statue Cruises in advance.
Renovations to the Statue of Liberty's interior were completed in October 2012, and visitors (including those with disabilities) can now gain access to the statue's crown. If you want to peer from this iconic lookout, it's crucial to reserve your tickets early through Statue Cruises, as only 365 tickets are allotted for visitors each day. A larger number of reservations are available for access to the monument's pedestal, which also provides a beautiful vantage point on the harbor.
Even if you don't feel like exploring the scenery from the monument itself, the grounds of Liberty Island are a striking setting for viewing the statue, the ocean and the City. And if your heart's not devoted to stepping foot on the island, another magnificent way of seeing the statue is by booking a cruise with Manhattan by Sail on the Shearwater or Clipper City schooners. Unlike the motorized tour boats, these massive sailboats make a smooth, relaxing journey around Ellis and Liberty Islands, offering sweeping views of the statue and the Manhattan skyline. Schooners depart every day from South Street Seaport.
Picnic in Battery Park
However you choose to experience the Statue of Liberty, head to Battery Park once you get back to Manhattan. Its top-notch people-watching and river views make it the ideal picnic spot. Pick A Bagel, near the south end of the park, is a reasonably priced New York mainstay that has everything you'll need for an alfresco meal, from cold-cut sandwiches to fruit salad to lemonade. Just across Vesey Street, in the World Financial Center, Financier Patisserie has a selection of panini, soups and quiches to go with its quality pastries and coffee. Nearby, next to the North Cove Marina, a rotating coterie of food trucks offer everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to Colombian food; check the official site for the schedule. If you're looking for a sit-down meal on the water, P.J. Clarke's, also just steps from the North Cove Marina, serves classic pub food in its outdoor seating area.
You may want to stick around after eating to check out free events at the Winter Garden, or elsewhere in Lower Manhattan. Visit our calendar for ideas.
Stroll or Bike Up Hudson River Park
Next, walk up Hudson River Park, which stretches five miles along the Hudson River, from Battery Park to 59th Street. Or if you want a more vigorous expedition, you can rent a bicycle at Bike and Roll's Battery Park location (at the intersection of State and Water Streets), allowing you to get some exercise while covering more territory and sights. Along your journey north, you'll come across a bevy of outdoor activities, from the sedate (sunbathing) to the adventurous (trapeze lesson, anyone?).
There's free kayaking every weekend at Pier 40 (located near Houston Street), courtesy of the volunteer-run Downtown Boathouse. (Pack a change of clothes or a bathing suit; locker rooms are available.) If you prefer to kick back and catch some rays (or watch people catching rays), Pier 45, near Christopher Street, is one of the City's more bustling sunbathing locales. Those with children in tow will want to stop by Chelsea Waterside Park, at 23rd Street. It has a state-of-the-art playground and sprinklers for visitors of all ages to cool off under.
Set Sail at Dusk
As the sun starts setting, wander up Hudson River Park to Chelsea Piers, near 22nd Street (about a 45-minute walk from Battery Park), to hop on one of Classic Harbor Line's pilot schooners. Their two-hour sunset excursions—which feature complimentary champagne, wine, beer and soda—loop around the southern tip of the island, past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, returning back to Chelsea Piers by dark.
Day Two: East River Ferry
The East River Ferry provides a refreshing addition to public transportation in the City (and breathtaking skyline views), with regular service to seven locations across three boroughs. On weekdays, 149-passenger vessels depart every 20 minutes (am and pm peak hours), every hour (during the midday and early afternoon) and every half hour (during evenings). Northbound vessels depart from the Wall Street/Pier 11 terminal between 6:40am and 7:50pm. Southbound vessels depart from the East 34th Street terminal between 6:49am and 8:20pm. On summer weekends, larger vessels, capable of carrying up to 399 passengers, depart every 45 minutes from the Wall Street/Pier 11 terminal northbound between 9:35am and 7:50pm. Southbound vessels depart from the East 34th Street terminal between 9:47am and 8:47pm. On summer weekends, when Governors Island is open, it is added as a destination that can be accessed from any of the regular stops along the ferry route. While the ferry jaunt alone is worth the ride, each stop offers loads to see and do. Read on for ideas to customize your own ferry tour.
Start your morning at Pier 11, at the foot of Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, where you can pick up an unlimited East River Ferry day pass for $12 and hop on board. Savor the breeze in your hair and the iconic buildings that pass by in the panorama as you float away from the island. The first stop from Wall Street/Pier 11 going north up the river is Brooklyn Bridge Park/DUMBO, so that's a good place to begin.
Fulton Ferry Landing/DUMBO
The historic Fulton Ferry Landing was the site of the first ferry service from Brooklyn to Manhattan, in 1642. The landing got its name from Robert Fulton, who inaugurated steamboat ferry service between the two cities in 1814 (he invented the steamboat, as you'll remember). Purchase a treat from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, located in a 1920s fireboat house, and settle on a bench to take in views of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Lower Manhattan cityscape. On Saturdays at 3pm, Bargemusic, a floating concert hall, located on the south side of the pier, hosts free neighborhood family concerts.
A short walk on Water Street (and under the Brooklyn Bridge) takes you to DUMBO, an intriguing former manufacturing district notable for its cobblestone streets, spacious galleries, like the lofty powerHouse Arena, and specialty boutiques, such as Japan-centric shop/artists' space Zakka and Jacques Torres Chocolate. It's also home to the DUMBO Arts Center, which presents creative programming all year round. Check out our "Must-See DUMBO" slideshow for more ideas. Then hop back on the ferry and head for Williamsburg.
The next stop, Schaefer Landing, is in developing South Williamsburg, where you can find restaurants—notably, the venerable Peter Luger Steak House—as well as shops and bars. Stop here for a stroll or continue on to North Williamsburg.
North Williamsburg/North 6th Street
The Brooklyn Flea's latest outpost has landed in Williamsburg, just south of East River State Park (where you can find even more free summer concerts), a block from where the ferry docks. Meander through the maze of vendors, selling everything from original, handmade jewelry and art to vintage clothing and antiques, right on the Williamsburg waterfront. The Williamsburg Flea takes place on Sundays from 10am to 6pm. But if you happen to have landed there on a Saturday, check out Smorgasburg, the all-food market that takes over the space with nearly 100 local vendors each week, ranging from established carts like Asia Dog and Red Hook Lobster Pound to up-and-comers. Smorgasburg is open on Saturdays from 11am to 6pm.
Then wander into the heart of Williamsburg, a bustling 'hood loaded with galleries, boutiques and vintage shops like Buffalo Exchange, not to mention local craft beers, like those from Brooklyn Brewery, which offers tours and tastings throughout the week (reservations required) and hosts a Friday-night happy hour. Then head back to the ferry, which continues on to Greenpoint and then Long Island City, in Queens, before heading to its final stop, East 34th Street in Manhattan.
Hunters Point South/Long Island City
If you're looking to wrap up your day's journey with an elegant riverside dinner, get off at Hunters Point South, not far from Water's Edge Restaurant, known for its seafood and spectacular views. And if it's still early for dinner when you arrive, venture inland to MoMA PS1, the Museum of Modern Art affiliate devoted to innovative contemporary art. Every summer Saturday, from June 29 through September 7, the museum hosts Warm Up, its annual outdoor series of experimental live music, performance, art and DJs. Be sure to head back in time to catch the last ferry back to Manhattan.
And if you're hungry when you arrive back in the borough, you can walk from Pier 11 a short distance to South Street Seaport, the site of Smorgasbar, the newest outpost of Smorgasburg; from Memorial Day weekend through October, this heady selection of food carts and vendors is open every day of the week beginning at 11am. The location also hosts a bar located inside a converted shipping container.
Day Three: Governors Island
Riverside Ride to the Governors Island Ferry (Saturdays and Sundays through September 29 and Labor Day)
If you have a bicycle, start your day at the top of East River Park, near 12th Street, and ride down the East River Waterfront Esplanade, a two-mile public path that runs along the river to the southernmost tip of Manhattan. Hop off when you reach the Battery Maritime Building, at 10 South Street, to catch the ferry to Governors Island. (If you don't have a bike, start your day at the ferry; you can rent a bike on the island.) Generally, ferries depart every half hour and the ride is free. Check the schedule for further details (and take note that this special Governors Island ferry, another route of which departs from Brooklyn Brige Park's Pier 6, is different than the East River Ferry).
Bike Around the Island
Once you're on the island, you'll want to rent a bike if you didn't bring one. A short stroll from the ferry terminal, Bike and Roll has bikes for adults and children, as well as bike seats and attachable wagons for the wee ones.
Governors Island's 172 picturesque acres make it ideal for cycling. And because no cars are allowed, the biking there is more leisurely—and safer—than anywhere else in the City. Feel free to cruise past the Island's two historical forts and over 50 landmarked buildings at your own pace. Or loop around the 2.2-mile promenade that circles the Island.
Lunch on the Beach
When it's time to eat, you'll find a wide selection of choices. Governors Beach Club serves nachos with chili or pulled pork, smoked barbecue wings with blue cheese, veggie burgers, and other summertime snacks. King Avenue Food Court vendors offer coffee, snacks and more substantial fare. Among Food Court choices are Perfect Picnic for cheeses and charcuterie; Veronica's West Indian Cuisine, serving jerk chicken and curried goat; and Little Eva's for shellfish, hot dogs and a beer garden area.