Curtis Granderson and David Wright might grab all the headlines, but NYC is a great place for ordinary folks to play sports, too. Beyond the confines of Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden, the five boroughs offer a surprisingly robust array of participatory sporting activities for recreational athletes of all shapes, sizes and ability levels.
From hoops at Rucker Park and the West 4th Street Courts (and indoors, too—more on that later) to fishing in Sheepshead Bay and swimming at the City's beaches (open Memorial Day through Labor Day), there's an endless variety of ways to keep fit and have fun. That even includes trapeze—that's right, trapeze!—on the west side of Manhattan. Read on for details and more of our favorites; then grab your water bottle and take the court, hit the trails or dive into the water.
Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex
Hudson River and West 23rd Street, 212-336-6000, Chelsea
There's no better place to start your NYC sports journey than at Chelsea Piers. Calling it a "gym" isn't technically wrong—you can run here, and you can lift weights. But that little word seems inadequate considering that Chelsea Piers offers a driving range, ice hockey, dance, bowling and swimming, too: the 28-acre complex is practically a sports city. Drop in and play pickup basketball, or sign up for gymnastics lessons and finally learn how to do a back handspring. The facility's 25-yard pool is famous for its views of the Hudson River, and its rock-climbing walls tower up to 73 feet high. The venue is also home to a number of organized leagues for players of all ages.
New York Road Runners
9 E. 89th St., 212-860-4455, Upper East Side
New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory
216 Fort Washington Ave., 212-923-1803, Washington Heights
New York City is home to the ultimate participatory sporting event, the ING New York City Marathon, where worlds collide as amateur runners compete alongside professionals. Thanks to New York Road Runners, many other road races take place year-round in all five boroughs. With distances ranging from under 2 miles to the 26.2-mile marathon itself, these runs are a fantastic way to keep in shape, compete and meet new people. Events like the New Year's Eve Emerald Nuts Midnight Run, not to mention a full lineup of classes such as deep-water running and yoga for runners, mix up the pace and keep people off the sidelines and on the road. Many runners are content to build their speed and endurance in New York City's picturesque parks and on its peaceful trails, but if you'd like to train indoors, you may want to consider the New Balance Track & Field Center at The Armory, which boasts one of the nation's fastest indoor tracks. To train at the 60,000-square-foot Washington Heights facility, you must purchase a full-season membership—but for many serious runners, the commitment is worthwhile.
For many, a cold beer is an integral part of the spectator sports experience. But you needn't plant yourself in the upper deck to enjoy some suds. There are plenty of sports whose competitors customarily imbibe beverages suspiciously low in electrolytes. First and foremost among them is, of course, bowling. At 300 New York and Bowlmor Lanes, DJs spin music and the food goes far beyond rectangular pizza and chicken fingers (call the venues to ask when kids are allowed—it's adults-only some nights). Other popular nightlife-sports combinations include bocce at Park Slope's Union Hall and Skee-Ball—very, very serious, competitive Skee-Ball—at Full Circle Bar in Williamsburg. Of course, while drinking may be permitted, it's certainly far from a prerequisite to enjoy the action.
USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
111-01 Corona Ave., 718-760-6200, Flushing, Queens
New York Sportimes
1 Randalls Island, 212-792-8500
For much of the year, recreational tennis players can compete where the professionals do. The courts at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, are available for public play when the tournament's not in session. The eminently reasonablefee is as low as $20 per hour. On Randalls Island, meanwhile, you can play on 20 different indoor and outdoor clay and hard courts and enjoy such amenities as a sauna, steam room, fitness center and pro shop—all at the home of John McEnroe, Martina Hingis and the New York Sportimes World Team Tennis franchise. For membership information, visit sportimeny.com.
1750 York Ave., 212-369-8890, Upper East Side
Among Asphalt Green's biggest draws is its massive 50-meter pool, which is truly Olympic-size (many other lap pools, while perfectly sufficient for most swimmers, are not strictly up to the Olympic standard). The facility is frequently cited as one of the City's best places to train for a triathlon, and it has an active triathlon club. A nonprofit that strives to help people "achieve health through a lifetime of sports and fitness," Asphalt Green offers a full slate of classes and leagues for adults and children. Programs include running, Pilates, yoga, martial arts and water polo, to name just a few.
Ping-Pong. Table tennis. No matter what you call it, there's no denying that the game is enjoying a big resurgence in the five boroughs (we're experts on NYC trends, and we checked). Whether you want to polish your game or just swing a paddle while you polish off a martini, New York City has a number of excellent Ping-Pong parlors. For those who prefer a social lounge atmosphere, there's the popular SPiN New York, co-owned by actress Susan Sarandon. For those who'd rather focus on the game without any frills, the Wang Chen Table Tennis Club—run by its namesake, a member of the 2008 US Olympic team—is a fantastic option.
Skate Plaza in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park
718-760-6565, Flushing, Queens
This 16,000-square-foot plaza is more than just a skate park. Considering that the organizers of the Maloof Money Cup donated the $1.5 million park after using it for their 2010 event, it would have been more than enough to give the City's skaters a place to plant their four wheels. But the designers went above and beyond. The imaginative street course looks a lot like many other public spaces—but it was conceived with skating specifically in mind, so it's densely packed with rails, ramps, ledges and all kinds of obstacles inspired by the best the cityscape has to offer aspiring Tony Hawks. Skaters of all skill levels will find new challenges to explore, whether they can pull off an indy nosebone or have no idea what that even means. Those who'd like to skate indoors, all year round, can head to 5050 Skatepark in Staten Island.
Trapeze School New York
West 30th Street (bet. Tenth and Eleventh Avenues), 212-242-8769, Midtown West
If you've ever felt like running away and joining the circus, but were tied down by cumbersome family and career obligations (and, really, who among us hasn't been in such a situation?), New York City may offer just the happy medium you're looking for. Fittingly stationed inside a giant tent, Trapeze School New York accommodates experts and beginners alike, and also offers ample padding to allay your fear of crash landings. And with a flexible class schedule featuring morning, afternoon and evening sessions on weekdays and weekends, you won't have to quit your job and leave your loved ones to fly under the big top.
Squash, racquetball, badminton: there are plenty of ways to make a racket in New York without donning your tennis whites. First, grab your gear. You'll find everything you need to get started—rackets, balls, apparel—at NYC Racquet Sports, an outpost from Woody Schneider, who also runs the esteemed Grand Central Racquet. The store features a specialized kids' section and knowledgeable staff members who will gladly, for example, help string your racket in the fashion that best suits your game. When it's time to play, head for CityView Racquet Club or one of the many New York Sports Club or YMCA locations that boast courts. By the way, esteemed squash pro David Palmer offered a few strategy tips for squash novices during our coverage of the 2010 J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions.
New York City has long been a roundball mecca. It's home of the Knicks (and, soon, the Nets), an impressive collection of college teams that play marquee matchups at Madison Square Garden and more. But NYC's hoops heritage isn’t only about games that take place in huge arenas; much of it has been forged in ordinary gyms and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs, places where legends like Wilt Chamberlain, Kevin Durant and Julius Irving have played. While you may never be able to dunk like Dr. J, you can certainly test your game and keep in shape at outdoor and indoor sites throughout the City. Notable outdoor courts—where players often have major skills—include the West 4th Street Courts, Rucker Park, Orchard Beach and Monsignor Kett Playground. Inside, you'll have lots of luck playing at YMCAs, Chelsea Piers or Asphalt Green; signing up for a league like NY Urban; or paying for contests on an à la carte basis with Indoor Hoops, which organizes games at locations all around the five boroughs.
Citi Pond at Bryant Park
Sixth Avenue and West 42nd Street, 212-661-6640, Midtown West
Ice-skating is one of New York City's most cherished cold-weather traditions—and the perfect prelude to a piping-hot mug of cocoa. Citi Pond at Bryant Park offers free admission (you can bring your own skates or rent a pair for a fee). After you've taken a spin around the frozen premises, the adjacent lounge Celsius rewards you with a view of the rink, tasty food and some very welcome heat lamps. Even if it's scorching outside, you can hit the ice indoors at Chelsea Piers, Aviator Sports & Events Center and Flushing Meadows–Corona Park's World Ice Arena. In fact, what better way is there to beat the heat than spending the afternoon in an arena-size refrigerator?