Must-See Corona

Michael Hsu

(Updated 09/09/2015)

The incredibly diverse population of Corona, Queens, makes it one of the City's most vibrant neighborhoods. The residents here hail from far and wide, creating a rich social fabric that gives the area its unique energy. Corona also has a fascinating history: the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Malcolm X have all lived here, and in 1893 the neighborhood was where Louis Comfort Tiffany produced his world-renowned glass. It's home to a broad selection of authentic ethnic foods, including empanadas, Italian mozzarella and sweet ices—and, fittingly, is also one of the best places to burn off calories. Flushing Meadows Corona Park has one of the City's best public recreational facilities, with an Olympic-size swimming pool and an NHL-regulation ice rink as well as pedal boat rentals. So hop on the 7 train, and be sure to bring your appetite and your sneakers—there's a lot to explore. To stay close to the action, book an NYC hotel in Queens.

Empanadas Cafe. Photo: Lauren Philson

Rincon Criollo
40-09 Junction Blvd., 718-458-0236
Empanadas Cafe
56-27 Van Doren St., 718-592-7288
The best way to experience the cultural diversity of Corona is with your taste buds. Rincon Criollo opened in 1976 as the offshoot of a family restaurant in Santiago de Las Vegas in Havana, Cuba. This is the spot for traditional Cuban dishes, like a super-flavorful ropa vieja (shredded beef simmered in tomato sauce with onions and green peppers), rabo encendido (slow-cooked oxtail) and a simple Cubano sandwich. Meanwhile, Empanadas Cafe serves up crisp gourmet versions of its signature dish; its nearly 30 varieties of empanadas include the savory (chorizo and potato), the sweet (Nutella with banana) and a blend of the two (ham, cheese and pineapple).

Tortilleria Nixtamal. Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Tortilleria Nixtamal
104-05 47th Ave., 718-699-2434
Leo's Latticini
46-02 104th St.,718-898-6069
El Hornero Bakery
96-08 Roosevelt Ave., 718-651-0400
The Lemon Ice King of Corona
52-02 108th St.,718-699-5133
If you're looking for a quick bite, Corona has a number of stellar options. Tortilleria Nixtamal's proprietors make tortillas on site using non-GMO white corn that's stone ground before being pressed into an old-school tortilla machine in the restaurant's front window. This results in an intense corn flavor that makes the tacos here well worth the trip. Over at Leo's Latticini (or "Mama's," as the locals call it), you can get an Italian sandwich, like a Genoa salami sub or eggplant parmigiana, along with succulent balls of homemade mozzarella. For something sweet, El Hornero Bakery has treats like dulce de leche cake and guava pie. And no trip to the neighborhood would be complete without a visit to the Lemon Ice King of Corona, which has doled out Italian ices made with fresh ingredients for 70 years. The flavors—which servers are prohibited from combining—include coconut and blueberry (both with bits of real fruit), coffee (strong and clean) and pistachio (salty and sweet).

Photo: Dominick Totino

William F. Moore Park
Corona Avenue and 108th Street, between 51st and 52nd Avenues
When you think of sports in New York City's public parks, a few games probably come to mind: basketball, handball, baseball, soccer. But the classic Italian game of bocce has been a fixture in City parks since 1934, when Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia had NYC's first bocce court installed (in Thomas Jefferson Park, in Harlem). Today, Queens has more public bocce courts than any other borough, and the one at William F. Moore Park (most locals call it "Spaghetti Park") is one of the most famous. The court in this triangle-shaped space has a brick-dust surface. Young and old, experienced players and casual observers alike, congregate along the bench-lined court nestled among the birch and maple trees. The string of lights hanging above the court adds to the festive, block-party-like atmosphere. The Lemon Ice King of Corona is just down the street, so its familiar white cups are a fixture here among those who gather to watch the action.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Flushing Meadows–Corona Park,718-760-6200
The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center may be most famous for hosting the US Open, but for 11 months out of the year, there are roughly 30 indoor and outdoor courts available to the public for open play, private and group lessons and heart-pumping exercise classes like cardio tennis. All courts, including the ones the pros play on, are open from 6am to midnight. Rental rates start at just $24 per hour for early-morning weekday spots and junior and senior walk-ins and top out at $68 per hour for prime-time play. In addition to offering private lessons and all sorts of junior and adult programs year-round, the center runs summer camps for young players of all skill levels, from 4-year-old beginners to top-ranked juniors. The venue is closed just three days a year: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

Unisphere, Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Flushing Meadows Corona Park
111th Street and Grand Central Parkway to Van Wyck Expressway (bet. Roosevelt Avenue and Jackie Robinson Parkway), 718-760-6565
Al Oerter Recreation Center
131-40 Fowler Ave., 718-353-7853
The nearly 900-acre Flushing Meadows Corona Park offers a huge range of activities. It was the site of two world's fairs, so a great place to start exploring is the Unisphere, the famous 12-story globe that was the icon of the 1964 World's Fair and has since become an emblem of the borough. From there, head south to the 93-acre Meadow Lake (the largest lake in New York City), where you can fish or rent a bike, pedal boat or kayak. Perfect for fitness buffs, the Al Oerter Recreation Center has racquetball, handball and basketball courts, as well as an indoor track and cardio equipment, while the park's aquatic center and ice rink—known as the World Ice Arena, right across the street from the rec center—houses an Olympic-size pool and an NHL-regulation rink. Those with little ones in tow should head to the other side of the park for the sprawling Playground for All Children, which was the country's first playground designed to be accessible for all kids, including those with disabilities or limited mobility. Across the street from the park is the Queens Botanical Garden, whose nearly 40 acres contain an array of flora to delight visitors' eyes, and, in the case of its famous Fragrance Walk, noses.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Queens Museum
New York City Building, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park,718-592-9700
The Queens Museum presents work that speaks to the broad diversity of the borough. Perhaps the most famous exhibition is the Panorama of the City of New York, a scale model of the five boroughs that depicts every building built before 1992 (with a few modifications since, to include places like Citi Field, Battery Park City and Brooklyn Bridge Park). Conceived by Robert Moses and created for the 1964 World's Fair, the display is the largest architectural model in the world, with 895,000 tiny buildings (the Empire State Building is about a foot tall) that took 100 people approximately three years to construct. The museum's art shows are curated with a distinct voice that speaks to the community. The institution, formerly known as the Queens Museum of Art, finished a major expansion in late 2013 that doubled the size of the institution: additions include a sweeping entrance and atrium, thousands of square feet of new exhibition space, a café and a museum shop. The Queens Museum also houses a stunning collection of Tiffany glass, including windows and lamps.

Photo: Dominick Totino

Queens Theatre
14 United Nations Ave. South, 718-760-0064
The Queens Theatre presents theatrical works, music, dance and other performing arts events. Housed in a 360-degree panoramic movie theater designed by Philip Johnson for the 1964 World's Fair, the space has since been completely revamped and now features a large main stage, a more intimate studio theater and a small cabaret and bar. The institution is the borough's only performing arts organization that develops new plays (including Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which went on to a Broadway run). Each summer, the Queens Theatre hosts an annual Latino Cultural Festival—the country's largest. Before the curtain rises, be sure to check out the theater's curved glass pavilion for amazing views of the former fair site.

Alpaca and cria (baby alpaca). Photo: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

Queens Zoo
53-51 111th St., 718-271-1500
The 11-acre Queens Zoo, located inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park, features an array of species, all of which are native to the Americas. You've probably seen a rabbit before, but the zoo's Flemish giant rabbits (which can grow up to 26 pounds) are a sight to behold. You'll also find bears, bison, pronghorn, pumas, alligators and bald eagles. The aviary, home to some brilliantly plumed scarlet macaws, is housed in a geodesic dome designed for the 1964 World's Fair, while the zoo's farm gives visitors a chance to feed domesticated animals including sheep, goats, chickens and llamas. There's also a show featuring the zoo's sea lions that runs three times a day.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th St., 718-699-0005
Like many structures in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the New York Hall of Science was built for the 1964 World's Fair. Back then it was part of an exhibition that explored the wonders of space travel. These days it houses some 450 hands-on science exhibitions—visitors of all ages can experiment with light and shadow, walk through a hall of mirrors, scale an 8-foot climbing wall and delve into the world of molecules. Two space rockets donated by NASA are still on display, and you'll find some classic science displays like a Möbius strip and a probability machine, in which balls fall freely to form a bell curve. Outside, there's an enormous science-themed playground with fog machines, seesaws and some killer slides.

Photo: Kate Glicksberg

Louis Armstrong House Museum
34-56 107th St., 718-478-8274
In 1943, Louis Armstrong purchased a modest house in Corona with his wife, Lucille; he lived there until his death in 1971. The home now serves as a museum that honors and preserves the jazz legend's legacy. Among the largest public jazz archives in the world, the museum's collection includes homemade reel-to-reel recordings, photographs, letters and manuscripts, and Armstrong's own instruments (five trumpets and 14 mouthpieces among them). Still furnished as it was when the Armstrongs lived there, the house also has the couple's paintings and artwork on view and, out back, a Japanese-inspired garden. Guided house tours start on the hour every day except Mondays. Although the institution closes for major holidays, it's always open on July 4, in honor of Armstrong's birthday.