NYC Piers Without Peer

Michael Hsu, 07/21/2010

New York City's public piers range from the sprawling (some cover more than 14 acres) to the slender. A leisurely stroll down any of them is a mini-getaway in its own right. From just a few hundred feet offshore, you get sweeping views of the water, skyline and bridges—all without having to get your sea legs back. Thanks to ambitious redevelopment efforts, huge swaths of Manhattan and Brooklyn's waterfronts have been transformed into vibrant public spaces, complete with playgrounds, dog parks and bike paths. In other boroughs, more modestly sized piers are popular spots for locals and visitors alike to enjoy open water and sky. Since this is New York City, great restaurants and shops are never more than a short walk away, so grab your sunglasses and make a day of it. Here are 13 amazing places to walk on water in the City.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Pier 15
South Street Seaport, Financial District, Manhattan
Many of the City's piers have undergone substantial renovations over the past few years, but few have been transformed as boldly as Pier 15. Designed by SHoP Architects, this bi-level pier is an architectural destination in its own right. The upper level runs more than 500 feet and is split into two sections, each with its own patches of rolling lawn with ample spots to sit—the perfect place to view the tall-mast ships that are usually docked nearby. Below, two glass-enclosed pavilions will be the future home of a restaurant and a maritime museum; they're separated by a small garden and covered walkway that provides shelter from the sometimes beating sun. The pier is usually less crowded than the bustling Pier 17 nearby, but the views are equally striking. And with its sleek, modern aesthetic, Pier 15 is one of the City's most serene waterfront public spaces.

Pier 40
Hudson River and West Houston Street, West Village, Manhattan
Pier 40 in Manhattan is Hudson River Park's largest pier, packing in four athletic fields (two outdoor that are fully lit for night play, one indoor and one rooftop), as well as batting cages, a trapeze school and a boathouse that offers free rowing and boat-building lessons. Driving here is convenient, as the pier is also home to Manhattan's biggest parking facility. Nearby dining options can be sparse, but the Jacques Torres Chocolate flagship store and factory, where you can watch the confections being made, is within walking distance, as is the venerable Ear Inn, the oldest working bar in New York City and a designated historic landmark.

Pier 62 and Pier 64
Hudson River and West 22nd Street; Hudson River and West 24th Street; Chelsea, Manhattan
Pier 64 is a pedestrian's paradise—long walkways, endless rows of benches and plenty of sloping lawns for sunbathing. Meanwhile, neighboring Pier 62 is all about action. In addition to housing the Chelsea Piers Field House (with indoor soccer fields, batting cages, dance studios and a rock climbing wall), Pier 62 has a 36-foot carousel with hand-carved wooden animals, most of which are indigenous to the Hudson River Valley, and a 15,000-square-foot concrete park for skateboarders. Walk a few blocks east and you'll see the famed High Line elevated park. And on Tenth Avenue, discover Cookshop, a restaurant using local and sustainable sources for its delicious offerings, and two excellent independent bookstores, 192 Books (woody, sunlit—exactly what a bookstore should be) and Printed Matter (which carries impossible-to-find and fun-to-discover art books of all stripes).

Photo: Will Steacy

Pier 84
Hudson River and West 44th Street, Midtown West, Manhattan
Although Pier 84 is located between two popular attractions—Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum—it offers plenty to do in its own right: bicycle rentals from Bike and Roll (you can ride south along the waterfront and drop off your bicycle at Bike and Roll's Battery Park location), a dog run and a water play area for the kids. The pier, which extends 1,000 feet offshore, also has places for repose, including a community garden, open lawns and shady spots for picnics.

West Harlem Piers Park
Hudson River (bet. St. Clair Place and West 133rd Street), Harlem, Manhattan
Unlike many of the City's other waterfront parks, the piers at West Harlem Piers Park aren't repurposed commercial docks; they were built expressly for the park itself—part of an effort to connect the neighborhood with the river. The piers here hug the coastline, creating a small cove. If some of the City's other public piers feel more industrial in scale, this park has a decidedly more intimate vibe. Of course, the views, especially of the George Washington Bridge, are amazing. Bring a picnic; benches are scattered throughout the park (you can pick up provisions at Fairway Market, one block to the east). Or stop by Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (eat there or get takeout), a popular Harlem barbecue joint.

Pier 1 (Brooklyn Bridge Park)
East River and Old Fulton Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn
With 9.5 acres of open lawn and pathways, Pier 1 is the largest of the string of piers that form Brooklyn Bridge Park. It also has the best views, offering a panorama of the Harbor, South Street Seaport and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges—all beautiful sights by day that become downright magical at night. You can take it all in from the dramatic granite bleachers or the expansive waterfront promenade. Pier 1 is also adjacent to two must-try local eateries: Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, which prides itself on serving perfect versions of classic ice cream flavors (peaches and cream is the most outlandish on the parlor's modest menu), and The Landing, a hot dog cart situated in a former open-air parking lot that sells Vienna franks and bratwursts with house-made fixings, from sauerkraut to tomato-curry sauce.

Photo: Rachel Fletcher

Pier 2 Pop-Up Pool (Brooklyn Bridge Park)
East River and Old Fulton Street, DUMBO, Brooklyn
Of all the City's public pools, the pop-up pool that recently opened at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 2 (just south of Pier 1) has some of the most stunning views: swimmers doing the backstroke can take in the Brooklyn Bridge to one side and the Lower Manhattan skyline to the other. Catering primarily to families, the in-ground pool is 30 feet by 50 feet and 3.5 feet deep. Because it accommodates only 60 people at a time, there are four to five open-swim sessions daily, each an hour and 15 minutes in length. Wait times can be long, but you can bide your time by relaxing on the adjacent sand beach, kicking back on one of the pool's lounge chairs or grabbing a bite at the food stand. The pool is open seven days a week from 10am to 6pm. Admission is free. Swimming lessons are available for a nominal fee from 8 to 10am each day.

Pier 6 (Brooklyn Bridge Park)
East River and Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn
Pier 6, the newest addition to Brooklyn Bridge Park, has one of the most innovative, engaging playgrounds in the City. This 1.6-acre wonderland features a 6,000-square-foot sandbox (purportedly the largest in the borough), cutting-edge climbing structures (they look like jungle gyms designed by Buckminster Fuller), swings galore and a "Water Lab" with a dizzying number of ways to wade, splash, spray, soak and cool off in the heat. After the family's worked up an appetite, head to Fatoosh Middle Eastern Pitza & BBQ for its namesake pita/pizza hybrid, a short walk up Atlantic Avenue. Or try Henry Public, an old-school tavern about a block or so farther, which has a decidedly adult menu but features a gourmet option for kids: grilled cheese sandwiches with apple slices.

Pat Auletta Steeplechase Pier
Boardwalk and Kensington Walk, Coney Island, Brooklyn
This slender wooden pier feels like an extension of Coney Island's famous boardwalk. To find it, just look up: it's located at the base of the now-defunct Parachute Jump, a conspicuous, flower-like steel structure that looks like the Eiffel Tower crossed with a gerbera daisy. In addition to being a popular fishing spot (you'll find rows of fishing lines stretching hopefully into the bay), the pier also provides refuge from the bustle of the boardwalk and the beach below. Unlike most of the City's other piers, you don't see land for miles from here; the view is expansive. After you're done gazing out on the open waters, you can check out the many nearby attractions, including the clackety Cyclone (the patriarch of roller coasters) and Luna Park, which has Coney Island's newest rides. The New York Aquarium, the country's oldest, is a short walk away. If you want to indulge the kids (or at least your inner child), be sure to stop by Williams Candy for caramel-and-peanut-covered Granny Smith apples, which are hand-dipped on the premises.

Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier
Coffey Street (near Ferris Street), Red Hook, Brooklyn
For an amazing view of the Statue of Liberty without stepping foot off dry land, head to the end of Valentino Pier, nestled in a small cove in Red Hook. Lady Liberty faces the pier almost directly, so the sight line couldn't be better. You'll also find great views of Lower Manhattan, Governors Island and the Civil War–era Red Hook Stores Building, a beautiful expanse of brick just to the south. The shore next to the pier is one of the City's kayak- and canoe-launching points (permits required); on Sundays, from 1 to 5pm through October 27, and Thursdays, from 6 to 8pm through August 23, the volunteer-run Red Hook Boaters offers free kayaking and canoeing there. To immerse yourself in the area's rich maritime history, stop by the floating Waterfront Museum, which is housed on a restored barge. Nearby food options include Fairway Market (there's a to-go food area with outdoor seating right on the water) and Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies (on hot days, order the Swingle: a frozen mini key lime pie dipped in Belgian chocolate and served on a stick); both are located on neighboring piers.

69th Street Pier (American Veterans Memorial Pier)
Bay Ridge Avenue and Shore Road, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Overlooking the Narrows, the slim strait between Brooklyn and Staten Island, the 69th Street Pier in Bay Ridge is the perfect starting point for a day near the water. A favorite fishing spot among locals, the pier is lined with picnic tables and benches and offers breathtaking sunset views. At the base of the pier, you can hop on the Belt Parkway bike path or take a short walk to the Narrows Botanical Gardens, whose 4.5 lush acres overlook the water. For a more "extreme" activity, visit Millennium Skate Park in nearby Owl's Head Park. It features a 12-foot-wide concrete "waterfall," as well as ramps, bowls and rails for skateboarders, in-line skaters and BMXers. Also, be sure to stop by Anopoli Ice Cream Parlor & Family Restaurant, which serves a shockingly good banana split from its 1900s-era soda fountain.

Photo: Will Steacy

Gantry Plaza State Park
4-09 47th Road,Long Island City, Queens
Located next to Long Island City's iconic Pepsi-Cola sign, Gantry Plaza State Park spans 12 beautiful acres along the East River. A winding promenade connects its four piers—all of which offer expansive views of Midtown Manhattan (including the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings) and clear sight lines of the United Nations buildings' glimmering glass facades just across the water. The park is dotted with places to play (basketball and handball courts, a playground perfect for little climbers and a fishing pier), but there's also a refreshing emphasis on lounging here, with public hammocks, an undulated bench that weaves down the promenade and seas of wooden lounge chairs. The park is a short walk from the Vernon Blvd./Jackson Ave. station along the 7 train line, which is just one stop from Grand Central Terminal. As you walk toward the water, you'll see the park's towering waterfront gantries, which were used to transfer railway cars to and from ships during the heyday of the shipping industry.

Pier 1 (Staten Island)
St. George, Staten Island
The waters surrounding Pier 1, commonly known as the St. George Fishing Pier, are home to striped bass, bluefish and other varieties of fish. Local anglers get a clear view of Bay Ridge across the strait and Manhattan in the distance. In fact, the Staten Island September 11 Memorial, located nearby on the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade, faces directly where the Twin Towers once stood. The pier is easily accessible from Manhattan via the Staten Island Ferry, which departs from the Whitehall Ferry Terminal seven days a week (the ride is free both ways). In the terminal building, which is adjacent to the pier, check out the pair of 2,244-gallon fish tanks, each with more than 200 types of exotic fish. For an inland activity, visit the St. George Historic District, where you'll find 78 landmarked buildings from the 1830s to the 1930s.