Beyond Central Park

Pack a picnic and spend a day hanging out at these green spaces.

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Gantry Plaza State Park


48th Ave at the East River, Long Island City, Queens (718-786-6385)
The gist: This park sits directly across from midtown Manhattan, and it has the best view of the NYC skyline outside of movie credits. Plus, its industrial-naturalistic mix is typical of this working-class Queens ’hood.
What to do: The name is a nod to the gantries that you’ll find throughout the park; once used to unload railroad cars on barges, these steel cranes have since been converted into majestic metal monuments. Outdoor chaise lounges are perfect for absorbing some rays, while the winding paths make strolling equally pleasurable. The park’s four piers differ in size and shape, and one is an urban angler’s dream—a slip dedicated to fishing that features its own cleaning table (but bring your own rod and reel).
After you go: Head three blocks east to the Creek and the Cave (10-93 Jackson Ave at 11th St, Long Island City, Queens; 718-706-8783, thecreekandthecave.com) for tasty Mexican food; we’re fans of the subtly spicy house salsa and guacamole appetizer, served with homemade tortilla chips ($5.95).

Riverside Park


Riverside Dr between 59th and 156th Sts (212-870-3070)
The gist: With more than 330 acres of green space, Riverside Park is one of the best spots in the city for hanging out: There are at least 14 monuments, plenty of sports complexes (including ball fields and a skate park) and lots of areas that are perfect for exploring.
What to do: Start with the Soldiers and Sailors Monument near West 89th Street, which is dedicated to those who fought for the Union during the Civil War; while not as famous as the tomb for the commander of those servicemen, Ulysses S. Grant (who lies 33 blocks north), this memorial offers equally pleasing views. Two blocks north, the 91st Street Community Garden offers a beautiful spot for quiet contemplation.
After you go: If you can tear yourself away from the view, head over to the Ayurveda Caf (706 Amsterdam Ave at 94th St; 212-932-2400, theayurvedacafe.com) and get the dinner spcial (no menus here), a prix-fixe Indian feast that includes veggie courses, salad and dessert, all for $12.95.

Green-Wood Cemetery


500 25th St at Fifth Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn (718-768-7300)
The gist: If you’re searching for serenity—and history—in the county of Kings, this is the place to go. New York notables like Leonard Bernstein, Peter Cooper and William “Boss” Tweed all rest here, so you’re in good company.
What to do: Head to the northeast corner of the park, where you’ll find Battle Hill; at 220 feet above sea level, it’s the highest spot in the borough. The hill’s name dates to August 1776, when the newborn United States’ army battled the British during the Revolutionary War. Today, that event is commemorated with a statue of Minerva, Roman goddess of war, whose upraised arm is intentionally waving to the State of Liberty.
After you go: Continue the patriotic theme by downing $4 drafts of Yuengling—the brewery, America’s oldest, has been operating since 1829—at Buttermilk Bar (577 Fifth Ave at 16th St, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-788-6297).

Great Kills Park


Hylan Blvd at Buffalo St, Staten Island (718-987-6790)
The gist: This park’s name isn’t a reference to the borough’s mobsters; it’s a rough translation of the colonial Dutch phrase for “many creeks.” Part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, Great Kills is a haven for many varieties of wildlife rarely seen in other parts of the city.
What to do: The primary attraction is the beach—a long strip of sand and surf at the southeastern end of the park that’s good for relaxing or swimming. Lifeguards are on duty from 10am to 5:45pm beginning Memorial Day weekend, but until then, you can wander along the park’s expansive, all-terrain trail; if you’re lucky, you might see one of the park’s native animals, like an egret or an osprey.
After you go: Wander past the Richmond County Yacht Club (142 Mansion Ave between Hillside Terr and McKee Ave, 718-356-4120) to catch a glimpse of how the other half lives. Dine as they do at the Marina Caf (154 Mansion Ave at Hillside Terr, 718-967-3077), located next door, and order the popular salt-and-pepper seared yellowfin tuna ($26).

Inwood Hill Park


W 218th St at Indian Rd (212-304-3401, nycgovparks.org)
The gist: There’s a unique reward for trekking to the northernmost corner of Manhattan, where you’ll find enormous trees in the island’s last virgin forest. Much of the park has never been developed; due to its comparatively remote location, the land remained rural up until its 1916 purchase by the Parks Department, who decided to leave Inwood as natural as possible. As a result, the area remains very similar to the way the island was 500 years ago.
What to do: If you’re looking for alone time, enter the park at West 218th Street and Indian Road and head west along the shores of the last salt marsh in Manhattan; then, loop up along the northbound trail toward the Henry Hudson Bridge, which towers above the Harlem River. Near the bridge, take a left and make your way up Inwood Hill into more remote terrain. These paths are less traveled than others within the park, so you can imagine yourself in the depths of serene, Thoreau-esque countryside—or a long-deserted New York.
After you go: Recharge with a juicy half-pound hamburger at the Piper’s Kilt (4944 Broadway at 207th St; 212-569-7071, piperskiltofinwood.com); the Eastchester, which comes with bacon and cheese as well as sides of onion rings and chili ($9.50), will replace all the energy you spent pretending to be the last human alive.

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