Timeout New York Kids

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Governors Island 2011 guide

Discover all the isle has to offer.

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  • Photograph: A. Frieden


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  • Photograph: Courtesy of The Trus



Since the former Coast Guard outpost opened to the public in 2003, the 172-acre island has become the single best place in New York for families to spend a summer day. Here are seven reasons to go this year—ferry service begins on May 27.

It's cheaper than driving to Vermont
You want rolling green hills where your kids can spin until they drop? It'll only cost you a swipe of your MetroCard. Take the subway to the Battery Maritime Building, then catch a free eight-minute ferry to the island. Check govisland.com for schedule.

Happy Mondays
As always, the island is open to the public Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. But this year, for the first time, you can also head over on Memorial Day, plus the Mondays following July 4th and Labor Day weekends.

The best biking in NYC
Flat roads with minimal traffic mean families can ride all day without dodging taxis. Bring your own wheels, or rent at Bike and Roll. Kids' bikes start at $10 per hour; cool quadricycles for the whole family are $35 per hour. Or, come on a Friday and ride free for an hour.

The mini golf is fun and free
Each year artists compete to create the most fantastical holes for the island's Figment Mini Golf course. Bugs & Features is this year's theme—expect crazy takes on arachnids, computer viruses and anything else that, um, annoys you.

Kids can get in touch with their artsy side
After exploring the sculptures spread across the island, kids create their own pieces (for free!) at Children's Museum of the Arts stations, each weekend from 11am to 3pm.

It's a great place to picnic
Just a few years ago, food choices were limited to vending machines. Today, there are treats all over the island. Grab jerk chicken or mac and cheese at Veronica's Kitchen, a Vendy Award--winning Jamaican food cart, and head to Picnic Point. There, you can kick back on porch bench--size swings while practically touching Lady Liberty with your toes.

There's always something to celebrate
Keep an eye out for special events practically every weekend, starting with the Opening Day Family Festival on May 28.

Colonel's Row
Lined with London plane trees and houses once occupied by high-ranking officers, this two-acre, shady green lawn now hosts outdoor concerts.

Fort Jay
Learn about Fort Jay's history from members of the National Park Service. The program re-creates a day in the life of a Civil War soldier: Kids join a company decked out in period uniforms, march, and watch musket firings. Hour-long walking tours are also available daily—just look for the national park employees dressed in forest ranger hats.

Water Taxi Beach
Kids can build sandcastles on 20,000 square feet of sand after feasting on burgers, hot dogs and veggie sides from the Beach Grill. The adjacent Backstage Caf serves tasty salads and wraps made with local fruit and vegetables.

Added Value Farm
In 2008, the Red Hook, Brooklyn--based nonprofit Added Value opened a three-acre sustainable farm at Picnic Point. This month, they'll plant heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, squash, and lettuce; stop by throughout the season so your kids can track the plantings' progress. The ripe produce is served at Water Taxi beach, and sold at a stand right by the farm.

What to pack

Governors Island may be a stone's throw from Manhattan, but good luck finding a Duane Reade. To keep your kids comfy, happy and well fed, be sure to bring the following items.

An umbrella stroller
Tots too young for long walks or bike riding will appreciate it.

Sunscreen and hats
If you're not sitting under a tree, you'll most likely be out in the sun exploring. Keep the little ones well protected.

Balls, Frisbees and lightweight park toys
When your tyke enviously eyes his peers playing catch, you'll be glad you planned ahead.

Food and drink
Adults should be more than satisfied with the pricey vendors on the island, but picky eaters might be better off with a picnic.

Baby wipes and antibacterial wipes
The former are handy when the nearest restroom is a portable toilet; use the latter when your kids have finished climbing around the old military forts. Prefer soap and water? There are new indoor bathrooms in Buildings 110 and 140, plus trailers (with sinks) near Picnic Point.

A blanket or beach towel
It's a must-have for impromptu picnics, outdoor concerts, sunning and naps in the shade.

Bikes and trikes
Bikes are permitted on the ferry, but if you prefer to travel light, you can rent them on the island. Just be prepared to wait in line.

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