Friday, February 17, 2012

Best of New York City: My 5 Favorite Parks

My dears, I spend an inordinate amount of time . . . lounging. Yes, you read that right. My own family members have commented that my natural personality is not unlike that of a disgruntled housecat: I lounge, I eat, I cry to go outside. And when I do go outside, it's often to, well, do more lounging. See, lounging is free, and free is always the right price. Since New York is surely one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit (and live! Shoot.), I figured I would share with you my five favorite parks: places to play, picnic, catch a concert, hide a jug of Carlo Rossi from the police . . . whatever.

Boats on the lake at Central Park.
Central Park
Okay, this one is so obvious I can already hear you over the interwebs saying Really Jess? REALLY? I've been to Central Park, like, 36 thousand times and I don't even live in the tri-state area. WTH? I know guys. I know. But it would be almost criminal to leave it off the list, don't you think? It's just such a classic New York moment: strolling along the lake, stopping for sandwiches by the reservoir, kissing your LUVAH by the boathouse. I remember being a little girl and going to my mom's job for Take Your Daughter to Work Day and spending lunchtime at the Central Park Zoo . . . good times. Anyway, now that I'm big(ger), I still love this park - it's the perfect escape from what can sometimes be an overwhelming amount of hustle and bustle. I recommend renting rollerblades from Blades for the day and skating the full Central Park Loop: it's a great way to get the lay of the land and, besides, the people-watching is PHENOMENAL. 

Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.
Madison Square Park
I've got two words for you, my friend: Shake Shack. This tiny park - only 1 block wide and 4 blocks long - is home to the original Shake Shack, where both tourists and locals will queue for upwards of thirty minutes just for the chance to nibble at their ridiculously juicy burgers, flat-top hot dogs, or frozen custard shakes. They even have menu items for dogs! So stinkin' cute. Anyway, aside from the Shake Shack, this park often has the loveliest landscaping - when I used to have to take the bus from a nearby corner, I would always leave time to walk through Madison Square Park just to look at and smell their flowers - it's one of my favorite spots to grab a few moments of quiet. So pretty.
An aerial view of Governors Island.
Governors Island
First, a little history: Governors Island was purchased by Wouter van Twiller, a Dutchman, in the spring of 1637 from the Native Americans of Manahatas (which is, P.S., where we get the name "Manhattan") who traded it for two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails. Talk about a shitty deal, right? Fast forward 375 years and now it's a (okay, maybe not so) secret amongst New Yorkers: the island is only accessible via ferry, and they host awesome exhibitions and concerts. Governors Island really does have something for everyone: history buffs will delight in the historic home tours, outdoorsy types will love the free kayaking, and lazy bones like me will relish the chance to lay on "the beach": a stretch of sand trucked in from god-knows-where, complete with volleyball net and snack bar. No, you can't go in the water. Why? Because it's the freaking East River and who knows what kind of dead bodies they have floating in there. But you'll love the atmosphere! Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a pizza in my mouth.

A view of the arch in Washington Square Park.
Washington Square Park
Man, what I wouldn't give to have hung around Washington Square Park with all the hippies and beatniks back in the '60s. They made some great music, didn't they? Sure they did, and you can still hear the music now: on any given day, there are dozens of performers coaxing the crowds to stop, stay awhile, toss a dollar into that hat, kind sir. WSP is another great people-watching spot: there is an incredible conglomeration of every type of human being here, from old men in newsboy caps playing chess to NYU kids studying in the grass. Even though it's nearly 10 acres, it often gets quite crowded on nice days, so my favorite time to go here is either early morning (when there's still dew on the grass) or dusk (when people are mostly passing through the park on their way home). A great spot for first-time visitors - it has that creative, dynamic energy that this city is famous for.
A view of Water Street in Dumbo,
underneath the Manhattan Bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Here's something you must do: rent a bicycle, peddle across the Brooklyn Bridge, then plop yourself in the grass of Brooklyn Bridge Park - it's the best view of the lower Manhattan skyline, hands down. Let your inner child loose on the carousel, grab some of the yummiest ice cream in town, and walk down the cobblestone streets that make up Dumbo, one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city. Dan and I LOVE this place, and now that I'm talking about it, I have a deep, sincere longing for it to be summertime. Right. Now.

Bonus Tip:
Back in November, I did a guest post on with 7 Fun (Free!) Things to Do in New York City. You can read it, if you want.

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Thanks! Bye!

Photography Credits: Central Park via Central Park Conservancy; Madison Square Park via Things to See NYC; Governors Island via Artist Pension Trust; Washington Square Park via Wikipedia; Brooklyn Bridge Park via . . . myself. 


  1. I remember loving Washington Square Park when I first visited New York (a thousand years ago!)!

    I'm really enjoying your articles about NY, thank you!

    1. I always enjoy taking visitors to WSP - people really love the creative energy that flies around that park! And I'm glad you're enjoying these articles - I hope they're helpful for your future visits!

      Thanks for your lovely comment. ;-)


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