The solstice may not officially ring in summer till June 21, but that's no reason to hold off on celebrating this week's warm weather with family and friends (and a nice pair of white pants, perhaps) by exploring one of the city's free public parks. Here's our shortlist to the best.
Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in the city, so it's no wonder that the park hosts a variety of public facilities, including the only public beach in the Bronx, areas to play sports like soccer and tennis, and the 19th-century national landmark the Bartow-Pell Mansion & Museum. In addition to its diverse offerings, this park is also home to an eclectic group of flora (oaks and tulip trees are some of the more recognizable of the 49 herbaceous species identified in the park) and fauna (most notably the osprey that populate the Thomas Pell Wildlife Refuge). In the Bronx.
Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx Equipped with a pool, playgrounds, and plenty of space (and shade) for rest and recreation, Van Cortlandt Park is the ideal stomping ground for active New Yorkers. Although the Parade Ground cricket fields are closed for reconstruction, the ball fields are open as is the Van Cortlandt Stadium field. This park, the fourth largest in New York City, also offers up the Van Cortlandt Mansion and Museum, which was originally built for the Van Cortlandt family, and was maintained amidst a large grain plantation and milling operation. Low-cost tours through this mid-18th century house, which is the oldest building in the Bronx, are available six days a week. The park also features birding walks. In the Bronx.
Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn If views are what you're after, head to the Brooklyn Bridge Park with a picnic blanket. Park visitors can see downtown Manhattan, the New York Harbor and the Brooklyn Bridge, under which the park is situated. The water is not only for watching but also for enjoying as the public has access to areas specified for water-play and boating. In Brooklyn.
Prospect Park in Brooklyn Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the late 19th-century, Prospect Park is home to the Prospect Park Zoo and to the only forest in Brooklyn. It offers its visitors a wide range of landscapes and activities — from nature trails, to carousel rides, to running, to grilling, to a simple day lounging on the green with a good book. Beginning June 10, Celebrate Brooklyn! will also be hosting its annual concert series at the park's bandshell. In Brooklyn.
Governors Island This island destination, which you can see from Brooklyn's Red Hook pier, is accessible by a free ferry ride from the Battery Maritime Building. From the island, bikers and picnickers alike can enjoy views of both the Lower Manhattan shore and the Governors Island National Monument, which is a remnant from the island’s days as a military outpost. The island will be open this summer every Friday through Sunday through September 25. Don't miss the current outdoor exhibition of hulking steel Mark di Suvero works up now. On Governors Island.
Bryant Park in Manhattan Although not the city's largest park — Bryant Park is bounded by Fifth Avenue to the east, Sixth Avenue to the west, 40th St. to the south and 42nd St. to the north — Bryant Park's gardens, promenades and lawn are a pleasant place to stop. After visiting the Fountain Terrace on Sixth Ave., make sure to check out the adjacent Chess Area, where you can, for a small fee, obtain access to checkers, backgammon, and Scrabble boards. If you don’t know your pawns from your knights, you can always challenge a family member, friend, or stranger to a free game of table tennis at the park’s Ping Pong area, which is located near 42nd St. and Sixth Avenue. In Manhattan.
Central Park in Manhattan Whether you’re walking your dog, taking a stroll with a friend, or wanting to check out an antiquity or two, Central Park is the place to go. Its historic beauty provides visitors with a respite from the fast pace of city life, and yet the park itself is full of life and action. If the weather's warm, you can join the sea of people lounging on Sheep Meadow, stop by the Alice and Wonderland statue, go fishing in the Harlem Meer, or immerse yourself in any of the countless activities that the park has to offer. You can also swing by the Metropolitan Museum or the American Museum of Natural History after a spin in the park. In Manhattan.
Riverside Park in Manhattan Riverside Park spans four miles from 72nd to 158th Streets along the Hudson River, which makes it ideal for bikers and runners looking for a scenic route to traverse. Stationary sojourners can take also advantage of the waterfront views from the park’s lawns. The park is spotted with handball courts, playgrounds, benches, and even a skate park. President Grant's tomb is located at 122nd street and Riverside Drive. In Manhattan.
Greenbelt Conservancy in Staten Island The Greenbelt Conservancy features a number of parks and facilities, including High Rock Park, which was designated a National Environmental Education Landmark in 1971, and Willowbrook Park, which offers a grove for picnicking, a lake for fishing, and the Carousel for All Children. Other points of interest within the Conservancy are trails for walking and biking, such as the White Trail, and the LaTourette Public Golf Course. In Staten Island.
Silver Lake Park in Staten Island Each year, a host of monarch butterflies flocks to the butterfly bushes of Silver Lake Park. Who can blame them? With Silver Lake serving as the center-piece for the park, visitors can lounge on the benches or grassy areas of the lake’s outskirts, go jogging or biking on the path bordering the lake, or take a boat ride or fish on the lake itself. Silver Lake Park also boasts an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, and athletic fields. In Staten Island.
Alley Pond Park in Queens At Alley Pond Park, visitors can find picnic space, playing fields, and a range of hiking and biking trails (most notably the former Vanderbilt Motor Parkway-turned trail.) If you are looking for a peaceful day by the water, the 15,000-year-old Oakland Lake is situated within the park, and if you want to learn more about the nature you are enjoying, the Alley Pond Environmental Center hosts programs for visitors of all ages. Unique to this park is the Alley Pond Park Adventure Center, which features New York City’s largest ropes course, a rock-climbing wall, a zip-line, and balance platforms. In Queens.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens Flushing Meadows Corona Park has a place in New York history and in world history as the site of the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair. Although many of its facilities — the current New York Hall of Science, for example — were built in accordance with its role as World's Fair site, the park has since been transformed into a destination for sports fans. Both Citi Field and the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the US Open, are located within the park. Nature lovers may take interest in the Queens Wildlife Center and Meadow Lake, and art/city history buffs should look out for a mosaic of famed 1960's Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. In Queens.