New York’s River Playground

Kayaking at West Harlem Piers Park. Photo: Suzy Allman
Map by Jason Lee

1. Indian Road Café
600 W. 218th St., at Indian Rd.


Pick from the extensive list of craft beers, tuck into crab cakes or a plate of lobster mac and cheese, and lean back in chairs once used by Tony Soprano—all of the café’s furniture is from Nuovo Vesuvio, the restaurant in The Sopranos.

2. Dyckman Fields
Inwood Hill Park, enter at western end of Dyckman St.


Grab a juicy chicken gordita at La Fonda Poblana’s stand near the entrance of Inwood Hill Park and stroll the near-empty promenade. Plant yourself on a grassy lookout, dangle your feet over the Hudson, peer into the Bronx, and dig in.

3. Inwood Canoe Club
Red Boathouse, 100 yards south of Dyckman Marina


Test the waters off Inwood with a leisurely 45-minute paddle. On Sundays at 10 a.m., the canoe club supplies groups of fifteen with kayaks, life jackets, and paddles. Depending on the current, guides will either steer you north toward Spuyten Duyvil or south to just shy of the George Washington Bridge.

4. Harlem River Greenway
Enter at Tenth Ave. nr. Dyckman St.


Walk, jog, or bike the quiet path from the restored Swindler Cove Park to 155th Street. The trail is marked by contrast—to the west are the woody hills of Highbridge Park, and to the east, past the Harlem River, crouch the industry and apartments of the Bronx.

5. Fort George Hill
Highbridge Park, Fort George Ave. nr. Audubon Ave.


Haul your mountain bike up to Manhattan’s version of Moab: Fort George Hill, three miles of dense woods and rocky outcrops with trails clearly marked by skill level. The free-ride trail, with its drops, berms, steeps, rock gardens, and jump park, is the most challenging.

5a. Highbridge Tower
Highbridge Park, enter at 173rd St. and Amsterdam Ave.


Take a ranger-guided tour of the 185-foot-tall Highbridge Tower, built in 1872. A spiral staircase leads along the brick-wall interior to a viewing platform at top. For a tour schedule, call 212-304-2365 or go to northmanhattanparks.org.

6. The Skating Rink at Riverbank State Park
679 Riverside Dr., at 145th St.; 212-694-3600


Spend an evening at one of the city’s few roller-skating spots—a canopied rink perched atop a riverside sewage plant. Open skate is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays through Sundays ($1.50 admission; $6 skate rentals).

7. Covo
701 W. 135th St., at Twelfth Ave.; 212-234-9573


After your skate date, stroll ten blocks to this affordable Italian restaurant, a standout on the strip of eateries just off the waterfront. Order a brick-oven Emilia pizza in the Tuscan dining room, followed by grappa in the neo-Victorian lounge upstairs.

8. West Harlem Piers Park
Hudson River bet. 125th and 132nd Sts.


Hit the Harlem Fairway on Twelfth Avenue for picnic provisions, then claim a shady spot in the city’s newest riverside park. Where there once was a parking lot, now there’s free kayaking, ample tanning areas, and sprinklers for the kids.

The Skate Park at West 30th Street. Photo: Suzy Allman for New York Magazine
Map by Jason Lee

1. Hudson Beach Café
Riverside Park at 105th St.; 917-370-3448


A less-crowded alternative to the Boat Basin at West 79th Street, the bi-level bar and eatery screams summer with fruity drinks, greasy fish and chips, and views of beach-volleyball courts.

2. Hudson Warehouse Shakespeare
Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, 89th St. and Riverside Dr.


Hudson Warehouse may not have the star power of Central Park’s Public Theater, but it’s easier to snag a seat—and, hey, river views! Shows start at 6:30 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.

3. Pier i Café
Hudson River at 70th St.


Gather a few friends for a cold pitcher of Corona at sunset—or, if they’re early risers, for 7 a.m. espressos—at the low-key, self-serve café on the water.

4. Clinton Cove Park
Piers 95 and 96, Hudson River bet. 55th and 57th Sts.


Poke around the relatively unknown midtown oasis, with its picnic-ready lawns, public boathouse, and Malcolm Cochran’s massive wine-bottle sculpture Private Passage.

5. Green Apple BBQ
362 E. 112th St, nr. First Ave.; 212-410-6915


Grab to-go ribs, wings, and blackened-catfish sandwiches, and carry your grub across the street to Thomas Jefferson Park. Get good and greasy beneath the towering London plane trees between the pool and baseball field.

6. Pier 107
East River at 107th St.


Cast a line into the East River (there’s bass, snapper, and flounder in there) or laze in the shade and watch the locals shadowbox Kung Fu.

7. Sportime at Randalls Island
One Randalls Island


The new tennis center at Randalls Island opens June 30, having just undergone a $16 million renovation that brought in twenty new courts. The newly revamped Golf Center across the street has 78 driving stalls and a 36-hole miniature-golf course.

8. Eli’s Vinegar Factory
431 E. 91st St., nr. First Ave.; 212-987-0885


Choose from a staggering array of prepared dishes, organic produce, and baked goods at Eli Zabar’s culinary complex, then walk two blocks back to the river to picnic.

9. Adventure Scuba
1737 York Ave., nr. 90th St.; 212-876-3483


A swimming pool adjacent to the East River may seem like an odd place to learn to dive, but Adventure Scuba’s 45-minute introductory course ($50), held at Asphalt Green, is a great deal. The outfitter also organizes field trips for certified divers to Dutch Springs, a wreck-filled quarry in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

10. Yorkville Creperie
1586 York Ave., nr. 83rd St; 212-570-5445


After a jog along the greenway, refuel on ham-and-Swiss crêpes and coffee at the new Yorkville Creperie, two blocks west.

11. Tracy Stern SalonTea
501 E. 75th St., nr. York Ave.; no phone


Try the various estate teas served with madeleines and macaroons at this newly opened tearoom inspired by the French salons of the seventeenth century.

12. Roosevelt Island Tram
Second Ave. nr. 59th St.


It ain’t exactly the Cyclone, but the Roosevelt Island Tram is a fun and slightly unnerving ride that crosses 250 feet above the East River (ride with a MetroCard).

13. Sutton Place Park
Sutton Pl. bet. 53rd and 57th Sts.


The five parks along Sutton Place (best known as the spot where Woody Allen romanced Diane Keaton in Manhattan) are tailor-made for picnics, sunbathing, and soaking in views of the Queensboro Bridge.

14. The New York Milkshake Company
342 E. 47th St., nr. First Ave.; 917-880-2393


Grab a spot in the glass gazebo or outside by the grill, and listen to music (occasionally live) blaring from the overhead speakers while you suck down one of the stand’s tasty shakes or egg creams.

15. East 34th Street Ferry Landing
E. 34th St. at East River


Combine your ball-game commute with your tailgate party by taking the Yankee Clipper up the East River to the stadium. The ship stops here before and after each Yankees home game. Round-trip tickets are $22; a bar onboard serves booze, chips, and hot dogs.

Fulton Stall Market. Photo: Talia Simhi
Map by Jason Lee

1. Skate Park at West 30th Street
Hudson River at 30th St.


Silently pray that nobody eats asphalt while you’re watching the action on the mini-half-pipe. For skaters, the park is a breezy, picturesque place to ride that’s less challenging than the one at Riverside Park on 108th Street.

2. New York Kayak Polo
Pier 66, Hudson River at 26th St.


Like water polo, but without all that swimming, kayak polo is slowly gaining followers. To try it, contact the league’s organizers (nykayakpolo.org), who will set you up with a kayak, paddle, life vest, and helmet.

3. Pier 66 Maritime
Pier 66, Hudson River at 26th St.


The barge-restaurant otherwise known as the Frying Pan relocated here last summer, having been booted off Pier 63 three blocks south. It’s still insanely popular—the best spots on the upper deck are usually occupied before 6 p.m. on Fridays.

4. North Chelsea Cove
Pier 64, Hudson River at 24th St.


The newly opened, lushly lawned Pier 64 takes advantage of its river-bend location to give lookout points both north and south.

5. The Village Community Boathouse
South side of Pier 40, West St. at W. Houston St.


Take a sit-on-top kayak for a free spin at this volunteer-run boating operation, with outposts on 56th and 72nd Streets. If you want to learn more-serious paddling skills, consider the free on-site training—volunteers swap hours for complimentary boat storage.

6. Tribeca Basketball Courts
Hudson River at Canal St.


Play some pickup at what may be the most scenic (and the windiest) basketball courts in the city. They opened last summer as part of the newly renovated stretch of waterfront between Houston and Laight Streets.

7. The Park House
Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, River Terr. nr. Murray St.; 212-267-9700


Swap your photo ID for Ping-Pong paddles or a table-hockey puck and stick at this alfresco rec center.

8. Manhattan Sailing Club
North Cove Marina, 385 South End Ave., at Liberty St.; 212-786-3323


It isn’t cheap ($250 for initiation, $1,340 annual dues, with half off for those 25 and under and 65 and up), but members get access to a fleet of J/24s and a private clubhouse barge anchored just north of Ellis Island. Intro-to-sailing lessons are offered through the Manhattan Sailing School (212-786-0400) for $99.

9. South Cove
Battery Park City Esplanade bet. 1st and 3rd Pl.


Walk the cove’s wooden-planked promenade like you’re Captain Jack Sparrow. Two lookout points (one atop a black metal staircase shaped like Lady Liberty’s crown) open onto the New York Harbor and the Jersey City skyline.

10. Wagner Pavilion/Gigino
20 Battery Pl., at West St.; 212-528-2228


Take out-of-towners up to the pavilion’s roof deck for frame-worthy views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, then dine downstairs at Gigino—the West Side’s only white-tablecloth-dining option right on the river.

11. Battery Gardens
Battery Park, enter at State St. at Pearl St.


One of the best sunsets in the city: Watch the nightly event from the beer garden at the southern tip of Battery Park, and follow up with seared-tuna sandwiches from the Picnick kiosk in the Battery Bosque.

12. Elevated Acre
55 Water St., at Coenties Slip


Bring a lawn chair or blanket and some picnic provisions, and watch one of the River to River Festival’s outdoor movies beneath the 50-foot Beacon of Light lantern. July 13 brings The Taking of Pelham One Two Three; West Side Story screens on July 20.

13. Bike and Roll Kiosk
South St. nr. Fulton St.


Swoop through the financial district on a free bicycle courtesy of the Downtown Alliance. Sign up in advance at downtownny .com to reserve wheels for a two-and-a-half-hour session. A credit card is required for deposit.

14. Water Taxi Beach
North side of Pier 17, South St. nr. Fulton St.


Scarf down burgers, wings, oysters, and fish tacos under electric-lit fake palm trees on an 18,000-square-foot beach bar on the East River. The unlikely scene includes 300 tons of sand, a nine-hole mini-golf course, Skee-Ball, and table tennis.

15. Fulton Stall Market
South St. nr. Beekman St.


Where you once could buy only fish, now you can bag Flora Perfecta flowers, Yummy Coffee lattes, and New York State wines. The new Fulton Stall Market, stocked with all manner of local products, is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

16. Front Street
Bet. Beekman St. and Peck Slip


Front Street has quietly become something of a restaurant row. There are tapas and Cuban jazz (Salud! Restaurant & Bar), Italian seafood (Carmine’s) and antipasti (Barbarini Alimentari), brick-oven pizzas (Il Brigante), New Zealand mussels and lamb (Nelson Blue), and a new outpost of the Village’s beloved Jack’s Coffee. Plus Jeremy’s Ale House, home of 32-ounce Styrofoam cups of beer, recently migrated from its old location down the block.

17. Paris Café
119 South St., at Peck Slip; 212-240-9797


Throw back a few expertly drawn Guinnesses (much of the waitstaff is Irish) and a terrific plate of calamari at one of the oldest bars in town, born in 1873.

18. East River Park Band Shell
East River nr. Grand St.


The small, underutilized bandshell hosts just three shows this summer, but they’re all good ones: The manic “Gypsy jazz-rock” artists Man Man perform July 16, followed by Bronx hip-hop legend Slick Rick on July 23, and the “Pretty Boy of Salsa,” Ismael Miranda, on July 30.

New York’s River Playground