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New York's River Playground

An explosion of pier parks, paddling coves, bicycle stands, and open-air cafés is turning Manhattan’s 32-mile-long waterfront into one hell of a backyard.

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Kayaking at West Harlem Piers Park.   

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.


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