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On the Waterfronts

City folk fancy themselves intrepid explorers, but when it comes to the shoreline, most New Yorkers are hardly Vasco da Gama. We were no exception. Discovering unspoiled spots like Dyckman Fields and the Socrates Sculpture Park -- not to mention the adventure in getting there -- was an unexpected revelation (and now we can attest that Staten Island does in fact exist).

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MANHATTAN

Dyckman Fields
Take the A train to Dyckman Street, walk west for five minutes, and you won't believe you're still in Manhattan. Wrinkled fishermen cast their lines off a small, L-shaped concrete pier with a stunning view south to the George Washington Bridge. Pack a picnic and spend the day at Dyckman Fields (22), a charmingly scrappy (and shockingly quiet) park running along the water with a large field, four baseball diamonds, and a bike path. Or you can grab some clams on the half-shell and $2.50 drafts at the Tubby Hook Cafe (348 Dyckman Street; 212-567-8086), a no-frills, beachy establishment with a soothing view of the Jersey woods.

Fort Washington Park
The Little Red Lighthouse (58) stands sentry at Fort Washington Park, the best park in Manhattan that you've never heard of. Its tennis courts, paths, and well-kept lawns literally fade right into the Hudson, making sunbathing here not unlike a day at the beach. Details: Take the A train to 181st Street; park runs down to 145th Street.

79th Street Boat Basin
Despite its name, much of Riverside Park's (89) spectacular scenery is cut off from the river itself by the Henry Hudson Parkway (though there is one path along the water). The 79th Street Boat Basin is a major exception. The Boat Basin Café (212-496-5542), in a turnaround that looks like a Pompeian ruin, is a stellar spot to sip a cocktail, munch an appetizer, and watch the boats bobbing in the marina. Details: Take the 79th Street crosstown bus to the end; go up the staircase on either side of the arch.

Hudson River Park
Still under construction, the Hudson River Park (45) is drawing sun worshipers from all over the city. Running from 59th Street to the Battery, the park -- a Rollerblader's paradise -- is a paved pathway connecting various piers. From 23rd Street on down, there are also some beautiful fields and play areas, including Nelson A. Rockefeller Park (91) (212-416-5300), which runs from Chambers Street to Vesey Street in Battery Park City, where you can use free outdoor Ping-Pong and pool tables. For wheels, try River Bikes (212-967-5444), a new chain sprouting up at Piers 84 (at 44th Street) and 63 (at 23rd Street) and the Battery. For $9 or $10 an hour ($6 for kids), you get your choice of a classic Schwinn Cruiser or a mountain bike. And you don't need to drop your bike off at the same spot where you rented it, eliminating time-consuming backtracking. For general information about Hudson River Park and to find out about specific events, visit www.hudsonriverpark.org or call 212-533-park.

Pier 40
It may look like a hulking garage at the western end of Houston Street, but inside Pier 40 (75) there's a picnic house, soccer fields, batting cages, and a climbing wall. The concrete deck is a fine place to fish or take in the view of industrial Jersey. Call ahead or go online (212-627-2020; www.pier40.org) to find out about specific events and which sections are open to the public, as parts of the complex are often reserved for private functions. Details: Take the 1/9 to Houston Street and walk west.

The River Project
At this bare-bones marine-biology field station on Pier 26 (74) at the end of North Moore Street, you can see (and, if you so desire, touch) such critters as eels, shrimp, sea horses, and the especially ghoulish oyster toadfish -- all of which make their home in the Hudson alongside Johnny Two Face Jr. Details: Take the 1/9 to Franklin Street (212-431-5787; www.riverproject.org). Admission is free; open seven days, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Downtown Boathouse
Also at Pier 26 is the Downtown Boathouse (73) (www.downtownboathouse.org; 212-385-8169), where on weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. you can strap on a life preserver, take out a free kayak, and enjoy an awe-inspiring view of your hometown. Show up before 8 a.m. for one of the more challenging three-hour journeys. There's also a new location, on Pier 64 at West 24th Street, offering the basic kayak services (but no day trips) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Pier 25
Next door is Pier 25 (72), where you can serve Ping-Pong balls or volleyballs, watch your kid play in a sandbox, and make a hole-in-one all while looking at the sun set behind the Statue of Liberty. You can also rent sailboats. For munchies, there's such summer-camp fare as hot dogs, burgers, and ice cream. Oh, and there are free movies at
8 p.m., like Dr. Strangelove on August 31; call to find out what's happening (212-732-7467). Details: Mini golf, $2 for kids, $3 for adults; volleyball, $10 an hour, $30 after 5 p.m.; sailing, $250 for ten four-hour sessions on weekends and after 5:30 p.m. on weekdays (212-222-1405 for sailing information). Screenings are Friday evenings; "Swing Night," with live big band, on Sunday nights. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Battery Park City and Park
NASDAQ-weary Wall Streeters know that Battery Park City's open lawns and play areas are some of the best in town for getting some color or tossing a ball. And its crisscrossing boardwalks traverse the water's edge, leading you into sheltered gazebos, past meticulously landscaped gardens, and over small footbridges spanning little ponds. The gardens and sculptures at the original Battery Park (9), at the southern tip of Manhattan, are delightful on weekdays, when it's not crammed with raucous groups lining up for the ferries to Ellis Island (28) and the Statue of Liberty. Castle Clinton (212-344-7220), a circular stone fort built in 1811, is where you buy ferry tickets; in July, it's also home to weekly concerts. Details: Take the 1/9 to Chambers Street for Battery Park City, or to the Staten Island Ferry stop for Battery Park.

John Finley Walk
A stroll through the iron gates of Carl Schurz Park yields not only an imposing view of Gracie Mansion but also a wooded path across the FDR. Take it, and you'll arrive at the tidy but mellow John Finley Walk (50), with its fenced-in gardens and lush grass lining a wide, paved path. Benches along the waterfront offer prettier-than-you'd-expect views of Roosevelt (92) and Randall's (85) islands. Details: M86 crosstown bus to the East 86th Street entrance.

East River Bikeway
A Giuliani brainchild, the East River Bikeway (25) runs south from 14th Street to Wall Street. The mostly uncongested path snakes along the (currently shuttered) East River Park, and the cool breeze off the water makes for a refreshing ride. Details: M14 bus to 14th Street and Avenue D; walk over the FDR to the bike path.

East River Pavilion
Brave the littered ramp up to this pavilion overlooking the FDR at 60th Street for its great view of the river -- not to mention shelter from late-afternoon showers. While sitting at the benches, you'll be hard-pressed to miss the East River Roundabout (26), a huge sculpture suspended overhead that looks like a looping roller-coaster track. Details: Take the 6 train to 59th Street; walk east on 60th Street to the river.

AND DON'T FORGET: The Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum (47), a retired naval behemoth just a few blocks west of Times Square at 46th Street (www.intrepidmuseum.org, or call 212-245-0072). . . . The Circle Line's loop-the-loop around Manhattan (www.circleline.com; 212-563-3200). . . . Chelsea Piers (18) (www.chelseapiers.com; 212-336-6666) sports complex at 23rd Street, offering everything from ice-skating to sun decks. . . . South Street Seaport's (99) mall, museum, and restored schooner.

BROOKLYN

Shore Parkway
The northern stretch of the Shore Parkway (94) running along the Brooklyn waterfront is a bit noisy with traffic, but once you reach the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (105), the only sound you'll hear is water lapping the shore. Gaze out at tankers and tugboats; back on the grass, people fly kites and toss Frisbees. Details: Take the N/R to 59th Street or just the R to the Bay Ridge stop, then walk west for five to ten minutes.

Bargemusic
Bach on a barge: The proprietors of Bargemusic (8), a restored, docked vessel off the Fulton Ferry Pier (36), offer nightly classical-music concerts. Details: Take the A/C to High Street, walk on Cadman Plaza West toward the Brooklyn Bridge, turn left on Old Fulton Street, and head down to the barge. Call 718-624-2083 for a schedule; tickets are $30, $15 for students.

Red Hook
The nearest subway stop is about a half-hour walk away, but adventurous souls will be rewarded by a trip to the Waterfront Museum (15) (www.waterfrontmuseum.org). It's little more than an antiquated, docked red barge with a collection of maritime memorabilia onboard, but on a clear day the view of the water with the Statue of Liberty (101) is truly breathtaking. Call 718-624-4719 to find out about the live-music and Circus Sundays series offered on the barge. Details: Take the 2/3 or 4/5 to Borough Hall; then take the B61 bus on Court Street to the last Van Brunt Street stop, turn right on Beard Street, and after one block go left on Conover Street to the water.

Fulton Ferry State Park
A stroll along the water's edge between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges leads to the unassuming (albeit unfinished) Fulton Ferry State Park (30), whose dusty wooden path meanders past grassy spots for lounging as well as the Empire Stores, a strip of abandoned, redbrick warehouses that offers a glimpse of nineteenth-century working Brooklyn. Details: Take the 2/3 or 4/5 to Borough Hall; take the B25 bus to the last stop; walk down Cadman Plaza West to the waterfront.

AND DON'T FORGET: Coney Island, home of freak shows, the Cyclone roller coaster, and the Brooklyn Cyclones' brand-new KeySpan Park (1904 Surf Avenue; 718-449-tixs). . . . Brighton Beach, where you can play volleyball with a crew of chatty Russian men sporting Day-Glo Speedos. . . . The Brooklyn Bridge (13) for walking, jogging, or biking.

STATEN ISLAND

Snug Harbor
True, its "water views" are blocked by a wall of trees, but Snug Harbor Cultural Center (96), built in the nineteenth century as a retirement community for sailors, retains a distinctly nautical feel. (Today, its austere granite buildings house the Staten Island Children's Museum, the Musical Hall of Snug Harbor, and the Newhouse Galleries; call 718-448-2500 for details.) Definitely drop the $5 admission to stroll the intricate walkways of the majestic jasmine-and-pine-scented New York Chinese Scholars' Garden. Details: From the St. George Ferry Terminal, S40 bus along Richmond Terrace, or by car to 1000 Richmond Terrace.

National Lighthouse Museum
Along the ratty concrete promenade just east of the St. George Ferry Terminal are the decaying remains of the former Staten Island Lighthouse Depot, future home of the National Lighthouse Center and Museum (64) (www.lighthousemuseum.org). While you can't go in any of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century buildings, where whole lighthouses were once built and tested, plaques explain their significance. And there's something moving about these edifices in their gritty, half-forgotten state.

Richmond County

Bank Ballpark
Just west of the ferry terminal is the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, whose grandstands afford a brilliant view of Manhattan (and the Staten Island Yankees are a hell of a team; the "Baby Bombers" were last year's New York-Penn League Champions; 718-720-9265).

Fort Tompkins
Fort Tompkins, the massive, pentagonal fortress at Fort Wadsworth (33), in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, was built in 1814 to defend New York Harbor but never completed. If you're hungry, stop into the Carriage House (500 Battery Road; 718-876-6489) for bar food and live music. Take the pathway down the hill to the east, and you'll come out at a lovely park and playground at the beginning of a relatively pristine eight-mile stretch of South Beach, which blends into Midland Beach. Not a good place for swimming, but perfect for sunbathing. And the FDR boardwalk goes the whole way. (Bring food, as there's not much here to speak of.) Details: Take the S51 bus from the ferry terminal. By car: The Bay Street exit off the Verrazano goes straight into Fort Wadsworth. For beaches, off the Verrazano, take the Hylan Boulevard/South Beach/Lily Pond Avenue exit, keep right, and merge onto Lily Pond Avenue, which becomes Father Capodanno Boulevard, where there are many parking lots along the beach.

QUEENS

Socrates Sculpture Park
Don't be put off by the patchy grass and unkempt shrubbery that dot the Socrates Sculpture Park (97) on the water's edge in Astoria. Inside, you'll find an ever-changing collection of very out-there art, not to mention the breeze coming off the East River. Details: Take the N to Broadway in Queens; walk eight blocks along Broadway across Vernon Boulevard to the East River.

Gantry Plaza State Park
A futuristic urban space, Gantry Plaza State Park (37) features piers with ergonomically correct lounge chairs and a playground. Built out from the edge of an industrial park, this spot for lounging and lunching -- landscaped with stone cubes, steel mesh, and towering black supports -- is surprisingly relaxing. Details: Take the 7 train to Vernon Boulevard in Queens and walk along Vernon; take a left on 48th Avenue and walk to the river. Visit www.queenswest.com/gantrypark for information.

THE BRONX

Yankee Stadium
Baseball fans have an alternative to the subway to Yankee Stadium (112): Take the Yankee Clipper to the next home game. Departure points are at South Street Seaport, East 34th Street, and East 90th Street; once the boat docks, Yankee Stadium is a ten-minute walk away. Details: Round-trip ferry tickets are $14, $12 for senior citizens, $10 for children. Food and drinks are served onboard. Call 800-53-ferry for information.

City Island
A salty, New England-style community, City Island seems far removed from Manhattan, though it's only 30 minutes from midtown. After taking a sailing lesson at New York Sailing Center (560 Minneford Avenue; 718-885-0335), dine at Johnny's Famous Reef (2 City Island Avenue; 718-885-2090). If you want to sleep over, Le Refuge Inn offers as clear a view of the water as you could ask for (620 City Island Avenue; 718-885-2478; rooms start at $96). Details: Take the 6 train to Pelham Bay Park and transfer to the BX29 bus to City Island.

NEW JERSEY

Pier A
At the end of Pier A (79) in Hoboken, as you look out at a gleaming stretch of Manhattan, it hits you that the Garden State has its merits. Aside from the view, this grassy park, with its well-maintained promenade, makes for a fine place to picnic, sunbathe, fish, and take in fireworks. Just north of Pier A, Frank Sinatra Park (34) offers a boat ramp, a soccer field, and shaded benches. Have lunch at the Sinatra Park Café (525 Sinatra Drive; 201-420-9900) and enjoy the panorama that inspired Frank to hop the ferry to New York. Details: Hoboken Ferry from either the World Financial Center ($3) or West 38th Street Terminal ($4). For info, call 800-53-ferry or visit www.nywaterway.com.

Owen Grundy Pier
Jersey City's Owen Grundy Pier (68) at Exchange Place is a clean, charming promenade and park. A little farther south, Newport Pier (66) is less populated (and slightly less maintained). But this is probably the most popular place in Jersey for casting lines into the Hudson. Details: Take the ferry from the World Financial Center to Colgate Center terminal ($3).

Liberty State Park
A water-taxi ride from the World Financial Center drops you off at Liberty State Park (54), where you'll find plenty of grass for lounging, a water's-edge walkway, opportunities for fishing and even crabbing, and magnificent views. Grab a hot dog from a vendor nearby, and check the schedule at the performance space (the Cirque du Soleil's Dralion passed through most recently). Or take the kids to the Liberty Science Center (53) for some interactive museumgoing. Details: One-way taxi tickets cost $5. For more info, call 201-985-8000.

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