|The engines that could: Exploring
the Fire Zone in Manhattan.
Begin in lower Manhattan
at the New York City Police Museum, where you’ll
trace the evolution of cop stuff: uniforms, badges,
weapons, and other equipment that helps the men and
women in blue catch the bad guys. Or (staying with the
uniform theme), head to the Fire Zone, in midtown, which
re-creates a hazard-laden room that goes up in (safe)
smoke; kids practice the stop, drop, and roll under
the tutelage of an FDNY pro. For lunch, take the family
on a city-style picnic: Pack your own or let E.A.T.
on Madison Avenue put together a divine basket with
selected contents for each member of the family, including
the finicky ones. Either way, head up to the dreamy
Harlem Meer at the northern edge of Central Park, which
is never as crowded as the southern regions. The area
between 106th and 110th Streets covers some 65 acres
of grasslands and woodlands, some of it very rugged.
The meer, or lake, has a sandy area and steps leading
down to the water’s edge. The Urban Rangers—they
call themselves Parkies—will lead you to the Dana
Discovery Center. Try your luck with the catch-and-release
fishing program, which runs Tuesdays through Sundays
from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All equipment is provided, including
bait and an instruction booklet. Another option is to
head even farther uptown, to Fort Tryon Park, home of
the Cloisters, which houses the Metropolitan Museum
of Art’s breathtaking collection of medieval European
art and architecture. On September 21, the park will
host the annual Medieval Festival (noon to 6 p.m.; 212-795-1600),
with costumed characters from the Middle Ages, jugglers,
jesters, and jousts.
N.Y.C. Police Museum, 100 Old Slip (212-480-3100;
FDNY Fire Zone, 34 W. 51st St. (212-698-4520;
E.A.T., 1064 Madison Ave., near 80th St. (212-772-0022).
Harlem Meer, mid-park at 110th St. (centralparknyc.org).
Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters, Fort Washington
Ave., Washington Heights (212-923-3700).
|Wildlife: The city's last
working farm is in Queens.
You’re in the biggest
borough; start off at the Queens County Farm in Little
Neck, the last working farm in the city. Watch the demonstrations
of eighteenth-century craft-making, cooking, and the
like. Outside, sheep and goats are pettable, and there
are lots of other animals to get up close and personal
with. You’re just ten minutes by car from the
Alley Pond Environmental Center, where the hiking trails
are easy and where you’ll see plenty of wildlife.
For lunch, try Jahn’s in Richmond Hill. This old-fashioned
diner and ice-cream parlor’s most famous dessert
is the Kitchen Sink—three gallons of ice creams
and toppings (your choice), so bring a crowd. Then spend
the afternoon at Flushing Meadow–Corona Park.
Kids will love the Hall of Science, with 225 mostly
interactive exhibits. Outdoors is the playground, challenging
kids with a giant spider’s-web jungle gym, among
many other elements.
Queens County Farm, 73-50 Little Neck Pkwy.,
Floral Park (718-347-3276; queensfarm.org).
Alley Pond Environmental Center, 228-06 Northern
Blvd., Douglaston (718-229-4000; alleypond.com).
Jahn’s, 117-03 Hillside Ave., Richmond
Hill (718-847-2800; jahnsicecream.com).
New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th St.,
Flushing Meadows (718-699-0005).
This is the sound of a
7-year-old boy’s ecstatic endorsement of Fun Time
USA: “Noooooo! Daddy, don’t write
about it! Then everyone will go and it will be crowded
and spoiled!” Well, that’s the sound of
a journalist’s son, anyway. Your son or daughter
will be shrieking enthusiastically and unhesitatingly
inside Fun Time USA, the hybrid amusement park–cum–video
arcade in Sheepshead Bay. The 55,000-square-foot space
allows a kid, legs safely snuggled up to his or her
waist in a thick felt pouch, to build up some serious
speed while sliding 150 feet down a twisting two-story
fiberglass ramp before plopping happily into a pile
of cushions. There’s also room for budding space
rangers to hunt down their enemies and zap ’em
good before darting behind protective walls inside the
Laser World arena. Gentler souls can try “bowlingo,”
a miniature bowling alley, where the bowling balls are
the size of a Florida orange and the pins are about
half the standard height. Bumper cars—each fronted
by the cartoonish, helmeted, grimacing face of a football
player—bounce and skid across one section of the
Fun Time floor. Other sectors have dozens of bleeping
That’s not the only worthy diversion in Sheepshead
Bay. Walk out onto the marina pier early any morning,
and you’re treated to a very different kind of
carny experience. Here the barkers are calling out “Fluke!”
“Bluefish!” “We get the big tuna!”
These are the dozen or so captains of Sheepshead Bay’s
fishing fleet, competing for your angling business.
Most boats make two runs: one from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.,
another heading out around 7 p.m. and returning at midnight,
when an incomparable view of the city spreads out twinkling
before you. “We’ll go out toward the Jersey
coast or up to Long Island, maybe to Raritan Bay or
Jamaica Bay, wherever the fish are running and the water’s
calm,” says Mike Greenwood, captain of the Lark
III, a custom-made 60-footer. Bring your own gear,
or consult the helpful folks at Bo-Gi’s Bait and
Tackle. “But if you don’t have any poles
and hooks,” Greenwood says, “we’ll
supply them for free. With any luck, you’ll be
eating fish you caught for dinner.”
Even with no luck, you’ve still got pretty good
choices. Sheepshead Bay is home to the famous, resurrected,
and sprawling Lundy’s seafood restaurant. Smaller
and far less formal, but no less legendary, is Roll-N-Roaster,
a throwback to a pre-McDonald’s fast-food era.
Roast-beef sandwiches are the Roll-N-Roaster specialty,
but there’s chowder, shrimp, burgers, and this
unbeatable enticement: You can put cheez on anything
Fun Time USA, 2461 Knapp St., Sheepshead
Bay (718-368-0500; funtimeusa.net).
Mike Greenwood, fishing captain, Lark III,
Sheepshead Bay pier (718-645-6942). Bo-Gi’s
Bait and Tackle, 2126 Knapp St., Sheepshead Bay
(718-743-2277). Lundy’s, 1901 Emmons
Ave., Sheepshead Bay (718-743-0022). Roll-N-Roaster,
2901 Emmons Ave., Sheepshead Bay (718-769-6000).
|Big mouth: The Staten Island
Children's Museum in Snug Harbor.
4. STATEN ISLAND
Thoreau on Staten Island:
The words seem like a punch line in search of a joke.
But it’s true. In the 1840s, old H.D. lived in
the city’s fifth and too-often-forgotten borough—staying
with the brother of his fellow three-named, naturally
inclined author friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. And the
concept of Thoreau on Staten Island becomes downright
palpable when you leave behind the strip-mall junk of
Hylan Boulevard and enter the quiet sandy-pine-and-oak
woods of Clay Pit Pond State Park Preserve, at the southwestern
end of the island. The 250 acres, home to osprey and
red-tailed hawks, are ribboned with two and a half miles
of wood-chipped trails.
The hikes and sites are even grander and wilder inside
the Greenbelt, 2,800 acres stretching across the center
of the island. The Greenbelt’s woodlands, wetlands,
and meadows have miraculously remained largely unchanged
for more than 200 years, though the park isn’t
completely free of the modern: In an ironic touch, the
Greenbelt’s highest point, a 110-foot pinnacle
that offers panoramic views for up to sixteen miles,
is a man-made pile named Moses’ Mountain—after
Robert Moses, the legendary parks commissioner, builder
of highways, and wrecker of neighborhoods. At the Greenbelt’s
northern tip, you can gently reenter the mechanized
world by walking the gentle “White Trail”
to the quaint carousel of wooden horses in Willowbrook
Park. The Urban Park Rangers offer year-round guided
walks and educational talks in the visitor’s center.
Sara Hobel, director of the Rangers, suggests a visit
to the Greenbelt’s High Rock Park, either early
in the morning—go to Loose Strife Swamp for a
glimpse of elegant blue herons and snowy egrets—or
in the evening, when the Rangers lead astronomy and
overnight camping sessions.
After hours of pastoral contemplation, you can become
part of a Staten Island tradition nearly as old as the
Clay Pit hills: arguing about who makes the better pizza.
The eternal contenders are Nunzio’s (thicker crust,
homier atmosphere) and Joe & Pat’s (thinner crust,
more central location). Cleanse the palate of tomato
sauce with the one-and-only Italian-ice champ, Ralph’s.
Then head to the borough’s newest park, the ballpark.
(N.B. Although public transportation can get you to
all of these places, a car brought over on the ferry
makes life a whole lot easier.) The official, hopelessly
unwieldy name is the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at
St. George. Note the spectacular setting: Lower Manhattan
is the backdrop to an outfield patrolled by the Staten
Island Yankees, the youngest minor-league hopefuls in
the Bronx Bombers’ system. It’s a five-minute
walk from the stadium to the Staten Island Ferry and
the perfect ending to a day in the open air. Who needs
Walden Pond when you can bounce across the chop of New
Of course, there’s more to Staten Island than
pizza and baseball. In the wonderful Snug Harbor Cultural
Center, the Staten Island Children’s Museum has
a hands-in water exhibit that doesn’t really drench
but is still loads of fun. Kid-appropriate cooking classes
are on the schedule every week, along with themed arts-and-crafts
workshops. From there, it’s another short hop
to the Staten Island Zoo, which houses an impressive
collection of reptiles, as well as the African Savannah
at Twilight exhibit, featuring animals from the African
grasslands, including leopards, mandrills, and lemurs.
Last stop is Historic Richmond Town. Covering more than
100 acres, there’s a village with buildings that
dates from 1695. Learn about the evolution of the borough
at the site’s Historical Museum. Throughout the
grounds docents don period costumes and demonstrate
early-American crafts-making and cooking. The Parsonage
serves basic Americana—steaks, mac ’n’
cheese, pizza—in a Victorian house that overlooks
greenery and an old schoolhouse. If you’re so
inclined and still have the energy, the Jacques Marchais
Museum of Tibetan Art, which resembles a monastery,
contains a large collection of Eastern artifacts virtually
guaranteed to calm the troops before bedtime.
Clay Pit Pond State Park Preserve, 83 Nielsen
Ave. (718-967-1976; nysparks.com)
Greenbelt Conservancy (718-667-2165; www.sigreenbelt.org.
Urban Park Ranger Programs; 866-692-4295). High
Rock Park, 200 Nevada Ave. (718-667-2165; www.sigreenbelt.org).
Nunzio’s, 2155 Hylan Blvd. (718-667-9647).
Joe & Pat’s, 1758 Victory Blvd. (718-981-0887).
Ralph’s, 501 Port Richmond Ave. (718-448-0853).
Staten Island Yankees (718-720-9200; www.siyanks.com).
Staten Island Children’s Museum, 1000
Richmond Terrace (718-273-2060). Staten Island
Zoo, 614 Broadway (718-442-3100). Historic
Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Ave. (718-351-1611).
The Parsonage (718-351-7879). Jacques
Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, 338 Lighthouse
Ave. (718-987-3500; tibetanmuseum.com).