It’s summer, and once the weekend rolls around, I’m sure you want to spend the days outdoors in the great weather. Do “something” different with your family. Fun. Educational. Maybe a day trip? Something local… but you don’t want to sit in crazy summer traffic to get there. Central Park, the Bronx Zoo… been there, done that. You need something new. And… did I mention… cheap?
Well, I now know NYC’s best-kept secret for outdoor family summer fun! It’s an island 800 yards from lower Manhattan, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday through October 8. The island once was a military base, but now it is filled with parks, historic forts, a sandy beach, bike trails… and no cars! It’s Governor’s Island and you need to get your family there at least once this summer. (Maybe twice because there is so much to do!)
Governor’s Island is accessible via a free ferry from Lower Manhattan. Take the R, 1, 4 or 5 train to South Ferry. The terminal is right next to the Staten Island Ferry, and there are plenty of signs, you cannot miss it. The ferry ride is approximately five minutes. And on the boat, I guarantee you will see plenty strollers, bikes and kids. You can find the ferry schedule here.
On my recent visit, my sister, 14-month-old son and I set up a picnic in Nolan Park, a beautiful, well-maintained grassy area. My sister was performing as part of Figment, a weekend long arts festival. In addition to checking out the Figment exhibits, my son was able to visit the Children’s Museum of Arts Free Island Outpost, and play with clay and paints, which your child can do each day from 11am – 3pm.
Governor’s Island has a ton of guided tours and events all throughout the summer, the schedule you can find here. I would love to return to check out the Added Value Farm (which starts selling local produce in July), or the PUNK music
festival on June 20th. Older kids would love the Saturday June 19th Army Heritage Day, as well as the July 17th Lets Fly a Kite Festival. And there is another art fair, September 4-26. I think my husband better mark his calendar for the September 25th, Vendy Awards… where you can sample NYC street cart food, all in one place! Seriously, each weekend, there is something for kids of all ages going on.
If tours and festivals aren’t your speed, and you want to see the island at your own pace, take advantage of Free Bike Friday, where you can rent an adult or kid bike for an hour, free of charge. They even have baby seats for kids age one and up. Helmets are also free. On the weekends a daily adult bike rental costs $25, kid bikes are $20. A bike seems to be a great way to explore the whole island, and the easiest way to get to Picnic Point on the south side. And you are welcome to bring your own bikes to Governor’s Island. The ferry even has bike racks!
Maybe a lazy day in the sun is more your thing, so spend time in the sand at Water Taxi Beach, a small beach right by the ferry terminal (with amazing views of lower Manhattan). Brought to you by the same folks that have the beach in Long Island City, this outpost has a more family friendly vibe. They also sell food, as do several spots on the island. They have their own schedule of live music performances. mainly on Saturdays starting between 4 and 6pm.
Governor’s Island is truly the ultimate daytrip destination for a Queens family. A staycation right here in NYC. And no cars traffic or gas required!