This is usually the time of year in NYC when its inhabitants force summer into bloom. Rickety bistro tables cram into impossible outdoor spaces, playground basketball courts draw sideline crowds, sunny park benches become prime real estate, and rosé bottles pop as the sun passes over the yardarm.
To say that this is an anticlimactic start to summer is the understatement of the century. Though New Yorkers stay positive, the frightening realities of the pandemic are playing out front and center here. Even as things slowly open up, we’re looking at a season filled with discrepancies, uncertainties, and anxieties. Can we also make it one filled with explorations, learnings, new routines, and a redistributing of psychic and physical resources to those in need?
YES. Here’s how.
Lay of the Land and Rules of Play
Let’s talk about what’s opening, what’s safe, and what will keep us from going insane over the summer.
City beaches are closed for sunbathing and swimming, though walking is okay, as long as you maintain social distancing. Local residents are permitted to sit on the beaches at Coney Island, Rockaway and Orchard Beaches, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, and Cedar Grove on Staten Island. The National Park Service beaches — Jacob Riis and Fort Tilden — are open for passive recreation (and seem to be a bit more chill than the other beaches) but, still, no swimming. Long Island beaches (Nassau and Suffolk counties) are opening only to residents. Editor note: NYC beaches will reopen July 1, 2020.
New York’s state parks are open on a limited basis. Many will have reduced parking, limited availability, and shortened hours. Note that restrooms will likely be closed. Practice being an early bird and go first thing to take advantage of wide open spaces with few people. Enjoy nature and then go home for a nap, feeling healthy and satisfied. Make sure you check safety precautions, cancellations, and potential closures before you head to a park, beach, or recreation center.
Even if you are not concerned about your own safety, be concerned about the safety of others. Be respectful, be compassionate, be mindful of the space and context you are in. Give a wide berth to passerby, wear a mask, and use hand sanitizer liberally.
Let’s spend the summer with as much personal space as we can handle — yielding subway and bus use to essential workers when we can, and exploring the city limits (and beyond) on foot or skateboard, by bicycle or car. Remember that this will work when we work together.
Get Around on Foot
Lucky for us, New York is a walking city. People move here because they love to walk! Even in pre-pandemic times, a whole day spent walking around made for the very best kind of day. In anticipation of a hot and boring summer, the mayor has opened up miles of pedestrian-only streets, so lace up some comfortable kicks and keep on going.
Nurture Your Inner Bird Freak
We’re sitting still and noticing. It’s no wonder that birding is on the up and up. New York City’s boroughs and the wilds of Long Island are filled with ornithological hotspots, thanks to a migration corridor along the Eastern Seaboard called the Atlantic Flyaway. Central and Prospect Parks are big draws for birds, of course, but so are Pelham Bay in the Bronx and Mount Loretto in Staten Island. Here’s some good advice we got for beginner birders: Start where you are — whether that's a backyard, fire escape, rooftop, or window — and start early in the morning. All you need to get to know your winged neighbors is patience and a pair of binoculars. Once you’ve whet the appetite, move on to birding routes — and bring your books! We’re fans of The Sibley Field Guides and Peterson Field Guides. Bird Watching in New York City and on Long Island, written by local birdwatchers Deborah Rivel and Kellye Rosenheim, is another good one to start with.
Clambake With Your Quaranteam
Grand Banks has thrown down the anchor once again at Hudson River Park. The seasonal oyster bar on the deck of a historic fishing boat is back with contact-free ordering and pickups on the charming wooden schooner. Just being near that boat strengthens our sea legs and brings to mind breezy summer days. The crew is packing up lobster rolls, lemonades, oysters, and the like. If you’re looking for a maritime-y face mask, there are some cute offerings (ahoy!) at their virtual merch stand. Cruise the West Side promenade until you find a somewhat sparsely populated spot for a seaside picnic. They recently set up socially distanced seating two-tops for waterside dining as well.
Take an Uncrowded Bridge Walk (or Two)
While the planks of the 137-year-old landmark are usually crammed with tourists, these strange times have meant the Brooklyn Bridge is almost entirely empty, especially in the early part of the day, which makes it one of the best opportunities to get photos of the skyline and iconic suspension cables. Make a morning out of it and grab a breakfast sandwich from Bread & Spread at your starting point in DUMBO, then check out the beautiful architecture of City Hall once you reach Manhattan before turning back around. If you’re still feeling adventurous, walk across the newly reopened Squibb Bridge at Brooklyn Bridge Park, which has been under renovation for more than five years. The zig-zag-designed elevated walkway takes people from the park to the Squibb Playground near the Brooklyn Promenade by going up and over Furman Street.
Attend a Vigil, March, or Protest
If you decide to participate in a large group gathering, please try and keep your distance, wear a mask, and come prepared. Amnesty International has a handy PDF that includes a quick list of your rights, as well as a check list for what to do and not to do, what to wear, what to bring, and how to protect yourself. Bushwick Daily publishes a new list of daily BLM events happening in every borough, which, should be noted, have overwhelmingly been peaceful and powerful.
Add a Bicycle
A rising star of the virus lockdown, bicycles have become a hot commodity. If it’s been a while, do a quick check before you head out — tires, break, chains, and quick release. Take a water bottle, lock, helmet, and be on your way.
Ride the Long Path Through the Palisades
The Long Path starts at the 175th Street subway station and runs 358 miles, all the way to Albany. As a day trip in our current conditions, cycling is the way to go. Head up to and over the George Washington Bridge (the views are awesome) and through New Jersey’s Palisades, a line of steep cliffs that run for more than 40 miles along the west side of the lower Hudson River and are beautiful and unexpected. Palisades Interstate Park is about twelve miles long, encompassing 2,500 acres of woodlands filled with wildlife. Picnic areas and restrooms are open — so bring a bag lunch. You’ll also want to bring a bike lock so that you can explore the inland hiking trails. Download the park map before you go.
Float Among the Spirits
All 478 acres of Green-Wood, a lovely, haunting, peaceful, national landmark in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, are open for tranquil exploration, seven days a week, from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Coming from Manhattan or North Brooklyn, you can ride through Prospect Park to get there, but once you get to Green-Wood, park your bike at any entrance (there are several, with varying open times you can check here), procure a free map, and make your way on foot through landscapes varied with hills, valleys, glacial ponds, and century-old trees. The place has drawn bird-watchers, history enthusiasts, architecture buffs, and romantics for over 175 years; it gained an international reputation for its beauty (and helped inspire the creation of public parks) and prestigious permanent residents (Civil War generals, famous artists, entertainers, politicians, and sports heroes). You can learn some of these incredible stories through the fabulous array of virtual history lessons and tours. Take in the serenity and absolutely respect the rules (no playing, no climbing trees, no pets, no picnicking) so you don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
Cruise the Brooklyn Waterfront
Bike the cycling path on the Brooklyn waterfront, which involves almost no interaction with cars from Greenpoint to Red Hook. Stop by the Red Hook Lobster Pound for a transportive lobster roll — the essence of an East Coast summer. Order the Classic for takeout, with chunks of lobster tossed with lemon mayo, or the Connecticut, poached with butter and served warm, and find a sunny and solitary spot to sit and eat at the water’s edge. If you’re more the BBQ type, pick up a pound of brisket or pulled pork at Hometown BBQ paired with a to-go cocktail from Red Hook Tavern.
Act Out of Solidarity, Not Charity
If you’re healthy and able-bodied, South Brooklyn Mutual Aid is looking for volunteers to deliver groceries to vulnerable New Yorkers. The organization works with wholesale food providers and community partners as they continue to build their network and distribute food. For every $3,000 they unlock, another 150 families in need are added to their delivery list. Additionally, The Corona Couriers are looking for members to help pick up and deliver groceries in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Email email@example.com.
Add a Car
Good news: Car traffic is reportedly down 75 percent. More good news: Having access to an automobile is a big factor in maintaining sanity, especially if you are cooped up in an apartment with kids. Gas up and head for the hills.
Get Scenic at the State Park
Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve is situated on a scenic peninsula extending into Long Island Sound. It looks fancy, as far as state parks go, with beautiful buildings at the entrance, horse stables, and bridle paths. There are paved and dirt paths for walking, jogging, hiking, and cycling through woods, fields, and rocky beach. This is a great option for kids who are dying to practice without training wheels or are ready to take their scootering to the next level. There are shady spots for cooling down, hills for rolling down, and breezy coves for a refreshing change of scenery.
Drive to the Outdoor Movies
Warwick Drive-In has been a favorite of ours for years for its vintage pre-screener cartoons and kitschy snack bar. The historic outdoor movie theater with three screens can accommodate a few hundred cars, which are being limited during Corona times. A new plus is that you can purchase tickets in advance online. Same with snacks (hot dogs, burgers, popcorn, candy, ice cream) through their app. The movie choices are family-friendly and mainstream, but the experience is charming nonetheless. Instead of blaring the sound through a PA system, moviegoers tune their radios to a station that plays the film’s audio. Masks and social distancing are musts if you leave your car.
Bel Aire Diner, an Astoria staple since 1965, has turned their parking lot into a drive-in movie theater. For the setup, the diner props up a 25-foot screen, allowing easy viewing for roughly 30 to 40 cars. Movie patrons must be inside their cars (no walkers!) and can tune in to the flick's sound on an FM radio station. Visitors can dine too, ordering food ahead of time from Bel Aire's website and including the car color and license plate for waiter drop-offs. Tickets sell out quickly, so follow along for release times on the diner’s feed.
Head Back to the Farm in Queens
Not only are there more than 35 species of trees to lay beneath at the Queens County Farm Museum, but there are baby sheep. And chickens. And cows. And pigs. It’s animal therapy on the most basic level. Dating back to 1697, the 47 acres in the eastern neighborhoods of Floral Park and Glen Oaks is the longest continually farmed site in New York State and raises hundreds of livestock on a property that includes historic farm buildings, a greenhouse, planting fields, an orchard, and herb garden. Some parts (like the museum) are closed for now, but will hopefully open later this season.
Charge the Field at Yankee Stadium
With no Major League Baseball games scheduled this summer, a new “socially distant playground” is coming to the parking lot of Yankee Stadium. The carnival-like experience, set to happen every weekend starting in July, will be a combination of a drive-in movie theater and live-music concert with local NYC artists and car-side dinner service from beloved New York street vendors like Nathan’s Hot Dogs — a NYC summer staple. In an effort to honor first responders, some tickets will be reserved and given to nurses, doctors, EMS, police officers — for free. Each weekend, the drive-in will play a new film, catering to couples on Friday and Saturday nights and family at a Sunday brunch series. Tickets will be available online and a waiting list is currently available on the event’s website.
Storm Storm King State Park
Storm King Art Center, a bucolic open-air museum showcasing the largest collection of contemporary outdoor sculptures in the United States, is closed until June 30, 2020. But Storm King Mountain, which looms over the 1,972-acre state park near Cornwall-on-Hudson, offers deep-breath-inducing views of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley. After a long hike or invigorating scramble, reward yourself with a cone of fresh, homemade ice cream from Cold Spring’s famed Moo Moo’s Creamery (the shop is currently posting the flavors of the day on its Instagram feed and usually includes a dairy-free option).
If You’re Staying Put: Feel NYC Vibes Virtually
The city is unfolding on the internet before our very eyes. If you have the time, the will, and the wonder, by all means — watch while you can.
Indie dinner-and-a-movie theater Nitehawk is hosting online screenings.
Avant-garde Dumbo darling St. Ann’s Warehouse is streaming performance pieces.
As is The Public theater.
And beloved Brooklyn Academy of Music has turned to the online space.
MoMA is offering free online art classes.
Lower East Side’s hipstery Hester Street Fair is hosting online workshops.
Iconic outdoor disco dance party Mister Sunday announced its online season — so you can find a patch of grass and dance on your own.
If your apartment has a rooftop deck or outdoor patio, create your own outdoor movie theater by tacking a white sheet to a bare wall and shining a projector. (You can find cheap ones for under $50.)
If you’ve enhanced your green thumb during quarantine, create your own fire escape garden of fresh herbs, tomatoes, peppers, and any other in-season vegetables. Hey, it’ll save you a trip to the grocery store. Get started with these easy tips for DIY urban farming.
Of-the-Moment, Made-in-NY Purchases to Make
Brooklyn Bicycle Co.
If any of the above ideas via bicycle excite you, but you don’t own a bicycle or aren’t into the shared ride system, maybe this is the summer to finally buy a bike. With streets empty in NYC, it’s safer than ever to commute around the city on two wheels and explore the Big Apple and beyond.
Lauren's All-Purpose Salve
Since we’re all trying to be outside as much as possible this summer, you'll need a salve that does it all, a simple all-purpose moisturizer for face, body, and hair. Made from nine all-natural organic ingredients, Lauren's salve soothes sunburns, bug bites, and other summer ailments. Lauren is a fellow New Yorker who has stepped up to help the fearless medical workers by donating a jar of her salve for every purchase over $15.
GreenHook Ginsmith Hand Sanitizer
As the hand sanitizer shortage continues in NYC, distilleries are stepping up to create their own. Greenpoint’s GreenHook Ginsmith partnered with neighboring spirits company St. Agrestis to deliver batch gin and tonics, Negronis, amaros, and bitters, with a free travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer made in-house. For extra peace of mind, you can also add up to five 32-oz. bottles to your order. The distillery delivers all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens with same-day delivery for orders placed before 3 p.m.
Books from Black-Owned Bookstores
Their doors may remain closed for the summer, but The Lit.Bar in The Bronx , Cafe con Libros in Crown Heights, and Sister's Uptown in Harlem are stocking, recommending, selling, and shipping books.
Social Distancing Prints
Capture a memento from this strange time. Photographer Marcella Winograd, who usually takes bright and lively photos of people and landscapes in far-off places, is sticking close to home during the lockdown and photographing the new normal (like the social distancing park circles seen in the main photo of this story).
Don’t Forget to Wear a Mask