Urban Oases

Wind down and let go. Whether your idea of Zen is smoking freely on a street corner, soaking in a Turkish bath, or walking across one of the city's 76 pedestrian-friendly bridges, we'll guide you through NYC in search of your own personal sanctuary.

The air is so hot you can barely breathe. You're wearing next to nothing and still dripping with sweat. No, it's not an August evening in your fifth-floor walk-up. At the 110-year-old Russian and Turkish Baths (286 East 10th Street, 212-473-8806), get super-heated in one of four different saunas, then douse yourself with a bucket of ice-cold water, take a plunge in the frigid pool, sashay onto the sundeck, or pound back a Russian Baltika beer. For a few more bucks, you can get a massage or a mud treatment. Plus, no need to bring your own extremely baggy shorts and oversize plastic sandals—they're provided for you! The baths are open daily, but are women-only on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and men-only on Sundays from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and during those times, shorts are optional. [adkison]

The Russian and Turkish Baths, on East 10th Street
photo: Greg Miller
The Russian and Turkish Baths, on East 10th Street

Spring for some brioche, some chocolate, and a bottle of Beaujolais, and picnic at one of these divine destinations: Downtowners should bus it to the West Side's Hudson River Park (hudsonriverpark.org), where the benches at a series of seriously seaworthy piers afford views of that good old French gal, the Statue of Liberty. Pier 25 (at North Moore Street) boasts a sandy volleyball court and a très romantic miniature golf course, while Pier 34 (at Spring Street) offers peace and quiet and a glimpse of Ron Baron's colorful installation "Birds." Way up north, there's nothing more lovely than lazing about in Fort Tryon Park (take the A train or the 4 bus to the last stop), where a peek at the Palisades alone will set you swooning. Then take your fair maiden to the Cloisters (metmuseum.org), where you can feast your eyes on unicorns and other mysterious medieval treasures. [spartos]

The Brooklyn Brewery
photo: Greg Miller
It's said that in Saddam-ruled Iraq, one would be tortured—specifically, forced to eat dozens of pickled eggs—if they were caught touring a brewery on a weekend. God bless America. The beautiful, 25-barrel Brooklyn Brewery (79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn, 718-486-7422) symbolically reclaims Williamsburg's pre-Prohibition glory as mead-making central, when it was known for "Brewers' Row," not Bedford Avenue. Two free frosties are yours; you need only claim them between noon and five on Saturday, when the tours—also gratis—are given. The catch: You must BYOPE. [catucci]

Very early Sunday morning, while the city is asleep, is the best time to walk on the street of pearls, well, actually Pearl Street was made of crushed oyster shells in colonial days before landfill began, and once marked the edge of Nieuw Amsterdam. Here and there, in between the big steel financial high-rises, are the Federal-style warehouses built in the 1820s, former ship's chandleries where they made sails and sold supplies to sailors just in from Madagascar. Look at the Fraunces Tavern (a turn-of-the-century reconstruction) where on December 4, 1783, George Washington bade farewell to his officers and withdrew to Mount Vernon, sigh. Walk a few blocks north and sit down on a wooden bench at Hanover Street Square and think about Captain Kidd and his Turkish carpets—he had a mansion on Pearl Street so he could keep an eye on his ships. As one of the wealthy aristocrats back in the late 1600s, when Manhattan had 5,000 people, Captain Kidd got his money, they say, not from being a pirate but from marrying the richest widow in New York. Then forget about money and walk two blocks east on Old Slip and watch the ferry boats come and go on the gray satin sea. Or just do all this on a weeknight and further transcend with a martini in one of the elegant, dark-wood-paneled, colonial-looking bars—Fraunces Tavern (54 Pearl Street, 212-968-1776), Harry's at Hanover (1 Hanover Square, between Pearl and Stone streets, 212-425-3412). [schlesinger]

Dan Graham integrates the majesty of the city skyline, the bustle of the urban landscape, and a sense of serenity in his "Rooftop Urban Park Project" (DIA Center for the Arts: 548 West 22nd Street, 212-989-5566; through June 15, opens again in September), which has been up since 1991. The pavilion bridges modernist architecture with minimal art and envelopes the viewer and the city's landscape in a maze of two-way mirrored glass that is not only translucent and transparent but reflective and opaque—see and be seen—and constantly changing at the same time. [snow]

To be suspended in the air, fingers clinging to ostensibly fragile rock protrusions, a 60-foot climb above you, and the risk of death below—such is the paradoxically soothing rush of rock climbing. And in New York, the best place for this is the Gunks in New Paltz's Mohonk Preserve (845-255-0919, gunks.com), where most climbers take pilgrimage during the warmer months. Day passes to the preserve start at $6. For those city-bound, Central Park boasts several bouldering spots, like Chess Rock (north of Wollman Rink), great practice for lateral climbing, and the heavily frequented Rat Rock (near Heckscher Playground). Climbing gyms can be just as fun as being outdoors (the only negative is that you'll miss out on the unique and varied utilities of real rock). Notable walls: City Climbers (533 West 59th Street, 212-974-2250), also one of the more affordable, accommodating, and congested spots; Chelsea Piers Sports Center (Pier 60 at 23rd Street, 212-336-6000) offers some of the more challenging climbs, but at $50 per day, it's a bit too steep; Extra Vertical (61 West 62nd Street, 212-586-5718) is great for newbies, and its indoor/outdoor setting combines the best of both worlds. A great site that'll have you climbing up the walls in little time is climbnyc.com. [yadao]

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