A Shore Thing

Mini guides to five waterfront neighborhoods worth your salt

City Island
This sleepy Bronx backwater once aspired to rival the port of Manhattan. But 245 years after New City Island got its name (residents later dropped the "New"), the one-third-square-mile dollop of land looks more like what you'd expect to see in Massachusetts Bay than Pelham Bay. On weekday evenings, quiet prevails among the single-family houses. Kids play ball on tree-lined streets while their parents and, often, grandparents lounge on porches taking in stunning views of Long Island Sound. But on balmy weekends, crowds flock to the island to eat alfresco. Pimped-out rides, crotch rockets, and minivans jam parking lots at jumbo seafood restaurants with names like Seafood City (459 City Island Avenue, 718-885-3600), Tony's Pier (1 City Island Avenue, 718-885-1424), and the Reef (2 City Island Avenue, 718-885-2086). Their occupants scarf trays of moderately priced fried clams, grilled shrimp, and steamed lobster on giant cement patios by the water's edge. Kids run wild, music blares, and seagulls swoop in for leftovers. Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to get any closer to the shore than these party zones—the waterfront is mostly private. Mellower visitors can rest a night at Le Refuge Inn, a restored Victorian mansion with a gourmet French restaurant on the ground floor (586 City Island Avenue, 718-885-2478), and marine-history buffs gravitate to the City Island Nautical Museum (190 Fordham Street, 718-885-0008). City Island may never have overtaken South Street in economic importance, but it remains, as banners everywhere remind you, the "Seaport of the Bronx." DANIAL ADKISON

How to get there: Endure a ride to the end of the No. 6 line at Pelham Bay Park, then take the Bx29 bus through the largest park in NYC and across the bridge. Or you could arrive the traditional way: Skipper a boat.

The Carroll Street Bridge at the Gowanus Canal, built in 1889
photo: Brian Kennedy
The Carroll Street Bridge at the Gowanus Canal, built in 1889

Gowanus Canal
Used condoms bob on its oily surface and it often smells like old sneakers, but South Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal has become an unlikely sanctuary for a growing number of New Yorkers. Creaky row houses, graffiti-tagged brick factories, and old-school Italian eateries like Monte's (451 Carroll Street between Nevins Street and Third Avenue, 718-624-8984) and 2 Toms (255 Third Avenue at Union Street, 718-875-8689) surround this two-mile-long relic of the neighborhood's industrial boom. For almost a century, the canal was a stagnant soup of raw sewage and toxic waste. But in the last eight years it's been flushed daily with clean water; crabs, ducks, and other wildlife are cautiously returning. To witness this rebirth up close, climb into a canoe or kayak with the Gowanus Dredgers club (gowanuscanal.org). If you'd rather explore via dry land, head out on foot or bike using the Brooklyn Historical Society's Red Hook/Gowanus guidebook (brooklynhistory.org). Walk over the charming Carroll Street Bridge, built in 1889, and head down 1st Street to the Empty Vessel Project (emptyvesselproject.org), a busted Navy rescue boat turned experimental floating public art space. Afterward, grab a beer at Canal Bar (270 Third Avenue between President & Union Streets; 718-246-0011), a rockabilly dive whose owners claim to be organ-izing Gowanus fishing excursions. CHRISTINE RICHMOND

How to get there: Take the F train to Carroll Street and walk east or get off at the Smith–9th Street stop for an elevated view of the canal.

Long Island City
So you're never going to spend a summer in the Hamptons with girls named Tinsley or Tory. We respect you for that. But there's still a chance to troll with socialites in that other part of the island—Long Island City, Queens. Without a car, there are really two ways to get to Long Island City: the MTA way or the fun way. Opt for the fun route by taking a five-minute, $9 round-trip New York Water Taxi (nywatertaxi.com) ride from Manhattan to the shores of LIC. After your feet touch land on the western tip of Long Island (yes, you read that right), you'll see the white sands of Water Taxi Beach, a man-made 20,000-square-foot beach with music, inexpensive eats, and tropical drinks. But before becoming a beach bum, walk up Borden Avenue and rent a bike ($5/hour, $25/ day) from Spokesman Cycles (49-04 Vernon Boulevard, 718-433-0450). Pedal to Flux Factory (38-38 43rd Street, fluxfactory.org) to experience OPOLIS (opening June 24), an indoor itty-bitty city where you feel like Godzilla (just please don't smash the mini–childhood house of Julia Child). Continue to The Noguchi Museum (9-01 33rd Road, 718-204-7088, noguchi.org) for its "Music in the Garden" series featuring a bossa nova–meets-borscht sound. Before heading back to your floating taxi ride home, stop at the Waterfront Crabhouse (2-03 Borden Ave, 718-729-4862, wfcrabhouse.com). As you ponder the pugilists who have dined here before you, remember that LIC has the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (22-25 Jackson Ave., 718-784- 2084, ps1.org) and Socrates Sculpture Park (32-01 Vernon Boulevard, 718-956-1819, socratesculpturepark.org). Then down your beer and pat yourself on the back for knowing that LIC doesn't start and stop with the girls from Spence slumming it at P.S.1 Warmup. LINDA SAUCERMAN

How to get there: Another option is the No. 7 train to Vernon Blvd/Jackson Ave.

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