The Life Aquatic

You can go in the water again!

What water shortage? With so many pools, fountains, beaches, lakes, and rivers where you can make a splash during the warmer months, this precious resource has never seemed more abundant. So get ready to soak it all in with our guide to some of the best water diversions the city has to offer.

The best of New York wildlife—animal, vegetable, or disheveled urban yipster—can be seen by way of a kayak or canoe. The all-volunteer L.I.C. Community Boathouse launches free weekday-evening trips into the East River estuary (it's not really a river!) to Staten Island and City Island and even around Manhattan (a 12-hour trip), plus weekend art paddles to DUMBO and Snub Harbor Cultural Center. Sightings of hawks, eagles, porpoises, seals, herons, turtles, and gaggles of trendy gallery gazers have been reported. Each so interesting in its natural habitat. Hallets Cove, Socrates Sculpture Park beach at the end of 31st Avenue, Long Island City, Queens, MARRIAN

We go deep: The pool at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel
photo: Ofer Wolberger
We go deep: The pool at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel

Forget the freak show at Coney Island; there are enough oceanic oddities to hold your attention at the New York Aquarium. Right on the shore, the complex is a maze of buildings housing sharks, piranhas, and warm-weather penguins. In the walrus tank, one horny male and three females (weighing 4,000 pounds each) put on a playfulahem—show. For a psychedelic experience, check out Alien Stingers—a dark room with phosphorescent-glowing, translucent jellies that look like they dropped in from another planet. Still, the most alluring fish in the aquarium might be battered, fried, and served with chips in the café. New York Aquarium, Surf Avenue and West 8th Street, Brooklyn, 718-265-FISH, MONROY

Beach day rained out? Can't face a shore-bound schlep? A hotel pool is waiting for you here in town. Who knew that some hotels let non-guests use their pools for a special daily rate? Well, we did, and so did a guy we met at the Marriott Financial Center ($20/day), who'd already swum his way through a pack of 10 day passes and was back for more. No wonder: The pool is beautiful, the staff is super-gracious, and you get this plus bottled water and Gatorade plus fresh fruit plus a sauna. The Millennium U.N. Plaza ($35/day) also offers a great pool and sauna, with the added draw of city views. At Le Parker Meridien ($50/day), unlimited fitness classes are included too (pre-swim yoga, anyone?). Plus, simply put, once you see the pool and the views here, you won't ever want to leave. Marriott FC, 85 West Street, 212-385-4900; Millennium U.N. Plaza, 44th Street between First and Second avenues, 212-758-1234; Le Parker Meridien, 118 West 57th Street, 212-245-5000 GROSSMAN

Legend has it that the Dragon Boat Races origin- ated from frantic efforts of Chinese fishermen to save a beloved poet from drowning. You'll get more festivities and less tragedy at the 16th Annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival at Meadow Lake in Queens, but drama still abounds as the crews of dragon-shaped teakwood boats battle it out to furious drumbeats. Before you get too sunburned waterside, check out the entertainment—including warrior monks performing martial arts and a dumpling-eating challenge. August 12–13, Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, 718-767-1776 BEYER

Hot sand. Shirtless, sweaty coeds. Spectator, spiker, dunker, or diver, volleyball is the ultimate summertime pickup game. Overlooking the river, Hudson Beach in Riverside Park has two sand courts (squint hard to get the Baywatch effect and blur out the nearby highway). When sunbaked, grab your new date and hop the B train to Prospect Lake and spend a lazy afternoon pedal boating, racing the swans and turtles. Hudson Beach, 105th and Riverside Drive; Prospect Park, Wollman Rink rental, Lincoln Road and Ocean Avenue entrance, Brooklyn, 718-965-8999, MARRIAN

NYC plus summer plus fountain equals "Mmmmmm." Yes, Bethesda's wonderful, and the Bryant Park fountain too—but there are other lesser-known options. If you need another reason to get to the gorgeous Conservatory Gardens, here are three: Each one of the trio of gardens has its own heavenly fountain as well. In midtown, the water-wall fountain at Samuel Paley Park offers a break from the heat and the workday grind. Downtown, the City Hall Park fountain features water not only flowing down the central structure but shooting up from the four corners, well within reach—go ahead and direct it, as needed, onto yourself or a friend. Conservatory Gardens, 105th Street and Fifth Avenue; Samuel Paley, East 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue; City Hall Park, Broadway and Park Place GROSSMAN

Just across the way from the Judea Mental Health Center in Queens lies an interesting juxtaposition of nature reserve and urban megalopolis. Alley Pond's 635 acres of marshland are offset by the roar of trucks downshifting on surrounding freeways, and one cannot help but wonder if that's natural pond scent or something sewagey lurking beneath. Still, there are multiple intertwined trails to lead you to Littleneck Bay. The sound of hundreds of birds chirping actually blends with the car horns like an experi- mental symphony. Several weekend evenings throughout the summer, astronomer Mark Freilich gives a seminar and telescope viewing of the night sky (seeing stars in New York City— amazing). Saturday mornings, tai chi instructor David Alexander teaches workshops. If the natural setting doesn't help you unwind, you can always check in across the street. Alley Pond Environmental Center, 228-06 Northern Boulevard, Douglaston, Queens, 718-229-4000, MONROY

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