Stuck in the City—and Lovin' It

Four cool adventures for three hot months

Some people have summer cottages in Connecticut, Columbia County, or the Catskills, while others can put the touch on friends with beach homes in Long Island or the Jersey shore for the hot, humid weekends. But many of us (including me) find ourselves sojourning in the metropolitan area for our summer recreation. Here are four great—and cheap—local trips, each with its own exciting visual and culinary payoffs.

#1 A CUT-RATE HELICOPTER RIDE
By No. 7 train and on foot

The verdant ribbon of Flushing Meadows Park is worth a summer trip on its own, but this journey concentrates on a spectacular hidden attraction. Begin by disembarking the No. 7 train at the Willets PointShea Stadium stop; walk southward toward the tennis stadium, skirting it on the right as you head for the Unisphere, a gigantic metal globe that's a vestige of the 1964–65 World's Fair. To its right stands the Queens Museum. Go inside (admission is $5) and head for the Panorama, a sprawling scale-model map of the five boroughs.

The statistics are impressive: The Panorama is the largest 3-D map in the world, encompassing 9,335 square feet at a scale of one inch equals 100 feet, making the Empire State Building a little over seven inches tall. The model accurately depicts 895,000 individual buildings, 1700 parks, 771 miles of shoreline, and 17 major bridges. An inclined catwalk wraps the model, allowing you to examine every corner of the city. See if you can spot your own apartment building! As spotlights rake the terrain, an omniscient narrator breathlessly describes the making of the Panorama. A visit here is like a helicopter tour of the city, only cheaper and more comfortable.

Exit the museum and head for its north side, where a bridge traverses the Grand Central Expressway to the west. Continue on this limited-access street, past the undulating concrete curtain and real Saturn rocket of the New York Hall of Science, another worthy destination. Entering Corona, you'll find yourself at 49th Avenue and 111th Street. Walk over to 108th Street (only one block away on the psychotically maladapted Queens grid), then perambulate south a few blocks to William F. Moore Park, where Sicilian men play bocce on a festively illuminated court far into the summer evenings. Adjacent stands the legendary Lemon Ice King of Corona (52-02 108th Street, 718-699-5133), where the best flavors are cantaloupe, coffee, mint, and, of course, lemon.

In the mood for something more substantial? Corona Pork Store (107-22 Corona Avenue, 718-699-5080) is famous for its hot Italian hero sandwiches. For a sit-down Italian meal, check out Il Forno (51-23 108 Street, 718-271-3736). To return to the No. 7 train, walk up 108th Street to Roosevelt Avenue and turn right toward the 111th Street station.

#2 PASSAGE TO INDIA
By PATH and on foot

Grab the PATH at Penn Station (still only $1.50!), or anywhere along its Sixth Avenue route. Enter near the front of the train and ride to Grove Street in Jersey City. Glide up the escalator from the station's mezzanine and find yourself in the revamped Gregory Park Plaza—jeez, it looks like Paris! Right in front of you is Newark Avenue. Take a left and work your way up the thoroughfare in a northwesterly direction. You'll pass ornate 19th-century real estate in the throes of transition, quaint tree-shaded squares and misshapen plazas, lots of 99-cent stores, and an excellent old-fashioned Italian bakery (Pecoraro, 279 Newark Avenue, 201-798-0111). Right after the fire station, the road swoops upward under the towering turnpike extension to Jersey City's Palisades, passing over a cemetery and junk-filled rail yard. Atop the hill shines the neoclassical William L. Dickinson High School, like a vision of Olympus.

Continue on Newark Avenue as it jogs right, past a region of Filipino eateries, including Philippine Bread House (530 Newark Avenue, 201-659-1753), where the supply of sugary baked goods includes ube bread—a psychedelic loaf streaked with purple yam jam. A steam table offers more substantial fare, but your full meal is elsewhere. Further along Newark Avenue, a neighborhood of pawn shops, courthouses, and bail bondsmen culminates in Five Corners, at which point the avenue dog-legs left. A couple blocks west you'll arrive at an Indian neighborhood with jumbled signs in Hindi and Arabic—for halal butchers, stands selling unfamiliar veggies, storefront Hindu temples festooned with flowers, and a dozen delectable restaurants.

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image: alexlukas.com

Up for a quick bite? Patel Snacks (785 Newark Avenue, 201-792-4356) offers strictly vegetarian Punjabi and Gujarati small plates, including spoonable agglomerations of crunchy, sweet, and salty ingredients called "chats." Equally remarkable are the joints specializing in vegetarian south Indian fare. Pick either Dosa Hut (777 Newark Avenue, 201-420-6660) or Sri Ganesha's Dosa House (809 Newark Avenue, 201-222-3883); each offers nearly 30 variations on the potato-stuffed pancake called masala dosa, and the spongy dumplings called iddly. The nabe provides other dining options to explore, including meat-bearing Punjabi restaurants, and, at the end of the strip, a pizza parlor that offers Indian-style pies. My favorite features fresh jalapenos.

Maybe buy a cut-rate box of mangoes or some crunchy snacks as a souvenir, then return to the intersection of Kennedy Boulevard at the top of the hill. Turn right and walk three blocks south to the Journal Square PATH station.

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