Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
It may be an old standby, but with breathtaking views of the city skyline all around, and a 15-acre expanse of grass studded with sunbathers, it's hard to find a better picnic spot than Sheep Meadow in Central Park. Taking its name from the actual sheep that once grazed there, the area is open from May until mid October, which means you'd better hurry up if you want to enjoy it this year. And if you do, make sure to appreciate how it got there; when Central Park was constructed, Sheep Meadow was the most expensive element in the park, and its development meant a massive undertaking removing rock outcroppings and trucking in fill to make the place suitably level. (It also meant the expulsion of groups of poorer residents who called the area home at the time.) So kick back, relax, and admire what's possibly the best view in the best city park in the best city in the world. Cuz it's the best.
Picnic Peninsula kind of sounds like the sandy section of a water park where barefoot kids with Gatorade-stained mouths eat crustless sandwiches, but that's OK, because if anything, its unfortunate name keeps the ugly hordes away from this idyllic waterfront stretch of Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 5. The barbecues at this East River oasis are first-come, first-served, so the fewer people aware of its sleek hibachi-style grills (none of that lopsided, rusted-out nonsense we've become accustomed to gritting through at public parks), its lovely, reclaimed-wood picnic tables and expansive views of Lower Manhattan, the better.
Nestled in the East River between the Pepsi-Cola sign in Queens and the United Nations building in Manhattan, Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park honors the president who guided America out of the Depression and on to victory in World War II. Against spectacular skyline views, an allée of linden trees leads to a huge bronze bust of the leader best known for turning his back on his aristocratic class by enacting New Deal programs that benefited the common man. The idea for a memorial dates back to the late 1960s, when the New York Times suggested renaming Welfare Island and dedicating it to Roosevelt. But although renowned architect Louis Kahn was tapped to design the tribute, it would take 40 years to bring the park to fruition. But now New Yorkers can stretch out on the inviting sward, and if the breeze is just right, we may hear, as if over some celestial wireless, the famous 1941 State of the Union address in which FDR called for freedom — of speech and of worship, from want and from fear — "everywhere in the world." The park is open from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday.
Yes, hipsters have invaded the Rockaways, and most weekends during the summer they're arriving literally by the busload. But there's something about the perfect sand dunes, the walkable (and fishable!) beach, the maritime forest, and the art that keeps us coming back to Fort Tilden anyway. It's still secluded enough that you won't find Jones Beach–level crowds, and we'll gladly take hipsters over the snobbish moneyed crowds of Montauk or the dead-in-traffic commute to every Jersey Shore town. And you can ride your bike to Fort Tilden, so...bonus. Once you arrive, you'll find lots of tattoos and topless, PBR-swilling shenanigans, but they're easy enough to ignore, what with everything else Fort Tilden has to offer. The art we mentioned is the work of the nonprofit Rockaway Artists Alliance (rockawayartistsalliance.org), which has taken over parts of the former fort for which this stretch of the Rockaway Peninsula is named, to offer classes, exhibitions, and performances. Experience that, and the natural splendor of the place, and chill.
A pleasant hour's drive north of the city, Storm King State Park is named for Storm King Mountain — which was itself named by the writer Nathaniel Parker Willis, a contemporary of Poe and Longfellow who never quite achieved the same level of fame. The mountain is the tallest around, and when clouds descend on it, Willis noted, it's a sure sign a storm is brewing: "He seems the monarch, and this seems his stately ordering of a change in the weather. Should not STORM-KING, then, be his proper title?" The view looking up may have given Storm King his name, but the real magic is the view from the top of the mountain, with the Hudson Valley sprawling out below. Hiking up the mountain and back will consume roughly half a day; getting an early start and allowing time for lunch, you'll have plenty of daylight left to motor over to the Storm King Art Center (1 Museum Road, New Windsor 12553; 845-534-3115) and wander through the sculpture garden's magic-realist landscape. The 500-acre open-air museum is pocked with pieces by Andy Goldsworthy, Maya Lin, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, Richard Serra, and others. (If you're not the hiking type, you can reach the art center by coach bus from the Port Authority, or take Metro-North to Salisbury Mills and then hail a cab.)
"Meatball! Meatball! Get the hot dog!" Yes, you're at the dog park (and Meatball doesn't understand you). While it's unclear how the multicolored lawn chairs ended up in Greenpoint's Msgr. McGolrick Park Dog Run, they do a lot for the DIY character of this community park that's perfect for watching Meatball not run after that squeaky hot dog. The large dog run gives plenty of room — although it's not as expansive as the crowded East Village Tompkins Square Park — for your dog to frolic. And if Meatball only weighs about as much as a sweatshirt, there's a separate mini-run that rarely has more than one dog in it at a time. That's seems to be because everybody uses the large run, a sign of responsible dog owners: Pit bulls trot with smiling golden retrievers while mutts of all varieties sniff everything in sight. As a bonus, there's a pet store in sight of the park, if you need to fetch a treat in order to lure Meatball back onto his leash when it's time to go home.