Island Hopping Without Leaving the City
ISLAND hopping in the Caribbean is fine, if you have the time, money and sunscreen, but there is an alternative in New York: a trip to islands known (at least for the next 900 words) as the Five Borough Antilles. It takes just a weekend, and you’ll pay less than $20 for transportation on a trip that departs from New York, N.Y., hits ports of call in New York, N.Y., and returns to New York, N.Y.
City Island, the Bronx
A quaint main street, salty air and views of Long Island Sound have led some people to compare City Island to Cape Cod. That’s an exaggeration, but the small town marine feel is an unusual slice of the big city, and it can be a shock when an N.Y.P.D. patrol car or Bx29 bus reminds you that you’re still in Mayor Bloomberg’s jurisdiction.
In the spring and summer, crowds come for fried seafood and festive (locals might say too festive) atmosphere. Restaurants range from Johnny’s Reef, with outdoor seating, water views, fried clam strips and beer at the far end of the island, to Le Refuge Inn, a French restaurant (and bed-and-breakfast) closer to the other end. There are also art galleries, cafes and antiques shops.
Randalls Island, Manhattan
You can drive or take a bus there, but there are also several ways to walk, including a half-disturbing, half-fascinating jaunt across the walkway of the Triborough Bridge. The 103rd Street footbridge is more pleasant. It doesn’t open until April, but you’re better off waiting until then anyway, since the whole place is one big construction site, with facilities being overhauled, new fields installed, even a salt marsh created. The golf center, with driving range, miniature golf and batting cages is open, and starting in mid-March, you can head to track events (from high school to pro) at Icahn Stadium.
Governors Island, Manhattan
The centuries-old military history of the island, reachable by ferry from Battery Park, is over, and most of it will soon transform into a 90-acre park whose design (announced in December) includes a marsh, an amphitheater, hills with views of the Manhattan skyline, and even free bikes for visitors. But that is a long way off: for now, the regular Governors Island summer season, which begins May 31, features Saturday afternoon art and music performances, perfect for picnicking.
Broad Channel, Queens
Part of this island is home to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge’s visitor center, where friendly rangers will send you off on an easy 1.5-mile trail, popular with birders and, well, those who like easy 1.5-mile trails. But you should also visit the 3,000-person working-class community on the other end of the island, in what was, a century ago, a summer resort for New Yorkers. It has a dash of City Island to it, with one main drag and quirky-looking yacht clubs and private residences — some on stilts. There are even canals, as well, which has led some to call it — somewhat hyperbolically — the Venice of New York.
A good place to start is the minuscule local branch of the Queens Public Library, which houses a cartful of binders put together by the Broad Channel Historical Society; a half-hour of leafing through old photos and clippings from yellowed newspapers give you a real sense of the little community you’re about to explore.
There aren’t many eating options: the Bayview Bar and Grill is on the water, and you can pick up a bagel sandwich at the Bay Gull Store or a slice of pizza at the less nautically named Tommy’s Pizza. But wherever you eat, you should visit the Grassy Point Bar and Grill, which long ago (in a building that since burned down) was a resort hotel; now, it is local watering hole whose kitchen opens up on Sundays with burgers, pastas and steaks. But the reason to visit is the one of the densest collections of nostalgia around, from old Broad Channel photos to ads for 5 cent Cokes to a still-in-the-package Howard Johnson Mets action figure.
Roosevelt Island, Manhattan
This mile-and-a-half-long sliver in the East River was once the home of little more than prisons and hospitals, but now is a bustling middle-class community of about 10,000. It’s only about one one-millionth as picturesque as City Island or Broad Channel, but the views of Manhattan (and the proximity to it) make up for that. You can gaze at them — and picnic — from the benches along the river, or ride past gazing picnickers as you go around the island on the bike path. There is one major attraction: the ruins of the Smallpox Hospital that appeared in “Spider-Man” and occasionally freak out drivers along the F.D.R. across the river. You can’t go in, but even if you could you wouldn’t want to: a part of it collapsed in January.
But it is the journey to Roosevelt Island that is the most fun. The little red tram, the closest thing New York City has to a ski lift, takes off from the brightly colored station at 60th Street and Second Avenue and whisks you across the river for the price of a subway trip. Bring binoculars and take advantage of a great aerial views of the city: watch the traffic up and down First Avenue, spot the aerobics class in a gym a few blocks down. And, especially fun if you’re ending your island hopping by returning to Manhattan after dark: peer straight into the windows of hundreds of curtain-free high-rise apartments.
Come on, that easily beats a view from the Lido Deck of yet another monotonous Caribbean sunset of yet another cruise.
PALM TREES? NOT SO MANY
Getting there: Take the 6 train to Pelham Bay Park, then the Bx29 bus (or a livery cab) to City Island.
Johnny’s Reef, 2 City Island Avenue; (718) 885-2090. Closed until Feb. 28.
Le Refuge Inn, 586 City Island Avenue; (718) 885-2478; www.lerefugeinn.com.
Getting there: Take the 4, 5 or 6 train to 125th Street, then the M35 bus, or walk over the Triborough Bridge pedestrian path from Second Avenue and 126th Street or from Queens and the Bronx (all year) or the 103rd Street Footbridge from F.D.R. Drive.
Getting there: Take the ferry from the Battery Maritime Building (next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal). Closed until May 31.
Getting there: Take the A train to Broad Channel.
Queens Public Library, 16-26 Cross Bay Boulevard; (718) 318-4943; www.queenslibrary.org.
Bayview Restaurant and Lounge, 25 Van Brunt Road; (718) 634-4555; www.bcbayview.com.
Grassy Point Bar and Grill, 18-02 Cross Bay Boulevard; (718) 474-1688.
Getting there: Take the tram from Second Avenue and 60th Street or the F train to Roosevelt Island.
By SETH KUGEL