It’s the Thursday before July 4. Do you have plans yet? If not, Snug Harbor, Governors Island and Atlantic City all promise seaside fun on the cheap, no car or advance planning needed.
If your visits to Staten Island have been limited to riding the free ferry bearing its name, it’s about time to drop your anchor at Snug Harbor, yet another freebie. A community originally built in 1801 as a “haven for aged, decrepit and worn out sailors,” it’s now the breathtaking, 83-acre site of botanical gardens and many Greek revival buildings that house an art museum, children’s museum, and two theaters.
Take in the sights and smells of the three botanical offerings: the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, complete with a Calming Flow Pavilion, Wandering-In-Bamboo Courtyard and Gurgling Rock Bridge; the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, an enclosed maze and castle combo; and the brand-new Tuscan Garden, heavy on the topiaries and landscaped terraces, and a pleasant slice of Italy that fortunately does not resemble Mulberry Street. A fourth “botanical offering” is the adorable Cafe Botanica, which serves up brunch without the lines. [Ed. Note: Five days after publishing this, we learned Botanica has been closed for a year. We apologize if anyone made the trip and discovered this on their own.]
Sail Away: Take S40 bus from the Staten Island Ferry terminal to Snug Harbor, a 10-minute ride, or walk just over a mile along Richmond Terrace, a bike- and pedestrian-friendly Greenway along the water. No entrance fee, except for the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which costs $5. Check the Snug Harbor site for more info. On Saturday the Staten Island Yankees game, just five minutes from the Ferry Terminal, offers post-game fireworks.
Atlantic City, located on Absecon Island, is the home of world’s longest boardwalk (5.75 miles), the birthplace of saltwater taffy and the inspiration for that quintessentially American board game, Monopoly. Yet another city that never sleeps, it’s a curious mix of Coney Island-like grit, a mildly depressing yet entertaining 24-hr gambling scene, a climbable lighthouse, a fairly clean beach, low-cost amusement park rides, rolling chairs and more bling-bling- and iPod-filled claw machines than you’ll know what to do with.
Less you miss Brooklyn, plop down for one of the free concerts or movies that make up the summer events calendar (don’t forget to catch the fireworks this Saturday). As for eating, the boardwalk food is what it is: overpriced, on the greasy side and absolutely necessary for the complete Atlantic City experience. Skip the casino food, but if you don’t mind entering shady territory, check out Tony’s Baltimore Grill for excellent pizza. And when that hankering of Shoot the Freak hits you like a ton of bricks, settle for AC’s version: Shoot the Geek.
Sail Away: The trip to this gambling town is about two-and-a-half hours from New York by train or bus. If you’re one of those people who enjoys meeting “characters,” hop on one of the many casino buses that depart from Port Authority or random Chinatown corners. If you’re one of those people who instead likes snack cars and ample leg room, take advantage of the spiffy ACES trains, leaving Penn Station and arriving a 5-10 minute walk from the slot machines. Buses will run you about $35 each way, and ACES $29-39, but casino $$$ awaits upon arrival. More trip planning info here.
Picture your typical idyllic New England college campus with 19th century buildings, throw in a fort or two, and you have Governors Island, site of a former military base that operated as such from 1783 to 1966. Today it hosts a variety of events such as the Sustainable Cities Lecture Series (where you can learn how to build your very own Plastiki boat from recyled materials), the African Film Festival, and the summerlong public art exhibit PLOT09.
If Governors Island back in the day interests you, there are walking tours given by National Park Service rangers every Wednesday and Thursday at 10am and 1pm. Additionally, you can get a peak inside some of the historical buildings by viewing their rotating art exhibits. Food options are limited, depending on events happening, but the abundant green space screams “picnic” anyway, so pack a basket of munchies and unfold a blanket, one that won’t be touching another blanket a la Central Park.
Sail Away: It’s easy! A free ferry departs Friday through Sunday from the Maritime Battery Building, which is practically next door to the Staten Island Ferry terminal in lower Manhattan. But get this: Ferries are also leaving from Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn! Rides are a scant seven minutes and bikes are permitted on both the ferry and island. (Note: walking tours begin at above times at the Maritime Building, as the Island is technically closed and you must be accompanied by the rangers). Admission to the island is always free and most events are free as well.