There’s no doubt that Brooklyn is at the forefront of cutting-edge. With new restaurants, playspaces, and performances popping up every week, there’s no lack of things to do. Sometimes, though, the classic options remind us why Brooklyn was beloved before it was cool.
Recently, I brought my son on a time-honored playdate to Brooklyn Botanic Garden. A century after the garden opened, we can still trample those same paths and continue the tradition of taking refuge from the city streets. And on Tuesdays all year long, the shady alcoves and gorgeous vistas can be visited free all day.
My son and I arrived late in the afternoon and strolled straight to the cherry esplanade. Although the absolutely ethereal cherry blossom festival happens at the end April, this grove is still worth a visit the rest of the year. As one of the few places in BBG where you can actually hang out on the grass, I relaxed under a tree while my son ran around playing with sticks. Once his energy drained a bit, we ambled down the path to the fragrant rose garden. Stopping to sniff the flowers (and remembering to look for bees) was a calming exercise for us both.
Making our way around the perimeter of the park, we located the new native flowers section, and then the rock garden (which my son claimed was his favorite). Opening a wooden gate and following a narrow path around the bend brought us to a Japanese viewing pavilion where we climbed onto low benches and gazed at the enormous koi and turtles in the water. Only a low railing keeps children from toppling right into the murky pond, but being so close to the water makes the viewer feel part of the landscape.
There’s something undeniably meditative about watching water and the stillness of the manicured gardens, and by the time we got up to go, my sprightly son had little spring left in his step. So we breezed through the Shakespeare Garden showcasing flora actually mentioned in the infamous sonnets. And finally to the Fragrance Garden, where visitors are encouraged to touch and smell all of the plants. In our case, we also got the chance to listen to mother nature: the first booms of a summer thunderstorm, so we set off before the raindrops started.
Although BBG is the ultimate place for a picnic, there is no food allowed on the grounds. The restaurant at the garden is good in a pinch, but we decided to stick to our classic theme and head three blocks down Washington Avenue to Tom’s Restaurant (immortalized by Suzanne Vega in her 1987 hit song, “Tom’s Diner”). Established in 1936, this “breakfast all day” joint is decorated with flags, flowers and formica. On the weekends you can expect lines down the block, but on a Tuesday afternoon, only a few tables were full. Looking for refreshments on this humid afternoon, my son ordered (his first ever!) vanilla milkshake while I opted for a Cherry Lime Rickey. Sitting at the soda bar while a storm passed outside, it was finally clear to me why Brooklyn, as Marty Markowitz proclaims on a Gowanus expressway sign, is “Not Just A Borough, An Experience.” A timeless experience, at that.
Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Enter at 150 Eastern Parkway, 455 Flatbush Avenue, or 990 Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights. Special events and family program information can be found at www.bbg.org/kids, where you can also download the Brooklyn Botanical Garden Family Map. Free admission Tuesdays and 10–12 noon most Saturdays; check the site for more details on hours and admission.
Tom’s Restaurant, 782 Washington Avenue, Prospect Heights, Mon-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat 7am-9pm; Sun 8am-9pm.