Wouldn't it be nice if we all had summer homes in some little town in the Berskshires or on the beach in Block Island or somewhere else that's really nice and begins with the letter "B"? Yes. Yes, it would. But we don't all have that, and so we must forge on through the summer, through the hot and humid days and through the extraordinarily beautiful days we've been enjoying lately, and do our best to enjoy staying in New York City when it seems like everyone else has decamped to someplace better. And as much as we love to recommend places within Brooklyn to staycation (oh, what a word that is), this time we're branching out a little, and recommending the best places to vacation in New York City that are not even in Brooklyn. Yes! That's right. You want to get the hell out of Brooklyn? Well, you will! But you can travel for nothing more than the cost of a Metrocard swipe. And, assuming you have an unlimited card, that means all these trips are free. Free! Everything's better when it's free. So go, now. Go.
Queens is the perfect place for a Brooklynite to vacation because, well, it's really very convenient, seeing as we share a border. I mean, you can hop back and forth between Bushwick and Ridgewood like it's no big deal. Amazing. And, in fact, you've probably done a little Queens vacationing this summer already by heading out to the Rockaways, right? If not, get on top of that, because Queens has some of the nicest stretches of sandy shore in the city, and we should remain mindful of the fact that this is an area that's still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, so, you know, support the Rockaways.
But there's another way to do a Queens vacation that doesn't involve going to the beach, and will feel even more exotic—dinner and a movie. That's right, all you need to feel like you've both traveled somewhere far away, and also are still firmly in the greatest city on earth is to get dinner and a movie. Queens has an abundance of excellent and affordable restaurants, but the one we're most excited about right now is Biang! in Flushing. An off-shoot of the renowned Xi'An Famous Foods, Biang! has a slightly more upscale atmosphere while still offering incredibly generous, well-priced portions of authentic and insanely delicious food. The must-orders include the Spicy & Tingly Boiled Tofu "Skin" Skewers, Spicy Cumin Lamb Burgers, Spicy and Sour Lamb Dumplings (trust me, you can't have too much lamb here), and Hot Oil-Seared Biang Biang Noodles. But really, it's hard to go wrong, and Biang! has a very non-Chinese-speaker-friendly menu, so take some chances. Be bolder than I am and go for the Lamb Face Salad, which, yes, does include eyeballs.
And then, after you eat—or maybe before, I don't know how you want to arrange your day—go to one of the coolest, small museums in New York City, the Museum of the Moving Image. There's a lot of interesting stuff going on there right now, including an exhibit on the transformation of Walter White of Breaking Bad and one called "Cut Up," which explores what happens when popular, familiar media is edited into something else entirely. But also, beyond the exhibits, the museum will be hosting a series starting August 10 curated by J. Hoberman and called "Fun City: New York in the Movies 1967—75." Movies shown from this golden era of filmmaking include Serpico, Superfly, The French Connection, and Across 110th Street, all of which are worth the trip to Queens. You'll feel like you've taken a trip back to a whole other era, all without leaving the five boroughs.
Biang!; 41-10 Main Street, Flushing
Museum of the Moving Image; 36-01 35 Avenue, Astoria
Staten Island is nowhere near as easy to get to from Brooklyn as Queens is, but it's a lot easier to get to than, say, Montauk. So don't let the fact that you need to take a ferry ride dissuade you. Take that ferry and head out to the red-headed stepchild of boroughs because you might be surprised at what a nice day you'll have ahead of you. First, take the bus from the ferry to the Staten Island Greenbelt Conservancy, where you'll be able to spend your day hiking and exploring the borough's wilderness. If you're feeling really ambitious, try the Greenbelt's Yellow Trail, which is an 8-mile-long moderately difficult hike that will make you laugh at those suckers who drive hours upstate to do the exact same thing you're doing here in Staten Island. Suckers.
After your hike, you'll probably be hungry for some solid, stick-to-your-ribs cuisine. And beer. You'll probably want beer. You can stop by Killmeyer's Beer Garden for some potato pancakes and weiner schnitzel and, obviously, beer. And if you feel like having a bit of a retail experience before going back to Brooklyn, stop by one of the Everything Goes thrift stores. Located right by the ferry terminal (convenient!) you'll be able to browse used books, clothes, furniture, and music, and maybe snag something good to wear or interesting to read on your ride back to Brooklyn.
Greenbelt Conservancy; SIGreenbelt.org
Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn; 4254 Arthur Kill Road
Everything Goes; 140 Bay Street, 208 Bay Street, 17 Brook Street, Tompkinsville
The Cloisters, and really all of Fort Tryon Park, is one of my favorite things in all of Manhattan. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters houses the museum's Medieval art and architecture collection, and is itself evocative of several ecclesiastical and secular European buildings. It's a perfect place to wander around—the medieval garden alone is worth the trip—and it has the distinction of never feeling too crowded, something that is hard to say for other museums in the city. Make sure to take your time examining the tapestries, they're Boschean wonders, full of unicorns and other fantastical beasts. Post-Cloisters, head over to Red Rooster in Harlem for some of the best deviled eggs in the city—all I'm going to say about them is chicken skin mayonnaise. That's all you need to know.
And, I don't know, what more is there to say about vacationing in Manhattan? You know it all by now, don't you? Sure you do. I'm not going to sell it much harder. There's things to do and people to see and you know, probably also check out the peacocks up by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, because there's a white one there and it's beautiful and you like beautiful things, don't you? Sure you do. Why else would you even be in New York. So go to the Cathedral. See the peacocks. Have an uptown kind of a day. Maybe also check out the beautiful mosaic benches outside of Grant's Tomb (formerly the top tourist destination in New York City, just like Green-Wood Cemetery, people used to really love visiting graves.) And then get back on the subway and whisk yourself home to Brooklyn. Bring something good to read. It's a long ride.
The Cloisters; Fort Tryon Park, Inwood
Red Rooster Harlem; 310 Lenox Avenue, Harlem
Cathedral of St. John the Divine; Amsterdam Avenue between W. 112th and 114th Streets, Morningside Heights
Grant's Tomb; Riverside Drive and W. 122th Street, Morningside Heights
We're lucky here in Brooklyn to have the lovely Botanic Garden that we do, but up in the Bronx? It's a whole new game. The Bronx is home to the New York Botanic Garden, which is sprawling and full of arboreal, verdant beauty. It is totally worth a trip, even if it didn't have the awesome exhibition "Wild Medicine" going on right now, which it does. You'll get to explore the Italian Renaissance garden and learn how herbs and flowers and bark and roots and everything have been used throughout history to heal and protect people. So, you'll get to walk through gorgeous gardens and learn something. If you just feel like walking around somewhere beautiful without really learning something, though, head over to Pelham Bay Park, which is THREE TIMES, the size of Central Park, by which I mean, it's big. Pelham Bay Park is also home to Orchard Beach, which is lovely and, coincidentally, where my high school holds Senior Beach Day. So avoid it mid-June! But it's not June for awhile, so you can feel safe in knowing that it won't be Senior Beach Day for months.
And where should you go to eat after a long day of looking at plants and flowers and other nice things? Arthur Avenue. Obviously. It's everything that Little Italy used to be, and you can't go wrong strolling through the markets, maybe grabbing a spinach and artichoke slice at Full Moon Pizza, and definitely bringing home some fresh mozzarella from Casa della Mozzarella. It just might be the best mozzarella in New York, but you'll have to try it to judge for yourself. So do it.
New York Botanical Garden; 2900 Southern Boulevard
Pelham Bay Park; Pelham Bridge Road
Casa della Mozzarella; 604 E 187th Street
Full Moon Pizza; 600 E 187the Street
Bonus Borough-That's-Not-a-Borough: Governors Island
So, ok, while not technically a borough, Governors Island is worth a day trip of its own. Whether you go to play mini-golf on the artistically designed 10-hole course, rent roller skates from Skate Truck NYC, cycle around the island's perimeter, or just hang out and picnic on the lawn, you are basically guaranteed a good time. A lot of construction is in progress right now (due to be completed this fall), and it includes a huge hammock grove, Liggett Terrace, which will be a 6-acre area containing art installations, water features, and moveable seating, and the Hills, which will rise up to 80 feet and constructed from recycled materials. Once the hill is built, visitors will be able to see all of New York Harbor stretched before them, which, wow. That'll be a sight to behold.