By Jessica Festa
For those visiting New York City, Manhattan is a must. That being said, there is a lot to explore just outside of the city, especially in the neighboring boroughs. From experimental art to NYC’s largest recreation area to mountain hiking, you’ll find it all within two hours of the city. To help you plan a memorable itinerary, here are some top day trip suggestions.
1. Bushwick, Brooklyn
Bushwick Street Art
This jaunt will be one of the easiest on the list, as Bushwick is just 15 minutes from lower Manhattan via the L, J and M trains. Bushwick is one of Brooklyn’s most up-and-coming neighborhoods, and while still gritty on the exterior there is a lot to see and explore, especially in terms of the arts, food and drink. Start by exploring the modern art galleries around the Morgan L stop, like English Kills, ArtHelix, Brooklyn Fire Proof, Fuchs Projects , and Norte Maar. You can then head to the intersection of Troutman and Wycoff to wander the open air street art galleries, full of colorful murals. An avant-garde show at the Bushwick Starr is a must, as is a drink and draw class at The Living Gallery. When you get hungry, savor farm-to-table fare at one of the many great Bushwick restaurants, like 983 – Bushwick’s Living Room, which also features local artwork and Mason Jar craft cocktails; Tutu’s, with its urban farm feel; and Roberta’s, known for their creative Neapolitan-style pizzas, communal atmosphere, and fun workshops and events.
2. Astoria, Queens
Also not far from the city is Astoria, Queens, about 20 minutes by train from Times Square and home to a rich mix of cultures as well as a new crowd of creative types. Along with world-class institutions like The Museum of the Moving Image, the al fresco Socrates Sculpture Garden and The Noguchi Museum, dedicated to the works of Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi, you’ll find modern artsy cafes like Monika’s Cafe Bar and Cávo. For some natural beauty, Astoria Park encompasses 60 acres of running paths, tennis, bocce and skateboarding courts, East River views and NYC’s oldest and largest pool. One of the best times to visit Astoria is during weekend brunch, where you’ll typically find less expensive options that are just as good as what’s in Manhattan. Some recommendations include Queen’s Comfort (order the spicy homemade Mexican waffle), DiWine ($15 prix-fixe + $14 for unlimited booze) and SugarFreak (their Creole- and Cajun-influenced menu is something you won’t find anywhere else).
3. Pelham Bay Park, The Bronx
What’s amazing is how few people know about this place — which is NYC’s largest recreation area, three times larger than even Central Park! With 2,766 acres of fun activities like playing sports, visiting the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, bird-watching, bocce, fishing, hiking, kayaking, cycling, strolling through colorful gardens — even horseback riding and lounging on the beautiful Orchard Beach — it’s worth the hour-and-a-half jaunt from Times Square or the 30-minute car ride.
A quick 15-minute taxi ride away from Pelham Bay Park is the must-see New York Botanical Garden, home to beautiful themed gardens, ambient strolls, educational workshops and flora-related exhibitions. Tip: Don’t miss their Native Plant Garden, a great way to immerse yourself in NYC’s natural culture.
(Photo by June Marie)
4. Long Island Wine Country
Take the Long Island Railroad or Hampton Jitney to Mattituck — both about two hours — or book a wine tour with a company like North Form Wine Tours or Long Island Wine Tours and head to Long Island’s North Fork Wine Trail. Here, you’ll be immersed in endless rows of grape vines, farm stands, pie shops and antique stores. It’s an idyllic country getaway that’s surprisingly close to Manhattan, that many visitors tend to miss (but you shouldn’t!). The island’s moderate maritime climate, glacial soils and abundance of sun allows for a wide array of varietals from around the world to prosper, like Chardonnay and Merlot (the two most popular), Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Grigio, Semillion, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and many more.
Some highly recommended wineries include Martha Clara Vineyards, where you’ll also find art gallery barns, live music on weekends and regular weekly events, Bedell Cellars , known for making some of the region’s top reds, and Pindar Vineyards, the region’s largest producer and the most popular of Long Island’s 45+ wineries, with live music and social atmosphere. If you want to spend the night, Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard offers tastings in a 1900s barn as well as bed and breakfast accommodation.
5. Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain is an easy day trip from Manhattan, about an hour and 40 minutes by Short Line Bus or an hour by car. Here, you’ll be able to hike a variety of trails of varying intensities — including six miles of the famous Appalachian Trail — as well as go fishing, row boating, swimming, cycling, cross-country skiing, a zoo, picnicking, sports fields, barbecuing and much more. One of the most popular trails is to the Perkins Memorial Tower on top of Bear Mountain, which offers a free-to-enter museum talking about the history of the park as well as 360-degree views of Bear Mountain State Park and beyond. On a clear day you can even see New York City! The hike is moderate-difficult — there are some steep sections — and takes about two-to-three hours round-trip.
Expert tip: Want to make the most of your time in NYC? Check out these amazing New York vacation packages including specials for teachers and students!
Jessica Festa is the editor of the online food, culture and responsible travel magazine, Epicure & Culture as the solo and offbeat travel blog, Jessie on a Journey . She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana. When not on the road, you’ll find her in Brooklyn dancing in warehouses, riding her bike and exploring the local food and drink scene. You can also follow Jessie’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter , and Instagram .