The hub and I once went to Rio. Now, there’s a beach city! A colleague at work had asked me to bring her one of those micro mini bikinis that are hawked by street vendors like hot dogs. My colleague was a stylish, petite, Fashionista who had never broken the 98 pound mark on her scale and who wore heels the way I wear comfy walking shoes: everywhere except in the shower.
My Portuguese being what it is (nonexistent), I motioned to the bikini vendor, and pointed to a bright yellow model and a flashy little number in hot pink. The vendor immediately produced one of the most memorable facial expressions I’ve ever seen – it combined surprise, disbelief, alarm, and joy that another being can be either so very hopeful or so self-deluded. Too bad cameras hadn’t been invented yet, or I’d have taken a picture.
When I realized what was going on in his mind and on his face, I doubled over with laughter, and proceeded to mime “not for me! Friend! Tiny friend!” This seemed to clear up the confusion. Mission accomplished, I donned my own personal bathing costume (a “burkini”) and hit the beach at Ipanema.
Having grown up in San Diego, I do love a good beach. Not the sun, with its dose of painful and deadly radiation — but the beach, the ocean, and water in general are on my good side. New York is a city of water, and we just celebrated City of Water Day for the 11th year running.
If you missed that, here are the summer water delights that can be found in New York City. Winter too, if you’re very hardy. You already know how to avoid the Statue of Liberty and the South Street Seaport, so give these a whirl.
Just Plain Fun
City of Water Day
Happened last weekend, but make sure it gets on your radar for next year. This free festival happens every year in July, at multiple locations around the waterfront. It’s a celebration of urban beaches and waterways. This year they opened the Brooklyn Bridge Beach for the occasion. There are neighborhood activities, cardboard kayak races, huge kites on Governor’s island, rides on the historic fireboat John J Harvey (watch out, you’ll get wet!), and events on my favorite ship of all, the Lilac. Learn to tie a nautical knot, me hearties! Might come in handy when you need to help the MTA tow a stranded train to the next station.
There’s more than one beach in New York City, but all anyone knows about is Coney Island. My personal favorite is Far Rockaway. Alas, Water Taxi Beach is no more. If you’re willing to travel to Jersey or Long Island, there’s lots more to choose from.
The Mermaid Parade is a tradition that you’ll want to see once. It’s been going on for decades on Coney Island.
The Tugboat races are like a parade of tugboats on the Hudson River. At the end of the race, there’s a tugboat pushing competition (kind of like thumb wrestling for tugboats), a rope tossing competition, and a spinach eating tournament. Winner puts the empty plate on the head.
Every part of New York City is already on an island (except for the Bronx). Nothing makes an islander happier than finding another island. Personally, I’d never set foot on the mainland again if I had my druthers.
Here are some other Islands you can visit from New York.
City island is in the Bronx. It’s not exactly a tropical paradise, but it’s fun to take a bus up there and have some seafood (nothing caught from City Island itself – that would be suicide. They bring it in from somewhere else). They have parades every now and then, there’s some English-style gardens, a museum, and a nice marina. Some of the city’s oldest yacht clubs are there, too.
Well, who doesn’t love Governor’s Island? It’s a day trip that can’t be beat. You take the ferry from downtown (hard to find, so less tourists), and then you have the best view of the skyline there is. No wonder the governors loved it! By the way, the only governors who lived there were governors of the crown of England – not our current edition of the Cuomo family.
Governors Island is small enough that you can bicycle around it, and big enough to have museums, picnicking, hammocks thoughtfully provided for the public, events and festivals. They’re still developing it, by the way, so go now before it’s ruined.
Tours for the Lazy
These tours don’t ask much of you. No need to learn knots or rowing methods here! Just pay for your ticket and don’t fall in the drink.
The Circle Line started in 1945, and it’s not exactly a glamorous yacht. The snacks are awful. The beer is overpriced. There aren’t enough sun shades. But what it lacks in amenities, it makes up for by giving you a full circle of the island of Manhattan at rock-bottom prices. You’ll never get a better view, or a better tour of Manhattan. Take my advice and try a short nap during that boring section north of the U.N., but be sure to wake up in time to see the spectacular turn around the northern tip of Spuyten Duyvil as you enter the Hudson river.
For the well-heeled hipster, you can’t go far wrong with a Tribeca sailing tour. Don’t forget some Aperol!
Classic Harbor has a variety of sailing boats and yachts. They also offer round-the-island architectural tours. The prices are not too outrageous, so go ahead and treat yourself.
If you join the American Museum of Natural History as a member, you can book a members-only sunset cruise on the Clearwater, their reproduction of an 18th century Dutch cargo ship. You’ll get to do nerdy things like learn about the history of the sloop, and you’ll also get to see the Hudson River as it should be seen. Worth the price of membership.
Working Harbor Tours
The best way to see things no one else ever does is to take one of Working Harbor’s Hidden Harbor tours. You get to see container ships, huge cranes unloading container ships, and tugs in drydock. I liked waving at the lone sailor aboard the cargo ship shaped like a 10-story building on its side. We also passed the Queen Mary, where I got a few fellow passengers to “wave like the Queen” at her.
If you’ve never been whale or dolphin watching, you’re in for a treat. Leave from Brooklyn, bring a lunch, and see some large marine wildlife with the city skyline in the distance.
Clipper City and the Shearwater are historic sailboats that offer a tour of the NY harbor. If you own a hedge fund, you can charter them for your next party. If you don’t, just try the 90 minute cruise around the Statue of Liberty.
…and, if you’re dead broke, the Staten Island Ferry is free. You can ride it back and forth a few times for relaxation.
Get Seriously Involved
Learn to Sail
You know you want to! It’s never to late to try getting a new skill. Check out community sailing on the Hudson. More serious sailing school is here, and sails out of the 79th street boat basin or Pier 25 in Tribeca. Get your American Sailing Association certification!
Learn to Paddle and More
Kids – there’s a school built around the water, at NY Harbor School.
Lilac Preservation Project Help restore an historic Coast Guard Cutter, now serving as a museum ship.
The Seaport Museum takes volunteers.
Hudson Community Sailing has volunteer programs too.
Portside New York gets you involved in urban waterways. They are creating a new maritime center, and need volunteers.
The Downtown Boathouse needs people to help with waterfront activities such as kayak training.
For the Functionally Crazy
The Polar Bear Club
Not sure why this is fun, but New Yorkers have been plunging into the ocean in sub-freezing winter weather since 1903. Go, join them! I’ll watch from over here.
Swim the Hudson
New Yorkers will kayak in it, look at it, boat on it, water taxi over it, and pee into it. But swim the Hudson? You must be kaaaaa-RAZY! This maverick begs to differ.