Summer’s Sweetest Fruit: The Big Apple
Written by Gregg Henglein
Whether you’re seeking music and the arts, walking tree-lined paths or shore-hugging boardwalks, choosing fine wines from abundant vineyards or hovering above the spectrum of colours of summer leaves, there is no place quite like New York to enjoy summer.
As the Lovin’ Spoonful sang more than 40 years ago, it’s Summer in the City – New York City, that is. In a place whose cup runneth over with experiences, though, summer is best experienced by venturing beyond Manhattan. Here we’ll stay within a couple of hours of the Big Apple, covering the summer essentials. Summer nights in Manhattan under the bright lights, roaming from bar to club to Broadway show and back again, is standard procedure. But the best summer experience in New York City is the famed Central Park.
More than 840 acres in size, each twist and turn of the landscaped architectural icon – meaning virtually everything from trees to stones to ponds was placed by people, not nature – takes visitors to a separate sense of pleasure. Leisurely strolls are expectedly abundant, accented by the verdant beauty of strategically-placed trees, lawns and pathways, and accentuated by interesting tales of their surroundings.
The Great Lawn, for example, is not merely the quintessential picnic spot. During the summer months, the lawn hosts free concerts by The Metropolitan Opera and The New York Philharmonic. Yet even this mass of grass was not original to the park. Rather, it was built to replace a reservoir rendered obsolete when Manhattan revamped its water system back in 1917.
As the opera and philharmonic exemplify, Central Park in the summer is a haven for the arts. Its famed SummerStage is a musical melting pot, summer-long ingredients being global sounds both famous and unknown. Be it party music from the Middle East and Africa to beats from Mali and Haiti, these shows are free and get to the heart of the city’s soul as few other locations can. Almost every night in June and July, the park’s Delacorte Theater hosts the 50-plus-year institution known as Shakespeare in the Park. This year the repertory group will perform The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice, with free tickets available for evening shows under the stars.
The arts adorn the park in other ways as well. The Mall and Literary Walk, going down the centre of the park, is one of its few formal features. Framed by shade-granting elms, the path is watched over by statues of literary giants such as William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns. Elsewhere in the park rest wonderful statues of Robert Louis Stevenson – where children can gather for free storytelling shows – and Alice in Wonderland, a favourite for youngsters to climb. It’s a short jaunt to the famed Bronx Zoo, but a fun stop is the Central Park Zoo. This is not a mere petting zoo stop – though one is included. Exhibits feature polar bears, snow leopards, monkeys, and sea lions – to name a few. A great stop for animal lovers big and small.
Want to venture from Manhattan? Coney Island in Brooklyn is a living, breathing time capsule, drawing all who enter it into a bygone era of carnival wonder long since overtaken by massive thrill-focused amusement parks. The beach-front neighbourhood boasts circus acts, game booths, and festivals such as the Mermaid Parade, and shows ranging from concerts to burlesque acts that liven up any night.
Of course, the park maintains its own thrills as well. There’s still no more fun rollercoaster in the world than the legendary Cyclone, a wood-railed classic whose hundering echo cuts a swathe through even the sound of the bustling boardwalk and the nearby Brighton Beach community. Deno’s Wonder Wheel – a 400,000lb, 150-foot-tall ferris wheel that stands as the centrepiece of the park, which, while fun during the day, really should be experienced at night for the full effect – not to mention the view of Manhattan’s glorious skyline.
Pizza may be the must-have quick-grab food in New York, but Coney Island stands as the exception. That’s because Nathan’s, where the hot dog originated, began here and remains nearly a century since its creation in 1916.
Friday night fireworks displays remain a Coney Island hallmark, and it’s a worthwhile venture to stop at the neigh-bouring New York Aquarium before venturing in.
Manhattan may be home to many of the rich and famous, but when the entitled city-dwellers seek to escape skyscraper clutter, they venture to eastern Long Island and The Hamptons. This stretch of beach towns along the southern fork of Long Island is comprised mainly of summer rental homes and cottages, bridged by the occasional multi-million dollar celebrity mansion.
The string of beaches run the gamut from beach sports and tailgating at Sagg, Flying Point, and Main Beach, to romantic seclusion at Gibson Beach and a bike path – there are rentals available – along the relaxing Wainscott Beach that you can ride to tour the local mansions.
Fine restaurants abound in the Hamptons, with East by Northeast in Montauk – the island’s easternmost point – and Mezzaluna AMG among the best. But perhaps the most fun food experiences are picking your own fruit at the numerous lush and tantalising orchards in the area, or taking to one of the abundant fishing vessels, particularly out of Montauk, which range from the relaxing to the thrilling, depending on your catch.
A quick note, though, about the Hamptons. If you’re driving, be prepared for a slow slog once you get near the area, as only one road cuts through it. One way in, one way out, making for a slow go in the rush of summer. Mass transit is available, and worth considering.
Madison Square Garden may be dubbed ‘the world’s most famous arena’, but if you’re looking to see a major music act, look up the Jones Beach Theater. This 15,000-seat amphitheatre draws top current and classic-rock acts, which perform on a stage separated from the mainland and built atop the bay for a floating stage effect. On a starry, summer night, there is no better venue anywhere to enjoy a concert followed by a boardwalk stroll that is the essence of the summer experience.
Lower Hudson Valley
Elsewhere in this feature we take you east of Manhattan. If you care to go the other way, venture upstate to the Lower Hudson Valley. This historic region was a vital cog in the American Revolution, prompting the development of West Point military academy, the plans for which Benedict Arnold – who had been appointed commander of the site - famously tried to give to British forces.
Today, West Point and the surrounding region are feverishly protected by historians and region residents alike. Cruise boats along the Hudson River provide relaxing views of castles in the area. The stunning landscape and summer hues are best and most excitedly seen from a hot air balloon, which are available in abundance throughout the valley. Of course, if you care to go by foot, the Appalachian Trail weaves through the area’s beauty via countless hiking routes. For the more adventuresome, whitewater rafting and mountain climbing are nature’s way of calling you just a little bit louder. The Hudson Valley was the USA’s first wine-producing region.
Immortalised by Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the village of the same name boasts several famous landmarks including Philipsburg Manor, the Old Dutch Church, and ‘Kykuit’, the Rockefeller family’s estate – just some of the historic homes and estates worth taking in during your visit. There’s no Headless Horseman riding through – unless you come on Hallowe'en, of course – but there is one of the most bucolic settings anywhere in New York.
Cool off in The City
Staying in the city and not up for venturing beachward for a swim? There are more than 50 outdoor pools in Manhattan alone to cool off in. Some rest atop buildings or hotels, while others are encased within buildings, such as the 36th-floor glass-surrounded beauty at the Mandarin Oriental. But only in New York could you find what sits along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn – swimming pools constructed in a dumpster. Resourceful developers have lined a series of giant (former) trash containers, implementing filtration systems and making them part of a homemade urban oasis, adorned with bright coloured lanterns overhead and assorted rhythms pumped from an iPod nearby.
Central Park Zoo sits in the southeast corner of the park on 5th Ave, East 64th Street, and can be comfortably done in under a day. Highlights include critically endangered Snow Leopards – the zoo’s newest exhibit – the Central Garden & Sea Lion Pool, and Polar Circle, which houses polar bears, penguins, and puffins.
Bronx Zoo is the much larger of the two, located 14km away at 2300 Southern Boulevard, and includes African Plains, Congo Gorilla Forest, the Wild Asia Monorail, and the largest primate exhibition in the USA.