Best of Summer in New York: 2014

Water Taxi Beach, Governors Island, NYC

Incredible view from Water Taxi Beach on Governors Island Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Summer in New York can mean steamy, languid days when New Yorkers traditionally flee the city.  The exodus once left a dull cultural hiatus…but no more.  New York now offers an abundance of Summertime outdoor treats and cultural offerings to delight intrepid residents and visitors.  Even better, most of them are completely free!  Here some of the highlights of this summer in New York City.

Governors Island, NYC

Arrival at Governors Island. Photo: Jeff Dobbins

1. Governors Island – open everyday May 24 – September 28, this island park in New York Harbor (just 800 yards south of Manhattan) is reachable via hourly ferries (just $2.00 round trip, free Saturday & Sunday mornings) from Manhattan and Brooklyn.  There are plenty of outdoor pleasures like biking, picnicking, field sports, kite flying, Water Taxi Beach, taking in the stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, or just lounging in a hammock.  The park also offers a full roster of programs and events including Park Ranger tours, music, theater and dance performances, artisan food trucks and vendors, interactive installations, visits to Artists-in-residence studios, the rollicking Jazz Age Lawn Party, Recess Saturdays featuring Badminton and Bocce, and the Unicycle and Poetry Festivals.  Check the park’s busy calendar of events.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park

2. Shakespeare in the Park – One of NYC’s most spectacular cultural offerings, The Public Theater presents two stellar productions of Shakespeare in the heart of Central Park…free of charge!  This season begins with Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing, featuring a war of words between two self-declared bachelors whose mischief-making friends trick them into falling in love.  June 3 – July 6, 2014.  Also presented is Shakespeare’s great tragedy King Lear, about about a King who loses everything — including his mind — when he disowns his favorite daughter, and finds himself betrayed in return. John Lithgow stars in the title role, along with Annette Bening.  July 22 – August 17, 2014.  Check here for information about tickets, policies, etc.

3. NYC Beaches – New York City has 14 miles of beaches, and there are great public beaches found in each of the boroughs (except, alas, river-bound Manhattan).  All of NYC’s beaches are free and reachable via subway, bus or ferry.

Just outside the city, Long Island is home to excellent beaches, including Jones Beach, Long Beach, and the beaches of Fire Island. Long Island Railroad makes it easy and convenient to reach them with their LIRR Beach Getaways packages.

See our post about New York City’s Best Beaches…and grab your towel!

Central Park, Sheep Meadow, NYC

Soaking up the sun on Central Park’s Sheep Meadow Photo: Jeff Dobbins

4. Free Culture!

  • The annual free concerts by the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic are highlights of every NYC summer.  Concerts are held on Central Park’s Great Lawn and city parks in all five boroughs.  Check the links above for schedule and information.
  • June 3 – Aug 24: Summer Stage – presenting over 100 free concerts, dance, theater, and comedy shows in city parks, including Comedy Central stand-up showcases, Bobby McFerrin, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and a hip-hop musical adaptation of King Kong.
  • June 10: Museum Mile Festival: A high-art block party during which 5th Avenue closes to traffic from 82nd – 105th Streets and some of the world’s finest museums open their doors, including the Met, the Guggenheim, Neue Gallery, and el Museo del Barrio.  Live music, activities, and food line the posh avenue as well.
  • June 19 – 29: River to River Festival – This arts festival, set in numerous downtown venues, presents concerts, art installations, dance and theater performances.   The roster offers 35 projects and some 90 artists, including acclaimed choreographers and companies.
  •  July 20 – Aug 10: Lincoln Center Out of Doors – free performances by an eclectic mix of international artists across Lincoln Center’s Campus.

In addition to Summer Stage, NYC’s parks will host free concerts of rock, Latin, hip-hop, jazz, classical, folk, gospel, and Broadway casts belting show tunes.  Check the NYC Parks website for full calendar.

Harlem Meer, Central Park, NYC

Fishing on Harlem Meer, Central Park Photo: Jeff Dobbins

5. NYC Parks – The city’s glorious parks offer more than strolling, picnics, and sunbathing.  The abundance of free activities include guided tours, fitness walks and workouts, dance, garden walks and workshops, bird watching, children’s programing including puppet shows, arts & crafts and a chance to interact with animals, Yoga classes, Tai Chi, Pilates, group runs, art photos exhibitions, fishing, canoeing, sewing, knitting and crochet, stargazing on the High Line, and a Food Truck Rally at Grand Army Plaza.  Bryant Park alone offers Petanque, Ping Pong, Juggling, Fencing, Spanish & French Classes, Book Clubs, and Poetry readings.  See the NYC Parks site for the extensive events calendar.

Also in New York’s parks, the Urban Park Rangers offer lots of terrific, free activities including hikes, campouts, canoe outings, fishing outings, bird tours, and outdoors skills workshops.  Many of these activities require prior registration (particularly over-night camping in the city parks, for which participants are chosen by lottery), so check their newsletter/calendar and plan ahead.

6. Movies under the Stars – Free summertime outdoor screenings have become so popular in NYC, they’re now presented in all five boroughs every night of the week.  Films include everything from recent blockbusters, to indie films and cult classics.  Here is a listing of this summer’s numerous free movie screenings.

7. NYC Summertime Events – there are plenty of great annual events at which New Yorkers gather to celebrate.  They include NYC Gay Pride (centered around the march/parade down 5th Ave), Macys 4th of July Fireworks, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, Coney Island’s racy Mermaid Parade, West Indian Day Carnival, Harlem Week, and the Bushwick Block Party.

8. Summer Streets – On three Saturdays in August (the 2nd, 9th, and 16th: 7am-1pm) Lafayette Street and Park Avenue will close to vehicles from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, creating a 6.9-mile pedestrian zone devoted to recreation and fun.  While details haven’t been announced, last year there was a 160-foot zip line, a 25-foot climbing wall, yoga, dance, and exercise classes, art installations, musical performances, arts & crafts and, of course, great food.

West Indian Carnival, NYC

Wild and wonderful West Indian Carnival Photo: Jeff Dobbins

Have you braved a New York Summer? If so, what is your favorite Summertime pleasure? Tell us in the comments below.

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