New York

22 Actually Cool Things to Do in NYC This Summer

Museum block parties, beer gardens, and Shakespeare in the Park.

The Summer of ‘21 is going to be like the Summer of ‘69—and this time, you’ll get to say you were there. While the Boomers got Woodstock and the moon landing and free love, we’re getting Fauci-approved maskless outdoor gatherings, vaccines, and the illicit thrill of hugging someone who doesn’t live in your house. You know what? We’ll take it! 

This summer, you can celebrate the city’s comeback with museum block parties, by taking a yoga class on a glass deck 1,100 feet above Manhattan, or getting your freak on at a roving outdoor rave. Here are 22 actually cool things to do in NYC this summer, and even if you’re fully vaxxed, please continue to follow the guidelines that keep your fellow New Yorkers safe.

Listen to an immersive audio play

Through May 23, Friday - Sunday 
Astoria
Radial Park is more than a drive-in theater—it’s a live performance venue, too. This summer, the Resounding theater company will be performing immersive audio plays over five weekends, including the swashbuckling Treasure Island and the musical comedy Triassic Parq (complete with its original off-Broadway cast). You can reserve a spot for your car, but those without a ride can book a standalone seat or a picnic table for the show. 
Cost: Tickets start at $40

Celebrate the city's art scene with a museum block party

June 5 - August 7, Saturdays
Flatbush
This summer, Brooklyn Museum’s First Saturdays are moving outdoors. Think of the “Lite” version of their programming as a giant block party for the entire neighborhood—they’re offering up low-key afternoons of dancing to DJ sets, browsing local vendors, and making art on the Museum’s plaza on Eastern Parkway. If you want to take a break and dip into the cool A/C of the Brooklyn Museum, reserve your timed ticket for the galleries in advance. 
Cost: Free

Delacorte Amphitheater
Delacorte Amphitheater | Nielskliim/Shutterstock

Catch a performance of Shakespeare in the Park

July 6 - August 29
Central Park
After last summer’s cancellation, the Public Theater’s beloved Shakespeare in the Park is back with performances of Merry Wives, a 12-actor adaptation by Ghanian-American writer Jocelyn Bioh of the classic comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor. The adaptation is set in Harlem with the cast reimagined as West African immigrants in NYC for a celebration of Black joy for Shakespeare in the Park’s triumphant return. The schedule and ticket distribution details will be published on the Public Theater’s website within the next few weeks. 
Cost: Free

Whether it’s more hours of sunlight or the sight of new budding greenery, there’s just something about spring that makes you want to get back out there. With allergy relief from ZYRTEC®, your allergies don’t have to get in the way of your plans, either. ZYRTEC® starts working at hour one, and works twice as hard when you take it the next day, so whether you’re planning on biking a city park or escaping to a nearby trail, you’ll be ready for wherever the season takes you.  

© J&JCI 2021

Make up for all the music festivals you missed

July - August 31
Prospect Park
Another summer fave cancelled last year by the coronavirus, Celebrate Brooklyn is officially back on. While the schedule hasn’t been released yet, BRIC has confirmed that they’ll be back IRL for the ‘21 season. Glass Animals is slated for an August 31 performance, and the rest of the lineup will be announced soon—here’s hoping that all the bands we love that broke up before 2020 have missed performing so much that they get back together for one last, great show. 
Cost: Varies

Chill on a popular Brooklyn rooftop

Summer-long, Thursday - Sunday
Bushwick
One of the best parts of the city’s reopening? More time spent in the great outdoors. On Elsewhere’s rooftop, you can snack on seasonal Guatemalan cuisine from Claudia’s and sip frozen Red Bull-spiked cocktails to beat the heat while listening to live music. They take limited walk-ins, but you’ll want to make a reservation to secure a spot for your favorite set—and if you’re not ready to be back on the crowded Bushwick scene, you can stream the sets online. 
Cost: Table reservations start at $10

Take a yoga class 1,100 feet in the air

Summer-long, Thursdays
Hudson Yards
For those of you tired of looking out of your apartment windows, the Edge and Equinox are offering Sky-High Yoga classes that’ll give you a whole new view. You can get flowing (and, if you’re even the tiniest bit afraid of heights, get your adrenaline going) on a glass observation deck 1,100 feet up in the air. Classes are released by month, and they tend to sell out quickly, so grab your spot if you’re ready to brave the height for the perfect photo. 
Cost: $50

The Yard at Threes Brewing
The Yard at Threes Brewing | Photo by Matt Furman

Cultivate good times at a beer garden

Summer-long
Citywide
If you’re not yet willing to re-enter the world of walls and ceilings, we’ve got your back with a round up of the city’s best al fresco beer gardens. Sip an IPA while you feel the sun on your maskless face (after a year of blue light from your screens, that’s gonna feel real nice) and get tipsy with plenty of fresh air and space around you. With tons of spots to choose from, you can drink up in your own backyard or hop a borough to try something new. 
Cost: Varies

Have an outdoor dance party alone together

Summer-long
McCarren Park
It’s a little too early to press your sweaty body against a stranger in a packed club… so RebootNYC lets you dance while social distancing. Put on your cutest outfit, grab a pair of headphones (not everybody in Williamsburg wants to hear the beat drop), and rock out at a low-fi, PLUR-y rave like it’s 1999. Substances, phones, and touching aren’t allowed, making the party the ideal place to close your eyes and get lost in the music. If you want to find the time and location of the roving rave, follow RebootNYC’s IG for details. 
Cost: Free

Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Nom Wah Tea Parlor | Photo by Paul Wagtouicz

Eat in Chinatown and support its small businesses

Summer-long
Chinatown
Even months before NYC’s first official COVID-19 case and lockdown last March, Chinatown in downtown Manhattan saw a drastic decrease in business and foot traffic due to anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia. Since then, residents, non-profit organizations, and advocates like Chinese-American cookbook author and culinary historian, Grace Young, have been fighting to regain a semblance of vitality for the neighborhood, and its eateries and small businesses are in need of our continued support. This summer, help save the historic neighborhood by paying it a visit and give a listen to our Thrillist Explorers Podcast to learn more on how to do your part. 
Cost: Varies

Get a sneak peek of a not-open-to-the-public park

Summer-long
Staten Island
As work continues on Freshkills Park—a 2,200-acre green space built over the notorious, decommissioned Fresh Kills Landfill, which in 1955 was the largest dump in the world—you can score a sneak peek at the progress. Although the park’s not slated to be fully finished until 2037, visitors are being let in all summer long for kayak tours, birding, and volunteer landscaping. After signing up for a slot, feel free to tell your date that you’re “taking them to the dump.”
Cost: Free

Finally(!) eat indoors again

Summer-long
Citywide
With Governor Cuomo announcing that NYC restaurants are allowed to run at 100% indoor capacity again this month, you might be ready and willing to eat inside dining rooms again. But where to start? We’ve rounded up the best new spots all over the city so you can make a reservation before those pictures of plates start hitting the ‘gram. Opening a restaurant is always a feat—doubly so during NYC’s closure—so be sure to show your appreciation by social distancing, masking when you’re not eating, and leaving a big old tip. 
Cost: Varies

Stream an off-Broadway show

Summer-long
Virtual
Until Broadway opens up again on September 14, some of the greatest minds behind NYC’s off-Broadway scene have brought their programming online. The Public Theater is streaming shows and La MaMa is hosting online happenings and artist talks. The city’s stages might stay dark for a little while longer, but you can help keep them alive by streaming, donating what you can, and enjoying the performances from home. 
Cost: Varies

L&B Spumoni Gardens
L&B Spumoni Gardens | L&B Spumoni Gardens

Try a slice of the city’s best pizzas

Summer-long
Citywide
There’s no day of the week or season that doesn’t call for pizza in NYC. And since the start of COVID-19, a new wave of pandemic-era pizza joints—from pop-up specialty pies by acclaimed chefs to plant-forward shops—have opened up to add to NYC’s rich pizza landscape. Order up Beyoncé’s favorite pizza from Lucali, grab slices (with plenty of vegan options) from Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, score a Sicilian square pie from L&B Spumoni Gardens, or go for a new classic from your favorite chefs at Stretch Pizza or Washington Squares. Order them one at a time, or—for the ultimate pizza showdown—get ‘em all at once for an at-home taste test.
Cost: Varies

Remember why you love NYC from its many observation decks

Summer-long
Multiple locations
One silver lining of the pandemic: there has never been a better time to explore our city’s wonderful collection of sky-high observation decks. With the hotter weather, summer is perhaps the ideal season to observe the cityscape from above. What should be on your punch list? The Empire State Building, of course, but we also recommend One World Observatory (the tallest building in NYC), Edge (the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere), and Top of the Rock for Midtown’s most spectacular views. Diehard view seekers might want to pick up a New York CityPASS C3, which offers access to all but One World Observatory on a single ticket.
Cost: Varies

Enjoy the weather with waterfront views in all 5 boroughs

Summer-long
Citywide
While we may have forgotten about them during colder weather, NYC boasts some pretty sweet riverside parks. On the next sunny day, remind yourself of their awesomeness with a stroll or bike ride on their pedestrian and bike-friendly paths. Bring your phone for a couple of sweet IG uploads along either the Hudson and East Rivers from Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively. Just remember: we may all be excited that the weather is warming up, but that’s no excuse for forgetting a mask or not social distancing.
Cost: Free

Cruise the city for free on The Staten Island Ferry

Summer-long
St. George/Financial District
When the weather begins to warm up, there are few pleasures greater than hopping on a boat for a spin between the boroughs. And while that may seem like a fancy pastime, never overlook The Staten Island Ferry, which is free and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The 25-minute ride boasts incredible views of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Manhattan’s glittering skyline. Oh, and did we mention they serve beer on board?
Cost: Free

Decide once and for all what bagel reigns supreme

Summer-long
Citywide
Remind yourself of New York’s supremacy with dough on a whirlwind tour of takeout bagels. Eat your weight in lox, schmear, and poppy seeds with Tompkins Square BagelsRuss & Daughters, and/or Black Seed Bagels. If you decide to eat ‘em all in one day, just drink a lot of water, OK? Otherwise you’ll end up as salted as that gravlax you pounded.
Cost: Varies

Go for a socially-distant hike in your local park

Spring-long
Citywide
While the city’s parks can sometimes be packed on weekends, head to the road less travelled for some more fresh air: an off-hours (in the middle of the weekday? early in the morning?), socially-distant hike. With plenty of green space in every borough, our lesser-known parks have miles and miles of hiking trails for a safe taste of the great outdoors. Pick a path in your local park, wear a mask, and get some fresh air in your lungs and some much-needed spring sunshine. 
Cost: Free

Get a taste of NY’s iconic dishes

Summer-long
Citywide
Sure, we have the best pizza and bagels in the world, but those are hardly the only iconic dishes in our food-obsessed city. Plan a day this summer to taste some of NYC’s other famed eats and it’ll make you fall in love with living here all over again. While it’s impossible to list them all, here are a few of our favorites to get you started: a towering pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen; soul food at Sylvia’s; dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor; steak at Peter Luger’s; cheesecake at Junior’s; hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya; cookies from Levain Bakery; donuts at Dough; a cheeseburger at J.G. Melon; a pierogi brunch at Veselka; and more.
Cost: Varies

Spend an afternoon gallery hopping

Summer-long
Chelsea
The city’s galleries are open for gawking, where you can make a reservation to ooh and aah over art at places like Lehmann MaupinDavid Zwirner, and Metro Pictures. Although the pandemic has led some galleries to close their doors permanently—Gavin Brown’s enterprise is sorely missed—this is still a city of art and artists, and the pandemic is sure to inspire more great work to come.
Cost: Free

Have a meal and cocktail in the great outdoors

Summer-long
Citywide
Indoor dining may not be comfortable for everyone yet, but with the thawing out of winter, we are entering prime outdoor dining season. Find a patio, sidewalk, rooftop, or backyard, and order up a meal—and cocktail—to kick back with some tasty offerings that you didn’t have to make yourself. With the massive success of outdoor dining in NYC when it launched last year, this new way of dining out and socializing is definitely here to stay. And remember: keep your server safe and always wear your mask when you’re not eating and drinking or seated at your table.
Cost: Varies

Cross the Brooklyn Bridge

Summer-long
City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge Park
While this iconic NYC landmark and tourist destination is usually swarmed with people, the pandemic has made it easier for locals to enjoy. Treat yourself to a scoop (or two) of ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory at your starting point in Brooklyn, then reward yourself once crossing over into Manhattan with a grand meal from Temple Court located inside the gorgeously restored Beekman Hotel (which also dates back to 1883, the same year the Brooklyn Bridge was built). As you turn back around for your return trip over the bridge, make sure to have your camera handy to capture more skyline and the once-in-a-lifetime views.
Cost: Free to cross; food and drink prices vary

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Juliet Izon is a Thrillist contributor.
Rachel Pelz lives and writes in Brooklyn.
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