Travel

Escape NYC Without Leaving Town by Visiting These 9 Places

Staycations with even less commitment.

Glamping on Governors Island
Glamping on Governors Island | Courtesy of Collective Retreats
Glamping on Governors Island | Courtesy of Collective Retreats

For travel loving New Yorkers, exploring new places beyond city limits has always helped balance out the daily grind that comes with living here. Running off and hopping on a plane for some faraway island or getaway always made returning to NYC soil all that more special. And especially now, during the pandemic, the need to break free from our small apartments and neighborhood routines to hit the road feels more necessary than ever.

But sometimes, it’s easy to forget that we live in the greatest metropolis in the world. And that people sit on cramped planes for 18 hours straight and pay thousands of dollars to visit our hometown. So here’s a reminder: While so much of our city is made up of skyscrapers and cement, it’s also filled with sights, activities, and greenery that can transport us out of New York, even when we’re still physically within the five boroughs. Becoming tourists in our own city is the new norm, and let’s all be excited for the fun things that await us. So leave your passport at home, because now you can escape NYC without leaving town by visiting these 9 places.

Pretend you’re upstate in the country at the Bronx Equestrian Center 

This year has already felt like quite the bumpy ride, and while horseback riding may seem out of reach in the city, all you need to do is make your way to Pelham Park in the Bronx. No matter your level of expertise or previous yee-hawing experience, the Bronx Equestrian Center offers hour-long trail rides, English and Western style lessons, and therapeutic riding through the park. There’s also a children’s grooming program on Saturday mornings and pony rides for the littles.

Channel New England by eating seafood on a swanky boat

Skip the tacky dinner cruise. Instead, make a reservation at Pilot, a chic seafood restaurant on a docked boat at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Open through October (and possibly longer), as a sister ship to Grand Banks in Manhattan, Pilot’s wooden sailboat is nearly 100-years-old and was once a contender for the fastest sailboat in the world. Today, its 147 feet have been carefully restored and patrons can order dishes like Montauk sea bream ceviche, buttermilk battered soft shell crab, and caviar hash brown, while they sip craft cocktails and take in the Manhattan skyline. For bonus meta points, take the East River Ferry to get there.

Sail on an actual boat on The Hudson River

To go out on a boat that actually moves, there are many options to choose from. For a luxe approach, you’ll want to check out the chic sailboat that belongs to uptown luxury hotel The Mark. Built in 1921 by famous naval architect Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, the 70-foot sailboat can be reserved for excursions along the Hudson River. Plus, through a special offer available during October, you can even have Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten join you. Chef will prepare a few of his signature dishes and the Mark’s sommelier will provide wine pairings for up to 10 guests as you sail around the isle of Manhattan for two hours. Contact the hotel’s concierge for reservations.

glamping on Governors Island
Courtesy of Collective Retreats

Camp out on Governors Island

Yes, you can spend the night on an island in a tent, without leaving NYC -- and no, we don’t mean the island of Manhattan. We’re talking Governors Island, which, while just an eight-minute boat ride away, feels like a true escape. Thankfully, camping in this case doesn’t mean roughing it: Collective Retreats takes care of the canvas tents (furnished with a plush bed and designer lighting, natch), gourmet al fresco dining at the new Fire & Water, a private water taxi, and of course, s’mores. At night, watch a movie with the majestic lit-up skyline in the background and in the a.m., join a socially distanced outdoor yoga or meditation session. Don’t want to spend the night? Make the retreat your office for the day and book a desk at the indoor-outdoor pavilion to enjoy high-speed Wi-Fi, unlimited coffee, and the best office views around.

Channel maritime vibes in Red Hook, Brooklyn

While the Catskills might be the birthplace of fly-fishing, did you know NYC also has  several prime fishing spots of its own? Red Hook, Brooklyn, is an exceptionally picturesque place to cast your line for bluefish, striped bass, fluke, and weakfish. There are three locations to fish there: the Columbia Street Esplanade (called the “Long Dock” by locals), the offshore end of Pier A where Ikea is, and Valentino Pier at the end of Coffey Street. Just be sure you have a license.

Hike a forest trail in Inwood Hill Park

While NYC does have a plethora of parks, and many with trails, it can sometimes be hard to feel like you’ve truly escaped. To avoid seeing skyscrapers peeking above treetops and hearing cars whizz by, head to the 196-acre Inwood Hill Park in Upper Manhattan. Home to the only remaining forest in Manhattan, Inwood Hill Park has unpaved forest trails that will make you feel far away from the concrete jungle (though there are easier paved paths as well). Hike to the top of the hill to see the oldest living trees in the park and keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles (really).

TWA Hotel exterior in NYC
David Mitchell / TWA Hotel

Time-warp back to the ‘60s at the TWA Hotel 

Go back to the days when air travel was thought of as sexy and pandemics were nowhere in sight. Book a room (for the day or overnight) at the TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport and we promise you won’t feel bad that you’re at the airport without a flight to catch. Instead, you can peruse the hotel’s collection of historic air travel artifacts and TWA ephemera, lay out by the roof deck pool and watch the planes overhead, and sip on a craft cocktail at the pool bar. You can even grab a Feltman’s hot dog and Mister Softee ice cream from the food hall and transport yourself to Coney Island for a brief moment. Oh and prepare to be wowed by the retro design and architecture by the legendary Eero Saarinen.

Get lost in the gardens at Snug Harbor

Take in the gorgeous views from the ferry and head to Staten Island for Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, which offers 83 acres of gorgeous grounds to explore. Frolic among multiple traditional gardens, including the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, the Rose Garden, a classic Tuscan Garden, and the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, one of just two authentic outdoor Chinese gardens in the US. You can also swing by the 2.5-acre Heritage Farm to buy in-season produce on Wednesday afternoons, or sign up for their CSA.

Forage herbs and roots at Forest Park

Many assume that houseplants and windowside herbs are the only greenery that grows in NYC, but there’s lots more sprouting here. Of course there are urban gardens aplenty, but there’s also tons of wild things waiting to be collected. Central and Prospect Parks are both great places to forage, and Forest Park, Queens, is home to a wide selection of wild herbs, greens, roots, nuts, and mushrooms. Book a tour with Wildman Steve Brill, or venture out on your own if you know your edibles (not those edibles).

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Devorah Lev-Tov is a Thrillist contributor.