No refuge from the masses
You’d be forgiven for thinking that New York’s Central Park isn’t exactly bucolic. After all, the most visited city park in America welcomed 42 million people in 2016. Magical in a state of early morning stillness, the 840-acre refuge quickly loses its tranquility as the sun rises. Selfie-stick-wielding tourists flock to the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields, bridal parties clog the park’s intricate bridges, and picnickers blanket every green blade of the 55-acre Great Lawn. Although the entire park is now car-free, pedestrians still must deal with speed-demon cyclists and manure-depositing horse-drawn carriages.
No matter the reality, the fact that Central Park has served as the backdrop for countless films, including classics such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “When Harry Met Sally,” inextricably link it to the quintessential New York City experience. If you can’t resist its pull, try to visit early in the day, especially on weekends. Head to the highlights in the northern area of the park, such as North Woods and Harlem Meer, which tend to be quieter. (If you’re a runner, you can avoid bike traffic by taking the 1.66-mile bridle path loop around the Reservoir.) For dining, skip the overpriced, subpar options inside the park and splurge at Jean Georges or go casual at Shake Shack, both near the south entrance.
Location: Bounded by 59th Street and 110th Street, from Central Park West to Fifth Avenue, Manhattan Borough, New York City; centralparknyc.org.
Serenity in the midst of hipness
Hip neighborhoods and trend-setting bars and restaurants have turned Brooklyn into New York City’s epicenter of cool. Part of the draw is the laidback neighborhood vibe, which extends to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The largest park in the outer boroughs, which you can get to in less than 30 minutes by subway from midtown Manhattan, rivals Central Park in terms of pastoral beauty. Created by the same architects — Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux — the 526-acre park has many of the same attractions as its Manhattan counterpart, including its own zoo, vintage carousel, running loop and skating rink. The Long Meadow, which stretches almost a mile along the west side of the park, is one of the longest unbroken green spaces in any city park in the country. Unlike on Central Park’s Great Lawn, there is room to spread a picnic blanket or toss a Frisbee here, even on weekends. Events are more low-key but no less star studded. Celebrate Brooklyn! at the Bandshell attracts big name acts (Willie Nelson, the Decemberists) that easily compete with Central Park’s SummerStage. The surrounding neighborhood of Park Slope has the Upper West and Upper East Sides beat when it comes to great food. After a day in the park, you’ll have countless of-the-moment restaurants, such as Fausto and Olmsted, to choose from for dinner, and, at bars like craft beer shrine Double Windsor, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with locals rather than tourists.
Location: Bounded by Prospect Park West, and Parkside Avenue, between Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Avenue and Prospect Park Southwest, Brooklyn Borough, New York City; prospectpark.org.
Murphy is a writer based in Boulder, Colo. Her website is jenrunsworld.com.
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