5 NYC-Area Day Trips

This week, JICUF staff Fernando shares five easy to do day trips in and around New York City. Enjoy! 

Every once in a while, even New Yorkers want to escape the city. Sometimes we wish to get away from all the noise and bustle of the Manhattan, especially when the summer is high tourist season. Fortunately, there are ways to escape the city for the day. Here are five of my favorites 日帰り trips to do over the summer.

1. Bear Mountain (Harrison, NY)

This spot has been popular with New Yorkers since it was first open to the public in 1913. Only a 45-minute drive, Bear Mountain has a lot to offer visitors: hiking, picnicking, swimming, and sunbathing. There are also a zoo, museum, and merry-go-round.

If you like picnicking, I highly recommending sitting on the great lawn surrounded by the historic Bear Mountain Inn and the merry-go-round.  Bring a blanket and some fun games to play as well. If you’re really adventurous, you may be able to play with others. If, however, you don’t want to risk getting hit in the face with a soccer ball while eating your sandwich, you could also sit next to Hessian Lake and watch people paddle boating.

If you’re looking for something a little more strenuous, you could hike up to the Perkins Memorial Tower, where you’ll be able to get a view of the New York City skyline. It takes about 45 to 90 minutes to reach the summit, depending on which trail you take. Once you come down from your hike, I suggest taking a quick dip in the public pool.

Although the best way to access Bear Mountain is by car, you can also take a bus that leave the Port Authority Bus Terminal in the morning, with several afternoon departures from Bear Mountain. A round-trip fare costs you $27.80. 

2. City Island (Bronx, NY)

Although it’s technically a part of New York City, City Island seems like a bit of an outlier. This small community is isolated from the rest of the Bronx offers everything you expect to find in a small seaside town. To get here, take the 6 line to the last stop, Pelham Bay Park. From there take the Bx29 to City Island.

You absolutely must try eating at one of the seafood places. I highly recommend Sammy’s Shrimp Box where you and a couple of friends could share the fried seafood combo. This massive dish includes shrimp, calamari, sole, soft shell crab and scallops. If you would like keep at the goodness to yourself, order the Fried Shrimp.

If you’re the adventurous type, you can also set sail and rent a boat from Jack’s Bait & Tackle. For $90, a four-person boat rental includes a motor, 6 gallons of gas, a map of the local area, life jackets, and operation instructions. You’ll have to get there early though since boats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

For more things to do, check out this Thrillist article: https://www.thrillist.com/lifestyle/new-york/things-to-do-eat-and-drink-in-city-island-bronx).

3. Sandy Hook Beach (Sandy Hook, NJ)

Located at the northernmost tip of the New Jersey shore, Sandy Hook is a great alternative to other NYC beaches. This 7-mile peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean is a great place to spend an entire day at the beach with the added bonus of having the NYC skyline in the background. Sandy Hook has three main beaches: North, Gunnison, and South. Be aware that Gunnison beach is the only (legal) nudist beach in New Jersey so expect to see people bearing it all.

When you want to take a break from the beach, take a stroll to the Fort Hancock. This US army base fort was operational from 1896 until 1974 and used during both world wars. The fort is now open to the public and includes many of barracks used to house soldiers. While you’re there, visit the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, whence you can get a panoramic view of the New York City.

If you didn’t bring anything to eat, no worries. Simply stop by one of the restaurants located on the mainland. You can also find several food trucks offering delicious snacks. If you’re really thrifty, bring your own grill, charcoal, and meats to have yourself a simple cookout.

Although the cheapest way to reach Sandy Hook is by car, you will want to arrive very early. once the parking lots are full, the gates are closed and no one else is allowed in. A better, more scenic way would be to take the 30-minute ferry from Wall Street. Round-trip fare costs $46 but you can get a discount and pay $30 if you take the first trip to Sandy Hook. From Sandy Hook port, there is a free shuttle that takes you to all the beaches on the island.

4. South Mountain Reservation (South Orange, NJ)

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For those of you particularly interested in hiking, I recommend the South Mountain Reservation, located in South Orange, New Jersey. Unlike most hiking routes around NY, this one is a quick 45-minute ride from Penn Station. Simply buy your ticket (round-trip fare is $17.00) and hop on the NJ Transit to Millburn Station. The entrance to the reservation and the trail are just a 5-minute walk away.

The entire hiking trail is moderately easy but long. The link above has more information on the trail itself but I’ll quickly go over some of the highlights. For a quick history lesson, stop by Washington Rock Lookout historic site located early on during the hike. At this spot, George Washington’s army built a beacon from which to observe the advancing British army during the American Revolutionary War.

Halfway through the hike, you’ll reach the highlight of the trail, Hemlock Falls. If you brought a lunch or a snack, this would be the best time to enjoy the view. You might even run into a few families enjoying the view with their dogs.

Finally, the trail will lead you across the Rahway River over some rocks but be sure to wear some good boots or you’ll slip! The rest of the trail is fairly easy with a nice walk along the river with views of old industrial buildings. Be sure to bring along plenty of water and snacks since there are no water fountains or vending machines.

5. Staten Island (Staten Island, NY)

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I’m cheating a little bit with this one. Just like City Island, Staten Island is part of New York City. In fact, it’s one of the five boroughs. For many people, including New Yorkers, Staten Island often feels foreign and separate from the rest of the city given that the only way to reach it is by either car or ferry. Because of its unique character, however, the island has a lot to offer its visitors. The island is home to many New York City civil servants including its school teachers, police officers, and firefighters. It is also home to a growing community of immigrants drawn to the island’s suburban feel.

To get here, take the Staten Island Ferry from Whitehall Terminal near Battery Park to St. George Terminal. Be sure to take a photo of the Statue of Liberty. Once you arrive, I suggest visiting Fresh Kills Park, previously known as Fresh Kills Landfill. Opened in 1948, all NYC household garbage collected was dumped here and by 1955, it was the largest landfill in the world. At one point, it collected almost 29,000 tons of trash per day! Shortly after the September 11th attacks, Fresh Kills landfill was closed and planning to convert it to a large park began shortly afterwards.

One of my favorites spots is Ralph’s Italian Ices. This family business has been around since 1949 and offers a variety of flavored ices including my preferred choice, Lemon Lime. Since opening their first shop, they’ve continued to add frosty items to their menu such as sherbets, iced coffee drinks, and fruit smoothies.

I also recommend stopping by the Staten Island Zoo. For the low price of $10, you can check out hundreds of small animals. The zoo opened in 1936 with the mission of being an educational one. Since then, the zoo has continued to expand its educational program and to this day, continues to on site and in class lesson to NYC school children. My favorite animal is Staten Island Chuck, the groundhog who on Groundhog Day predicts whether we will get an early spring or four more weeks of winter.

For more info on things to do in Staten Island, you can check out the following website: https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/freshkills-park/highlights/19611. Your time on Staten Island will definitely be time well spent.

These are just a few option available to you over the summer. If you have further interests, don't hesitate to let me know!

About Fernando: A native New Yorker, he loves going to restaurants, riding the city bus, and taking strolls through parks. He currently lives in the Bronx with his wife, Marilyn whom he met when they were college students at Columbia University. If you have any questions about living and getting around NYC, please feel free to contact him at frojas@jicuf.org.