Governors Island Day Trip

Picnic with the Past on Governors Island

Photo by jglsongs

At just half-a-mile (800 yards, to be precise) from the towering skycrapers of Lower Manhattan, historic Governors Island is the city's nearest escape. Remarkably, despite being just ten minutes across the harbor, this former military stronghold succeeds at feeling a million miles away. It helps that it's a historic throwback: Preserved 19th-century forts, officers' houses, and even canons occupy its 172 lush acres. These, in turn, have been infused with new energy thanks to groovy art installations, car-free bike trails, and a popular beach bar on one shore. Best of all, most of it's free–even the ferry rides from Manhattan and Brooklyn–making Governors Island one of the cheapest and easiest day trips you can have from New York.

What to Do

Photo by asterix611

Historic District

North Governors Island, New York, NY;; Free

The northern section of Governors Island comprises 92 bucolic acres chock-full of 19th-century red-stone military buildings like the one above; known as Castle Williams, this round redoubt housed enlisted Confederate men in the 1800s. There's a real mish-mash of styles, besides: College-campus-style brick dormitories with white window sashes, yellow clapboard houses that verge on Southern Gothic, and two low-lying 1812 forts among them. Avant-garde (and sometimes hokey) art installations dot the place, too, occupying grassy squares and several historic interiors. The overall effect is hard to synthesize, but the discombobulating experience is key to the island's appeal.

Photo by bettyx1138

Bike the Promenade

Governors Island Promenade, New York, NY;; From $7/Hour

One of the best ways to explore the island's 172 acres is by bike. You can bring your own on the boat or rent one on-site, at the Bike and Roll kiosk to the left of the ferry landing (Tip:Renters should arrive early in the day; wheels do run out). Once you're all geared up, you can patrol five miles of car-free paths, although the best route is the new 2.2-mile promenade that traces the island's edges, passing historic buildings, fantastic waterfront views of Red Hook and the Statue of Liberty, and the relaxing Picnic Point, a great spot to dismount and chill out in a red Adirondack chair.

Photo by JMKlamm

Picnic Point

South Governors Island, New York, New York; Free

Ten derelict apartment buildings were torn down to create the grassy expanse of Picnic Point that lounges along Governors Island's southwest coast with incredible sightlines onto the State of Liberty (the absolute best you can get from shore). The parkland here offers scattered hammocks, red Adirondack chairs, and industrial picnic tables tucked into reclaimed shipping containers. Three acres have also recently been cultivated with heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, squash, and lettuce by Added Value, a Brooklyn-based community farm. The locally grown items are intended for use at Water Taxi Beach (see below) and sold at a seasonal farm stand.

Where to Eat and Drink

Photo by kathyylchan

Picnic Point

South Governors Island, New York;

If you haven't brought your own picnic supplies, George's dishes out typical boardwalk grub (hot dogs, gyros, roast-beef sandwiches, and Philly cheesesteaks) from an awninged truck at this end of the island. Nearby, delicious organic coffee, mocha-chip, and butter-pecan ice creams are scooped from a mobile cart helmed by Brooklyn-based Blue Marble Ice Cream. Also look for a stand selling fresh seasonal produce from Governors Island's very own sustainable farm.

Photo by ChaunceyMellows

Water Taxi Beach

South Governors Island, New York;; From $3

With its northward-facing vantage onto Lower Manhattan, this outlet of Water Taxi Beach (there are two others in New York) has by far the best views. The beach-friendly menu favors fried goodness–fries, roasted corn, hot dogs, and ribs are cooked-to-order on restaurant grills–but the food is really secondary to the main event: Drinking with your feet in the sand within sight of the city. Covered tables offer a respite from the sun, beach games abound, and piped in music lends a beach party vibe. Still, unless there's an evening concert planned, it all shuts down quite early (4.30pm on Friday; 6.30pm on Saturday and Sunday).