Brooklyn Boro

How to spend 12 hours on Governors Island

May 3, 2019 Scott Enman
See below on how to spend a perfect summer day on Governors Island. Photo by Trey Pentecost

Onboard the ferry to Governors Island, with a faint salty breeze whisking off the water and the skyscrapers disappearing in the distance, visitors might forget they’re in the middle of a major metropolis.

The 172-acre oasis in the heart of New York Harbor is strangely quiet, the cacophony of city sounds suppressed. There’s a palpable sense of calm; it feels like an escape.

While it’s technically part of Manhattan, Governors Island receives all of its water and electricity from Brooklyn and is only 400 yards away from Kings County.

The island officially opened on Wednesday, and it’s got something for everyone this summer, including world-class dining, activities for kids, history lessons and endless nooks and crannies to get lost in. Here’s the perfect way to spend your day.

10 a.m. On the water

The Governors Island ferry. Photo by Trey Pentecost
The Governors Island ferry. Photo by Trey Pentecost

Governors Island feels a world apart, and yet it’s only a few minutes away — five to be exact. This summer, boats leave every 45 minutes from Brooklyn and all ferries are free before noon. Take a seat on the top deck, put your shades on and enjoy the wind in your hair and those incredible views of the East River Bridges lined up like dominoes. Fun fact: That hexagon-shaped building in front of the isle is actually a ventilation tower for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

The Brooklyn ferry only runs on weekends. Departures start at 11 a.m., but Manhattan’s first ferry leaves at 10 a.m.

11 a.m. Rent wheels

Bicycling is the best way to get around the island. Photo by Kreg Holt
Bicycling is the best way to get around the island. Photo by Kreg Holt

Biking is the most efficient way to travel around the island, and with three Citi Bike stations plus a bike rental company, there are no lack of options. Do a full loop around the car-free isle to get the lay of the land. You may see a few odd sights like a former FDNY training facility, a composting station and a junkyard playground.

A Citi Bike day pass costs $12. Stations are located at Soissons Landing, Yankee Pier and Picnic Point. Blazing Saddles rents bikes for $25 a day and is located at Liggett Terrace.

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12 p.m. Chow down

Eagle photo by Scott Enman
Bratwurst on a bun with coleslaw from Little Eva’s food truck. Eagle photo by Scott Enman

After working up an appetite, stop at Liggett Terrace to chow down at one of nine different food trucks featuring vegan Ethiopian food, home-style Jamaican jerk chicken, Venezuelan hot dogs or Neapolitan-style pizzas. Little Eva’s bratwurst covered in coleslaw and slathered with mustard on a warm buttery bun will have you drooling.

Be sure to wash it all down with a Brooklyn-based beer from Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint Brewery or Coney Island Brewing Company. Gowanus-based Threes Brewing is also opening a stand starting Memorial Day Weekend.

Alternatively, bring a picnic basket and set up shop on one of the island’s luscious lawns or rent a grill for a barbecue.

Grills must be reserved two weeks in advance and cost $26. Many of the food trucks will be opening later in May.

1:30 p.m. Take a siesta

Hammock Grove. Photo courtesy of Governors Island
Hammock Grove. Photo courtesy of Governors Island

After a hearty meal and a beer or two, you may be feeling a bit lethargic. Take a siesta on one of the incredibly comfortable hammocks in Hammock Grove or on one of the verdant knolls in The Hills. Alternatively, take a seat on one of the many red lounge chairs scattered about the island and read a book. Fun fact: Outlook Hill is one of the few places in the city with a 360-degree view of New York Harbor, and it’s the closest place on land to see the Statue of Liberty.

3:00 p.m. Gallery hop

What Pipeline presents Bailey Scieszka at NADA House. Courtesy of the artist and What Pipeline.
What Pipeline presents Bailey Scieszka at NADA House. Courtesy of the artist and What Pipeline.

Along Colonels Row, numerous turn-of-the-century Colonial Revival Houses have been transformed into pop-up art galleries. NADA House, the New Art Dealers Alliance’s second off-site exhibition on Governors Island, is open through Aug. 4 and features work from more than 45 artists inside buildings 403 and 404.

Jacob Hashimoto also has an installation on display in the Liggett Hall Archway called “Never Comes Tomorrow featuring hundreds of wooden cubes and two massive multi-colored funnels.

Pioneer Works, MoCADA and Triangle Arts will be hosting exhibitions and open studios later this summer, and there’s another exhibit called “Escaping Time: Art from U.S. Prisons,” which features artwork from inmates.

NADA House is open Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., May 3-Aug. 4. Escaping Time is open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

4:30 p.m. Learn about New York’s past

Parkgoers lounge on the grass. Photo by Kreg Holt
Parkgoers lounge on the grass. Photo by Kreg Holt

Governors Island has a rich history. Native Americans initially occupied the land and it later served as a way of protecting New York Harbor against naval attack in the Revolutionary War. The U.S. Army and Coast Guard stationed soldiers there.

Tour the Island with a Friends of Governors Island volunteer to learn about its transformation from military post to cultural destination or take a tour led by the National Park Service of the island’s three forts: Fort Jay, South Battery and Castle Williams.

5:30 p.m. Release your inner child

Inside Hammock Grove. Photo by Kreg Holt.
Inside Hammock Grove. Photo by Kreg Holt.

Whether you’re a kid or just a kid at heart, Governors Island has something for everyone. Slide Hill boasts the longest slide in New York City, Adventures at Governors Island has a zip line, obstacle course and miniature golf, and Hammock Grove has intricate jungle gyms. Returning for a fourth year is The Yard, a 50,000 square-foot junkyard turned playground with loose parts, tools and objects for children to climb on.

7:00 p.m. Seafood with a view

Island Oyster. Photo courtesy of Governors Island
Island Oyster. Photo courtesy of Governors Island

Make a reservation for dinner at Island Oyster, a 32,000-square-foot open-air waterfront eatery that was recently nominated for a James Beard award for outstanding restaurant design. Indulge in heaping lobster rolls or suck down some oysters all while enjoying panoramic views of New York Harbor. Remember that, after polishing off that bottle of rosé, you’ll likely be hopping on a bike again.

Island Oyster will open mid May.

8:30 p.m. World-class sunset

The sun sets behind the Statue of Liberty. Photo by Timothy Schenck
The sun sets behind the Statue of Liberty. Photo by Timothy Schenck

On Friday and Saturday evenings between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, the island stays open until 10 p.m. Be sure to take advantage of the extended late-night hours and sit down in one of the many lawn chairs on the western side of the island and watch as the sun sets behind Lady Liberty. Saunter over to the ferry and enjoy the ride home before heading back to reality.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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