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Summer in the City: A Tour of Manhattan’s Best Parks

With its gray skies, persistent rain, and unseasonable chill, April is finally over. Meanwhile, flowers continue to bloom around the city and it’s time to plan for the warm summer days to come. Take a tour through Manhattan, from top to bottom, with this breakdown of the city’s best parks!

FOR CULTURE: Marcus Garvey Park / 125th Street (4/5/6)
Photographed by Luis Ruiz, Courtesy Facebook Art Department.

One of the larger parks above 80th Street, Marcus Garvey Park is a lush garden and community center in the heart of Harlem. Named after Black activist Marcus Garvey, this park is home to over 20 acres of indoor and outdoor facilities, including two pickleball courts, a pool, basketball courts, and a beloved concert bandshell. Last year, Marcus Garvey’s lawns were home to a range of free concert and movie series, from documentaries on soul and jazz to live performances. With any luck, similar programming will be back this summer. For now, Marcus Garvey remains the perfect place to examine new summer blooms, join a step class, or beat the heat with water fountains and sprinklers.

FOR DOG LOVERS: Carl Shurz Park / 86th Street (Q)
Photographed by Frenchies of UES on Instagram.

Known for its connection to the stately Gracie Mansion, aka the mayor’s residence, Carl Shurz Park is a gem of the Upper East Side. Nestled directly against the East River, Carl Shurz Park is the perfect place to dog-watch, with two dog runs and a variety of furry friends trotting along the ‘promenade’. There’s even a dog treat food truck that stops by on occasion. Look for the line of wagging tails and impatient owners to spot it. Besides being ‘one of the most dog-friendly parks’ in Manhattan, Carl Shurz is also home to beautiful views of the Triborough Bridge, waterside benches to laze on, and gorgeous gardens. Grab a ticket for the Roosevelt Island Ferry, just steps away, to make a real day of it.

FOR MAIN CHARACTER ENERGY: Central Park – The Great Lawn and Bow Bridge / 72nd Street (1/2/3)
Photo courtesy of Starr Whitehouse Landscape and Architect Planners

Oh, Central Park. Easily the most iconic park in all the six boroughs, no list of NYC’s parks would be complete without this one. However, spanning nearly 900 acres, there’s also no way you’re going to conquer it all in just one summer. For that reason, I consider the park’s famous Great Lawn and nearby Bow Bridge to be the most-unmissable spots for a sunny day trip. Join the hundreds of sunbathers, frisbee-throwers, artists, and nappers on the Great Lawn. You can even catch the city’s annual free New York City Philharmonic concert–complete with fireworks at the end–of a softball game if you’re lucky. A short walk away at Bow Bridge, you can recreate your rom-com fantasies while tulips bloom and rowers from the Loeb Boathouse pass underneath.

FOR SCENIC GAINS: Hudson River Park / 23rd Street (6)
Photographed by Julienne Schaer.

One of the city’s longest parks, this waterfront strip stretches from 59th Street to Battery Park. Renowned for its runners, joggers, and cyclists, Hudson River Park is one of the city’s best places to get a good workout. Lesser known, however, is that each of the park’s piers is home to its own recreational activities. Pier 45 is home to a large lawn for reading and relaxing, and one can often spot boxing classes on the pier. Pier 62 has a “California-style skatepark,” while Pier 86 is home to the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. And who could forget Little Island, NYC’s newest, floating park, complete with an audio architecture tour, public talks and performances, and mere steps away from the wider wonders of Chelsea? Best of all, each inch of Hudson River Park is the perfect place to catch sunset views over the Hudson River–my favorite feature.

FOR READERS: St. Luke in the Fields Gardens / Christopher Street (1)
Photo courtesy of St. Luke in the Fields

Tended to by the Episcopal Church St. Luke in the Fields but open to all, these gardens are the perfect West Village retreat. Open from midday to dusk, the gardens’ benches are the perfect place to read, listen to music, or observe the more than 100 species of birds and 24 types of moths and butterflies that have been known to float by. Keep quiet, sip on the tea or coffee of your choice, and pop by St. Luke in the Fields thrift store before your visit ends.

FOR A HOT GIRL SUMMER: Washington Square Park / West 4th (A/C/E/B/D/F/M)
Photo courtesy of NYC Official Travel Guide

The epicenter of downtown Manhattan, no park below 14th Street is more beloved than WSP. Jump in the iconic fountain (or…don’t…), watch the skateboarders grind, or help yourself to a pre-roll of your choice. Where both protests and late evening parties converge, Washington Square Park is the perfect place to pregame, catch some spontaneous live music, or simply lounge. Enjoy the pink cherry blossoms, towering arch, and feeling of the city coming to life. Don’t forget to pop by in early June for jam-packed Pride festivities. And who knows? Maybe a TikTok podcaster will help you find the summer fling of your dreams.

FOR A SOHO SURPRISE: Liz Christy Garden / Broadway/Lafayette (6/B/D/F/M)
hotographed by Vivienne Gucwa

Located at the corner of Bowery and Houston, this downtown public garden was founded in 1973. As the first–and oldest–community garden in NYC, you can honor the legacy of activists past by enjoying its blossoms and trees. With winding paths, a small turtle pond, and the tallest dawn redwood in Manhattan, this park truly feels like a secret garden. Take a breath after a whirlwind brunch or a gallery excursion by exploring this hidden park, directly off of the Broadway/Lafayette subway stop.

FOR AN EARLY MORNING: Sara D. Roosevelt Park / 2nd Avenue (Q)
Photo courtesy of 14 Second Avenue

Tucked in between the boundaries of the Lower East Side and Chinatown proper, this park makes a perfect early-morning stroll. Grab a pastry from Ka Wah or Chiu Hong Bakery and enjoy the ping-pong matches, tai chi lessons, and birds chirping overhead. One of the few escapes from the tightly-packed buildings of the LES, this park was made to be enjoyed. There are also two pickleball courts, a volleyball court, and several basketball courts. Plus Law & Order is, almost, always filming there. Bonus points if you see Mariska Hargitay before 10 am.

FOR PERFECT PICTURES: City Hall Park / Chambers Street (2/3/A/C/E/R/W)
Photo courtesy of NYC Parks

Located firmly within the boundaries of the Financial District, also known as Fi-Di, this park is tragically overlooked. Home to the majestic Jacob Wrey Mould Fountain, this park is surrounded by some of NYC’s oldest and finest architecture. It’s one of the city’s most beautiful green spaces. Oddly well-maintained, with buildings dating back to 1812, this park is lush and green, and a perfect spot to observe finance bros and government workers in their natural habitat. Make sure to stop by in the afternoon when the ties get loosened and golden hour hits.

FOR REAL ADVENTURE: Governor’s Island / Governors Island Ferry
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Ok, so this one isn’t technically a park. That being said, it’s 100% a part of Manhattan, and one of the best places to be when summer hits the city. Governor's Island is a can't-miss green space, a chock full of special events, farmer’s markets, and overpriced, yet delicious, food stalls. Wrangle three of your closest friends into a surrey, or pedal around on bikes. Enjoy the lavender field, lounge in a hammock grove, or simply sip a cold one and look out over the Hudson Bay. The ferry ride is free before noon on weekends, and only $4 roundtrip if you sleep in. Plus, the views are totally worth it.

Written by Hannah Siegel

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