There was a time when Manhattan cabbies refused fares across the Brooklyn Bridge and a time when transplants to New York didn’t believe they really lived in New York unless they were somewhere in Manhattan, even if it was inside a glorified closet with a toilet and microwave.
With high rents and million-plus homes driving apartment dwellers and first-time home buyers to destinations within an hours drive of Oz, newcomers finally discovered what Brooklynites already knew—there’s no place like Brooklyn.
Now with red double-decker tour buses cruising along Adams St., it’s obvious that vacationers have also discovered New York City across the bridge. With its diverse residents that represent many cultures, ethnic, and racial backgrounds, Brooklyn has a culinary, shopping, entertainment and neighborhood scene that rivals that other borough.
If you only have a couple of days to explore, you can visit a couple, maybe even three nabes in one day—combine a visit to Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights during the day and head to Williamsburg for dinner, or spend the day in Park Slope and return to Brooklyn Heights in the evening to view the Manhattan Skyline at night or do an evening walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Coney Island is a longer trek, so you might want to dedicate an entire day to the destination.
5… Hop the subway to Coney Island
Coney Island, a small peninsula at the southernmost edge of Brooklyn, was a quiet seaside town before becoming “the playground of the world.” In the 1880s entrepreneurs saw the potential for profit and it soon developed into a world famous beach resort. During the 1900s it was mostly for the rich who were drawn to the restaurants, beach front hotels, bathing pavilions, shops, race tracks, theatres, cabarets, and amusement parks Steeplechase, Luna and Dreamland, which offered rides, concession stands and more entertainment. Once the new subway was introduced, a nickel ride made it a vacation destination for the masses. That ride will cost you $2.25 now, but it’s worth it to feel like a kid again, when you see the 150 feet high Wonder Wheel and Cyclone rollercoaster come into view as the train rolls into Stillwell Station.
While the beach has always been a draw, especially on a stifling hot day, the amusement parks have struggled during hard times. Developers have had the area in their sites for years and some rides have been dismantled and others bulldozed to make way for the Next Grand Idea. Fortunately The Wonder Wheel, Cyclone and Parachute Jump (a defunct ride that was created for the New York World’s fair, was then moved to Coney Island and is the only remains of Steeplechase Park) are historic New York City landmarks and can’t be destroyed. The famous 1920 Ferris wheel is now part of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Next door is the new Luna Park and across the street, the refurbished Astroland Cyclone, the famous wooden rollercoaster that first terrified adventure seekers in 1927, still inspires wild screams.
If such rides make you queasy and you don’t care for the arcades and the rather seedy carnival-like scene, sports fans can take in a game at MCU Park (formerly Keyspan Park) home of the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league team (1904 Surf Avenue, 718-449-8497, www.brooklyncyclones.com). Other than sunning at a beach with absolutely no shade, you can also stroll the 3-mile Riegelmann boardwalk and visit the New York Aquarium (Surf Avenue & West 8th, $13 general admission, www.nyaquarium.com). For music lovers, in the evening during the summer months, Asser Levy Park is the site of the free Seaside Concert series. And when you get hungry, get a beef hot dog at Nathan’s Famous (1310 Surf Avenue, 718-946-2202). The original beef frankfurter was a nickel when the hot dog stand opened in 1916. It’ll cost you $3.15, but it’s a must to complete the Coney Island experience. Just eat it after you’ve ridden the Cyclone, please.
4… Take a trip down under
Take a scenic walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to the historic DUMBO district. DUMBO (an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is located between the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. Until the 1890s the western portion of the neighborhood was known as Fulton Landing (after the ferry that connected it to Manhattan before the Brooklyn Bridge opened.) It was primarily a manufacturing district. The neighborhood is now home to several artists and musicians who were attracted to the low rents and spacious lofts when the area became residential. Restaurants, bars, boutiques and performance spaces like St. Ann’s Warehouse (38 Water Street, 718-254-8779) can now be found in factories and warehouses.
As you roam the cobblestone streets, check out Jane’s Carousel, currently on display in a warehouse at 56 Water Street. The 1922 carousel was restored by Jane Walentas, wife of DUMBO developer David Walentis, and will be moved to Empire State–Fulton Ferry Park, at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, an area that was a shipping hub in the 19th century and is now part of the expanded Brooklyn Bridge Park.
If you’ve worked up an appetite after walking across the bridge and absorbing the views from the parks, walk over to Old Fulton Street to Grimaldi’s (19 Old Fulton, 718-858-4300). There’s always a long line at this popular pizza place, but it’s worth the wait. The pizza (which does not come by the slice) and has been enjoyed by celebrities like the late Frank Sinatra, is made in a coal-fired brick oven and has chunks of fresh tomato and homemade mozzarella on a thin crust. A small 16” pizza is $12. For a sweet treat, stop at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (1 Water Street, 718-246-3963. $2.50-$8) which is housed in a 1920s fireboat house on the waterfront, next door to the River Café. Then take a short, leisurely ten-minute walk over to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
3… Take a stroll back in time
Brooklyn Heights is one of the most desirable and expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn, due to its close proximity to Manhattan and the stunning views of its esplanade, which extends from Remsen Street to Orange Street. Brooklyn Heights is an elevated plateau bounded on the west by the East River and north by Fulton Street. Development as a residential district began in the 19th century. Residents have included Walt Whitman, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Bob Dylan.
Most of the neighborhood looks as it did at the start of the Civil War with homes representing architectural styles from the 19th century. It has been spared the redevelopment that spread from downtown to other areas of the borough. When master builder Robert Moses announced plans to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) straight through the heart of the Heights, the community managed get a district designation of Brooklyn Heights Historic District, the first such district in New York.
Wander around the area or take an organized house tour to view the Federal-style, Greek revival and Gothic revival houses, and Italianate brownstones that stand grandly in the shade of tree-lined streets, and large mansions that grace Pierre Street, Remsen Street and Columbia Heights.
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade was actually an idea of wealthy resident Hezekiah Pierrepont that never came to fruition. He envisioned it as place where Brooklyn’s elite could see and be seen. But friends and fellow residents opposed the idea, and Pierrepont abandoned the plan. It’s ironic. When Brooklyn Heights residents challenged yet another proposal for the BQE, one of them suggested that a double-decker highway be constructed with a cover to protect her garden from the smog and noise. Moses liked the idea, and to the residents’ dismay, made the cover a public promenade in 1950.
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade with its stunning vistas of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, South Street Seaport and other landmarks, is now a popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
2…Wear Your Walking Shoes for the Slope
Just about a half hour from midtown Manhattan by train, Park Slope, is another coveted Brooklyn neighborhood in which to live, and not a bad place to visit. It currently has a diverse mix of upper middle class residents. For many years it had an ever-changing populace. No one seemed to “park” there for long. Wealthy and middle class residents left in the late 1940s as the neighborhood began to change. In the 1950s, working class Irish and Italian had moved in. Then as African American and Latinos began to move in during the 1960s – 1970s, the Irish and Italians fled. In late 1960s, early 1970s, hippies and artists began to buy up brownstones and renovate them. Preservationists helped to get landmark status for several blocks of historic row houses. In 1973 a landmark district above 7th Avenue was created, and not long after, the gentrification process began. Through the 1980s and 1990s working class families began to be replaced by upper middle class couples that had been priced out of Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights, a process that continues today in Clinton Hill, Bedford Stuyvesant and other neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn.
Park Slope is named for its location on the western slope of the 585-acre Prospect Park (designed by the same architects as Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.) There are lots of things to do here, so wear comfortable shoes. On early Sunday morning, the Farmer’s Market is situated at the park entrance, with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch as a backdrop and the massive Brooklyn Library to the side. Inside the park you can enjoy free concerts at the Prospect Park Bandshell, visit the zoo, or relax on the Long Meadow.
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden, (900 Washington Avenue, Tue.-Fri 8am - 6pm, Sat-Sun 10 am - 6pm, $8 (adults), free Tue., Sat 10 am- 12 Noon, www.bbg.org) and the Brooklyn Museum (Sun 11 am – 6pm, Wed-Fri 10 am-5pm, Sat 11 am-6pm, suggested donation $10, www.brooklynmuseum.org) are within walking distance. Park Slope has two main commercial streets. Walk east from Grand Army Plaza to 7th Avenue and further over to 5th Avenue for shops, boutiques, restaurants and bars.
1…Spend an Evening in Williamsburg
When you exit the L train at the Bedford Avenue Station and walk up to street level you might be tempted to turn around and head back to 14th Street. While the exteriors of some restaurants, bars may not be as attractive as those found on 7th Street in Park Slope or Fulton Street in Fort Greene, in Williamsburg, looks can be deceiving. Still, in transformation, construction makes for ugly scenery. Gems like Sea Restaurant have nondescript fronts, but are beautiful inside. Unique items can be found in the thrift shops, shops and boutiques on Bedford, 7th Street, 6th Street and the side streets.
After the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, upwardly mobile immigrants and second generation Americans fled the slum tenements of Manhattan’s lower east side and it became the most densely populated neighborhood in New York. Now South Williamsburg has a large Yiddish speaking Hasidic and Puerto Rican population, the area referred to as “the south side” is home to Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, while East Williamsburg is home to large population of Italian Americans, African Americans and Hispanics.
Artist were drawn to Williamsburg in the 1970s due to low rents and spacious lofts in former factories on the North Side, joining the Irish and Italians residents and continued to gravitate here through the 80s, and especially in the 90s when Soho and East Village became gentrified. By 1996, it amassed a large artist population. Often referred to as Brooklyn’s Soho, the area continues to attract “hipsters” indie bands, and college grads. Galleries, restaurant and shops were opened to cater to these new residents and more abandoned factories were converted into condos and apartments and construction of high rises, making the North Side Williamsburg’s most expensive area. The area parks McCarren Park (Nassau Avenue, Bayard, Leonard, North 12 Streets, www.mccarrenpark.com) and the smaller East River State Park on the waterfront are sadly neglected (one garden in McCarren was an disappointing mess of dead plants and brown grass) and worth a visit only when an event is going on. That said, there are free concerts at East River State Park (93 Kent Avenue, 718-782-2731) and concerts, movies and pool parties are held at the abandoned pool of McCarren Park (Bedford Avenue/North 12 Street).