Brooklyn, NY Destination Guide
Local Destination Mini-Guide: Brooklyn, New York
By Jacquelin Cangro
WHY GO THERE
Away from the glitz of Times Square and the drama of Broadway, Brooklyn has suddenly become a hot commodity.
Several operators have developed bus tours solely within the borough and Carnival Cruise Lines has proposed a new $100 million passenger terminal on the Brooklyn docks.
Poet Anne Sexton put it best when she wrote, 'Poor thing/ To die and never see Brooklyn.'
The time has come to step off the well-worn path of Manhattan tourist destinations and spend time in the borough many locals believe should be the 51st state.
WHEN TO GO
Visitors uncomfortable with extremes should avoid July and August, when temperatures are into the 90s and the humidity can make the heartiest traveler wilt. January and February often bring snow and icy winds. May and October are often mild.
HOW TO GET THERE
Brooklyn is located between two major airports - LaGuardia, which handles domestic flights only, and John F. Kennedy (JFK), which is served by most conceivable international and domestic airlines. The easiest option to any destination from either airport is a taxi.
To downtown Brooklyn a taxi is about $20 from LaGuardia and $30 from JFK.
For only $2 the city subway lines serve both airports. A free shuttle bus takes passengers from JFK to the Howard Beach train station.
From LaGuardia hop on the city bus ($2) which stops at the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue station with a free transfer to the subway. (Ask the bus driver for a transfer pass.) Most long-distance bus lines end at the Port Authority Terminal in Manhattan . A number of subway lines directly serve the terminal. Amtrak service ends at Grand Central Station in Manhattan and also is served by many subway lines.
It is best to leave the driving to someone else when in Brooklyn. Drivers often find themselves searching in vain for a spot or paying exorbitant garage rates. Take mass transit. It's clean, it's safe, and it covers most every corner of the borough.
The subway system is generally the fastest way to get somewhere too far to walk. Don't be afraid to ask for directions. It's a source of pride for most Brooklynites to talk about their neighborhood. Many an argument has been had over the best or fastest way to get someone from point A to point B.
Free maps are available at every station, or print one from the web. (mta.nyc.ny.us)
Subway and bus fares recently increased to $2 per ride. Along with the increase came the elimination of the token.
Now all rides require a MetroCard, which can be purchased at any station or select vendors across the city. Think about purchasing a one-day Fun Pass for $7. It is good for unlimited rides that day. A seven-day Unlimited Ride card is $21.Late night hours call for the use of a taxi.
Cabs are easy to find, unless it is rush hour or a residential area. Fares are $2 for the first fifth of a mile and.30 for each fifth of a mile thereafter or for each 90 seconds in slow traffic. Always use yellow cabs with a gold medallion on the hood. Gypsy cabs, those without medallions, can be uninsured or unlicensed and are best avoided.
Head to the BrooklynBridge at dusk for an up-close-and-personal view of the venerable bridge.Walk above the traffic and be treated to panoramic skyline vistas while the sun sets behind Manhattan . It doesn't take but a few steps to realize what an engineering marvel it was when it opened in 1889.
In disrepair for many years, Coney Island (coneyisland.com) is revitalizing itself with help from the city. The Stillwell Avenue train station is getting a much needed face lift, while the shoddy buildings lining Surf Avenue are being renovated or torn down. Ride the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone wooden roller coaster. Take a walk along the famous boardwalk and stop in at the original Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs. It is here that the annual hot dog eating contest is held on July 4th where this year's winner ate 44 in only 12 minutes.
Prospect Park (prospectpark.org) is a 526-acre oasis in the middle of a bustling borough. Landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also designed the famed Central Park in the 1800s, were said to feel that they improved upon Central Park .
On the edge of the park at Flatbush Avenue Brooklyn Botanic Garden (bbg.org) has something to offer visitors no matter the time of year. The Japanese Pond Garden alone is worth the $5 admission fee. The Shinto shrine, pavilion and stone lanterns are all carefully laid out to evoke a feeling of peace and tranquility. Visitors in June are treated to more than 1200 varieties of roses in the Cranford Rose Garden where the sweet fragrance is overwhelming. The botanic garden is closed on Mondays.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS
People are calling DUMBO the new Greenwich Village. DUMBO? That's short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges , this up-and-coming area has chic stores and restaurants opening on a regular basis. The area is home to many burgeoning artists who showcase their work at the annual D.U.M.B.O. Art Under the Bridge Festival (718) 694-0831, usually held in October. Fulton Ferry State Park , site of George Washington's evacuation during the Revolutionary War's Battle of Brooklyn, hosts one of the city's best children's playground.
BEST ACTIVITIES AND GUIDES
The second largest museum in New York City is the Brooklyn Museum of Art The museum's permanent collection of ancient Egyptian art is generally considered to be one of the finest in the world dating from 1350 BC Special programs are held on the first Saturday of each month for free admission.
Baseball is back in Brooklyn thanks to the Brooklyn Cyclones. Still bitter about the Dodgers' exodus in the fifties, Brooklynites are proud the minor league Cyclones call Coney Island home. Games are sold out quickly so purchase tickets well in advance. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge through Brooklyn Heights with Big Onion Walking Tours. Learn how the Brooklyn Bridge was built while walking across it. Then tour New York City 's first suburb, Brooklyn Heights , to explore its rich architectural and literary history.
Big Onion also offers a Green-Wood Cemetery Tour. Founded in 1838, the cemetery was a leading tourist attraction by the 1850s, hosting an estimated 500,000 visitors per year. Stops include the graves of Leonard Bernstein, Louis Comfort Tiffany, "Boss" Tweed, Samuel F.B. Morse, and Horace Greeley.
For a can't-beat-the-price option (free) jump on the trolley which tours the major sites around Prospect Park such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. (718) 282-7789.
B&B on the Park, 113 Prospect Park West, (718) 499-6115. There are nine rooms in this bed and breakfast inn just across from Prospect Park and close to the 15th Street subway stop on the F train line. Rooms start at $125/night.
Angelique Bed & Breakfast, 405 Union Street, (718) 852-8406. Just a couple of subway stops into Brooklyn from Manhattan, this B&B is in the quaint neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, named so for the small patches of flora in front of its historic brownstones. Rooms start at $125/night for a large room and $75/night for a small room.
B&B Marisa, 288 Park Place, (718) 399-9535 This inn is close to Prospect Park , Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a quick train ride away from Coney Island. Rooms start at $75/night.BEST EATSWant to find New York City 's best steakhouse? It's not in Manhattan .
For 116 years, Peter Luger Steakhouse has served some of the best meals in Brooklyn. The annual Zagat Survey has rated the Williamsburg restaurant tops for the 19th year running, and it shows no signs of settling for second place. Go ahead and splurge (cash only), but make reservations well in advance.
Anyone visiting Brooklyn with his or her sweetheart should go to the city's most romantic restaurant, The River Café. The trees and pier are filled with twinkling white lights and the waterfront location on the East River provides spectacular views of downtown Manhattan . And the food's not bad either, given that the restaurant has produced at least four of New York City 's best chefs.In some cities, a diner is just a diner.
In Brooklyn, diners are where locals meet to gossip, catch up on the news of the day and hold court on important topics. For more than 50 years, Junior's (718) 852-5257, on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and DeKalb Avenue , has been that place for Brooklynites. Order just about anything on the menu, but be sure to leave room for one of the 18 different kinds of their world famous cheesecake.
BEST LOCAL HAUNTS
Two Boots(718) 499-3253 describes the type of cuisine offered at this Park Slope family-friendly restaurant. One boot is for the Cajun influences from Louisiana. The other boot is for the Italian flair. The pizza is spicy enough to cause a sweat and the po' boys are big enough to share. The décor is a little wild even when the stage in the back room heats up with local bands.
Get jazzed up at the no-frills Waterfront Ale House (718) 522-3794. The barbecue is finger lickin', the live jazz is foot stompin' and the beer selection is wide rangin'. What else is necessary? Order a locally brewed Brooklyn Lager and mingle with the locals. The fact that there is another location in Manhattan is irrelevant.
Ear Wax Records (718) 486-3771 has the best indie record collection (yes, the vinyl stuff) in Williamsburg . Of course they also have plenty of CDs, three walls of them, surrounding the day-glo décor and the flyers stuffed under glass countertops. Have a seat in the garden café and let the beat go on.
Also in Williamsburg is Beacon's Closet (718) 486-0816, selling trendy clothes at bargain prices. They have a consignment area offering gently worn vintage clothing.
Walk along Smith Street in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood. Now full of cafes, bars, and shops, it's difficult to imagine the empty storefronts and deserted blocks that occupied this area just few years ago. The younger set might be lured by Crush with a sign in the window that says, "Hip stuff you'll want." Refinery offers chic housewares and accessories. Banania Café gives weary shoppers a chance to regroup.
Every summer, the Celebrate Brooklyn festival takes over the band shell in Prospect Park . For a $3 donation, acts range from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra to a Guys and Dolls screening to Roseanne Cash. Bring a picnic and relax on the lawn. Coney Island welcomes summer in the most unusual way.
On the first Saturday after the summer solstice, watch mermaids and mer-men march in the annual Mermaid Parade. The party isn't limited to mermaids. Anything under the sea is fair game. Revelers dressed as lobsters, Poseidon, and Captain Nemo look right at home on the boardwalk.
MONEY & COMMUNICATIONS
There are thousands of ATMs at banks, supermarkets and corner groceries across the borough. Most accept all bankcards and credit cards.The price of a local call from a pay phone is $.35 for 3 minutes. Public phones are equipped with capabilities to make collect and calling card calls. Internet access is available at the main public library on the north edge of Prospect Park . Many smaller libraries also have internet access, but there are fewer computers and they are less reliable. The internet can also be reached at the many internet cafes and copy centers.
HEALTH & SAFETY
New York City now boasts that it is the safest large city in the country. And it's true that crime, especially violent crime, has steadily fallen in recent years. Still, it is wise to use common sense and be cautious.
While the subways are very safe most times of the day, take a cab after midnight. If an unusual circumstance arises while on the train, switch cars at the next stop or choose the car in which the conductor rides. It's better to appear the overanxious tourist, than to stay in a situation that is uncomfortable.
There are certain places in this large borough that should be avoided: The faraway subway stop of New Lots Ave in East New York for example. Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and much of the rest of Brooklyn is not as dangerous.
Leave valuables at your hotel or home. Since Brooklynites spend much of their day in close proximity with one another, it makes the picking very easy. Invest in a waist pack that hides under clothes or an urban bag that slings across the body.
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