Archive for the ‘Queens’ Category

Socrates Sculpture Park

June 21, 2013

This park used to be an illegal dumping ground before a group of artists and people from the community saved it and molded it into what it is today. While I wouldn’t call this a destination, this park has a few things going for it that merit a look if you’re in the area, say, picking up that 3 gallon jar of peanut butter at Costco or visiting the Noguchi Museum nearby. As you can guess by the name, the park has art. Large art. Installations come and go, and sometimes the art is fascinating, and other times it’s just weird and maybe a little uncomfortable. Regardless, there is plenty of lawn space to showcase the creative spirit with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Some other things that weigh in its favor for a visit are the movie screenings in the summer and the greenmarket on Saturdays. There is also the occasional crafts fair. I don’t visit this park often, but stop by from time to time to see the changing exhibits. Here are a few pics from prior visits.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park

This unusual visitor in the water is not a piece of art – I’m not sure what he was looking for, but due to the park’s history, there may very well be buried treasure in the water!

Socrates Sculpture Park

Socrates Sculpture Park is at the intersection of Vernon Boulevard and Broadway in Long Island City. You can take the N or Q to the Broadway stop and then walk 8 blocks west to the river. By bus, the Q103 and Q104 will drop you off at the entrance. The park is open every day from 10am to sunset.

Alley Pond Park

June 14, 2013

Over 600 acres, this park is the second largest in Queens – it’s so large it has its own golf course. Before you grab that super duper golf club, I do have to point out that it’s limited to a driving range and miniature golf. This park has a dizzying array of recreational spots. In addition to golf, you’ll catch folks enjoying a game of baseball, tennis, soccer, football, handball, basketball, even cricket! There are also plenty of wide open lawn spots for barbecues and picnics.

Look at these guys playing cricket in super white!
Alley Pond Park

Much of the park still holds value as an active ecosystem with wetlands and forests. In fact, it’s considered the most ecologically diverse park owned by the city. If you are a bird watcher, you’re in for a treat. The park hosts hundreds of thousands of migrating birds twice each year, from loons to warblers.

So let me segway into the hiking here. There are several easy trails you can take in the park. They’re nice and shady, with changes in elevation via concrete or dirt steps. When you take these trails, carefully avoiding the ones alongside the highway, you actually feel like you’re somewhere else far from the city.

Alley Pond Park

I debated whether or not to show you this next picture, but in the interest of making people aware, I decided to do it. These are the kettle ponds, clustered in a set of three, along several of the trails. They’re stinky and full of bright green algae. Avoid if you can. One of them is called Turtle Pond, but alas, I didn’t stop long enough to look for any. Yes…it was that stinky!

Alley Pond Park

One other thing that I’d like to point out that’s unique to this park is its Adventure Course. It’s a program for people to get together in teams and compete in an obstacle course. You must register beforehand and you don’t need to bring a group to participate. If you come alone, they will assign you to a team. As you can see in the pics, it’s a course that tests your endurance and fear of heights, among other things. It also includes a zip line somewhere (couldn’t find it).

Alley Pond Park

Alley Pond Park

I think the Catamount treetop course Upstate is much more challenging, but if you like the idea of a free day of muscle-building at a local park with strangers (or friends), this may be up your ‘alley!’

Alley Pond Park is in Douglaston/Little Neck. It’s more easily accessible by car, but you could take the 7 to Main Street and then the Q27 from there. Dogs and bikes are allowed. For bikers, there is a bike path from here that takes you all the way to Flushing Meadows Park.

Flushing Meadows Park – World’s Fair tour

June 7, 2013

I normally wouldn’t tell you to go out of your way to visit this park. It’s somewhat worn around the edges due to lack of upkeep. The lawns are patchy in the summer and the fountain at the Unisphere now gets turned on only during the U.S. Open. It’s a shame given its potential to be a great park. The fact that it’s the fourth largest park in the city, and the largest park in Queens, ought to generate some civic pride, but alas, it doesn’t get the same respect as smaller green spaces in the wealthier parts of the city.

What this park does have going for it that’s unique and worth the trek out is its treasure trove of World’s Fair relics. The park was host to not one but two World’s Fairs – one in 1939 and the other in 1964. Most of you have probably seen the Unisphere and the strange rusty towers jutting into the sky on your way to and from LaGuardia, but have you ever taken the step to see these structures up close from the ground? Their imposing facades hide a rich history of people’s hopes and dreams from two different eras. What you learn about these structures might surprise you, and the key to unlocking their secrets is just a tour away!

The urban park rangers hold free scheduled tours of the World’s Fair sculptures and buildings scattered throughout the park. The tour is about 2 hours long and covers a lot of ground. Since I encourage people to get out there and actually do the tour, I won’t cover the details of the tour itself – only pictures from the tour that I took to whet your appetite!

There’s a family of red-tailed hawks that live on the Unisphere.  If you bring binoculars, you can spot their nest on  top of Portugal!

World's Fair Tour

This building is from the 1939 World’s Fair.  It used to house the United Nations.  It has definitely seen better days!

World's Fair Tour

I call these the mechanical mushrooms.  They are part of the New York State Pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair.

World's Fair Tour

Also part of the Pavilion.

World's Fair Tour

I remember coming here as a kid to marvel at the beautiful colored tiles on the floor.  They formed the largest highway map of New York State.  Sadly, the tiles have since been removed.

World's Fair Tour

They dreamed of robots.

World's Fair Tour

Ethnic representation at the fair.

World's Fair Tour

The Rocket Thrower from the 1964 World’s Fair

World's Fair Tour

To see when the next tour takes place, go to the park’s calendar. The park is easily accessible by subway.  Take the 7 train and get off at Mets-Willets Point.  This is a long tour, so I strongly suggest sunscreen and water.

Kissena Park

May 10, 2013

Out of all the parks in Queens, Kissena Park is probably my favorite. I don’t think too many people know about it, and I’m including Queens residents in this count as well. It’s also hard to get to by public transportation, so that definitely factors into the equation. The park lays claim to a huge lake with ducks and turtles aplenty taking advantage of the water. There are wide expanses of lawn for a picnic or an afternoon siesta. For the sports-minded, there are also tennis courts, basketball courts, and even a golf course next door. The park in general seems to be more carefully maintained than other Queens parks. I wonder why?  It’s a shame Flushing Meadow Park couldn’t be this nice.

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

Kissena Park

The best way to get to Kissena Park is by car. It’s located in what I call “deep Flushing” – far enough away from the Main St # 7 subway station that you will need to catch the Q17 bus after you arrive by subway. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes down Kissena Boulevard. Dogs and bikes are welcome in the park. I suggest you bring a picnic blanket, grab some take-out at any number of Chinese restaurants in Main St, and have a picnic here!

Fort Tilden

November 26, 2011

Queens lays claim to not one, but two abandoned forts.  The first one that I reviewed, Fort Totten, is in the northeast corner of Queens. The one in this post is in the southeast corner of Queens, in the Rockaways. Somewhat less impressive than the other one in terms of creepiness factor, it is still worthy of a visit because of the beautiful beach close by. Fort Tilden is actually part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, which includes Jacob Riis Park/Beach to the east. The fort was built in 1917 and housed an impressive array of large weaponry, including cannons and air defense missiles, to defend the city from attack. Fortunately, these weapons were never used. In 1974, the fort was decommissioned and became part of the National Park Service.

Fort Tilden is open year-round and despite having a nice sandy beach and plenty of folks visiting in the summer, it has no lifeguards on duty. If you are in a mood for a swim, this is not the beach for you. Also, if you like to avoid crowds when possible, like I do, I suggest going here during the off-season, from mid-September to mid-April. During this time, you will be able to park at the fisherman’s parking lot off of Beach 193rd St, on Shore Road, rather than at the lot for Jacob Riis Park on the eastern side of the island.

I do recommend parking at the fisherman’s lot so that you can easily walk to the two historical structures that the fort is famous for – Battery Harris East and Battery Harris West. The trail that leads to the Battery Harris West is across from the lot. This is what the beginning of the trail looks like. You can bring your dog for a walk here and it is also a good jogging trail.

Fort Tilden

Shortly into the trail, you will encounter a large shed-like structure. I’m not sure what this was originally, perhaps a garage for armored vehicles? I don’t recommend going too far inside because of the broken glass.

Fort Tilden

Further on, you will see a monstrous structure looming ahead that looks like spacecraft hiding inside a hill. This is Battery Harris West.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

As you can see, this place is padlocked so you can’t wander around, but if you are set on it, you could probably jump the low fencing where there is a gap in the vertical bars. I don’t recommend it though.

Fort Tilden

Battery Harris East, just a few steps away, looks pretty similar to its sibling. The security on this one is a little tighter.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Some of the graffiti here made me smile.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

There is a large pool of stagnant water in this one and I can only imagine how bad it can be in the summer when it is infested with mosquitoes.

Fort Tilden

Before you head out to the beach, definitely check out the panoramic view of distant Coney Island, Manhattan, and the Marine Parkway Bridge leading into the island. The stairs next to the battery will take you up to the viewing platform.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Apparently there is bad blood between the islanders and day-tripping hipsters. Ha ha.

Fort Tilden

At this point, you will probably want to head to the beach. The trail is just in front of the battery.

Fort Tilden

The thing that struck me right away about this beach is the large number of weathered wood posts clustered everywhere. They go vertically and horizontally across the beach and I guess they may have been part of one or more piers at some point? Notice how clean the sand is. It is very dense.

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

The easiest way to get to Fort Tilden is to drive. The toll before you reach the bridge to the island is $3.25 each way.  Like I said, you should be able to park at the fisherman lot during the off-season.  In-season, you will need a permit or you will be asked to park at Jacob Riis Park.

My understanding is that it is somewhat difficult to get here by public transportation, requiring several buses or a transfer from train to bus, then a half hour walk from the bridge. In the summer, the New York Beach Ferry provides service from Friday to Sunday from Pier 11 at Wall St. It takes you to Riis Landing between Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park. The park is open every day from dawn to dusk.

Elmhurst Park

June 19, 2011

Guest writer Rich Wong highlights one of the newest parks in Queens!

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Do you remember the Elmhurst gas tanks?

From the Long Island Expressway in Elmhurst, you could see the two giant tanks looming next to the highway.  They were sort of landmarks for many residents and travelers.  “When you see the two gas tanks, go another mile and you are there.”  The tanks were down into the ground when they were full and up when they were empty.

The tanks became obsolete and unused for many years.  They finally razed the 270-foot-diameter tanks in 1996, and the land was rumored for development as a future Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Walmart.  Thankfully, it is now a park!  KeySpan, the owner of the property, sold the land to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for $1.

After an extensive soil replacement project and approval by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the park development proceeded.  During phase-1 of the project, the park was prepared with trees and grass and was kept closed for a year.  In phase-2, the park was re-landscaped with the final design, which included a playground, water park, and walk paths.

This sculptured park incorporates the use of artificial hills to obscure the view and noise of the Long Island Expressway and give the illusion of a bigger park. When you enter from the Grand Avenue entrance, you barely see or hear the trucks rumbling by.

Elmhurst Park

Elmhurst Park

The architects did a wonderful job with three unique play areas for the neighborhood children.  The walk paths are curvy and meander through the whole park.  You will not find a straight (boring) path.

Elmhurst Park

Elmhurst Park

Elmhurst Park

I am just a tiny bit disappointed that we did not get a Walmart in Elmhurst, but the sculptured park serves me and my neighborhood just fine!

Elmhurst Park is bounded by Grand Avenue and 57th Avenue, 74th Street and 80th Street.  There is a single west entrance and two east entrances with ample parking.

Jackson Heights Garden Tours

May 15, 2011

Jackson Heights was the first planned garden community in the US. Many of the pre-war garden apartment co-op buildings in the neighborhood were built in the roaring 20’s by one developer.  The developer’s vision was to provide a quiet, suburban lifestyle for middle to upper middle class families from Manhattan.  This vision included private block-long gardens or parks encased in each building.  It is hard to believe now, but this neighborhood had a country club atmosphere, complete with a golf course!  The golf course is no more, but thankfully, the buildings and gardens survived. The buildings are currently located in a designated NYC historic district.

Most of the gardens cannot be seen from the sidewalk.   These hidden gems are open to the public only one weekend a year, in what has now become known as the Jackson Heights Garden Tours.  The tours usually cover eight or nine gardens.  Some gardens are more carefully cultivated than others, but they are all beautiful in their own way.  I don’t know how well-known these tours are outside of Queens, but they are not to be missed by anyone in the city.  You may think you know Jackson Heights by having eaten at Jackson Diner and having strolled down the rest of that block with all the Indian saris and jewelery shops, but you have not really seen its other facets without having gone on a tour of the historic district.

It doesn’t make sense for me to do the tour and then do a post about it after the fact, since I want to get you excited about doing a tour yourself.  Instead, I will present you with pictures I took from a tour I did in 2005.  This should give you a sense of what is in store for you.  Hopefully you will not get too much garden envy  ^_^

* Please excuse the overexposure on these pics.  I didn’t have much in the way of camera skills back then!

The Belvedere garden has a more casual, grassroots feel to it.
JH garden tour- Belvedere 3

The Chateau garden has more of a manicured look, complete with stone benches and a cute little fountain (not pictured).
JH garden tour- Chateau 7

The Elm Court garden is a big lawn.  You just want to run zigzag amongst the trees!
JH garden tour- Elm Court 1

The Hampton Court garden had a lot of wildflowers, making it feel more like a free spirit.  It also has an extensive lawn (not pictured).
JH garden tour- Hampton Court 8

The Hawthorne Court garden also has its own lawn space.  Do I sound like a broken record now?
JH garden tour- Hawthorne Court 1

Due to the configuration of trees, the Linden Court garden is very shady and feels more secluded than the others.
JH garden tour- Linden Court 3

The Towers garden is, of course, known for its towers.  It is secondarily known for its spooky griffins that guard the gates (not pictured).  I am not sure if anything special happens among the columns on midsummer’s night.  If you really want to know, you will have to become a resident!
JH garden tour- Tower 5

Note: These pictures from 2005 are probably not exact representations of how the gardens look today, but they should be similar enough.  You have to factor in that some gardens have evolved over time based on residents’ tastes.

The tour on June 18th is self-guided.  The gardens are open to the public from 12pm to 4pm.  You will need to purchase a $10 ticket to get a map.  You can buy tickets on the morning of June 18th in front of the Community Church at 81st St and 35th Ave, or you can buy tickets beginning June 1st at Espresso 77 (35-57 77th St) or at Beaudoin Realty Group (78-27 37th Ave, Suite 5, Second Floor) on weekdays from 11am to 5 pm.

The tour on June 19th is led by a guide and will cover a walk around the historic district as well as some of the gardens.  The starting point is at 12pm in front of the Community Church. Tickets are $10 for this tour as well.  Due to its popularity, the escorted tour requires a ticket purchased in advance.

If you want to do the tours on both days, it is only $15 total.  The proceeds from the ticket sales benefit the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, which, among other things, brightens up the sidewalks each spring with flowers planted beneath the trees.

The raindate for the tours is June 25th.

The quickest way to get to the starting point for each tour is to take the 7 train to the 82nd St station and walk north from there until you hit 35th Ave.

Gantry Plaza State Park

May 8, 2011

This park has been around since 2008, but somehow I had not paid it a visit until now.  I consider this Queen’s own intimate version of the Hudson River Parks in Manhattan.  From the looks of it, the park will soon expand to encompass more of the coastline of Long Island City.  This is great news and has been a long time coming.  I sometimes get annoyed by those who dismiss Queens as a backwoods cousin to Manhattan and Brooklyn.  We may not have restored brownstones or chi chi boutiques, but we have an awesome view of the Manhattan skyline that no amount of money can buy.

The park is named after the two gantries that tower over the water.  They were used by the shipping industry to lift heavy packages onto shore.  They look a bit odd juxtaposed against the new luxury condo and rental buildings that have sprouted up behind them.   Then you get used to it.

Gantry State Park

Gantry State Park

Gantry State Park

Directly across the river you get a view of the United Nations.
Gantry State Park

This part of the park has stone steps leading down to a rocky outcropping.  There were many geese here.
Gantry State Park

Apparently the piers can be rented for weddings.  These lovely orange flowers perfectly offset the surrounding greenery.
Gantry State Park

I love the design of this park – here, you have a concrete haven softened by wooden lounge chairs.  Feel free to sun yourself, but don’t forget the sunscreen.  Some of these folks look like they’re on their way to becoming lobsters.
Gantry State Park

Other sections of the park are lush with grass – perfect for picnics of any size.  If you are so inclined, you can pretend you were beamed into your chair via Star Trek magic.
Gantry State Park

Gantry State Park

Gantry State Park

Competing with the gantries is the beloved Pepsi sign that was saved and moved to this spot when the Pepsi bottling plant decided to leave Queens.  Did you notice that it shares a similar color scheme with the gantries?   A harmonious pairing, as some would say.
Gantry State Park

Although the park is great during the daytime, you should also come here at night when Manhattan puts on its twinkling performance – a great date spot for the romantics among us.

To get to the park, take the 7 train to Vernon Boulevard/Jackson Avenue.  When you get out, just walk west 2 blocks to the river.  There are plenty of eateries in the area for you to grab something for the park.

Queens County Farm Museum

October 22, 2010

How many people know there is actual farmland in the city?  Raise your hands.  If you were brought up in the NYC public school system, you bet your nickel you would be raising that hand.  I remember doing field trips here to pet the farm animals.  All you needed was a nickel bag of feed and the goats were suddenly your best friends.  From what I can tell, not much has changed about this place over the decades.  In operation since the 1600’s, it remains today as the only historical working farm in the city.  It spans over 45 acres and includes a greenhouse, some fields, an orchard, and an herb garden.  As a sign of the times, they now sell fresh produce at their farmstand and wine from their greenhouse.

Here are some animals you’ll find at the farm:

Queens County Farm

Queens County Farm

Queens County Farm

Queens County Farm

Queens County Farm

Queens County Farm

In the fall, this month especially, the main attractions are the pumpkin patch and corn maze.  This is the only place in the city where you can pretend you’re Charlie Brown waiting for his epic encounter with the Great Pumpkin.

IMG_3525s

The corn maze is a bit cheesy but still fun for adults.  You can choose to do it during the day or at night. Unfortunately, the weekends when you could do it at night have already passed.  I would recommend doing the maze anyway – cross it off your list of things that you’ve been meaning to do once in your life.
Queens County Farm

The farm is at 73-50 Little Neck Parkway in Floral Park, Queens.  It is open 7 days a week from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free, unless there is a special event.  You can pick pumpkins and do the corn maze on weekends from 11am to 4pm.  Pumpkins vary in price depending on the size.  The corn maze is $8 for adults and $5 for kids (free for those 3 years and younger).  There are also hayrides for $2.

You can reach the farm by taking the E or F Train to Kew Gardens/Union Turnpike Station, then the Q46 Bus (eastbound on Union Turnpike) to the Little Neck Parkway stop.  Cross at Union Turnpike and walk North on Little Neck Parkway three blocks to the entrance.   If you’re driving, take the Grand Central Parkway East to Exit 24 (Little Neck Parkway), then make a right onto Little Neck Parkway and drive three blocks to the entrance.  Parking is on the street.

Fort Totten

October 8, 2010

If you are the type who likes to explore creepy abandoned place, then you will not want to miss this one.  This military base at the tip of Bayside has undergone many names and has been used by various military operations, but its current moniker honors a general who commanded the base in the 1800s.  It is now being used by the US Army as a military post.

Interestingly, Fort Totten has two faces.  The Parks Department created several areas of green space for anyone to enjoy, much like any other park.  This one is probably the best maintained park in all of Queens, with not a swath of dead grass to be found.  The view of the East River/Long Island Sound is breathtaking, and you can see both the beginnings of the Bronx and Long Island.

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

Nestled inside this park, however, is something much more interesting.  The old fort looms ominously and dares you to enter its lair.  There are two parts to explore.  One part is entered behind the visitor’s center and is a row of what looks like garages.  Inside, you realize they are long dark tunnels that may have been filled with cannons and artillery.

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

The other part, which is fenced off, is much more tempting for exploration.  Don’t let the fence stop you.  There is a part that is torn down.

Fort Totten

Once inside, you immediately feel the heavy silence of no one else around.

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

There are several places where you can take the stairs to the second floor.  Some stairs are blocked in some way.  Other stairs are accessible through rooms dripping with nasty water.  Just be sensible.  This one was fine.

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

As you can tell from the pics, I was here in broad daylight, and let me tell you – it was absolutely creepy despite that.  I can only imagine what it would be like to come here at night with flashlights.

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

Fort Totten

This was the only evidence I found of anyone else having been here.

Fort Totten

Bayside may not be near any subway station, but the fort is easy to get to by taking the 7 train to Main Street and then the Q13, which drops you right at the entrance to the park.  You need to walk a bit in to get to the fort. If you are driving, take the Clearview Expressway to Exit 7 (Willets Point Boulevard); turn right onto Bell Boulevard; then turn left onto 212th Street which leads into Fort Totten.  You can also take the Cross Island Parkway North to Exit 32 (Bell Boulevard) and make a right at the light into Little Bay Park and Fort Totten Park.  Parking is at the Little Bay Park parking lot to your left just outside of the Fort Totten entrance.