Kayaks to Street Art: the Hidden Gems of Nearby Astoria

July 23, 2018

Itching to get off the Island, but not looking forward to taking a hot, sticky subway ride just to stand on line with tourists? We hear you. 


Whether you’re looking to entertain kids, spend some time on the water, or want to soak up some culture, Astoria’s waterfront has much to offer—and most of it won’t cost you a dime. The NYC Ferry ride from Roosevelt Island to Astoria takes only eight minutes and makes for a fun day trip. The Astoria ferry stop is across the street from public bathrooms and a playground with a sprinkler. (The waterfront is also easily accessible by bike, with a dedicated bike path.)



Kayaking at Hallet’s Cove


If you turn right after exiting the ferry at Astoria and make another right on to Vernon Boulevard, you’ll soon be at Hallet’s Cove, where you can kayak for free courtesy of LIC Boathouse, an all-volunteer, nonprofit group dedicated to environmental education on the East River.


Kayaking isn’t available everyday, so you’ll want to check the schedule beforehand. The next Hallet’s Cove kayak session is August 19. No reservation is required for the free 20-minute kayak rental and all ages are welcome, but participants must be able to swim. (The group also launches kayaks from Anable Basin in Long Island City.)


Fun fact: Astoria was originally called Hallet’s Cove, after its first landowner, William Hallet, who settled in the area in 1652. Later, the area was renamed for the (then) wealthiest man in America, John Jacob Astor, who actually never set foot in Astoria, but enjoyed looking at the village named in his honor from his Upper East Side home.


 By Virginia Overton


Socrates Sculpture Park


Keep walking south on Vernon for a couple more minutes and you’ll arrive at the Socrates Sculpture Park. Open daily 9 a.m. to sunset, the five-acre waterfront park has epic East River views and offers plenty to do in the way of events as well as a rotating display of sculpture. Currently the park features work by Virginia Overton.


You can start your day with a hour-long yoga class every Saturday 9:30 a.m., Sunday 10 a.m. Get a fresh baked good after class on Saturday from on-site vendor Little Wildbranch Bakery, famous for its sourdough bread, or sample a selection of fresh-cut produce and small-batch products such as hot sauce and ketchup from Hellgate Farm, a network of residential and rooftop gardens in Queens.


Each weekend, the park hosts community programs, including arts and crafts, music performances, and outdoor movies. On July 28, hip hop pioneer Ralph McDaniels is hosting Hip Hop in the Park, a family-friendly festival celebrating the four elements of hip hop – emcees, DJs, dance troupes, and graffiti art.


Come to the park on Sunday, July 29 and you can see the 6th annual Guelaguetza Festival New York City, a cultural celebration of joy and pride through music, dance, and crafts from the eight regions of the state of Oaxaca. The festival is the most celebrated event in Mexico, brought to New York by Ballet Folklórico Mexicano de Nueva York (BFMNY) since 2013.


On Wednesdays, Socrates’ Outdoor Cinema presents foreign films. In addition to screenings, a cultural music/dance performance and cuisine from the film’s country of origin takes place prior to each movie. On Wednesday August 1, they are showing Loveling from Brazil, with a pre-screening performance that begins at 7 pm. The movie starts at sundown. The rest of the summer schedule is can be found here.  



Rainey Park


Walk further south on Vernon past Costco and you’ll arrive at Rainey Park, the largest park in Ravenswood. Kids love it for the sprinklers, swings, slides, climbing wall, soccer field, and basketball courts. There is also a ton of green space for picnics and general decompressing. Oaks, London Planes, and Callery Pear trees shade this public green space that one former Parks commissioner called “one of the prettiest parks in the system.”




Noguchi Museum


On the other side of Vernon Blvd, at 33rd Rd, you can step out of the heat and enjoy some quiet time at the Noguchi museum, which was founded and designed by internationally-renowned American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988).


Opened in 1985, the museum complex was built around a 1920s industrial building and features a serene outdoor sculpture garden as well as two floors of interior exhibition space. Free educator-led gallery talks take place every day at 2 p.m., and are open to all visitors. Museum admission is $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and free for children under 12.


If even that is more than you’d like to spend, come on Sunday, August 5, for Community Day, which  includes free admission and hands-on activities for families. (The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.)


Dining Options: S&S Calabro Pizza, Subway, McDonald’s




Murals of Welling Court


If, instead of going down Vernon when you get off the ferry, you opt to go deeper into Astoria, take the five-minute walk down Main Avenue to Welling Court. Over 150 murals have grown out of the Welling Court Mural Project. New Yorkers and artists from around the world, including Abe Lincoln Jr., Lady Pink, Magda Love and Icy & Sot, have contributed to the project. You'll see political cartoons (President Donald Trump as a spoiled child), inspirational quotes ("Do or do not. There is no try," by Star Wars icon Yoda), grotesque and dark characters (including a terrifying octopus), as well as beautiful and peaceful murals. 


Dining Options: Vesta Trattoria & Wine Bar and Basil Brick Oven Pizza




Astoria Park


From Welling Court, continue north along 12th Street/Shore Blvd to get to Astoria Park, where you can dip in the Astoria Pool (open until September 10), or have a picnic and enjoy the views of the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate Bridges.


On Saturday mornings between 9-10 a.m., New York Road Runners hosts an open run on the track. The park hosts outdoor movies every Monday night during the summer. Next Monday night July 30, you can watch Moonstruck. Check the full schedule, for other dates.


Dining Options: Try Meet the Meat or Astoria Craft Bar Kitchen


Have any favorite spots in the areas that we missed? Tell us about it!


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