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The Greenbelt (Photo: Courtesy of the Greenbelt Conservancy)

Secret Green: 9 of New York’s Best Hidden Parks and Gardens

When you're looking for your own pocket of quiet, these nine under-the-radar city parks are just the ticket

New York City’s renowned big parks get all the attention, but they also get all the crowds. For an afternoon of quiet solitude, venture beyond the big boys (Central Park, Prospect Park) and discover the city’s hidden greenery and pocket parks where the only crowds are the furry kind — chirping birds and the occasional chatty squirrel. From tiny Greenacre Park in Midtown, which has its own waterfall, to a flourishing community garden in the East Village, here’s our roundup of the nine best secret New York City parks.

 

GreenAcre Park

GreenAcre Park (Photo: Bettyx1138/Flickr CC)

Greenacre Park
A waterfall in Midtown? Yes, please. This pocket park has leafy corners, fragrant flowers and a tumbling 25-foot-high waterfall that sends off an enchanting spray. The appeal of this park is its incongruity, wedged as it is between looming buildings. The nonprofit Project for Public Spaces includes it in its lineup of best parks in the world, which covers such biggies as New York’s Central Park and San Fran’s Golden Gate Park. The park’s legacy is impressive too: The Abby Rockefeller-intiated Greenacre Foundation created the park in 1971 and continues to maintain its high standards. Careful, though; working stiffs who take a break from the office here find it near impossible not to play hooky for the rest of the day. E. 51st St., between Second and Third Aves., Midtown, sasaki.com/project/111/

 

Louis J. Valentino Jr. Park and Pier

Louis J. Valentino Jr. Park and Pier (Photo: MamboDan/Flickr CC)

Louis J. Valentino Jr. Park and Pier
Red Hook‘s notoriety may have risen in recent years, but there are still quiet, untouched waterfront corners, like the breezy Valentino Park and Pier. The park, with grassy lawns and shaded benches, overlooks Buttermilk Channel, and one of its highlights is its phenomenal wide-open (and close!) views of the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island and the glittering Manhattan skyline. Another bonus is you’ll get a face-front view of the Statue of Liberty, while Manhattan and New Jersey just get the back and side of the city’s leading lady. During the summer, the adventurous can cruise its waters on free kayaks offered by Red Hook Boaters (redhookboaters.org). Best of all, this off-the-radar park invites solitude, as you can often have the watery shores to yourself, save for a few lone fishermen who seem to populate the tip of the pier no matter the weather. Coffey St., at Ferris St., Brooklyn, nycgovparks.org/parks/valentinopier

 

Liz Christy Community Garden

Liz Christy Community Garden (Photo: Garrettziegler/Flickr CC)

Liz Christy Community Garden
When you think of the smoggy crossroads of Bowery and Houston in the East Village, chirping birds and bright flowers don’t come to mind. But that’s what you’ll find at the Liz Christy Community Garden, a flourishing urban garden with seasonal flowers, vegetable gardens, birch trees and a placid pond with fish and red-eared slider turtles. This is New York City’s first community garden, founded in 1973 by local Liz Christy and a group of gardening activists called the Green Guerillas. The efforts of these activists went far beyond the park, too. The garden became a model for community gardens across the city, and the Green Guerrillas ran workshops and arranged for donations from city nurseries to launch new gardens. For the casual visitor, it offers something unique — the chance to be in the midst of the busy city yet swept away in a moment of bucolic reverie. That is, until you step out onto Houston and a cabbie cuts you off. E. Houston St., between Second Ave. and Bowery, East Village, lizchristygarden.us

 

Concrete Plant Park

Concrete Plant Park (Photo: David Avila/NYCGovParks.org)

Concrete Plant Park
In some cities, old industrial structures are destroyed to make way for new parkland. Not at Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx, which embraces its industrial past. This reclaimed seven-acre park, unfolding on the western shores of the Bronx River, was built in 2009 to form part of the growing Bronx River Greenway. Formerly the Transit Mix Concrete Corporation, the park now contains walking and biking paths, a waterfront promenade edged with greenery, a restored salt marsh and, looming above it all, freshly painted silos, conveyors and hoppers from the old concrete-mixing plant. The park also has kayak and canoe launch sites, so in the summer you can glide out into the Bronx River. Bronx River, between Westchester Ave. and Bruckner Blvd., Bronx, nycgovparks.org

 

West Side Community Garden

West Side Community Garden (Photo: CharleyHasa/Flickr CC)

West Side Community Garden
Created in 1976, this well-tended community garden is one of New York City’s finest examples of urban beautification. Once a vacant lot strewn with trash, the West Side Community Garden now blooms with seasonal flowers, from bright tulips in the spring to lilies in the summer to dahlias in September. The striking landscape design includes a floral amphitheater, herb and vegetable herb beds, shaded pathways and ample public seating. In the spirit of community gardens, the park caters to the neighborhood, with diverse activities throughout the year, including a children’s summer Shakespeare festival, an arts and crafts festival and a tulip-planting festival. W. 89th St., between Columbus and Amsterdam Aves., westsidecommunitygarden.org

 

Detmold Park

Detmold Park (Photo: RandyLevine/Flickr CC)

Detmold Park
Perhaps the best secret parks are those that are hidden from street view, like Detmold Park on the East River. The main entrance is at the end of 51st Street, where access down into the park is via a stone staircase. And what a find: The entry may be tight, but the views expansive. Uniquely, the park has a footbridge that crosses over the park and FDR Drive to an esplanade with views out over the East River, where you can watch boats and barges float by. The well-maintained park also includes a gazebo, a dog run, a playground and plenty of shaded benches. The park was named after Turtle Bay resident and preservationist Peter Detmold who, in a tragic twist, was murdered in the doorway of his apartment, not too far from the park. The murder remains unsolved, but the park lives on in his honor. E. 51st St. near Beekman Pl., Midtown, nycgovparks.org

 

Monsignor McGolrick Park

Monsignor McGolrick Park (Photo: Verbunkos/Flickr CC)

Monsignor McGolrick Park
Established in the late 1800s, this graceful, tree-lined park, named after a local pastor, offers a two-pronged appeal: as a restful spot to escape the urban noise of Brooklyn and as a place to celebrate the borough’s rich history. Stroll down sun-dappled pathways and picnic on sloping lawns or peek at monuments like the 1923 World War I Memorial that honors Greenpoint soldiers who fought in the war and the Shelter Pavilion, a 1910 brick-and-limestone pavilion designed by local architectural firm Helmle & Huberty. The park also hosts the Down to Earth Farmers Market on Sundays from 11am to 4pm (downtoearthmarkets.com), which features a range of local vendors, including fresh produce from Grown in Brooklyn and creative meats like lamb-and-black-olive sausage from Brooklyn Cured. Bordered by Driggs Ave., Russell St., Nassau Ave. and Monitor St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn, nycgovpark.org

 

Kissena Park

Kissena Park (Photo: Wallyg/Flickr CC)

Kissena Park
Let’s face it: Many visitors to New York City only see Queens from the air — when they fly in and out of its major airports. But beyond the roar of jet engines, Queens has remarkably varied parkland, including the lush, inviting Kissena Park. It may be a big park — topping 237 acres — but it has an intimate community ambiance, with a quiet lake ringed by weeping willows and plenty of hidden, shaded nooks where you can sprawl out solo. Kissena also draws plenty of local families with its well-maintained walking and bike paths and bocce courts, plus a golf course and this surprising secret: NYC’s only velodrome. Bring the wheels. Bordered by Oak Ave., Kissena Blvd., 164th St. and Booth Memorial Ave., Queens, nycgovpark.org

 

The Greenbelt

The Greenbelt (Photo: Courtesy of the Greenbelt Conservancy)

The Greenbelt
A visit to the Greenbelt is all about the journey and the destination. Hop on the free Staten Island Ferry — still one of the best deals in New York City — and take in stellar views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty along the way. Upon arrival, take a bus to the Greenbelt. This is Staten Island’s largest parkland, but it’s the myriad of restful, hidden corners that you can often have to yourself that makes it feel like such a secret. Numerous trails crisscross the park, but one of the best routes to follow for crowd-free lookout points and soothing shaded nooks is the Yellow Trail. Designated as moderate to difficult, it treks through Reed’s Basket Willow Swamp and Moses Mountain, bringing you to panoramic views of New York Bay — on a clear day the view goes all the way to the Jersey shore. The Yellow Trail also ascends Todt Hill, which is the highest natural point in the five boroughs and also where the 1972 The Godfather was filmed. (Now that’s an offer you can’t refuse.) In the center of Staten Island, accessible by the S57 bus from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, nycgovparks.org and sigreenbelt.org

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