Take a small New England fishing village and drop it in the Bronx and what do you get? An absolutely unique neighborhood of the kind only New York can grow. City Island, a spit of land in Long Island Sound, off the Bronx’s eastern shore, is home to approximately 4,500 intrepid New Yorkers. It’s also a wildly popular destination for day-trippers, particularly in the summer, when the population swells with boaters, bird-watchers and seafood-seekers. During the 19thcentury, City Island (originally known as Minefer’s Island) was settled by oystermen and their families. When the oyster trade declined, it was replaced by boat building. While the shipyards are long gone, and City Islanders often earn their livings in Manhattan (the trip to Midtown takes a little over an hour) or Westchester County, an active nautical culture thrives on the island.
Getting to City Island is its own adventure: City Island Bridge is the only access route and traffic jams are the norm during the summer high season. To get there on public transit, take a 6 train to Pelham Bay Park (the end of the line) and catch a BX29 bus to City Island Avenue (the island’s main drag) at Fordham Street. You’ll be at the center of the island and within walking distance of pretty much everything. (The island’s size — 1.5 miles long and a half mile wide — also makes it an ideal destination for cyclists.) A fun seasonal way to get to the Island is via The City Island Seaside Trolley, which runs on the first Friday of every month between April and December. The trolley departs from the Pelham Bay Parkway station and makes a stop at the Bartow-Pell Mansion, a National Historic Landmark, before continuing on to City Island. (The estate, in Pelham Bay Park, was home to Thomas Pell, who purchased the island from the Siwanoy Indians in 1654.)
At the City Island Historical Society and Nautical Museum, lodged in an old schoolhouse on Fordham Street, you can browse photos and artifacts from the island’s colorful past. On the island’s picturesque streets (such as Minnieford Avenue) there are many well-preserved historic homes. City Island’s vintage byways make it a popular location for film and television shoots — Arsenic and Old Lace was filmed at the Samuel Pell Mansion on City Island Avenue. While the island has no public beaches (Orchard Beach, across the bridge in Pelham Bay Park, is open to all), boating is big on City Island. It is home to the Touring Kayak Club of New York, four yacht clubs and several marinas. The boating season runs from May to November; visitors can hire a captained vessel for a guided fishing trip or skyline cruise of the Sound, or rent an unmanned boat to take out on the water (Jack’s Bait and Tackle, family-owned since 1945, offers both).
City Island is, perhaps, best known for its seafood restaurants. Johnny’s Famous Reef on the southern tip of the island (open since 1950) is almost as famous for the dive-bombing seagulls at its outdoor picnic area as its fried fish and seafood. The Lobster Box (since 1946), Sammy’s Fish Box (since 1966) and Sammy’s Shrimp Box (since 2005) are all nearby. Non-seafood offerings also abound on City Island Avenue, including the locals’ favorite ice cream parlor, Lickety Split, and ever-popular Irish pub, The Snug. You’ll also find small businesses selling the work of local artisans, antiques stores and secondhand shops.
While a visit to City Island during the warmer months will ensure that you don’t miss any of its pleasures, beware the crowds on major holidays and summer weekends.