Prospect Park is often referred to as Brooklyn’s “urban oasis,” and the 10 million yearly visitors who come to walk, run, ride and relax within its 585 landscaped acres agree. It was designed and built in the 1860s by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the team responsible for Manhattan’s Central Park, and it is rumored the pair considered it the superior effort. For many years the park was the jewel of Brooklyn, but by the 1970s Prospect Park was sorely neglected, with much of its infrastructure in decay. Starting in the mid-1980s with public support and city funding, the trend was reversed. These days, Prospect Park bustles with locals and visitors of all stripes.
The 2 and 3 trains to Grand Army Plaza provide the closest approach from Manhattan and are located at the northernmost point of the park at the border of the Park Slope and Prospect Heights neighborhoods. The plaza is one of the park’s most popular points of entry, especially for cyclists and runners, as well as playing host to the second-largest of the city’s greenmarkets every Saturday. Cyclists and runners use this as an entryway to the park’s three-mile roadway, which is open to vehicular traffic weekday rush hours only. East from the Plaza is the golden 50-foot high Art Deco entryway to Brooklyn’s Central Library, which opened in 1941. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Prospect Lefferts Garden hug its east side.
The west side of the park abutting Prospect Park West, which is accessible by the F and G trains to 15th Street/Prospect Park, is popular for its 9th Street and 3rd Street playgrounds, barbecue and picnic areas, and the Prospect Park Band Shell, which hosts the popular Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series every summer. The 90-acre Long Meadow, a breathtaking swath of grassy rolling hills, stretches across the west side. Eight ball fields are nestled at its southern end, and on warm weekends they fill with hundreds of young Brooklynites practicing to become the borough’s next Sandy Koufax.
Prospect Park also boasts a man-made watercourse featuring streams, waterfalls and a 60-acre lake. After a five million dollar renovation, the historic Boathouse houses the nation’s first Audubon Center dedicated to wildlife preservation and environmental education. It’s a good fit as birders come to stalk the park’s 200-plus species. The neighborhoods of Windsor Terrace and Prospect Park South border the park’s southern edges.
The B, Q or S trains to the Prospect Park stop are the most direct route to “The Children’s Corner,” which cluster on the park’s east side, and include the Prospect Park Zoo, the Prospect Park carousel, which was originally carved in 1912, and the Lefferts Historic House, a restored 18th century Dutch farmhouse. In fall 2013, the park plans to open Lakeside, a complex with two ice rinks and a roller rink.
Like all New York City parks, Prospect Park is closed from 1am to 5am, and its playgrounds close at sundown. Some attractions are seasonal. While vendors sell snacks from carts on the main paths, and there’s a minimal café May through October in the Picnic House, the park has no sit-down eateries.
In the summer, the park bustles from dawn to dusk and beyond, particularly if there’s a concert, but otherwise visiting after dark is not recommended; visitors may also wish to avoid walking in secluded areas, such as the forested ravine, by themselves.