Staten Island is woodsier and more suburban than New York’s other boroughs. It’s also the only borough that isn’t accessible on the subway. Instead, a free 24/7 ferry connects Downtown Manhattan and Staten Island’s North Shore. The ferry, which offers Statue of Liberty views, brings most visitors to the island. Great Italian food (Italians account for about a third of island residents) and cultural attractions in the revitalized St. George neighborhood entice them to stay and explore. The above ground Staten Island Railway makes a 45-minute run down the length of the island.
Things to Do: Next to the St. George Ferry Terminal, you’ll find the Richmond County Bank Ballpark, where the minor-league Staten Island Yankees play baseball. Postcards, a 9/11 memorial that frames the twin towers’ former location across New York Harbor, is also nearby. The Snug Harbor Cultural Center, in New Brighton, entertains families with a botanical garden, a children’s museum, rotating art exhibits and a roster of concerts, plays and musicals. Historic Richmond Town’s collection of 17th- and 18th-century buildings includes the nation’s oldest schoolhouse. The property also includes a museum and New York City’s oldest working farm.
Restaurants: The number one reason to visit Staten Island is to eat at its unpretentious Italian restaurants, bakeries and delis. You’ll find many between Richmond Avenue and the Staten Island Expressway along Hylan Boulevard. The best pizzerias are, arguably, Denino’s and Joe & Pat’s, island institutions that have been in operation since the 1930s and 1960s, respectively. Another hit with the natives: Asian fusion restaurants with glitzy nightclub-style decor.
Shopping: The Staten Island Mall, a shopping center in the middle of the island that’s primarily populated with brand-name chain stores, has the most retail appeal. On New Dorp Lane, near the East Shore, you’ll find more boutiques, including upmarket children’s stores and bridal shops. Harbor Commons, a collection of outlet stores, is scheduled to open in St. George and overhaul the island’s shopping scene in 2015.
Hotels: Good for car access, bad for beauty, the island’s hotels primarily exist right off highways. A handful of middle-of-the-road chains have opened off the West Shore Expressway, in the Bloomfield and Travis/Chelsea sections, and in Bulls Head, near the Staten Island Expressway. You can land a basic room for about $130. Bed-and-breakfasts in stately, old homes offer more charm for a little less dough.
Theater and nightlife: Snug Harbor, with its two performance halls and one open-air stage, features concerts, plays and musicals from local artists and performing groups. The St. George Theatre, a 1920s vaudeville stage that was restored and reopened in 2004, hosts live shows, ranging from popular performers to local acts. Wagner College has a stellar performing arts program — and that means high-caliber theater on an off-Broadway budget. While there are dive bars and bar-restaurants throughout the island, hip hangouts for twenty- and thirty-somethings are concentrated on Bay Street and Van Duzer Street (near Wagner and Staten Island’s other private college, St. John’s University).
Neighborhoods: Staten Island is roughly broken into quadrants: North Shore, South Shore, East Shore and Mid-Island. Neighborhoods north of the Staten Island Expressway, like St. George, Stapleton and Port Richmond, are more diverse and densely populated than the suburban neighborhoods south of the highway, like Willowbrook, Todt Hill and Annadale. The most appealing neighborhood for visitors is St. George. Its Richmond County Ballpark and 9/11 memorial are a short walk from the St. George Ferry Terminal. Nearby New Brighton, home to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, is also a popular destination for visitors.