According to the City of New York, about one in every 38 people living in the US call Manhattan or its surrounding boroughs home. Here’s another fun bit of census nerdery; the greater New York City area has more people living it in than 40 of the 50 states, and that’s before even addressing the roughly 50 million out-of-towners who drop in during the year to ogle Lady Liberty, catch a show on Broadway or take the bait from some restaurant claiming to offer the best pizza in town. The point is, this city is packed, making the chances of finding a unique experience — or at least one somewhat free of the mosh of humanity — challenging to residents and visitors alike. Unless you know where to look.
These 20 New York adventures represent a panoply of off-the-radar activities one can do with a free afternoon, evening or day to explore — plenty of which you’ll be surprised to learn even exist in a bustling metropolis. Like most great experiences, pursuing them requires some hustle and planning (and in some cases, gear). Many will take you well beyond the confines of Manhattan and out into the outer boroughs’ more interesting seams and oases.
Even when you get there, don’t count on having it all to yourself in a city of over eight million. That’s a pipe dream. And who knows: the fellow city explorers you meet might just be your kind of people.
Race at the Kissena Velodrome
Where to Lap the Competition: Velodromes are the ultimate resource for competitive cyclists looking to train and amateurs interested in testing just how fast they can go. Unfortunately, fewer than 30 exist in the US today, making the Queens-based Kissena Velodrome even more of a gem for the city. Its “bumpy” asphalt top pales in comparison to wooden and concrete surfaces found in nicer facilities, but considering it was built for the 1964 Olympic trials, it’s still in pretty good condition. Drop in to train or test your skills against the city’s best during the track’s weekly twilight racing series.
Surf at Rockaway Beach
Catch the Best Waves in Queens: Less than an hour’s drive from Manhattan is the Queen’s neighborhood of Rockaway Beach (it takes approximately two hours riding the downtown A train). The beach town boasts miles of clean beaches and steady swells. For those new to surfing, head to Locals Surf School. They offer several types of lessons, from one-on-one to group sessions. Afterward, hit the Rockaway Beach Surf Club for afternoon grub (order their fish tacos) and cocktails. Overall, the beach and subsequent town make an ideal escape for city dwellers looking for a change of pace. And if you’re just looking to catch some rays, know that the New York Daily News recently ranked Rockaway Beach as the best-rated beach in the five boroughs.
Compete in the Red Hook Crit
Do Your Best Tour de France Impression: Racing through the streets of Brooklyn on a fixed-gear bicycle against bike messengers, urban cyclists, track specialists and professional road racers? Sign me up. The Red Hook Crit is part of the larger Championship Series with stops in London, Barcelona and Milan. If you would rather stay on the sidelines, the Crit is an exciting affair filled with collisions, crashes and flat tires that is sure to entertain.
More Info: Here
Skate at Pier 62 Skatepark
See What Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Taught You: Think skate park on the pier and you may think SoCal. You’d be close. The massive 15,000 square foot Pier 62 skate park, designed by a California firm, offers 10 skate bowls with views of the river and a handsome row of yachts. Beginner or pro, take your skateboards, in-line skates or roller-skates on anything from the beginner Ollie Zone, to the Intermediate Fun Box, to the 18-foot Ollie Ledge. The bowls have been carefully sculpted with an under-layer of structural foam to provide curvy shapes that mimic nature. It’s open year-round from 8 a.m. till dusk, and it’s considered the best skate park in the city. Protective equipment is highly recommended — the place will surely inspire you to try some new tricks.
Box at Gleason’s Gym on the Waterfront
Sting Like a Bee: Gleason’s Gym, opened in 1937, is the oldest active boxing gym in the USA. Over the years the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Forman and Mike Tyson have sweat on Gleason’s mats, and their team of trainers — world-champion boxing trainers, a world-champion kickboxing trainer and a world-champion Muay Thai boxing trainer — are working to train the next great. The gym is a hard-knocks place, so don’t expect the luxury of a boutique workout experience. What you can expect is an environment rich with history, dedication to the sport, and plenty of fight — that is, if you’re brave enough to enter the ring and put up the gloves.
Play a Round at the Country’s Oldest Public Course
Hit the Historic Links: It may be way up by Yonkers, but the Van Cortlandt Golf Course is just off the 1 train and that makes it the most accessible course for city dwellers. It’s an old-school but vibrant spot and teeing off there means joining the ranks of Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Joe Lewis and the Three Stooges, who all took on these greens in their day. They’ve just put in $1.5 million of renovations to the clubhouse and replaced a bunch of the greens and tee boxes, so the course is shipshape.
Charter a Fishing Boat out of Sheepshead Bay
You’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat: “Sport fishing” hardly appears on tourist to-do lists for NYC. A subset of fishermen are perfectly happy to keep it that way: the Hudson Bay has in fact transformed into a world-class fishery in the past decade, thick with trophy striped bass, flounder and, on the right day, a chaotic mess of mean and hungry bluefish attacking schools of baitfish. Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay is the most logical place to charter a boat, and there are plenty of great services run out of the historically fish-focused town.
Climb at Brooklyn Boulders
Climb Amongst World Class Climbers: With the likes of Ashima Shiraishi and Sasha DiGiulian having graced its walls, it’s no surprise that Gowanus’ own Brooklyn Boulders is the pillar of the NYC climbing community. Walls shaped like the Brooklyn Bridge provide for a uniquely New York climbing experience. If you are new to the sport, BKB offers lessons ranging from learning to boulder, all the way up (pun intended) to learning to lead climb.
Dig for Records at The Thing in Brooklyn
Get Lost in Vinyl Heaven: Greenpoint is home to many vinyl stores — and none of them are anything like The Thing. In place of well-manicured alphabetical sections is a dungeon-style basement with three aisles filled with 130,000 records, unordered. To get there, one first must tread through a top storey of dingy used home appliances; visit at the right time and you’ll be accosted at the door by goofy employees with an Uncle Sam robot that sings “God Bless America” in a creepy voice. If you make it to the basement, there’s only you and the records and a few pools of tepid water (watch where you walk). Finding an album you want to buy becomes a search for the holy grail, and if you do, be prepared to celebrate bargain-bin prices — which you deserve.
Catch a Meal at an “Underground” Supper Club
Unique Dining Experiences: Ask any New Yorker their top three reasons for living here and “the food” will invariably make every list. But it’s not just the variety and quality of cuisine: there’s also the experience and the spectacle. Most supper clubs, or otherwise experience-driven meals, aren’t exactly underground (you can find out about them online), but they’re a big departure from your average restaurant meal. Take Whisk and Ladle, for example, the old-school supper club that hosts a dinner party one night per week in a loft on the Williamsburg waterfront; or A Razor, A Shiny Knife, which once served a formal meal on the L train; even Feastly, which has brought underground dining to the mainstream and will have you eating roasted rabbit and drinking grappa in a stranger’s apartment.
Party “Up in Da Club” (Not Really)
Boogie Down: In the town that never sleeps, New York City’s nightlife has a reputation among the common folk for being hard to navigate. Forego the bottle service snob joints of the meatpacking district and hop on the L to Brooklyn, where late night debauchery can be had for fraction of the snobbery and cost. Consider Output, a no-frills, post-industrial warehouse with a sound system that draws some of the best DJs in the world. Or venture still further east to the no-cover no-list Bossa Nova Civic Club, co-owned by John Barclay (a founding father of Brooklyn’s DIY rave scene), where young and artsy scenesters dance to house and techno while proudly throwing back cans of cheap beer.
Relax at the Russian & Turkish Baths
Sweat it Out: Established in 1892, the Russian & Turkish Baths on 10th Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, make up New York City’s oldest bath house. Names like Belushi, Murray and Dr. Leary have shaken hands with owners Boris Tuperman and David Shaprio, who have run the baths separately since the late ‘80s, but much of the clientele here are run-of-the-mill locals spanning the whole social spectrum. Open 365 days a year, a full day’s schvitz — consisting of saunas, steam rooms and routine visits to the sunbathing roof — can be enjoyed for $35 (the price of a cheap dinner in the East Village). But the star of the show is the oak leaf platza, an exfoliating treatment whereby specialists beat your skin with a coarse leaf brush before a shower of cold water.
Circumnavigate Manhattan by Kayak
Spend a Day on the Water: Ask anyone if they’ve ever kayaked around Manhattan, and they’ll probably say no. At the Manhattan Kayak Company you’ll find a truly unique way to experience the city. Located on West 44th Street, they offer kayak lessons, rentals and tours (they also do the same thing for stand-up paddle boarding). For advanced kayakers, their Manhattan Circumnavigation tour takes over seven hours and leads guests on a remarkable excursion: around FiDi, under several bridges and up the East River.
Embrace “Interactive Theater”
Don’t Just Sit There: If you’ve had your fill of Broadway theater, venture off the neon path to one of the many interactive theater pieces popping up since Sleep No More made a mute splash in ’09. That darkly surreal spin on Macbeth — in which masked attendees explore a grisly warehouse, happening upon cultish activities, alienating sexual antics and beyond — is still going strong, and its producers have gone on to debut Queen of the Night, a similar affair with shinier setting (the Diamond Horseshoe nightclub) and, as described by noted Times theater critic Charles Isherwood, “gymnasts hurtling through a small hoop suspended from the ceiling, a man juggling (magnificently) a red umbrella and other acrobatic feats performed by men and women hanging above the dining room like so many human chandeliers,” in addition to sultry individual encounters. If the acrobatics are more your thing, there’s also Fuerza Bruta: Wayra. Either way, it’ll be more fun than The King and I.
Mountain Bike in Highbridge Park
Hit the Trails: One cliffside is enough to entertain for hours, and what Highbridge lacks in acreage, it makes up for in diversity. The XC trails have tracks from beginner to advanced, with sweeping corners and plenty of drops, jumps and loose dirt. There’s also a freeride trail, with berms, steeps and rock gardens, and a dirt jump park, including a slopestyle course with tables, step ups and step downs. If you’re looking for a quick afternoon of carving and jibbing, this is your closest option in the city. And, while it’s not miles of wooded single track, there’s plenty of challenge, all within blocks of the 1 train.
Tour the Abandoned Brooklyn Naval Yard Hospital
Get Spooked: The city doesn’t offer many (safe) opportunities to explore abandoned sites. The Brooklyn Naval Yard comes close, getting you as near to the abandoned nineteenth-century hospital as you can get before it disappears to make room for a grocery store. Experience this revitalized site with curation catering to many interests, even offering tours for history buffs and photographers alike. Other opportunities to tour include trips by bus, foot or bike; you can even drop in for a yoga class. But the real draw is indeed the Admiral’s Row, which includes the interior of the hospital, unreachable by the tour. Some adventurous photographers have visited and snapped photos of this eerie time capsule (not that we would recommend you trespassing).
Take a Homebrew Class
Brewing Beer isn’t Just for the Pros: Dipping a toe into homebrewing involves a lot: buckets, oversized pots, dozens of bottles, a sticky kitchen and a closet for fermentation and storage. In most NYC apartments, the space required can’t be sacrificed for what could become a tried-once hobby. But to get the same experience in a classroom setting, you only need a ticket. In a casual course, participants learn how beer is made first hand, by boiling wort and transferring it into a fermenter while an expert brewer explains the biology behind every step. Participants get to sample the beer, or in some cases take home a bottle, made by a previous class while their own brew lives on to feed future brewing wannabe’s.
Learn How to Butcher
Get in Touch With Your Primal Side: Nothing will make you forget about your desk job in the concrete jungle more than getting a little bloody. Not with your own blood, but with that of your prey, or at least your food. The folks down at The Butcher Shop know their craft better than most and they teach lessons in it at their partner site, The Brooklyn Kitchen. Redden your apron with them and get a carnal, hands-on experience while you turn half a hog into a neat pile of delicious cuts.
Tour the World’s Largest Gold Vault
Follow in the Footsteps of Die Hard with a Vengeance: Five floors below Liberty Street, directly atop Manhattan’s bedrock, sits the world’s largest depository of monetary gold. Approximately 530,000 gold bars, with a combined value of over a quarter trillion dollars, shine under guard in a vault the size of six basketball courts. During the hour-long tour, small groups of visitors can learn about the New York Fed, which plays a major role in setting monetary policy and promoting the financial security of the global economy, before they walk through the single reinforced entryway into the vault itself. Space is limited due to security concerns, with only two tours running daily for the general public. Tours are announced on a rolling basis, 30 days in advance, so check daily.
Play Polo, in a Kayak
Because horses are pricey: Leave your suspicions about the East River’s cleanliness on the shore. Kayak Polo, as described by NYC’s own Kayak Polo organization, “is played in many countries on all continents,” and here, kayakers play it right off Brooklyn Bridge Park. “The game is often described as a combination of water polo, basketball and kayaking,” the organization says; dribbling, goal zones and tackling (pushing other kayakers sideways — again, don’t be afraid of the water) are all game mechanics, and aggressive paddle use is strictly prohibited. Afterwards, head on back to the park to either up the fitness or indulge in the bevy of treats available from food carts and concession stands.
Address: Pier 66 West 26th St and 12th Ave New York, NY 10001 | More Info: Here
Swim to, Or Around the Statue of Liberty
Where you’re going you won’t need boats: For an island — especially one with more than 1.6 million residents — not a lot of swimming happens off the coast of Manhattan; most people make their way out to Coney Island or the Rockaways, or leave the city altogether, for a dip. But hardcore swimmers take advantage of the organized swims that happen a few times per year, like the 0.75-mile swim around Liberty Island that happens in August, or, if you’ve been hitting the lap pool all summer, the 2.2-mile swim from the Statue of Liberty to the Freedom Tower in September. You won’t get a better view of Lady Liberty, plus you don’t have to deal with all that pesky ferry traffic that usually occupies the waterway (not to mention the authorities, who would pluck you from the water any other time of year).