It’s summer in New York City, the perfect time to go explore all five boroughs. And you might forget, but “all five boroughs” includes Staten Island. We know what you’re going to say, “but there’s nothing to do in Staten Island,” well, you’re wrong, there is stuff to do, one of them is visiting The Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. The place is huge (83 acres), like crappy blockbuster budget huge. So huge in fact, it may be a little intimidating for a novice such as yourself. So let us guide you through your visit there.
Getting there: Take the ferry
You know something that never goes through service changes every weekend? Where you can get great views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty and not have to deal with breakdancers, candy-sellers or people still selling DVD’s in 2017? And, on top of that, is free? The Staten Island Ferry. The Ferry takes about 22 million people a year from Lower Manhattan to St. George and back on a ride that provides terrific views, which you can relax, grab a beer from the cafe ($3.75 for a Bud or Bud Light) and enjoy because you’re not commuting. Today though, you’re going beyond the normal tourist move of getting off at St. George and heading back to Manhattan, completely unaware that Staten Island has more to offer.
Fill up at the Gravel Grill
It’s going to be a long day. You’ll be walking, taking pictures and just enjoying the views and atmosphere of Snug Harbor, so before you hit the S40 bus to Randall’s Manor, you should fill up that stomach. We know the feeling, you worry that because everything seems so expensive nowadays, you’re going to have to shell out, but if you hit up the Gavel Grill (9 Hyatt St., St. George) after getting off the ferry, you’ll end up with a large meal that won’t take too much weight off your pockets.
The atmosphere is very homey, it always feels like stumbling on a family get together whenever we visit. They have the usual diner food: burgers, hot dogs, waffles and coffee. It’s nothing new, but who needs that when whatever you order will be good? We recommend the Tiger Dog (pictured above), or their Chicken Fried Steak Sandwich, which will only run you a little less than seven dollars.
Now you got some food in that belly, all that’s left to do is hop on that S40 bus and head to Snug Harbor. The ride will take you less than 20 minutes, and it will leave you right on the gate, only a minute walk away from the Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. Make sure you have your travel app of choice handy, because that bus keeps going and goes far. When you arrive, you might become a little intimidated because there is so much to do (remember: 83 acres). Don’t sweat through that Staten Island Yankees cap you bought on the way, because we are going to suggest some of our favorite spots.
Walk through any of the many gardens
The Botanical Garden has over 20 gardens, with most of them not charging a single penny for you to casually walk around and experience; so go forth, skip dance, sing (but not too loudly, no one really wants to hear your version of “Trap Queen”) and smell the roses (seriously, smell them, the Rose Garden has over 100 different kinds). One of our personal favorites is the Connie Gretz Secret Garden (which is free), made in tribute to the very famous book written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s built like a maze, but not in the Stanley Kubrick Shining-way, because we’re sure even children can make their way out of it. But just in case, make sure your phone is fully charged.
Walk through the Allee
In-between the Lion’s Sensory Garden and the Chinese Scholar’s Garden is a walkway that you have to experience. Take pictures with your significant other (or yourself, no judgement) and post it on Instagram. Just wait and see all the responses from people asking you “Where is that?” or “OMG! Where?” Or, however these kids ask questions nowadays. The Allee has been a part of the Botanical Gardens for almost 20 years, first planted in 1997. 120 European hornbeam trees make up the path you walk on, and create a sense of anticipation and excitement, as you are seemingly closed off from the rest of the world as you make your way to the Chinese Scholars Garden. It’s really one of Staten Island’s best kept open secrets. Don’t take too many selfies on the path, as we’re sure other people in your party or other visitors want to take Instagram pictures to tweet out also. Pose, click, move on; follow those rules and you won’t agitate your fellow Garden visitors.
Explore the Chinese Scholar’s Garden
The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden inside the Brooklyn Botanical Garden is pretty great, so no shots when we say that the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden is just leagues more interesting. Also, it only cost you $5 to get in ($8 for a full gallery/garden package that includes entry to the Newhouse Center of Contemporary Arts), while it cost $12 to get in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Since it opened in 1999, it has become one of the best reasons to visit Staten Island.
A combination of various forms of Chinese gardens, the Scholar’s Garden has a bamboo forest path you can walk through, a pond filled with Koi (those cute little white and orange fish)-filled pond, and is one of only two (two we say!) Chinese Scholar Gardens in the United States. All that for five bucks! You spend that on your overpriced second iced coffee before 4pm on Mondays.
Look at all the pretty historical buildings
Here’s a little bit of history for you. Snug Harbor has been around since the late 1800s, with the facility being used as a retirement home for the city’s sailors. Snug Harbor also has five landmarked Greek Revival buildings, the largest collection of Greek Revival in the entire country. You can go inside some of them, as one building is used as a Visitors Center and another houses the Newhouse Center of Contemporary Arts; which has been offering a, “variety of exhibitions that feature historical subjects, emerging artists and community-based shows,” since 1977 (only cost you another five bucks, but remember, there is the eight dollar garden/gallery offer). Or if you’d rather stay outdoors, you can pay nothing and see the buildings that are about as old New York as you can get.
Get a drink at Adobe Blues
Now before you get back on the S40 bus to head to the Ferry, you are probably going to want to have a drink or two. Now, because you don’t see many Staten Island establishments on some list doesn’t mean the borough is lacking in beer options. Adobe Blues is one of the best Mexican restaurants in the entire city, so much so, it’s one of the few places we think of when it comes to decent, East Coast Mexican food. What they also have is a wide selection of beers that we don’t usually see around the many Brooklyn bars we frequent. It’s so good that you will want to come again, only you might see a completely different selection as the bar never really has the same beer listing week to week.
And if you’re not the type to get seasick, you can grab a few things to munch on while you’re there. Obviously French fries seems like an obvious choice, but you’re in a Mexican restaurant, you should be getting something more interesting than French fries. You can order some spicy jalapeño bread that will only run you $1.50, or if you got a little more scratch and want the most from your buck, get the mini tacos: for only $5.50 you get 10 little bite-sized tacos filled with chipotle salsa and ground chicken.
Back on the Ferry
Taking the ferry at night is a much different experience than taking it during the day. The sun will be setting, the weather will be much cooler and there are few times the Statue of Liberty looks more interesting than when the sun is setting behind it.
You think we covered everything when it comes to visiting Snug Harbor. Well no, we didn’t. There is so much to see that you can go again and have a completely different experience.
This article was originally published in 2015.
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