Take Back the Summer: The Indypendent’s Summer Culture Guide

Kate Perkins Jun 23, 2010

By Kate Perkins
Illustrations By DondiJ,


The nonprofit urban environmentalist organization Shorewalkers has been instrumental in preserving and promoting New York and New Jersey’s public parks, shorelines and riverfronts. The group offers a tours for every fitness level, so take as much or as little time as you need to explore a huge variety of waterside environments throughout (and across) the boroughs. For those looking to go the distance: try the Batt-to- Bear Trail, connecting the ecological and geological wonders of New York and New Jersey in a 56-mile hike from the Battery to Bear Mountain. Along the way, visit five extraordinary national woodland parks, three small riverside towns, and countless historical landmarks, including Castle Clinton and Grant’s Tomb. Dozens of shorter, localized walks and hikes are offered throughout the summer.
Free. For tour schedules and details, visit or call 212-330-7686

Naturalist Steve “Wildman” Brill regularly leads free, hands-on ecological tours of major parks throughout the boroughs (and beyond, with occasional expeditions to Dobbs Ferry, Brewster and White Plains; as well as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut). Discover the edible, medicinal and ecologically essential plants and mushrooms that are the public parks’ natural riches.
Tour information and schedules, guides and educational resources, recipes and more can be found at

The Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park boasts the best variety of natural scenery in the five boroughs, as suggested by the starting point for this day hike, Orchard Beach. A beach-side boardwalk, rocky shores, spectacular salt marshes and magnificent sylvan stretches are just some of the scenic pleasures of this 5.6-mile walk. Bird-watching, lounging and beach-combing encouraged.
Free. For information and directions, visit or call the Pelham Bay Nature Center: 718-885-3467.

The past is vividly present in New York. Traverse the literary, political and architectural history of the city with these wallet-friendly walking tours.

HARLEM HERITAGE WALKS are happening nearly every day throughout the summer. The rich cultural history of the area comes alive in a variety of specialized tours, so you’ll never walk the same Harlem twice. Try the Harlem Renaissance tour for literary highlights; follow the music on the Jazz Nights tour or Harlem Gospel walks; or make a day of it with Spanish Harlem and Civil Rights History day trips. $20 and under.

• Discover the people’s history of New York City with GOTHAM SIDEWALKS’ community-oriented walks. Downtown, take the Women & Immigration tour of the Lower East Side or the LES Art History walk; take a cross-town music tour with Folk to Punk, East to West Village; keep the history of Coney Island alive with the Talking Boardwalk tour; and more. All walks are two hours long; three-hour bike tours also available. $15 in advance; $20 at the start of the tour.
For schedule and reservations: visit

Devise your own route through the city with these downloadable audio tours:

THE NEW AMSTERDAM TRAIL: Explore the architectural, political and cultural legacy of the Dutch from Castle Clinton to Federal Hall. Printable map included. Free.

THIS HALLOWED GROUND: A fascinating political history of slavery that tells the story of Africans’ struggle from bondage to freedom in New York. Printable map included. Free.

SOUNDS FOR SIGHTS: Download a huge variety of NYC walking tours from Their Bronx tours are especially good: check out Bronx Hip Hop; Yankee Stadium; Bronx Graffiti. Prices vary (between $5 and $12) as do tour lengths.


RADICAL WALKING TOURS OF NYC, 2nd Edition (Seven Stories Press). Local political activist Bruce Kayton’s maps of the city are drawn from a people’s eye view. Grassroots landmarks include the homes of Langston Hughes, Emma Goldman and other radicals; the site of Mabel Dodge’s salon; the apartment where John Reed wrote Ten Days That Shook the World; the site of Margaret Sanger’s first birth control clinic; Black Panther headquarters and scores of other inspiring sites of radical history.

WANDERLUST: A HISTORY OF WALKING by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin Books). In praise of solitude, meditation, adventure and discovery of oneself and one’s world, Solnit’s History of Walking is the perfect read to inspire your summer on foot.

If World Cup fever has inspired you to get out and kick a ball around, you’re in luck: the city’s pick-up sports culture is thriving, so join your fellow New Yorkers for some friendly competition. Free games are happening all the time, and not just for footballers. Basketball is the pulse of the boroughs, and the local courts are swarming with players of all ages and skill levels.

If you’d rather watch than play New York City’s courts are host to some outstanding and flamboyantly talented ballers. You just have to know where to find them. Check out the excellent sites PICKUP SOCCER NYC ( and INFINITE HOOPS ( to find games and plan your participation. Pickup baseball and softball can also be located through

Competitive sports aren’t the only way to work your muscles for free in the city this summer. Donation-based yoga and power-yoga (Pilates-infused) classes are offered in three locations by the excellent grassroots yoga organization YOGA TO THE PEOPLE.
Visit or call 917-573-9642.

Meditation-oriented yogis will enjoy the 45 minutes of deep-relaxation yoga offered every Friday at 5pm at the INTEGRAL YOGA STUDIO in the Meatpacking District.
Information: 212-929-0585,

Regardless of age or experience, TAI CHI, the Chinese martial art of self-defense and healing, is a great option for free, community-minded exercise. Visit the Tai Chi Chuan Center on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, 7:30am-8:30am, in Bryant Park. (212-221-6110,

For a workout by the water, enjoy a PILATES class at Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park (AKA Brooklyn Bridge Park) in DUMBO, Tuesdays, 7-8pm. Arrive at 6:30pm to register and to borrow a mat if you need one. (718-802-0603,

If working up a good sweat beside the water just isn’t enough, set out in a CANOE ON THE GOWANUS CANAL from the 2nd Street canal launch site. For the more adventurous, hop in a kayak on the harbor waters of the Hudson River or beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. The DOWNTOWN BOATHOUSE offers kayaking trips that are free and open to the public at Pier 40 and Pier 96; at Pier 96 every Wednesday, free kayaking classes are being offered, so beginners have no excuse not to head out!

For kayaking and rowing, visit;; and

Gowanus Canoe Club: Call 718-243-0849 or visit


THE TOUR DE QUEENS marks its third annual ride on JULY 11. Register to ride or volunteer or come cheer on the bikers and participate in family-friendly activities.

Not quite ready to ride? Use the summer to train for another borough tour. Registration is now open for the TOUR DE BRONX (Oct. 24) at

Keep active with the Brooklyn cycling community and prepare for next year’s TOUR DE BROOKLYN ride (June 5, 2011) at


• The Long Island Harbors Ride (June 25)

• Harlem Valley Rail Ride (July 25)

• The new Discover Hudson Valley Ride (Aug. 22)

• NYC Century Bike Tour (9/12)

Visit, Transportation Alternatives at and Times Up! at for a calendar of bike rides and plenty of other biking resources from workshops to maps.

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