Staten Island’s North Shore follows the island from the Narrows through Upper New York Harbor and along the busy Kill Van Kull waterway and includes many of the borough’s most historic neighborhoods and top attractions. Your visit starts with the best cruise deal in town, the 20 minute (free) ferry ride from Lower Manhattan to the Staten Island Ferry
Terminal at St. George (allow extra time for waiting – 10-20 minutes during rush hour, 30 minutes during the day or evening, or an hour in the wee hours of the morning). So it’s an easy day trip for New Yorkers or tourists alike, offering a sharp contrast to hustle/bustle of Manhattan. This tour is a 7 mile loop that explores the area’s neighborhoods through historic districts, to museums for every age and interest, shopping, a zoo, parks and restaurants representing almost as many ethnic groups as you’d find riding the #7 train.
If you want to save your shoe leather, most of major attractions of this trip are on the Gray Line’s Staten Island Discovery Tour
, along with Fort Wadsworth
and the Alice Austen House Museum
. Visitors can hop on and hop off at eight different sites, including the Ferry Terminal on climate-controlled trolley buses.
Once you depart at St. George, head left through the terminal’s grand corridor. Go out the doors at the very end of the corridor and up the stairs, where you’ll be on a bus ramp overlooking the ferry maintenance facility. Depending on what boats are in service or out at dry dock, you may see up to four classes of ferries dating from the 1960s to present. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the tiny ferry boat Michael Cosgrove. The miniature version of the Staten Island Ferry, with and open deck for its cargo, makes the run between The Bronx and Hart Island. But don’t go checking the departure schedule – most of the riders on this boat are inmates and their passengers – corpses en-route to the city’s potter’s field.
Walk along the ramp to a curious iron-work tower connecting the ferry terminal to a plaza below. Bridge and Lighthouse for Staten Island
is a work by Armajani honoring the site of the former U.S. Lighthouse Service Depot. The five abandoned buildings that surround the back of the Ferry Maintenance Facility are the surviving structures of a site that supplied lenses and parts for lighthouses across the country. Plans to turn the site into the >National Lighthouse Museum
are currently stalled, but community members are attempting to resurrect the project.
Follow the ramp and follow the brick wall up Bay Street and cross over behind the bus shelter to Stuyvesant Place. At Stuyvesant and Hyatt Street, you’ll be behind the Staten Island Borough Hall (1913-1919, Carrere & Hastings). Climb up Hyatt and you’ll be in front of the St. George Theater
. If they let you peek in, you’ll find an ornate Baroque interior. Check their schedule for show times. Back down Hyatt to Stuyvesant, head left to the Staten Island Museum
for a good overview of the borough. The small museum’s permanent exhibits include Staten Island’s natural history and the Ferry collection. Changing exhibits explore the art and culture of the Island.
A short block down Wall Street to Richmond Terrace puts you in front of the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George
, the home of the Staten Island Yankees. The stadium has one of the best views of any baseball park in the country and is on nearly the same site as a 19th century cricket grounds that once housed a team called the New York Metropolitans
(or the Mets), a name that would be resurrected in the 1960’s for a team that would replace the departed New York Dodgers and Giants. On the shoreline, just east of the stadium is a moving memorial to the many Staten Islanders lost in the attacks on 9/11/01. "Postcards" (which actually resembles envelopes) appears as two white wings soaring toward the World Trade Center site. Between the wings, one will find profile images of the commemorated.
Now take a short hike up the stairs to Hamilton Avenue, and about three short-but-steep blocks to St. Mark’s Place. Follow St. Marks right past the collegiate gothic Curtis High School and you’ll find a collection of 19th and early 20th century homes in the St. George/New Brighton Historic District
. The highlights of the district include many shingle style homes by local architect Edward A. Sargent – perhaps the finest surviving example is #103 with its stunning views of the harbor.
Turn right on Westervelt Avenue and left on Richmond Terrace, and you’ll be just six blocks from Snug Harbor Cultural Center
. If you’re hungry by now, stop in at Adobe Blues
(two blocks up Lafayette Avenue) for an atmospheric Southwestern dining experience with one of New York’s most extensive beer and tequila menus. A bit farther along Richmond Terrace is one of the oldest bars in New York City (Leidy’s Short Inn), dating back to 1905.
It’s about two more blocks to Snug Harbor. This 19th Century home for "aged and decrepit" sailors is now home to an array of Staten Island’s premiere cultural attractions. The site houses one of the country’s best collections of Greek Revival architecture. If you enter through the main gate in the middle of the historic iron fence on Richmond Terrace, you’ll find your self face-to-obelisk with the monument containing the remains of the Harbor’s patron, Robert Richard Randall, privateer. The oldest structure on the site—right behind the monument, in the middle of the front five buildings—houses the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art
. The site features changing exhibits as well as about 30 working artist’s studios; call in advance to find out when their next open studio day will be. To the left you’ll find the John A. Noble Maritime Collection
, a museum dedicated to a renowned Staten Island artist. Inside you’ll find Noble’s houseboat studio, a built from the "bones of larger vessels" that he could float to any location he wanted to capture. Snug Harbor is also home to the Staten Island Children’s museum
, a great stop for the little ones. You should also check-in at the Art Labe to see if there is an exhibit of current student art.
The other major occupant of Snug Harbor is the, Staten Island Botanical Garden
, and their presence is felt throughout the site in the numerous small gardens around the Harbor. Several of their formal gardens are open at no charge, including the white, rose, sensory, butterfly and shade gardens. For an additional fee one can also visit Connie Gretz’s Secret Garden–a medieval guardhouse marks the entrance to this modest labyrinth. But worth the trip on its own is the other-worldly Chinese Scholars Garden. The only garden of its kind in North America, the garden’s buildings were built in China and assembled on-site by Chinese artisans.
Behind the main cluster of buildings, follow Chapel Road west to Cottage Row and follow that road left out the back woods of the Harbor to the Henderson Avenue exit. Then cross Henderson and walk up Brentwood Avenue. This cozy little neighborhood, Randall Manor, was carved out of some of the land of Snug Harbor that the trustees had sold off decades before the retirement home was turned over to the city and restored. The area is named for Snug Harbor’s Robert Richard Randall. To your left across Allison Pond you’ll see a hillside protected by a brick wall. This is the original Snug Harbor Cemetery where thousands of the Harbor’s seafaring residents are buried, mostly in unmarked graves. (Many of the stones were removed to save them from theft and vandalism.) Just around the curve from the top of Brentwood is Coyningham Avenue, which will lead you uphill past quaint Tudor and Colonial revival homes from the 1920’s to Castleton Avenue. Carefully cross Castleton to Walbrooke Avenue (a few yards to your right), and follow that to Forest Avenue, the area’s main shopping strip. Congratulations, you’ve conquered all of the most difficult uphill sections of this walk. Reward yourself with a cup of coffee at the Coffee & Tea Market Café
– a friendly café at 422 Forest Avenue with free newspapers to read, biscotti, and excellent coffees and teas. Try the Mexican café mocha or a rich hot chocolate. Continue west (right from Walbrooke) along Forest, keeping an eye out for a good selection of Italian restaurants or Irish pubs
as you walk about a mile down the road (the Tex-Mex psychedelic Burrito Bar
ranks high on our list). The modest-looking Mandolin Brothers
at 629 Forrest is a Mecca for guitar enthusiasts from around the world, with a client list that includes George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney.
Hang a left onto Broadway, which will lead you to the Staten Island Zoo
on your right about 2 blocks. The old caged exhibits have all been replaced with larger glass-enclosed exhibits focusing on smaller animals. Indoor and outdoor displays include bobcats, meercats, monkeys, bats and even cockroaches. The Zoo has an impressive children’s zoo and a very popular otter exhibit, but the star attraction here is the gleaming new reptile wing, with a giant sculpture of a snake skeleton curving its way through the gallery. The cases include snakes and lizards in cases that mimic their natural environments, including some man-made environments such as the mummy’s tomb housing a venomous cobra.
Exit the Zoo out the Clove Road side and head about half a block up Martlings Avenue and you’ll find Clove Lakes Park
– one of Staten Island’s most beautiful natural areas. If you’re not visiting the Zoo, pass the entrance and follow the block around to your right at Glenwood Place, and continue to follow the block around to your right onto Clove Road, leading you to Martlings Avenue. Then follow Marklings Avenue as instructed above. The land was revered as a cherished green space since the 19th century, winning the admiration of many Staten Islanders, including Frederick Law Olmstead. The meandering paths up hills and around the lakes stretch 1.2 miles from Forest Avenue to Victory Boulevard with quaint stone bridges, waterfalls, children’s play grounds ball fields and the War Memorial Ice Rink
. The Lake Club restaurant sits on an island in the middle of the park. Its dining rooms feature a beautiful view of the lake, or a baronial vaulted hall around an enormous fireplace. Stop here to rent paddle boats and row boats to enjoy splashing your way around Richmond and Clove ponds. At the south eastern end of the park along Clove Road (near Victory Boulevard), the Leesburg Perennial Garden is a quiet zone with chess tables under the elms and red maples.
From Clove Road and Victory Boulevard, we’re heading back toward the ferry. If you want to bus it back to the Ferry from here, just hop on the 67 down Victory, or the 61, 62 or 91 for that matter. Just a few shops down Victory, you’ll find the Clove Lakes Book Store
. This little ship is packed to the gills with a huge selection of everything from popular fiction to the classics, along with travel, mystery, children’s, and texts.
A few blocks farther on your right are Woodlawn, Silver Lake and Silver Mount cemeteries, dating back to the 19th century. Trek back into the woods to see the most impressive monuments, many of which are overgrown. Be sure to look across the street at the 19th hold of Silver Lake Golf Course
. This rolling lawn is home to another burial place, known as Marine or Quarantine cemetery. It is the final rest for thousands of 19th century immigrants who passed through the Quarantine Station in Tompkinsville (more about the quarantine later). But many of the immigrants who tried to enter America died of diseases like yellow fever either on their trip to America, or in the Quarantine Hospital. When they began to run out of burial space on site, they shipped the bodies up to this cemetery, often under cover of darkness to prevent the townsfolk from being alarmed by the rate of death inside the Quarantine walls.
Silver Lake is one of three public golf courses on Staten Island. For breakfast, lunch dinner, or brunch stop in at The Veranda restaurant for a varied menu at reasonable prices. A bit further up is Silver Lake Park. At the top of Grymes Hill (Staten Island’s second highest point) park visitors enjoy sweeping views looking westward into the wilds of New Jersey and the lake below – which is a reservoir in the NYC water supply. From here, the walk is down hill 2 miles to the waterfront. At Forest Avenue, cross Victory and continue down the boulevard through the village of Tompkinsville, but look ahead for a wonderfully contrasting view of the Manhattan Skyline set against the homes of Staten Island in the foreground. (Cross Victory for the best views). The scene has often been documented by Staten Island artists, including painter Sarah Yuster, both before and since the loss of the World Trade Center.
As you reach the intersection of Cebra Avenue, note the proliferation of Sri Lankan businesses, including a number of restaurants. This area down to the waterfront is the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island and it is the home to the largest population of Sri Lankan expatriates in the world. A New York Times reporter named Maureen Seaburg has dubbed this area Little Lanka, although – as you will see – there are many other ethnic groups represented in this neighborhood as well. In fact, on your left, you will see the minaret of the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center–only the second mosque built in New York City. About two block farther, just beyond Pike Street, note the shingle-style Mt. Sinai United Methodest Church, which is housed in Staten Island’s oldest synagogue.
Once you pass reach the intersection of Brook Street and Victory, you’ll be entering a thriving business district. For thrift bargains, Everything Goes operates a furniture shop and an antiques gallery on Brook, and later in the walk you’ll be able to visit their clothing and book stores. The shops are operated by the communal (some say cultish) Ganas society. When you get to Corson Avenue, make the sharp left to get your kielbasa on at The Polish Place
on the corner of Daniel Low Terrace (try the potato pancakes). The international flavor is dense with Mexican, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Trinidadian, Jamaican, and Greek restaurants and shops sharing the four-block stretch from here to Bay Street.
Giving props to Shaolin (Wu Tang Clan’s nickname for their native Staten Island), respect the ADG (Against Da Grain) unisex salon at 61 Victory Boulevard. It’s the location of the original Wu Wear store, once a hip hop Mecca for oversize leather jackets and all things bearing the Wu Tang’s axe-head "W" logo.
Tompkinsville Park features a simple boulder monument to The Watering Place. A natural spring near this location was the last spot where potable water could be had by the early sailing vessels to leave the harbor. Just behind the park at 208 Bay Street, drop in to the , Everything Goes Book Café
and Neighborhood Stage. In addition to a seemingly endless selection of books and a terrific used records section where many rare finds may be had, the Ganas family hosts open mic events, concerts and readings in addition to serving up organic and fair trade coffees and teas. About two blocks west, you’ll find the group’s ETG Clothing (140 Bay Street), an old home packed basement to attic with bargains on clothes, shoes, jewelry and Halloween costumes. A few doors down at the corner of Slosson Terrace, you can’t miss The Cargo Café
. Painted in a different mural theme every so often, The Cargo is not just a local pub and grub spot. It is an art gallery inside and out.
As you walk along Bay Street these last few blocks to the Ferry, you are on the grounds of the former Quarantine Hospital. In 1799, New York State opened a quarantine site on a large parcel of land near the entrance to New York Harbor. The former farmlands were transformed over the next 50 or so years into the nation’s major immigration center. During this time, the town of Tompkinsville had also grown around the Quarantine and it was a poor mix. Yellow fever, cholera, small pox and other diseases were breaking out in the community. The people of Tompkinsville protested to no avail. That is until September 1, 1858, when an angry mob of villagers stormed the facility and burned it to the ground. Many of the leading members of the community were believed to have taken part. What they didn’t destroy that evening was finished of the following night. And although the residents were all fined collectively by the government for their actions they were successful in forcing the quarantine to leave the area.
Bay Street will lead you back to the Staten Island Ferry. For a final view of Staten Island’s North Shore, sit at the back of the ferry and watch the island as your boat pulls away.