You can actually sleep in the city that never sleeps in summer because there’s no one here. The five boroughs that make up New York City lose their residents, especially in August when the heat seems to be reflecting off the sidewalks. I always look forward to staying put for a long stretch in summer and having an abundance of parking spaces — which I now consider a blood sport — on the street at all hours day or night. After a spring filled with college campus visits for my rising senior, I thought a staycation would be the best move.
While Times Square and Central Park top the destinations for out-of-town tourists, I live in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and have picnicked in Prospect Park, meandered through the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, gotten ice cream at the local spots, taken advantage of closed off streets for extended outdoor dining space and saw the cutest animals at the local zoo.
What stood out to me as I played tourist, and would likely require a repeat visit, is the Virgil Abloh exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. I feel I’ve gotten the value of my family membership at the Brooklyn Museum 10 times over in the last year. There were the Obama Portraits Tour; Andy Warhol: Revelation; Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams; and Kaws: What Party, exhibits to name a few. The Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech collection is no exception.
The exhibit, highlighting nearly two decades of work in fashion, art, and architecture by the Louis Vuitton head designer who died last year of a rare form of cancer at age 41, takes up a huge portion of the first floor. There are hundreds of items on display including clothing (Beyonce’s dress from a Vogue cover); an array of Nike sneakers from his multi-year collaboration and a large wooden house that the late designer imagined as a collaborative space for the design community from all walks of life.
There’s also an abundance of Louis Vuitton bags, luggage and clothing and celebrities such as Kanye West donated pieces from their own collection to offer the most complete rendering of his body of work. The exhibit runs until Jan. 29, 2023. Tickets are $25 for adults; $16 for seniors and students; $10 for children ages 4 to 12.
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
Right next door to the Brooklyn Museum is the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Seeing the entire garden would take a full day. The first welcoming spot is the Osborne Garden with wisteria-draped pergolas. From there you can chart your own course. Don’t forget a map since there is so much to see. One of my favorites is the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, which is one of the oldest Japanese inspired gardens in the U.S. It was constructed in 1915. Come back in the spring to witness the beauty of the cherry blossom trees in full bloom, which attract nearly 70,000 people. The plants in bloom right now, however, include Brown-Eyed Susans, hibiscuses, wild bergamot and hydrangea. Then there’s the rose garden with thousands of rosebuds, the Tropical Pavillion that houses plants from the Amazon basin and African rainforest, the visitor center and gift shop.
You’re bound to get hungry and need to rest a while. Visitors can enjoy a full-service sit-down meal at the Yellow Magnolia Cafe that offers an extensive dining menu; whereas the Yellow Magnolia Canteen serves sandwiches, salads, soups and snacks. There’s also a coffee bar that serves a variety of beverages and pastries. Tickets are $18 for adults; $12 for seniors and students; and free for children under 12.
With an abundance of shady spots to spread a picnic blanket, walking trails, bike lanes, designated BBQ areas, a lake, paddle boats, an Audubon Center and a zoo that is home to around 400 animals, Prospect Park is the back yard all apartment dwellers wish they had. At 526 acres, it is dwarfed by the 842.6 acres of Central Park, but they do say size doesn’t matter. Young people have pitched volleyball tents and held competitive matches; there’s a farmer’s market every Saturday at the entrance to the park and free nearly weekly movie nights on the lawn. There are a lot of vendors selling water, ice cream, hotdogs in the park and lots of food trucks outside of the park.
The Central Public Library
Celebrating its 125th-year anniversary, the magnificent architecture of the library is reminiscent of an open book. In addition to three floors of books, a children’s library with its own entrance and a cafe seating area, the library has been showing Met Opera performances throughout the summer on the facade of the building. The next performance is Falstaff on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 7:30 to 9:45 p.m. There’s also lots of additional seating outside on the steps and in the garden area.
Grand Army Plaza
Grand Army Plaza anchors Prospect Park and features a Soldier’s and Sailor’s arch honoring members of the Union army and reliefs of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, a memorial to JFK, several statues, and a fountain. This is another spot where folks can picnic on the grass if they want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Prospect Park.
Cheryl’s Global Soul restaurant, located on Underhill Avenue, is a neighborhood institution and it’s less than a 10-minute walk from the park, museum, and botanical gardens. Some menu favorites are the jerk wings, Moroccan vegetable tagine and fish and chips. There’s an abundance of seating in the back garden, inside the restaurant and on the sidewalk. A block away, also on Underhill Avenue, is Gold Star Beer Counter with 16 beers on tap and dozens to take away, also.
Closer to the Brooklyn Museum on Washington Avenue and Lincoln Place is Ke Lai Le, which the locals affectionately call Colala, offers some of the best Asian food I’ve eaten. Thai, Chinese and Japanese food are all on one menu. It may give you pause thinking there’s no way they can do it all, but they do. Try the sushi, shrimp tempura or California rolls, a variety of bento boxes and shrimp anything. A little further down Washington is The Islands for Jamaican food. There are lots of bars and restaurants along Washington Avenue to sample, also. Two blocks away is Vanderbilt Avenue, which closes the streets off Friday night and all day Saturday for extra outdoor dining options. Vanderbilt favorites are Amorina Cucina Rustica for fancy pizza and pasta; and Olmstead (if you can get a reservation) for a delicious ingredient-driven menu.
Ice, ice (cream) baby
Thank goodness for Prospect Park to run or walk off the calories from four really, really good ice cream places in the area. Blue Marble serves up organic flavors from fair-trade purveyors; Ample Hills flavors are as quirky as the names (try summer of love and corn to run); Van Leeuwen Ice Cream has a ton of vegan options in addition to regular ice cream flavors. Last, but not least is The Social Brooklyn, on Washington Avenue and St. Johns Place, offers up homemade donuts (old fashioned glazed, cookies and cream, apple cider); and ice cream flavors including hydro cookies and cream; grahammaster fluff (graham cracker and marshmallow); and vanilla bean for the not so adventurous. The inside of the shop has an abundance of seating and there’s also a seating area out front with chairs and tables situated on artificial turf and two corn hole game sets. On a recent visit, two friends were enjoying cones in the seating area out front. Carren McNeal, whose flavor of choice was Paris in the morning (almond, croissant and raspberry jam) says she likes the vibe because “I get to story-tell with my favorite food.” Her friend, Sylvia Kinard, who chose Buzzin’ in Brooklyn (coffee ice cream infused with cinnamon, pull apart bread and toffee) says she “likes the unique flavor combinations and the sidewalk ambiance because you can sit comfortably in the Adirondack chairs on a nice afternoon which you really cannot beat.”
Visitor information: Nearby subways include the 2 and 3 trains at Grand Army Plaza and the 4 on Eastern Parkway. The neighborhood of Park Slope is just across Flatbush Avenue and Crown Heights is on the other side of Washington, if you want to do more exploring.
—Kim Barrington Narisetti