Best Free Spring and Summer Events on the Upper West Side

By Emily Frost on May 8, 2013 7:16am | Updated on May 8, 2013 11:34am

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  Save your money for traveling and enjoy a full roster of free events in the neighborhood. 
The Best Free Spring and Summer Events on the Upper West Side
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UPPER WEST SIDE — There are plenty of ways to spend money on the Upper West Side, with new boutiques and upscale restaurants staking out real estate all the time.

But with two of the city's biggest parks and busy non-profits and arts institutions, the neighborhood offers lots of ways to amuse oneself and the family for free. 

DNAinfo New York compiled a list of some of the best free events to keep on your radar this spring and summer. 

ESPECIALLY FAMILY FRIENDLY

"[Central Park] is the most beautiful and accessible venue for programs that there is," said Terri Carta, director of public programs for the Central Park Conservancy. 

A Clearing in the Forest

One of Central Park's hidden gems is the Peter Jay Sharp Children's Glade, Carta said. 

"It’s on a bluff overlooking the West Side. There are parts of the glade that look south. It’s really magical," she explained. 

Starting on April 28 at noon, and then every other Sunday through mid-October, the park hosts a theatrical event for children and families called "A Clearing in the Forest." The performance, which lasts an hour, takes place at the children's glade near West 106th Street. Families can pack a picnic and sit on a blanket while they enjoy "interactive dance, music, art, storytelling, wildlife and puppetry performances," according to the conservancy.

"A performing arts company might come in and do a program about fish that complements the species that live in Central Park," Carta said. "That’s an example of how the eco-education marries with performing."

Book Babies

Parents and caretakers are invited to bring newborns to 15-month-old babies to this baby playtime at the Bloomingdale Library branch. Every Monday at 10:30 a.m. there will be songs, books and playtime.

The class is first come first serve at the library at 150 100th St. between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues. 

Preschool Storytime and Crafts

Toddlers can enjoy a class with lively songs, crafts and books each Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Bloomingdale Library branch. 

Parents and caretakers should sign up for the class at the front desk at 150 100th St. between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues. 

A DOSE OF CULTURE

20th Anniversary of the Harlem Meer Festival

Starting June 16 and running every Saturday through Sept. 1, the conservancy is hosting a musical festival at the Harlem Meer at 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox avenues. 

The festival includes jazz, Latin, gospel, blues and world music and is in its 20th year this summer. The lakeside festival is open to all ages and picnics are encouraged. 

"There will be some heritage bands, and we're also looking at emerging artists and local musicians who generally live right around the park who can help shape the future of performing arts in the park with this connection to the community," Carta said. 

Central Park Film Festival

While Carta acknowledges that there are lots of film festivals in the summer in the city, she argues simply, "It's Central Park."

"There are tons of outdoor film festivals, but there’s only one Central Park — it’s the power of the venue," she said.

The theme of the five-night festival will be announced in May. The festival, sponsored by the Bloomberg Foundation, includes free popcorn and runs August 22-26.

The screening is on Frisbee Hill on the east side of the park at East 67th Street. Folks looking for refreshments or dinner to pair with the movie can go to the Mineral Springs Café, Carta said.

Philharmonic in the Park 

This splendid outdoor event, where thousands of New Yorkers spread out blankets and picnics at sunset to enjoy some of the city's finest classical music, is back again this summer. The concerts, given by the New York Philharmonic, with conductor Alan Gilbert at the helm, will take place on the Great Lawn on July 13 and July 15.

The concert is free and begins at 8 p.m., but many people get to the lawn by mid-afternoon or early evening to stake out a good spot. 

Didi and Oscar Shafer are sponsoring this year's series of concerts, which are also taking place in The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.

The music for the Central Park concerts has not yet been announced. For more information, check the site: nyphil.org/parks.

The evening is capped with fireworks.

Shakespeare in the Park 

Shakespeare in the Park tickets are some of the most rewarding, but elusive tickets in town in the summer. Anxious arts lovers have been known on occasion to pay for someone to stand in line early in the morning the day of the show to snatch tickets. 

This summer season will feature Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors" and a new musical version of the bard's "Love's Labour's Lost." Both have the shows' characteristic star power, with Jesse Tyler Ferguson of ABC's "Modern Family" fame and Hamish Linklater from the CBS sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine" in "The Comedy of Errors."

"Love's Labour's Lost" is described as "smart, sexy and irreverent," by the Public Theater and will be directed and adapted by two-time Tony Award nominee Alex Timbers, with songs from Obie Award winner Michael Friedman. 

Free tickets for Shakespeare in the Park are distributed, two per person, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park at 1 p.m. the day of the show, or distributed in the boroughs on select dates. To get to the box office, enter the park at Central Park West and West 81st Street, or Fifth Avenue and East 79th Street. Tickets are also available through a "virtual lottery" the day of the show on the Public Theater's website. Summer Supporters who make a $350 tax-deductible donation receive two reserved seats to the 2013 season.

Make Music New York

Make Music New York is a bi-annual event featuring concerts across New York City all taking place on one day. The 2013 summer event is slated for June 21, 2013. More than 1,000 performers are participating this year, with the lineup announced in late May. 

Last year the Upper West Side events included a "Lincoln Square block party, with performances by the NYC Opera, NY Philharmonic, Jazz at Lincoln Center, ASCAP, American Composers Orchestra, and American Opera Projects."

At the end of May, check here for the schedule or follow @makemusicny.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival 

Lincoln Center Out of Doors is a free, three-week festival involving music, spoken word and dance in the plazas outside Lincoln Center at Josie Roberston Plaza, Hearst Plaza, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the Damrosch Park band shell. 

The 2013 season runs from July 24 to Aug. 11.

This year's performers include Dan Zanes, Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra and the Kronos Quartet. 

Programming includes both emerging and established artists and family-focused days.

NATURE RICH 

Catch and Release Fishing 

Want to give your city mouse a classic country mouse experience? The conservancy offers free catch and release fishing every day except Monday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Families can borrow fishing poles from the Dana Discovery Center, just south of 110th Street and between Manhattan and Fifth avenues. 

"Fishing is extremely popular," Carta said. "We let you borrow poles and give you bait and teach you the basics of fishing and you can go out and see what you can catch."  

An adult with photo I.D. must accompany all children.

Woodland Discovery Kit

Explore the North Woods of Central Park with the help of a free Woodland Discovery Kit. The kit is stocked with binoculars, a hand lens, and flora/fauna guides. Families can pick up the kit any day of the week at the Dana Discovery Center just south of 110th Street in the park between Fifth and Manhattan avenues. This activity is recommended for children ages 8 to 12 years old. Kits are available to borrow between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

GET MOVING 

Erica Werber, the senior director of public relations at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, said the organization strives to be inclusive and part of that is offering top-notch free events. 

"Come to us because [a free class] is going to be the same level of quality as when you pay for a class," she said. 

Nia Jam

Nia is a blend of dance, martial arts and yoga that's become increasingly popular over the last few years, Werber said. 

"The Nia Jam is fantastic," she said. "It’s like the new yoga. It’s a more fluid way to exercise."

The class is free and taught once a month on Saturdays from 6:15-7:15 p.m. by three of the best Nia instructors in the city, Werber said.  Upcoming classes are on May 11, June 15 and July 13. 

Zumba

This all-levels exercise class is free — and the emphasis is on fun. The workout fuses Latin rhythms with easy-to-follow dance moves. The class is held monthly on Fridays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Upcoming dates include May 3, June 7 and July 12. The JCC describes the class as a "party."

Yoga Classes at The Riverside Library

Enjoy two sessions of beginners yoga at the Riverside Library at 127 Amsterdam Ave., between West 65th and West 66th streets. Yoga is taught by a certified instructor from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and from noon to 1 p.m. Participants should bring their own yoga mat or beach towel.

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