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How to Spend an Entire Day Outside on the Upper West Side

By Emily Frost | May 21, 2013 7:14am
 The best activities whether you're alone, in a group or with your family. 
Explore the Outdoors on the Upper West Side
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UPPER WEST SIDE — With wide sidewalks, ample outdoor cafés and access to more than 1,000 acres of public parkland, locals boast that the Upper West Side is the ideal neighborhood for shedding the confines of the cubicle during a daylong outdoor adventure.

If you're up for the challenge, DNAinfo New York has drawn a roadmap for navigating the Upper West Side and soaking up fresh spring air all day long — alone, with kids or with friends.

Step One: How to Get Here and Where to Stop First

If your group is particularly active, or wants to cover a lot of ground, take the subway to 59th Street-Columbus Circle. Head toward the entrance to Central Park, where you'll find bike rental offers galore to help propel your adventure. 

The rental company Bike and Roll offers a hop-on, hop-off feature that allows you to return the bike to a different location, including Tavern on the Green in Central Park and Riverside Park South. Bikes start at $14 an hour or $44 per day for adults, and $8 an hour or $25 per day for children. 

If you're looking for a more leisurely experience, take the 1/2/3 subway to 72nd Street/Broadway and check out the cheap eats at the Waffles and Dinges cart located at this intersection every Wednesday. Consider lingering in the square over coffee and pastry or sampling an iced treat from the Screme Gelato Truck, which can be found there daily.  

For a more upscale experience, two outdoor cafés are just across the street. Gina La Fornarina, an Italian restaurant specializing in pizza and panini, and Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, with freshly sliced meats and tasting plates, are right next to each other and both offer outdoor seating and substantial wine lists. 

Step Two: Lose Yourself, or Find the Best Playground

If you have kids in tow, there's only so much strolling they'll be up for — so start heading to one of Riverside Park's or Central Park's dozens of famous playgrounds. 

[Be aware that Adventure Playground, at Central Park West and West 67th Street, will be closed as of July for renovations.]

There are tons of great playground choices recommended by in-the-know parents. But if you're looking for shade, bathrooms, sprinklers and abundant play equipment — plus easy access to a waterfront café that serves beer — set out for River Run Playground at West 83rd Street and Riverside Drive, inside Riverside Park. 

Cherie Blum, 46, and her 9-year-old daughter Lomi are big fans of Hippo Playground, at Riverside Drive and West 83rd Street, for two main reasons: shade and bathrooms.

"Those two things alone allowed for countless hours my family spent there making new friends, eating lunch, and climbing hippos without roasting in the New York summer sun or having to leave because of an 'emergency'!" she said.

If you have more flexibility, reinstate the art of ambling, letting the cherry blossoms in bloom for just another week or soand the flutter of the treetops work on you.

"Riverside Park truly is the collective backyard for so many UWS residents," said Molly MacDermot, 39, who lives with her family in the neighborhood.

Because Riverside Park is fairly narrow, you can walk along the river without getting too lost: you're either walking north or south, with signposts as your guide.

"I tend to just aimlessly wander and then find some random place to sit outside," said Jamie, who did not want to give her last name. 

If wandering aimlessly makes you anxious and you like to have a destination, there are two relaxing spots that come highly recommended.

Riverside Clay Tennis Courts

These courts have a nearby port-a-potty that's soon to become a state-of-the-art eco-friendly bathroom, benches and a shady hill — as well as some of the city's most enthusiastic tennis players.

"The red clay courts in Riverside [are] an exceptional spot to watch tennis, sit under a tree surrounded by flowers, or to simply watch the sailboats go by on the Hudson," MacDermot said.

Joan of Arc Statue

The statue sits at West 93rd Street and Riverside Drive and was installed in 1915, one of only a handful of statues of historic women in New York City. 

"It's one of those places that seems underappreciated and therefore is always serene and quiet — with an occasional dog walker passing through. The statue itself is one of the most beautiful in the city," said Upper West Side resident Josh Blum, 40.

Step Three: Recharge

If you're starting to sense a blister or feeling your blood sugar plummet, it's time to take a load off, but you don't have to leave the lovely canopy of green. Here are several park-side eating options:

Boat Basin, West 79th Street at the Hudson River: Burgers and sandwiches, most under $10, and beers are on the menu at this low-key spot overlooking the water. The college crowd is known to take over the upper portion on weekends. 

Pier I, West 70th Street and Riverside Drive: With plenty of tables, flower pots and expansive umbrellas, Pier I is a relaxing place to take groups of all ages. The menu is more extensive than the Boat Basin, with salads, appetizers, main courses and desserts on offer. There are also locally brewed beers and bathrooms. 

Central Park Boat House, Mid-park and East 72nd Street, east of The Lake: The formal dining room inside the boat house requires reservations and it would force you to head inside, breaking the magical spell of an all-outdoor day. But there are alternative outdoor options. Adults can sip a drink by the lake, watching as young lovers paddle around in the iconic row boats. Families can order casual fare from a pick-up window and find an outdoor table. 

Step Four: Shop Outside the Box

Why fight your way through a crowded over-air conditioned grocery store when you can pick up fresh, local produce while basking in the sun?

THURSDAY: Columbia Green Market on Broadway, between West 114th and 116th streets, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tucker Square Green Market, Columbus Avenue and West 66th Street, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Browse through New York-produced maple sugar, heaps of produce and locally harvested meat.

FRIDAY: West 97th Street Green Market, between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. This market has been open for 25 years and draws a wide array of farmers, according to GrowNYC, a sponsor.

SATURDAY: Tucker Square Green Market, Columbus Avenue and West 66th Street, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Browse through New York-produced maple sugar, heaps of produce and locally harvested meat.

SUNDAY: Columbus Avenue Green Market, between West 78th and West 81st streets, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Grass-fed beef, honey and goat cheese are just some of the goodies at this popular market, according to GrowNYC. 

The Columbia Green Market on Broadway between West 114th and West 116th streets is also open on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Greenflea, Columbus Avenue between West 76th and West 77th streets, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Vintage clothing, furniture and collector's items take over this school yard every Sunday, mixed in with crafts, jewelry, architectural salvage items and much more.

Step Five: Al Fresco Cinema and Arts

The relaxation and benefits of being outdoors don't have to stop when the sun goes down. You can linger at an outdoor café, or if you plan your day accordingly, catch a movie under the stars.

Riverside Park Conservancy is hosting outdoor movies at Pier I as part of its "Summer on the Hudson" program. 

July 10: "Gold Diggers of 1933"
July 17: "Duck Soup"
July 24: "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T"
July 31: "Fiddler on the Roof"
August 7: "Little Shop of Horrors"
August 14: "Pitch Perfect"

From Aug. 22 - Aug. 26, the Central Park Conservancy will host its Annual Film Festival, with films screened starting at 8 p.m. in the Sheep Meadow, beside the café (mid-Park at 69th Street). Moviegoers should enter the park from the west at 72nd Street.  

The schedule of films will be released at the end of June. 

There are competitors, but "there’s only one Central Park," said Terri Carta, director of park programming.

The New York Philharmonic is giving a free outdoor concert on the Great Lawn on July 13 and July 15, beginning at 8 p.m. and followed by fireworks.

Shakespeare in the Park is back for another season with shows between May 28 and Aug. 18. If you have the stamina to wait outside the Delacorte Theater all morning, you can score free tickets or you can get tickets by becoming a member of the Public Theater.