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Best Places to Explore Staten Island This Summer

By Nicholas Rizzi | August 1, 2017 2:15pm
 The Chinese Scholar's Garden inside Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
The Chinese Scholar's Garden inside Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND — The Staten Island Ferry is one of the top tourist attractions in the city, but visitors and even New Yorkers rarely make it beyond its borders. However, they're missing out on what the forgotten borough has to offer.

Aside from famous pizzerias such as Denino's and Lee's Tavern, the borough is home to beautiful gardens, museums and authentic Sri Lankan food.

And with a wave of giant development eyeing the waterfront and the borough president trying to lure more tourists to leave the ferry, these spots might not be forgotten much longer.

"All of our best kept secrets are about to come out," said Jennifer Sammartino, who was recently promoted to head Borough President James Oddo's new tourism office and runs the Visit Staten Island website.

With the summer in full swing, we compiled a list of things to see and do in the borough.

► Check Out the Gardens at Snug Harbor

A quick bus ride from the Staten Island Ferry, Snug Harbor Cultural Center is a giant park with nine gardens, art galleries, a music hall, buildings dating back to the 1800s and more.

These include the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden — one of only two authentic ones in the United States — and the Tuscan Garden based on one in Florence.

 

Getting ready for the big night! #neptuneball2017 #tuscangarden #gala #benefit #statenisland #snugharbor #party

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"You feel like you've been all over the world on this 83-acre campus," Sammartino said. "It's a hidden gem, and I feel like Staten Island is a hidden gem also."

Aside from the gardens, the park also houses the Staten Island Museum, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art and a working organic farm that sells its produce on the weekends.

The site began its life as the estate to Robert Randall, an heir to a shipping fortune, until his death in 1801, according to Snug Harbor. Randall required in his will that his money be used to turn to the site into a home for "aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors.”

Several new buildings were built and Snug Harbor remained a retirement home for sailors until the 1950s when its funding dried up. It was landmarked in the 1960s then turned into a park after the city bought it in 1977, according to Snug Harbor officials.

► Eat Some Authentic Sri Lankan Food

Staten Island might be famous for its Italian-American cuisine, but the borough is also home to some of the city's best Sri Lankan food.

The borough has the largest population of Sri Lankan immigrants in the United States and a small stretch of Victory Boulevard in Tompkinsville was dubbed "Little Sri Lanka" because of several eateries and grocery stores that opened up there.

 

Sri Lankan buffet on Staten Island

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However, "Little Sri Lanka" does not have all the borough's Sri Lankan places and famed eateries are also nearby in St. George and Stapleton.

Well-known spots include the New York Times reviewed Lakruwana at 668 Bay St. that includes a Sri Lankan museum in the basement, San Rasa at 226 Bay St. and New Asha at 322 Victory Blvd.

► Grab a Pint and a Slice at Flagship Brewery

The borough's first brewery in decades, Flagship Brewing Company, opened its doors in Tompkinsville in 2014 with a large taproom with picnic tables, couches and beer.

The taproom is open every day except Monday and the brewery also offers $5 tours of its operation on the weekends. The spot has eight different beers to grab a pint or fill a growler with including its American Pale Ale, Lager, IPA and best-selling Kill Van Kölsch.

(DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi)

The 40 Minthrone St. taproom also has a tablet set-up to order pies from nearby Pier 76 pizzeria while you sample the brews.

If you're still thirsty, you can head to Mariner's Harbor to try the Staten Island Beer Company at its small 20 Kinsey Place taproom with 11 beers on tap or down the block to Craft House, which will start serving Kills Boro Brewing Company pints made in the back of the 60 Van Duzer St. restaurant next month.

► Visit the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art

Nestled in the hilly neighborhood of Lighthouse Hill lies the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, the first museum in the world dedicated solely to Tibetan art.

The museum was founded in 1945 by Marchais, an import collector who never actually visited Tibet, and the grounds were modeled to resemble a Himalayan monastery, according to the museum's website.

"Who would expect this find this amazing collection of Tibetan art on Staten Island of all places?" said Sammartino. "The grounds alone are worth a visit."

Aside from the collection of Tibetan art, the museum also offers guided meditation and Tai Chi on the weekends and hosts fundraising cocktail parties some nights on the grounds.

While in the neighborhood, you can also visit the historic Staten Island Range Lighthouse and one of two Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings in the city.

► Learn About the Borough's Maritime History

If you're a maritime history buff, the island has a lot to offer with several museums dedicated to the subject.

The Noble Maritime Collection inside Snug Harbor features John Noble's old houseboat studio inside, former dormitories from when it was a sailors retirement home and it hosts monthly Sea Shanty sessions.

 

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Nearby in St. George is the National Lighthouse Museum which is dedicated to the history of lighthouse and its keepers.

"They do a really great job at telling the story of lighthouses of their importance," she said.

The building at 200 Promenade at Lighthouse Point is also part of the history itself as it used to be the former Lighthouse Depot that made lights for every lighthouse in the country, Sammartino said.

Another spot includes Rosebank's Museum of Maritime Navigation and Communication at 1208 Bay St., which is dedicated to maritime equipment and its history.

You can also head to the South Shore and visit the Sandy Ground Historical Museum at 1538 Woodrow Road dedicated to one of the country's first free, black-founded settlements.

Sandy Ground was founded in Rossville in the 1830s by oyster farmers from Maryland trying to escape restrictive farming laws and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

And if you're feeling morbid, you can trek through the marsh at Rossville's shore to check out the rotting hulks of boats at the Staten Island Boat Graveyard, the official dumping ground for decommissioned ships in the city.