City Island: Escape the Big Apple Without Escaping the Big Apple

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Yes, we all want to spend summer weekends with the family in the Hamptons, Cape Cod, or Martha’s Vineyard, but the hours spent in a car while kids’ tantrum and the endless kiddie gear spilling out of the trunk might change your mind about those long trips. We’ve found your new, local island in the sun: City Island. It’s the perfect place for a day trip getaway for those moments when you want a break without all the hassle of travel.

Never heard of City Island? This real fishing village is part of New York City, deemed the “Seaport of the Bronx,” and you can get there by public transportation. Your kiddos will feel like they’ve entered the ‘olden days’ as they wander up and down the main avenue. We’ve got the goods on when to go, where to nosh and what’s happening in this quaint part of the Bronx.

city-island seal park

What to Do
If you or your kiddos favorite subject is history you have to tour The Bartow Pell Mansion Museum. This gorgeous mansion is an example of elegant country living in the 19th Century. Fancy kiddos will want to have tea parties in every room, your rugged adventurer will want to run around the gardens and check out the Native American wigwam. Although technically it isn’t on the island, it’s a great way to introduce your kids to the history of the area.

Got a kid into boats, fishing or history? Then they will certainly enjoy the Nautical Museum. A converted old school house, this museum is home to loads of old school photos and shipping accessories.

Next you’ll want to tour the town. You can stroll the main drag, City Island Avenue, and pop into the shops. If you’re looking to buy an Ugly Doll, a dress up costume or a crazy gift, stop in Kaleidoscope. For real fishing equipment, nautical rope and model sailboats, you’ll want to peruse Trader John’s.

Want to make sure those kiddos go down for their afternoon nap? Let them run wild at the playground next to Ambrosini Field to tire them out. Then, wander off the main avenue onto the side streets where you’ll get a better idea of what life is like on the island. The sweet houses and crazy water views can feel so small town you may have a hard time remembering you are still in NYC.

ice cream-city island

Where to Eat
Your kiddos may be too young to take on one of the fishing expeditions off the island, but all the seafood served is totally fresh and totally yummy.  For indoor sit-down, kid-friendly seafood joints you should try Johnny’s Reef Restaurant. This fried seafood joint can get packed, but the view from Great Neck to Manhattan is spectacular. We know not every kid is gung ho about fish and chips (even if we think they are delicious). So, for picky eaters there’s the City Island Diner (we recommend the New England and the Manhattan Clam Chowder) and Bistro SK.

For a sweet treat, you’ll definitely want to get ice cream at Lickety Split. Kids can use the chalk outside the store to decorate the sidewalk or they can hula-hoop while you wait in line for ice cream or soft serve. Then, get your little ones to pose on the seal statues in the little park next door to the ice cream shop for a sweet photo opp.


How to Get There
Traveling by subway? Take the 6 train to the Pelham Bay Park Station then transfer to the Bx29 bus from Bruckner Bl – Wilkinson Ave station heading to City Island. From Midtown, the trip should take about 90 minutes.

If you visit City Island on the first Friday of the month, you can skip the bus and take the seaside trolley. It runs from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm and makes stops every half hour. If you’re planning an evening visit to City Island this is the best way to come. The best part about it: it’s free and starts at the last stop on the 6 train, Pelham Bay Park Station.

By car? From New York City you’ll want to take I -95 north and get off at exit 8B then take the ramp onto Bronx and Pelham Parkway, continue onto Shore Road and then turn right onto City Island Road. Coming from the north you’ll drive down Hutchinson River Parkway and get off on exit 5. At the traffic circle, take the 2nd exit onto Orchard Beach Road, continue on Park Drive and then at the next traffic circle take the 3rd exit onto City Island Road. If you’re coming from Manhattan the ride should take about 30 minutes.


When to Go
Early to mid-morning is a good time to make the trip to the island. Then when you’re ready for lunch you have your pick of places. Dinnertime can be a little more crowded and you may have to wait to get a table. Traffic on and off the bridge can get congested later in the evening as well.

Got a kid who is into crafts? Plan ahead now to hit the island during the arts and crafts festival, September 21st and 22nd from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. Your kiddo can pick up a handmade bracelet or buy a cool tie-dyed tee as a souvenir.

Have you ever been to City Island? What did you love best?

— Molly Rosen

Images: Molly Rosen (first 2), Shan123 via Flickr, Dougtone via Flickr