City Island: Visit New England Without Leaving NYC

Even when you visit one of the many stunning shorelines around New York City, it can be easy to forget that Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn are all islands. But head out to City Island in the Bronx, and there’s no mistaking the 1.5-mile stretch for the nautical islet that it is. Here’s our guide to getting a little taste of New England within the city limits!

city island

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photo: Doug Kerr via Flickr

More Nantucket than New York
City Island is a place you might visit just to say that you’ve been there—and then go back to for the idyllic waterfront views, outstanding seafood restaurants and slow pace of life that you feel as soon as you park your car or step off the Bx29 bus. Access to the town is via the City Island Bridge near the northern tip of the island.

We took the bus and hopped off at the first stop. Within a few steps, an enormous neon lobster—set atop the Sea Shore Restaurant and Marina—signaled that we were now in a maritime town.

lobster house

photo: Dave Kerr via Flickr

Where in the Wharf?
City Island sits in the Long Island Sound, and you see boat-studded waters when you look right and left off City Island Avenue, which is the town’s main drag. At its widest, the island is about a half-mile across. Beyond the waters to the west, you see the tall spires of the Manhattan skyline, and to the east, Orchard Beach and Hart Island; the southern tip of the island offers a commanding view of the Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges.

As is the case with most seaside towns, City Island Avenue is home to marine shops, seafood restaurants, small galleries, and gift and bric-a-brac shops. The thoroughfare provides ample sidewalk space on both sides and  there’s minimal foot traffic — even on a beautiful weekend day — so it’s a fine place to stroll even with younger children.

junk shop

photo: Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert

The short side streets are largely residential, lined with a mix of well-maintained beach bungalows, newer condo complexes, and large, older clapboard houses, some of which are adorned with cupolas and widow’s watches comprising the third or fourth story. (One can imagine a seaman’s wife of a bygone era searching the horizon for a glimpse of her husband’s ship.) A few immaculate white churches with steeples punctuating the streetscape complete the small town look and feel.

photo: Cheryl and William de Jong-Lambert

A Day to Wander and Graze
Plan to visit City Island on a cloudy day, or when you need a break from the pool or beach (it will happen!). Despite there being water, water everywhere, there is not a drop to swim in here — at least for outsiders. The island is rimmed with beachfront homes, marinas, restaurants and private yacht clubs that only residents or members can access. The island also lacks a municipal pool, but there is a large ship-themed playground with sprinklers near PS 175 toward the southern end of the island.

nautical museum

photo: Melissa L. via Yelp

For Boat and History Buffs
In addition to soaking up the seafaring vibe, you can also visit the City Island Nautical Museum to learn about the island’s maritime history, yacht-making tradition, and its educational legacy, including a turn-of-the-20th-century recreated school room. Located at 190 Fordham Avenue, about half way down the main drag, the museum resides in a landmarked school building that dates back to 1897.

reef restuarant

photo: Allison M. via Yelp 

City Island Eats
Eventually, it will be time for a long late lunch or early dinner. Fortunately, the pace of dining here is decidedly village-like and the waitstaff is not pressured to turn tables in 55 minutes or less.

Be sure to bring cash in case you decide to eat at either of the two excellent, child-friendly, and less expensive cafeteria-style restaurants—Johnny’s Reef Restaurant and Tony’s Pier. (The food is delicious but not so diet friendly — expect a lot of fry in the very best way.) Both eateries are located at the southern tip of the island and offer adult beverage selections as well as expansive outdoor areas where you can watch seagulls on the jetties and dock pilings.

Background and Getting There
It’s probably no surprise that a movie named City Island will give you an even deeper sense of the island’s resident culture, but that is hardly the only flick to be filmed here. Awakenings, A Bronx Tale, and the 1912 classic Richard III are among the many movies set on City Island.

To get there, take the 6 train to Pelham Bay Park and catch the Bx29 to City Island (be sure not to get on the Bx29 bound for Coop City). On weekdays, the BxM8 travels from the east side in Manhattan to Pelham Bay Park or to City Island. Pelham Bay Park, which leads to City Island, is lined with bike paths so another option is to bring bikes on the 6 and pedal to City Island from there.

Have you ever been to City Island? What’s your favorite spot there? Share in the comments!

—Cheryl de Jong-Lambert



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