The NYC Summer Bucket List: How to Make the Most of Summer in the City

There’s no denying that summer in NYC is humid, icky, and smelly. But once you get over that (or rather, once you learn to live with it), NYC summers can also be a lot of fun. A world of possibilities for exploring opens up to you in a city where you already can’t run out of things to do. But like the summer itself, some of these activities are seasonal, meaning that they are only available to do in NYC during the summer or that the summer is the best time to enjoy them. So without further ado, here’s your NYC summer bucket list! (Summer is almost over so you might want to jump on these asap.)

Make the most of your NYC summer, Coney Island

Explore Governors Island.

This is at the top of the list because it’s the most time sensitive. Governors Island is only open to the public from May through the end of October, so if you miss it, you’ll have to spend whole other year listening to people brag about the magical day they spent on this 172-acre island, exploring its historic buildings, riding bikes around the car-free streets, and being awestruck by the Manhattan skyline.

Spend the day at Coney Island.

Another time-sensitive activity, Coney Island is in its full carnival glory from Memorial Day to mid-September. Partake in the summer rituals New Yorkers have made part of their summers for more than a century: go hoarse screaming your head off on the amusement park rides, bust your budget on irresistible treats, and then relax on the beach, even though you know you’ll picking sand out of all your crevices for the following week.

Make the most of your NYC summer, Manhattan Bridge

See how long you can stay afloat kayaking in the questionable water of the Hudson River.

The Hudson River isn’t the most appealing body of water, at least not NYC’s share of it. But if scores of people have been venturing out on kayaks and they have lived to tell the tale, then maybe they’re onto something. (But shouldn’t we be disappointed that people don’t emerge from these Hudson River expeditions with superhero-like powers?)

Stroll across any bridge that ISN’T the Brooklyn Bridge.

With skyline views at its peak and the weather being tolerable enough to be a hundred feet in the air without the wind threatening to chill you to the bone, summer is the best time to cross any one of NYC’s pedestrian-friendly bridges. But if you want this to be a pleasant jaunt, just make sure the bridge you choose isn’t the Brooklyn Bridge, unless you’re a masochist who enjoys tripping over tourists and dodging speeding bikes.

Make the most of your NYC summer, Orchard Beach

Stuff your face at Smorgasborg.

Dozens of food vendors in Williamsburg (or Prospect Park or the World Trade Center) all vying for your taste buds (and your wallets). Need I say more? And if you still have room in your stomach after that, check out the Queens and The Bronx Night Markets. It’s more food, but less of a hit on your wallet.

Figure out which NYC beach is your favorite.

No, you don’t have to leave the city to have a proper beach day. NYC has eight beaches available to the public in four of the boroughs. Don’t know which beach would be the best for you? Perhaps my article evaluating the pros and cons of each beach can help you with that.

Make the most of your NYC summer, Socrates Sculpture Park

Cool off at a pool.

Want the perks of being at an NYC beach without the annoyance of tracking sand back to your apartment? Luckily for you, the city has way more pools than it has beaches. You can find a public pool in nearly every neighborhood, or if you’re too good to be swimming with the masses, several NYC hotels offer day pass access to their pools.

Combine your love of art and the outdoors at Socrates Sculpture Park.

Not sure how to reconcile your urge to visit an art museum but still spend the day outdoors? This Long Island City park will check those boxes for you. Plus, it has a hypnotizing view of Midtown Manhattan. But before you go there, make sure to check their website in case the pieces are still under construction. Wouldn’t want to trek all the way to Queens only to find out that only one piece is on view…. Yes, I’m still bitter about it.

Make the most of your NYC summer, City Island

Dine on seafood at City Island.

Other East Coast cities like Portland and Boston might be the King Crabs in this realm, but New York’s City Island can hold its own serving up delicious seafood. You won’t go wrong going to Johnny’s to satisfy your seafood cravings, but I’ve found that Sammy’s gives you quite the bang for your buck, if you’re willing to overlook that they charge you a sharing fee and under-season their food.

Take an NYC ferry ride.

For most of the year, it’s the forgotten stepchild of New York’s public transit options, but during the summer months the NYC ferry is the most scenic way to navigate the East River. With six main routes going to every borough but Staten Island (that’s a different ferry service), you can’t go wrong by just hopping on a boat. For more info, check out my posts on the South Brooklyn and the Soundview ferry routes.

Make the most of your NYC summer, Central Park

Party all summer long at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival.

I don’t know how they pull this off, but for the past 40 years the art-loving, community-uplifting folks at BRIC have been throwing concerts in Prospect Park that last all summer long. Some of the performers are well-known; some aren’t. But you have nothing to lose by attending this festival because somehow all these concerts are free!

Try to score tickets to Shakespeare in the Park.

I’ve got two words for you: good luck. Prior to the pandemic, you used to have to line up in Central Park hours before the show, hoping that you made the cutoff. This year, there is no physical line, but the process is just as onerous. From my understanding of the instructions, in order to have a shot at getting Shakespeare in the Park tickets, you have to enter a digital lottery between midnight and noon on Tuesdays and Fridays. Then you better be glued to your inbox between noon and 2:30pm, because that’s when they notify the winners, who then have two hours to claim their tickets. Yes, it’s anxiety-inducing, but the stellar performances make up for it.

Get soaked by an open fire hydrant, but only if it’s opened by the FDNY.

Is it really summer in NYC if there isn’t a random fire hydrant open, drenching passing pedestrians and vehicles? To be clear, I’m not telling you to bust open a fire hydrant. That is illegal, at least if you’re a regular person. But if you politely send a request to the FDNY, they’ll open the hydrant for a while, equipping it with a safety cap so no one gets knocked out by the water pressure.

Sit on a stoop or a fire escape and watch the world go by.

It often feels like in order to make the most of summer in the city, you have to constantly be doing something. But the best NYC summer moments can come from the times you are just being still and taking in your surroundings. I can’t think of a better way of having one of those moments than the classic New York activity of stoop-sitting. Stoop-sitting is exactly what it sounds like: you sit on your building’s front stoop, or fire escape if there is no stoop, and you just take it all in: the heat, the liveliness in the streets, the hot trash smell. Ah, that’s summer.

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