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Charley Lhasa on Flickr

Where to #OptOutside, according to NYC’s artist community

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This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, REI, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

All work and no play isn’t good for anyone, even artists who are living their dreams on the stages and in the studios of New York City. For visual artist Andrea Arroyo, whose work has been featured on the cover of The New Yorker; dancer Paul Hamilton, who studied at Alvin Ailey School of Dance, The Martha Graham School, and Dance Theatre of Harlem; and photographer Clay Williams, who has shot the books 111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss and 111 Rooftops in New York That You Must Not Miss, getting a regular dose of the outdoors is an essential aspect of their creative practice. So if you’re in need of your own outdoors-inspired recharge, the three artists suggest heading to these places to #OptOutside in and around New York City.

Inspired to make some environmental change after reading about these outdoor destinations? You can join REI on Black Friday to #OptOutside for a nationwide day of action and kick off a year of change. REI will be co-hosting cleanups with Leave No Trace and United by Blue all across the U.S. You can find your nearest cleanup at REI.com/opt-outside.

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Fort Washington Park

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Daily outdoors time is a must for Andrea Arroyo, and her days often begin at Fort Washington Park. “My long walks here are a central part of my daily routine,” she says. The Upper Manhattan park offers spectacular views due to its high elevation compared to the rest of Manhattan. Those views, Arroyo notes, include “the vast sky over the George Washington Bridge and the Palisades,” the steep basalt cliffs on the Jersey side of the Hudson River that date back to the Triassic Period. “I always end my walks with a long meditation, sitting on one of the magnificent rocks right on the sandy riverbank, listening to the waves — and, yes, to the traffic. I love NYC!” Visitors to the park who want to expend more physical energy can take advantage of Fort Washington’s baseball fields or basketball and tennis courts. The park also has a playground for creatives who have children in tow. 

Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle when you’re heading outside for a date with nature. Most New York City parks have one or more water fountains where you can refill as needed. 

Kristine Paulus on Flickr

Roger Morris Park

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Arroyo is fortunate to have a number of parks stippling her neighborhood, and that means that a quick recharge is never far away. Roger Morris Park, she says, “is quiet, and perfect for an impromptu picnic when I want to get out of the studio and connect with nature.” She points out that Roger Morris is a rich palimpsest of so many important chapters of New York City history, which can still be glimpsed here. “The site was the home of the Lenape,” New York City’s original, indigenous residents,” she explains, and it still hosts New York City’s oldest house, the colonial era Morris-Jumel Mansion, which is now a museum. Later on, it was a hub of the Harlem Renaissance. Today, she notes, the neighborhoods surrounding Roger Morris Park are where a “vibrant immigrant community, of which I am a part” build on this history and make new homes. Arroyo is so inspired by this park that in 2016, she collaborated with the Morris-Jumel Museum to create a site-specific outdoor public art exhibit there. 

If you’re going to have a picnic like Arroyo, don’t forget to bring a container for your compostable food scraps. The list of drop-off sites is growing all the time and it’s easy to find a site near you by using this map.

Beyond My Ken on Wikimedia Commons

Fort Tryon Park

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History, art, and the chance to be outside are the draws of Fort Tryon Park, which is also home to the Cloisters, the Met’s museum dedicated to all things medieval. “I love this area year-round, but it’s most impressive in the fall, when autumn colors contrast with the crisp blue sky,” says Arroyo. More than 500 species of trees and plants line the trails threading through the park, enjoyed by walkers and runners alike. NYC Parks hosts twice-weekly, year-round fitness classes in the park. The classes, which are free, are led by certified instructors.  

Charley Lhasa on Flickr

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier

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New York City is full of outdoor spots that never make it into guidebooks or onto “best of” lists, places that are known only by neighborhood residents or people like dancer Paul Hamilton, who likes to explore by bike or by foot. One such semi-secret spot is Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier, says Hamilton. “Whenever I feel like things are getting crazy and noisy and busy and I can’t deal with it, I get on my bike and ride out there and sit on the pier and look at the Statue of Liberty. It’s calming and it reminds me of why I’m here.”

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park is also part of the New York City Water Trail, which consists of 57 public park-based launch sites for canoes and kayaks. The trail covers 160 square miles of fresh and saltwater in all five boroughs.

Dan Gold on Unsplash

Lincoln Center Plaza

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Many performing artists aspire to be on the stage at Lincoln Center, one of the world’s premier cultural venues. But for Hamilton, it’s not only the interior of the performing arts complex that’s alluring — the outside holds a special charm too. 

“As a kid who loved dance and movies, I grew up on Fame, and so coming to Lincoln Center was a place that, for me, held this significant art heartbeat in NYC. It represents the pinnacle of what you can accomplish in the arts. I remember coming down from college at SUNY Purchase and playing out that Fame scene around the fountain outside.” 

Not everyone can afford a ticket to attend a performance of the New York City Ballet, whose home is at Lincoln Center, or of the opera or theater works staged there, but, says Hamilton, the plaza is “this great democratic space, this space that people cross going from one place to another or where they can just gather and enjoy the open air and one another’s comings and goings. I really do love that space.” And while it’s possible to enjoy the plaza year-round, peak season, of course, is summer, when Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival, which features music, dance, and spoken word performances is in the plaza. (Don’t forget your dancing shoes.)

Ajay Suresh on Flickr

Sunset Park Chinatown

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It may be the city’s largest Chinatown, but Brooklyn’s Sunset Park’s Chinatown isn’t as well-known to those who don’t live there, compared to Flushing in Queens or Chinatown in Manhattan. A brisk walk through the Sunset Park Chinatown is a favorite outdoor activity for Hamilton when he wants to clear his mind and stimulate the senses. “Wandering through the bustling, thriving neighborhood and its markets feels very singular,” he says, noting that it’s so bustling that winding through the crowd can feel like an aerobic sport. “I just love the markets: the vegetables, all the seafood and the meats that they’re selling. Even if I would never cook them, I’m interested in knowing what they are. My senses start tingling whenever I get there.”

You don’t have to wait for the NYC plastic bag ban to be implemented in Spring 2020 to eliminate plastic bag waste. If your outdoor adventures, like Paul’s, include market shopping, don’t forget to bring reusable cloth bags along with you.

Eddi Aguirre on Unsplash

Sunset Park

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Photographer Clay Williams spends lots of time outdoors for work, but it’s also where he heads when he needs to recharge. Sunset Park, “my neighborhood park, has gorgeous views of the harbor and Manhattan, but the biggest draw for me is the people watching,” he says. And, it seems, all of those people are active. “There’s ballroom dancing and exercise groups of 40-50 people, and beyond the soccer fields and basketball courts kids play badminton and volleyball. It’s my favorite space in the city.”

The park has an outdoor pool that’s open in the summer months and a sand volleyball court, as well as an indoor recreation center. During warm months, stick around after the physical activity for the open-air movies, which are screened on the lawn. 

Believe it or not, New York City is also a forager’s paradise. So while the NYC Parks Department doesn’t encourage foraging, you can still learn more about wild edibles by going on an excursion with a master forager, like Wildman Steve Brill. Or, look for the current schedule and location of Swale, a barge-based urban farm created by artist Mary Mattingly. 

brklyn is over on Flickr

Diversity Plaza

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Williams lives in Brooklyn, but spends a lot of time in Queens, especially while he was photographing for the book 111 Places in Queens You Must Not Miss. One of his own favorite places to get outside in the borough is Diversity Plaza. The triangle-shaped park may be on the smaller side and its recreational opportunities limited, but besides watching people come and go, Williams recommends Diversity Plaza as the point of departure for taking a self-guided walking tour of Jackson Heights. And make sure your tour circles back to Diversity Plaza before you board one of the nearby trains to shuttle you back to your own neighborhood. “Whether I’m in the neighborhood to eat momos, shop for Indian ingredients at Patel Bros., or following my wife as she shops for fabric at the sari shops, I usually end up pulling up a chair in the plaza to have a snack and watch the neighborhood go by.”

Courtesy New York City Department of Transportation

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

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Just a short train ride away from Diversity Plaza is Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is popular year-round because of its many opportunities to get active outside. You can bring your own bike or rent a bicycle built for two (or four!) and ride the park’s trails, or rent a pedal boat and test your leg muscles as you navigate around Meadow Lake. If you have your own watercraft, you can put in at the park’s kayak launch point at the World’s Fair Marina. Flushing Meadows Corona Park also has baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and tennis facilities, and, of course, is home to the U.S. Open, the premiere tennis event held each September. 

Ajay Suresh on Flickr

Welling Court Mural Project

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Now 10 years old, the Welling Court Mural Project is one of western Queens’s only remaining strongholds of street art, and Williams recommends you bring your own camera and head out to shoot the murals that comprise this project. While the bulk of the street art pieces are on Welling Court itself, a crescent-shaped street just a block or so from the East River, you can explore the several surrounding blocks using the mural project’s map

Don’t forget waterways when you’re planning your NYC outdoor adventures. Public transportation also includes the NYC Ferry; the Astoria stop will leave you steps away from Welling Court Mural Project. 

Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Socrates Sculpture Park

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Just make a day of it in Western Queens. From Welling Court Mural Project, you can walk or bike less than a mile to this outdoor sculpture museum, which has been combining art, the outdoors, and sustainability practices since it opened in 1986 — and all for free. Walk around the grounds or use the park’s kayak put-in point or join a yoga, tai chi, or meditation class. From early May until late October, the park is host to a series called “Roots Saturdays,” when farmers sell locally grown produce and chefs offer planting and cooking demos. And as for the art, it’s world-class, presenting work from both emerging and well-established artists (a recent exhibit features a billboard by Dread Scott).

Courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park
This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, REI, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Fort Washington Park

Daily outdoors time is a must for Andrea Arroyo, and her days often begin at Fort Washington Park. “My long walks here are a central part of my daily routine,” she says. The Upper Manhattan park offers spectacular views due to its high elevation compared to the rest of Manhattan. Those views, Arroyo notes, include “the vast sky over the George Washington Bridge and the Palisades,” the steep basalt cliffs on the Jersey side of the Hudson River that date back to the Triassic Period. “I always end my walks with a long meditation, sitting on one of the magnificent rocks right on the sandy riverbank, listening to the waves — and, yes, to the traffic. I love NYC!” Visitors to the park who want to expend more physical energy can take advantage of Fort Washington’s baseball fields or basketball and tennis courts. The park also has a playground for creatives who have children in tow. 

Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle when you’re heading outside for a date with nature. Most New York City parks have one or more water fountains where you can refill as needed. 

Kristine Paulus on Flickr

Roger Morris Park

Arroyo is fortunate to have a number of parks stippling her neighborhood, and that means that a quick recharge is never far away. Roger Morris Park, she says, “is quiet, and perfect for an impromptu picnic when I want to get out of the studio and connect with nature.” She points out that Roger Morris is a rich palimpsest of so many important chapters of New York City history, which can still be glimpsed here. “The site was the home of the Lenape,” New York City’s original, indigenous residents,” she explains, and it still hosts New York City’s oldest house, the colonial era Morris-Jumel Mansion, which is now a museum. Later on, it was a hub of the Harlem Renaissance. Today, she notes, the neighborhoods surrounding Roger Morris Park are where a “vibrant immigrant community, of which I am a part” build on this history and make new homes. Arroyo is so inspired by this park that in 2016, she collaborated with the Morris-Jumel Museum to create a site-specific outdoor public art exhibit there. 

If you’re going to have a picnic like Arroyo, don’t forget to bring a container for your compostable food scraps. The list of drop-off sites is growing all the time and it’s easy to find a site near you by using this map.

Beyond My Ken on Wikimedia Commons

Fort Tryon Park

History, art, and the chance to be outside are the draws of Fort Tryon Park, which is also home to the Cloisters, the Met’s museum dedicated to all things medieval. “I love this area year-round, but it’s most impressive in the fall, when autumn colors contrast with the crisp blue sky,” says Arroyo. More than 500 species of trees and plants line the trails threading through the park, enjoyed by walkers and runners alike. NYC Parks hosts twice-weekly, year-round fitness classes in the park. The classes, which are free, are led by certified instructors.  

Charley Lhasa on Flickr

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier

New York City is full of outdoor spots that never make it into guidebooks or onto “best of” lists, places that are known only by neighborhood residents or people like dancer Paul Hamilton, who likes to explore by bike or by foot. One such semi-secret spot is Louis Valentino, Jr. Park and Pier, says Hamilton. “Whenever I feel like things are getting crazy and noisy and busy and I can’t deal with it, I get on my bike and ride out there and sit on the pier and look at the Statue of Liberty. It’s calming and it reminds me of why I’m here.”

Louis Valentino, Jr. Park is also part of the New York City Water Trail, which consists of 57 public park-based launch sites for canoes and kayaks. The trail covers 160 square miles of fresh and saltwater in all five boroughs.

Dan Gold on Unsplash

Lincoln Center Plaza

Many performing artists aspire to be on the stage at Lincoln Center, one of the world’s premier cultural venues. But for Hamilton, it’s not only the interior of the performing arts complex that’s alluring — the outside holds a special charm too. 

“As a kid who loved dance and movies, I grew up on Fame, and so coming to Lincoln Center was a place that, for me, held this significant art heartbeat in NYC. It represents the pinnacle of what you can accomplish in the arts. I remember coming down from college at SUNY Purchase and playing out that Fame scene around the fountain outside.” 

Not everyone can afford a ticket to attend a performance of the New York City Ballet, whose home is at Lincoln Center, or of the opera or theater works staged there, but, says Hamilton, the plaza is “this great democratic space, this space that people cross going from one place to another or where they can just gather and enjoy the open air and one another’s comings and goings. I really do love that space.” And while it’s possible to enjoy the plaza year-round, peak season, of course, is summer, when Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival, which features music, dance, and spoken word performances is in the plaza. (Don’t forget your dancing shoes.)

Ajay Suresh on Flickr

Sunset Park Chinatown

It may be the city’s largest Chinatown, but Brooklyn’s Sunset Park’s Chinatown isn’t as well-known to those who don’t live there, compared to Flushing in Queens or Chinatown in Manhattan. A brisk walk through the Sunset Park Chinatown is a favorite outdoor activity for Hamilton when he wants to clear his mind and stimulate the senses. “Wandering through the bustling, thriving neighborhood and its markets feels very singular,” he says, noting that it’s so bustling that winding through the crowd can feel like an aerobic sport. “I just love the markets: the vegetables, all the seafood and the meats that they’re selling. Even if I would never cook them, I’m interested in knowing what they are. My senses start tingling whenever I get there.”

You don’t have to wait for the NYC plastic bag ban to be implemented in Spring 2020 to eliminate plastic bag waste. If your outdoor adventures, like Paul’s, include market shopping, don’t forget to bring reusable cloth bags along with you.

Eddi Aguirre on Unsplash

Sunset Park

Photographer Clay Williams spends lots of time outdoors for work, but it’s also where he heads when he needs to recharge. Sunset Park, “my neighborhood park, has gorgeous views of the harbor and Manhattan, but the biggest draw for me is the people watching,” he says. And, it seems, all of those people are active. “There’s ballroom dancing and exercise groups of 40-50 people, and beyond the soccer fields and basketball courts kids play badminton and volleyball. It’s my favorite space in the city.”

The park has an outdoor pool that’s open in the summer months and a sand volleyball court, as well as an indoor recreation center. During warm months, stick around after the physical activity for the open-air movies, which are screened on the lawn. 

Believe it or not, New York City is also a forager’s paradise. So while the NYC Parks Department doesn’t encourage foraging, you can still learn more about wild edibles by going on an excursion with a master forager, like Wildman Steve Brill. Or, look for the current schedule and location of Swale, a barge-based urban farm created by artist Mary Mattingly. 

brklyn is over on Flickr

Diversity Plaza

Williams lives in Brooklyn, but spends a lot of time in Queens, especially while he was photographing for the book 111 Places in Queens You Must Not Miss. One of his own favorite places to get outside in the borough is Diversity Plaza. The triangle-shaped park may be on the smaller side and its recreational opportunities limited, but besides watching people come and go, Williams recommends Diversity Plaza as the point of departure for taking a self-guided walking tour of Jackson Heights. And make sure your tour circles back to Diversity Plaza before you board one of the nearby trains to shuttle you back to your own neighborhood. “Whether I’m in the neighborhood to eat momos, shop for Indian ingredients at Patel Bros., or following my wife as she shops for fabric at the sari shops, I usually end up pulling up a chair in the plaza to have a snack and watch the neighborhood go by.”

Courtesy New York City Department of Transportation

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Just a short train ride away from Diversity Plaza is Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which is popular year-round because of its many opportunities to get active outside. You can bring your own bike or rent a bicycle built for two (or four!) and ride the park’s trails, or rent a pedal boat and test your leg muscles as you navigate around Meadow Lake. If you have your own watercraft, you can put in at the park’s kayak launch point at the World’s Fair Marina. Flushing Meadows Corona Park also has baseball, basketball, football, soccer, and tennis facilities, and, of course, is home to the U.S. Open, the premiere tennis event held each September. 

Ajay Suresh on Flickr

Welling Court Mural Project

Now 10 years old, the Welling Court Mural Project is one of western Queens’s only remaining strongholds of street art, and Williams recommends you bring your own camera and head out to shoot the murals that comprise this project. While the bulk of the street art pieces are on Welling Court itself, a crescent-shaped street just a block or so from the East River, you can explore the several surrounding blocks using the mural project’s map

Don’t forget waterways when you’re planning your NYC outdoor adventures. Public transportation also includes the NYC Ferry; the Astoria stop will leave you steps away from Welling Court Mural Project. 

Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Socrates Sculpture Park

Just make a day of it in Western Queens. From Welling Court Mural Project, you can walk or bike less than a mile to this outdoor sculpture museum, which has been combining art, the outdoors, and sustainability practices since it opened in 1986 — and all for free. Walk around the grounds or use the park’s kayak put-in point or join a yoga, tai chi, or meditation class. From early May until late October, the park is host to a series called “Roots Saturdays,” when farmers sell locally grown produce and chefs offer planting and cooking demos. And as for the art, it’s world-class, presenting work from both emerging and well-established artists (a recent exhibit features a billboard by Dread Scott).

Courtesy Socrates Sculpture Park

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