Magical Places in Queens
Culture Lab serves as a non-profit venue for local, national, and international artists to display their art. The Lab fosters a strong sense of community with regular visitors and supporters, particularly locals of LIC and other parts of New York City. The venue is a renovated warehouse space with two art galleries (one of which, in the back, is a breathtaking display of neon signs), an 80 seat theater (for performances and workshops), and a massive outdoor space (where they hold free concerts). The energy here radiates with positivity, kindness, and openness towards all visitors. Check out the calendar on their website for events. Most are free; just walk in and explore!
This beautifully designed Queens Library location is one of a kind. Its six levels include individual areas for children and teens, a cyber center, an environmental center, multi-terrace seating with personal lighting and outlets, and a soon-to-open rooftop. The library holds more than 50,000 books, including many items in Spanish and Chinese. This is a great place to study or work with a stunning view of the city. Sunlight streams in through large, unusual-shaped windows along the staircase as you gaze out at Gantry Plaza State Park and the skyline. To get here, exit the 7 train at Vernon Blvd and walk 8 minutes or take the ferry to either the Long Island City Terminal or the Hunters Point S terminal. Note: No food or drink is allowed in the library. Be wary of security walking around.
3. Julian's NYC
This intimate jazz venue has a secret entrance in Sunnyside, Queens. Their address becomes public only when you RSVP to an event and a Julian's employee will bring you to the door. Swing by for a 45-minute set of original music by local musicians and stay for conversation afterwards. The suggested donation is $15-$20+ per show and artists keep 100% of donations. The show is filmed and edited for free by the Julian’s team in support of each musician’s career. The venue also hosts monthly listening sessions where everyone is invited to share a song or two for the group to listen to. An RSVP is mandatory to attend both; check out their website and IG page @juliansnyc for more info!
A popular place to walk and bike for Greenpoint and LIC residents, this red drawbridge crosses over Newtown Creek and carries traffic on the Long Island Expressway. Along the walkway is an industrial view of Queens and Brooklyn, plus a view of the Manhattan skyline. There’s also a small observation deck for pictures and a unique view of the bridge lifting upwards when ships sail through. To enter the bridge, you’ll need to walk up the stairs on 53rd Ave (near Borden Ave). To get to these stairs, you can choose to take the scenic route outside of Hunters station (location is detailed under #1 of the Queens section of the Pedestrian Walkways page). Take care while crossing the street here since there are no crosswalks and traffic drives fast. Or you can walk up to it from the other side of the street a few blocks from the Vernon Blvd-Jackson Ave Station. From the Brooklyn side, enter near the CitiBikes at 371-383 McGuinness Blvd.
This railway, which used to be the Rockaway Beach Branch, has been abandoned for more than 50 years. In 2011, Friends of the QueensWay was created to transform the railway into a 3.5 mile linear park connecting Rego Park to Ozone Park. As of 2023, the plan is yet to receive enough funding to begin the first phase of redevelopment. Open House New York has hosted annual tours but you can do some serious urban exploration on your own without waiting for OHNY weekend. Enter Forest Park at the entrance near the Joseph E. DeVoy Playground and follow Bridle Path, going through the underpass beneath Jackie Robinson Pkwy. Use Apple Maps or Google Maps and zoom into where the railroad runs diagonally through the park. Go towards the track and find an opening in the fence to walk on the tracks (there are many openings). There is occasionally a train that continues to run on the track, so if you see one, don’t panic. It runs very slowly and is easy to hear if it approaches from behind so you have more than enough time to step aside. Continue walking the tracks southbound, and if you follow it as it exits the park, you’ll be walking on an elevated platform running on Bessemer St and to an abandoned railway station marked with graffiti and soda cans. Skip to 1:37 of this video to get a preview of this hidden gem. Note: I’d recommend ducking in certain exposed areas of the elevated track to avoid being potentially spotted by law enforcement below. Luckily, most of the track is high enough that only people in two-story homes could spot you. Best not to push your luck and take too much time up here considering this is definitely trespassing.
Made of three bridges connecting Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, the RFK bridge includes a viaduct and 14 miles of approach roads. The light blue walkway is found atop this vertical-lift bridge between Astoria and Randall's Island, featuring skyline views on one side and the East River strait on the other. The fencing along the bridge cuts off about halfway, so you can lean over the railing facing the Hell Gate Bridge and Astoria Park. Cross over to Randall's Island to watch a soccer game beneath the bridge or have a riverside picnic with underrated views of Upper Manhattan. While you're on Randall's Island, walk through the Hell Gate Pathway up to the Bronx Connector (#10). Note: watch out for bikers coming from behind you.
One of the highlights of the Queens Museum is the world’s largest scale model, which features panoramic views of New York City’s five boroughs. It measures over 9,000 square feet with 895,000 tiny buildings. Additions to the model have been made over time as new parts of the city were constructed. The model required over a hundred people to build and was presented at the 1964-65 World Fair. Fun fact: you can adopt real estate in the model, complete with a lease and title deed, through the museum’s Adopt-A-Building program. Donations start at $150 and contribute to funding the model as it updates. While you're at the Museum, check out Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, where the world's largest scale replica of the Earth is located.
JFK's only on-airport hotel is a mix of 1960s retro and a modern flight-club design. It features the world's biggest hotel gym, lounges & restaurants, a museum exhibit, and a rooftop infinity pool with views of the second-longest runway in the country. The pool is open year-round, stays heated at least 95 degrees, and is purified every half hour. Take a dip, sunbathe, sip on a cocktail, and watch airplanes fly by at one of the most unique rooftops in the city. To get here, take the E train to Sutphin Blvd - Archer Av - JFK Airport and then transfer to the Jamaica AirTrain ($8 cash fare) toward Terminal 4. Exit at Terminal 5.
A curated list of underrated or unheard of places that spark a sense of wonder.
Rockaway Beach in 1882.
1. Fort Tilden
Located within the Rockaways is this tucked-away beach near the popular Jacob Riis Park. Named after the former governor of New York, the Fort is unique for its abandoned military installations formerly used by the U.S. Army. Discover dunes and grasslands, wooden steps, graffiti walls, several species of birds, and more at this hidden gem. It's a trek to reach this area, about a half-hour walk on a stony path from the nearest bus stop, so wear appropriate shoes. Follow the path through an open fence and don't worry about the "no trespassing" signs (the entrance gate may have a sign referring to the aquatic area towards the Gateway National Recreation Center). You'll reach Battery Harris East first, which is the main attraction. You'll see a wooden staircase to the right of the fortress that leads to a viewing platform that showcases both coasts of the peninsula. If you visit during the spring and summer on a sunny day, this will be one of the most spectacular views you've ever seen in New York City. Battery Harris West follows shortly after on the path, as does an entrance to the Fort Tilden Beach and the arcane Silver Gull Beach Club. To reach the fort, you will need to take a bus from either the Beach 116th Station on the S train or from the ferry terminal. Note: The abandoned army bathhouse and the MoMA PS1 masterpiece installation in 2016 have since been demolished.
2. Fort Totten
Named after General Joseph Totten, a former Civil War fortress is located within the Bay Terrace neighborhood of Queens. Its facilities were once used for casualty support and hospital care, and is now used by the U.S. Army Reserve. An outdoor pool, soccer fields, a kayak/canoe launch, and views of Throgs Neck Bridge can be found in this 93-acre park. Walk along the jetty with fishermen, explore the historic homes along the winding roads, and enjoy this peaceful, secluded area. To get to the fort, take the LIRR to Bayside (on the Port Washington Branch) and take the Q13 bus heading north. Start at the Bell Blvd/42nd Ave stop and then exit at Totten Ave/Cross Island Pkwy. You can also take a car here for a direct route. When you arrive, walk past the boom barrier (for cars) and follow signs pointing to the fort.
Just south of the famous Gantry Plaza State Park is this Long Island City waterfront park. It features a 30 ft. high cantilevered platform that offers some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline. Beside it is a large circular field, vibrantly green and a picnicking spot for families, plus a walking path through wetlands. While you’re here, you can order concessions from the outdoor café, which has picnic tables by the river. You can also join a group and play volleyball in the sand courts. To get here, exit out of the Vernon-Blvd stop on the 7 train or take the NYC Ferry to the Hunters Point South terminal.
This 19,000 acre wildlife refuge is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. It's home to salt marshes, wetlands, meadowlands, several islands, and freshwater ponds. There are hundreds of species of birds, making it a prime spot for birdwatching, as well as different species of fish within Jamaica Bay. Other recreational activities include hiking on five miles of trails and spotting wildlife like ospreys and diamondback terrapins. The Wildlife Refuge is found in Broad Channel, a small island that serves as as a passageway to the Rockaways. It is the only inhabited island in Jamaica Bay and has a suburban energy complete with beach homes, a Queens Public Library location, and a yacht club. While you're on the island, check out Sunset Cove Park, another hidden gem. To get here, take the A train to Broad Channel and then walk about 18 minutes.
5. Tribute Park
Once an empty lot, Tribute Park was created to commemorate the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. Each of their names are engraved on a plaque against a granite rock. There's also a cupola with a mosaic ceiling of stars, a red brick path, lampposts, and bayside benches on the northern shore of the island facing Manhattan. This waterside park about a 3 minute walk from 116th St Station on the S train or a 10 minute walk from the Rockaway ferry terminal. While you're here, check out Fort Tilden, located on the eastern side of the peninsula.
Queensboro Plaza, 1920.