The city that’s home to the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and Wall Street is rarely perceived as one that also holds decent greens, vegetation and air that’s clear of pollution. And yet, it is. Parks comprise approximately 14% of New York City and there are 1,700 of them strewn across the boroughs.

Lisa 1-1I’ve worked in New York City for the past four years, but I’ve recently started to realize that I’m not a city girl at heart. I grew up in New Jersey, studied in New York and Italy, and have been fortunate to travel quite a bit. New York City really is unlike any other city in the world – so much action is condensed onto one tiny island – but I often crave a healthy dose of nature, fresh air and open space. I bet you do, too.

Well, fear not! There are a ton of places where you can find rousing, detoxifying and inspiring nature in the city. Central Park might be the obvious option, but more than a dozen other “hidden gems” gleam just as bright in my opinion. Amongst my favorites, in no particular order, are: Battery Park Gardens, Bryant Park, the High Line, East River Promenade, and Prospect Park.

“You can sip jazz-age cocktails and flap to your heart’s desire.”

One of my favorite places to unwind, though, is Governor’s Island (GI). The Island is ridiculously close, and simple and free to get to by ferry (times and directions). It is a 172-acre oasis of foliage that was once used by the Army and Coast Guard before being sold to the city of NY in 2003, and it boasts an incredible offering of things to do.

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A few recommendations:

Rent bikes. Last summer, my friend and I rented bikes from Bike & Roll. Meandering around, I didn’t feel like I was in Manhattan; though I could clearly view the Statue of Liberty and the southern tip of NYC, I still felt like I was on a real getaway outside the city.

Check out the historical sites of Fort Jay and Castle Williams. These are two former army posts located on the island. Fort Jay is the oldest defense structure located there. Castle Williams is circular and made of red sandstone. During its time, Castle Williams was considered the best of its class and influential for future designs. Some of the aged cracks and crevices on the bricks make the building picture-worthy, even today!

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Grab a drink at Little Eva’s. It’s a small hut with a lone-island feel; you can sit back in comfy beach chairs and watch the sun set behind the water. Try to catch a volleyball game while you’re there, too.

And, if you’re daring, check out the bi-annual Jazz Age Lawn party hosted by Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra. During this distinctive outdoor soiree, attendees dress up in 1920’s-appropriate attire and can experience what a party of that period may have actually felt like. Across the sprawling lawn are various stands that exhibit time-fitting motor vehicles, clothing, fedoras, and even guns. You can sip jazz-age cocktails and flap to your heart’s desire on a portable wooden floor near Arenella’s orchestra, or, simply lounge and picnic on the grounds. I attended the event this past year (with a feather atop my head!) and amusingly felt like I had been lifted from Manhattan and the year 2013.

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So for those of you living in New York City, thinking that you are far from nature, don’t be fooled. Nature exists everywhere and is more accessible than you might have imagined. Go off and explore, and enjoy.

Words and Photos: Lisa Nina Cruz
Instagram/Twitter: @asilcruz