What to see in the Bronx? Maybe something of unique, unusual and special?
Why don’t start visiting City Island?
Try to imagine a strip of land little over 2km long and 0,5 large.
The icy wind of the Ocean (in Summer it turns into a tepid sea breeze), the fisher boats entering and sailboats in the boathouses, an ancient lighthouse in the distance located right at the entrance of the bay and an old diner where to chat with the locals about the weather and the sport events of the day.
And even art galleries and antiques stores along the main street – the unmistakable City Island Ave – the wooden houses with the rockers and the flowers’ vases on the verandas and, as if all this were not enough yet, the perfect place where to taste delicious lobsters, crab cake and fresh seafood in big quantity without spending a lot necessarily.
I know, you think about some small town on the New England coast.
To me the ideal place to go away for some hours from the chaos of Manhattan and enjoy an authentic experience, swallowed by the traditions of a genuine, original and welcoming local community who loves to define itself, as the tourist slogan quotes “a (little) Martha’s Vineyard with a Bronx accent”.
The Siwanoy Native Indians – who left the great Wappinger tribe occupying in the past a good part of the New York and Connecticut coast – settled City Island and the near lands (a good part of the actual Bronx) over 500 years ago: they made it their vital heart and dedicated themselves mainly to hunt, trades with the near tribes and fishing.
Then the Dutch and English people arrived to claim the property in virtue of the strategic position at the entrance of the Long Island Sound, turning the island into the berthing of a good part of their naval fleets.
Once the Independence War ended, City Island became in all respects a New Yorker land and it was again the favourite destination of the local fishermen, vintage objects lovers and oysters growers small community.
Starting from the end of the 1800s the naval yards that during the Second World War hosted the building of the US navy warships and submarines were built.
Visit City Island today allows not only to enjoy its wonderful views of the bay and the skyscrapers of Manhattan on the background, but also to go in touch with its incredible history, proudly told by the small community populating it – about 4.500 people that in Summer double due to the arrival of tourists and sail lovers – together with the multicolor and noisy Monk Parrots colony, a singular parrots species settled on the New Yorker coast centuries ago.
As I was writing at the beginning, City Island is little over 2km strip of land.
The whole local (and social) life develops along the main artery, City island Ave, where the antiques stores, the art galleries, the old City Island Diner where a good part of the community usually has breakfast (try the home blueberry muffins – you won’t regret it), and the several seafood restaurants gather.
Among the many ones (there are about fifty or so) I recommend the Seafood City, at the entrance of the island: it’s a sort of fresh seafood fast food where it’s possible to eat with about 29$ a rich seafood mixed grill with lobster included.
Then The Lobster House at 691, Bridge St. proposing delicious lobsters with side dish (about 35$). And Crab Shanty at 361, City Island Ave which is famous for the crab cake and for a very good toasted garlic bread.
A very good starting point for the discovery of City Island is the Nautical Museum at 190, Fordham Street in an historic school building dating back to 1897.
The museum goes over the nautical history of the island – with a series of relics dating back to the War of Secession and the Civil War – and houses a series of cultural and traditional events that often involve the whole community.
Also the Grace Episcopal Church at 116, City Island Ave deserves a tour. It was built in 1860 by the carpenters of the near naval yard, who were inspired by the structure of an old vessel for the shape. And the suggestive Pelham Cemetery, too, in King Avenue, with its amazing view of Hart Island and the old graves dating back to the Independence War.
Explore without hurry the side streets of the main street to discover the views, the private marinas, the nice wooden houses, the patios, the vintage and antiques stores (where it often happens to find in full work hours an “I’ll be right back” notice and you are urged to leave a message on a notebook hung at the door) and the suggestive views of the bay and the neighboring coast.
On the island several B&B exist, run directly by local people through Airbnb: if you have time, reckon the idea to spend a night there.
In my opinion, the best periods to enjoy the real essence of the island are Fall and Spring (and I must admit that in the depth of Winter, too, City Island has its own charm), since in Summer City Island (above all during weekends) is literally besieged by tourists and New Yorkers who want to spend a relaxing day at the seaside.
Reaching and visiting City Island is extremely easy.
From Manhattan you arrive there in about 40 minutes by subway using Line 6 and getting off at Pelham Bay Park terminal station. Going out from the subway take the BX29 bus (the subway card is valid for the bus, too) that in about 10 minutes takes as far as City Island Ave.
Get off at the terminal station (the last stop before the bus does a U-turn, at the end of the island) so that you have the chance to explore calmly the whole City Island – which can be easily visited on foot – before to give yourselves a savory lobster and fresh seafood meal.
Martha’s Vineyard with a Bronx accent”
(Michael Shanley, The Island Current)