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Brooklyn, that big, beautiful, messy, and bikeable borough of New York City, is home to almost 80 neighborhoods.
Brooklyn, that big, beautiful, messy, and bikeable borough of New York City, is home to almost 80 neighborhoods. Williamsburg, one of the borough’s most famous ‘hoods, is the perfect spot to wake up at a cool spot like the King & Grove Hotel and start exploring the city’s wonders. Venture out on our new and constantly improving Greenway with 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) of protected waterfront bike lanes, painted green for your eco-chic riding pleasure.
We call the Greenway the “Hipster Silk Road” (there’s an eponymous bike shop along the route to prove it) and its nickname becomes quite obvious as we pedal along with stylish riders on their Dutch-style city bikes. Today we are pedaling north along the tranquil tree-lined streets of Norman and Manhattan Avenues in Greenpoint. We stop for my favorite iced concoction, known as the Cococano, at Cup Café, a bright green coffee cottage. From there, we zip over to Ovenly on Greenpoint Avenue to grab a tiny delicacy in their quaintly appointed bakery/ shop. Taking our tasty treasure down to Transmitter Park, we pause to admire the views and the breeze. This is the life.
Before we venture south, we ride through some of Greenpoint’s lovely parks and plazas. McGorlick Park and McCarren are both dotted with statues and pools and tennis courts, respectively, and you may come across a Greenmarket or farmers’ market. Smorgasburg and the Williamsburg Flea are both on the waterfront, where we hop off our bikes and wade through the sassy masses of Brooklynites and oh-so-many tourists to see what organic, sprouted, artisanal, and antique delights are in store. Keeping our southern trajectory along the Greenway, we make a quick stop to grab a breakfast taco at Whirlybird.
As we ride beneath the Williamsburg Bridge, we pass through the tight-knit, conservative Hasidic Jewish neighborhood heading towards the Brooklyn Navy Yard. What at first appears as a desolate landscape is actually a bustling industrial, commercial, and agricultural hub, housing the US’ largest urban rooftop farm, the Brooklyn Grange, Kings County Distillery and many others. Entry is prohibited without a Navy Yard ID, so if you are curious to see inside then allow me to recommend that you go on a bike tour with local company Get Up And Ride.
We continue west and south to Downtown Brooklyn to ride by lovely historic homes and gardens and picturesque vistas. Here we find Brooklyn’s quirkiest and loveliest bed and breakfast, 3B, run by passionate cyclists. We can also stop in at Kaight, a wonderfully curated boutique of ethically sourced goods on Atlantic Avenue.
A slight climb up Tillary Street takes us into Cadman Plaza Park where we pause to admire the Brooklyn War Memorial. Next, riding south on Henry Street through Brooklyn Heights we slow down and gaze upon the highest concentration of pre-Civil War homes in all of America, including Truman Capote’s old home. A right on Joralemon and left on Columbia Place takes us to one of the loveliest little parklets I’ve found in the whole borough – Adam Yauch Park, named after my favorite Beastie Boy, though it is so hard to choose a favorite.
Riding north along the water we can see Governor’s Island, Ellis Island, Staten Island, the Manhattan skyline, and the Lady in Green herself, the Statue of Liberty. The piers here are part of a new undertaking by the city to develop a previously unsightly area into a veritable Disneyland of public space. Do keep your head about you, as the area is still under construction and watch for unexpected road hazards, lots of tourists, joggers, and people who may not be watching where they are roaming.
Looming ahead of us we will see my favorite structure in all of Brooklyn, the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. This beautiful stone arch feels like it could have been built by giants thousands of years ago. The view is awe-inspiring to say the least. Below the bridge is the cleverly named neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), which was the first artist loft enclave in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Stop for coffee at Brooklyn Roasting Company and note that you should return later for art/ performance/ music at Galapagos Art Space or St Anne’s.
If you are craving some sea breeze and a rest we could hop on the East River Ferry with our bicycles for just $5.00 and ride off anywhere. But if you are not ready to leave yet, continue south through the expansive and glorious Prospect Park. Here we find historic mansions, the Botanical Garden, a zoo, lakes, forests, and more. The park is nearly a world unto itself. After the park we take Bedford Avenue, the famous north-south artery of the city, back up to Williamsburg, where our adventure began. This is a great place for people watching, as it is like Hollywood, Portland, Haight Street, and Amsterdam all crammed into approximately 20 square blocks. You can end your day in Brooklyn with the best Japanese meal of your life at Zenkichi, drink beer, bowl, and enjoy music at Brooklyn Bowl, or lock up your rides and head into any number of other fantastic venues. Because Brooklyn never sleeps, but always rides.
Lisa Markuson hails from San Francisco, where babies are literally born on bikes. An advocate of green living, holistic health, experimental art, and nontraditional tourism, Lisa does “biz dev” for Brooklyn’s boutique bike tour company, Get Up and Ride. Lisa also fancies herself a novice filmmaker and art critic. @LisaMarkuson