It’s official: New York City is the most walkable city in the U.S. But what’s even more exciting, for me, is that my Brooklyn neighborhood, Park Slope, ranks even higher in walk-ability than the city as a whole, chalking up a score of 97 out of 100 on the walk-o-meter. As a hard-core walker who’s never owned a car in her life, it figures I’d end up in one of the most foot-friendly corners of the walking-est city in the nation.
“Until I learn a place with my feet, I never really feel like I know it.” That’s what I wrote in a Real Travel column of mine called “Traveling in Stride,” and it’s especially true for me and my Brooklyn nabe.
Here, I walk everywhere, and it is an endless pleasure, particularly in the summer and early fall in this tree-filled enclave (trees–their shade, anyway–are a walker’s best friend).
There is so much to do, and all within a ten-minute walking radius of where I live. This is my benchmark for “place”, when I travel. No matter where I am in the world, I’m always looking for a hotel or room that’s located in the center of an area I can comfortably explore on foot. It doesn’t have to be a famous place–in fact it’s better if it isn’t. I prefer digging into what I call the “hyper-local”–picking a few blocks, and letting my feet guide me to the surprises and delights of everything inside the perimeter.
What I’m really looking for, of course, is a hotel that’s the equivalent of my Brooklyn apartment.
So, let’s pretend you are all guests in my Brooklyn “hotel.” And, in the spirit of the hyper-local, I’ll give you a personal guided day tour of my super-walkable neighborhood. All the following sights, eats and activities are within a 15-minute walk of my nearest subway station, the Q/B stop at 7th Avenue, Brooklyn.
Let’s start where everything begins: with morning coffee, of course. We’re spoiled for choice here, so I tend to hang out where there’s also good stuff to eat. Café Regular, a tiny French-style coffee shop with four café tables outside, has free Wi-Fi and delicious chocolate croissants, so I often head there. But the competition is stiff, since my other “regular,” Prospect Perk Café, also has free Wi-Fi and carries the best bagels in Brooklyn, from the Bagel Hole bakery. They’re small, chewy, not at all like any you’ve ever tasted before, and worth a subway ride!
After coffee, it’s time for the mandatory neighborhood experience: a stroll through the magnificent Prospect Park. It was designed by the same architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York’s Central Park–except Olmsted considered his Brooklyn park a great improvement over the Manhattan one. It’s wilder, with beautiful, broad, open vistas (there’s an enormous rolling glade called “Long Meadow,” real forests and a giant pond.
Walking here is really great at any time of day, but it’s also a special treat to come to Prospect Park in the evening, when the Celebrate Brooklyn concert series brings top musical artists from all genres to the park bandshell–for free ($3 donation suggested).
Worked up an appetite for lunch yet? Come with me! The Brooklyn Larder is a locavore’s heaven of a charcuterie, where slow foodies can luxuriate in exotic farm cheeses, hand-picked condiments, crackers and chocolates from all over the world, and a selection of killer handmade sandwiches. When I’m far away in Hong Kong, I actually dream of their BLT, made with homemade bacon, handmade mayo, and ripe heirloom tomatoes. (Better get one soon: when tomato season is over, the BLTs go off-menu at this very serious foodie emporium).
The antidote to Brooklyn Larder’s indulgence is just around the corner–Brooklyn Yoga School. It takes up the second floor of a beautiful old brownstone building with a huge, rounded glass greenhouse-style picture window–in the early 1900s, the building was a fancy restaurant. But the architecture isn’t the only special thing about my local yoga center—the classes are donation-only, pay what you can ($5 minimum suggested). So if you feel like you need to stretch your heels and hamstrings from all that walking, this is the place.
Fifth Avenue, nearby, is becoming the go-to strip for vintage and locally made clothing in Brooklyn. I can easily while away a few hours poking through the secondhand racks at Beacon’s Closet, or trying on 40s retro-style dresses at Flirt, a store that not only showcases local designers like Karina, the creator of my “perfect” travel dress, but also offers sewing lessons!
Fifth Avenue and its cross streets have turned into a local Restaurant Row in the last seven years. My list of favorites is always changing, but right now my shortlist of recommended dishes includes:
I’m just scratching the surface here–I’ll have more for you on the culinary delights of what is arguably one of America’s most buzzing new areas for food and restaurants in a future post.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll put on a good, comfortable pair of shoes and explore the hyper-local wonders of my neighborhood–and let me know about some of the delights of yours, too.
Photo courtesy of Michael Pearce.