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Photo by Michael Pearce

Walking in a Walker’s Wonderland, in Brooklyn

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).

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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:

  1. the tasty fresh Atlantic oysters at Brooklyn Fish Camp
  2. the spicy chicken (franguhino) de piri-piri at Portuguese/Corsican/Spanish spot Convivium Oesteria
  3. whatever’s on the daily menu at the pan-Latin resto Palo Santo

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.

For more of Daisann McLane’s Real Travels, check her National Geographic Traveler column, and look for her on Twitter @Daisann_McLane and online at The Real Travel Blog.

Photo courtesy of Michael Pearce.