Living just a few hours away from New York City, I have visited Manhattan on numerous occasions. I visit Queens yearly for the US Open Tennis Tournament, but Brooklyn was only something I had heard about in popular culture. When my mother suggested that we spend the day outside of our usual NYC haunts, exploring Brooklyn seemed like the perfect day to spend the day.
Literary Inspiration: Brooklyn has been the inspiration for many great movies and books, mostly about immigrant families. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is the coming-of-age with the resiliency story of Francie and an oak tree and paints a realistic picture of the poverty and family life in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. I adored everything about the 2015 Oscar-nominated movie Brooklyn about an Irish girl’s immigration to Brooklyn in the 1950s, which is adapted from a book by Colm Tóibín. I am also a huge fan of Woody Allen. His movie that I love the most is Annie Hall, a love story set in 1970s Manhattan and California. It also has excellent scenes of his childhood home located under a roller coaster in Coney Island. There were many reasons for me to visit Brooklyn.
In the early 20th century, Brooklyn was home to many neighborhoods divided by ethnicity and immigrants lured by jobs in manufacturing and the famous Brooklyn Dodgers. Unfortunately, the 1950s brought a significant decline to the area with a loss of employment and a resultant increase in crime. Nearing the end of the last century, Brooklyn has again been coming into its own. It now has one of the hottest and most expensive housing markets in NYC, great parks, shopping, museums, and restaurants, still with shadows of its immigrant history. In spite of overlooking Manhattan, it has a quieter vibe and is an exciting place to respite from its massive chaos.
Surprisingly to me, Brooklyn is the most populous of NYC’s boroughs and is on the southern end of Long Island. Other than its exciting history, I also love its neighborhoods and the best views I have seen of Manhattan. Its motto sums it up, “Unity makes strength.” Here are some of its unique areas that we visited:
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Coney Island is known for its colossal roller coasters and long beach boardwalk. It is very different from the newer, hip parts of Brooklyn and will bring you back to a simpler time. Long beach days spent sitting on the sand with a view of New Jersey in the distance, hot dog in hand that you may lose when you ride one of its numerous thrilling rides. You will find a sports stadium where you can catch a football game on the water. You can pick up any number of fun, junky souvenirs. There are multiple amusement parks to wander through, so there is something for everyone who likes rides and carnival games. The Cyclone is a legendary wooden roller coaster that is almost 100 years old and is on the list of New York State Historic Places. If modern coasters are more your style, the Thunderbolt freaked me out just watching its steep drops and continuous loops.
Must-Try Food in Brooklyn: The hot dogs at Nathans are as good as you have heard. My mom doesn’t usually like hot dogs and thought they were the best she had ever had. The homemade lemonade and chili cheese fries were also great.
Park Slope is one of NYC’s most desirable neighborhoods to live in and to visit. It contains Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and the Brooklyn Museum, historic buildings, and cosmopolitan restaurants.
We loved our choice of restaurant, Laconda Mariella, a cute brick restaurant whose patio afforded us a great view of the neighborhood. We loved the unique uses of vegetables in the salads, but all of the fresh Italian food was wonderful, and the service was quick and friendly.
DUMBO is a small neighborhood in Brooklyn with the best views of Manhattan from its many waterfront parks, art galleries, the cobble-stoned Front Street sitting between the two bridges, and the famous Washington Street from which so many photos of the Brooklyn Bridge are taken. DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, and it is where the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridges leave Brooklyn. You can ride the antique Jane’s Carousel, which is under the bridges.
DUMBO is full of many hip eateries. If you eat at River Cafe, you can end your meal eating a yummy Chocolate Brooklyn Bridge while overlooking the real Brooklyn Bridge. A real chocolate and bridge lover’s dream!
Williamsburg is another trending neighborhood, known as an enclave for indie rock, the birthplace of electroclash, art museums, and great nightlife. It was originally a hub of German immigrants, which can still be seen in places such as at Peter Luger Steakhouse.
I am a big fan of bridges, and it is always a priority when I travel to explore them. If you love them as well, check out my bridges’ Pinterest page. When the bridge was built in 1883 (partially with the help of the mob), it was the biggest suspension bridge by far and was a godsend connecting the bustling Manhattan to the independent town of Brooklyn. Now Peregrine Falcons perch in its towers. The bridge is free to cross for autos, bikes, and pedestrians. We decided to cross from Brooklyn to Manhattan so that our view was mainly toward the Manhattan skyline.
I lived in San Francisco and have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge many times. The beauty seen from that bridge is unbeatable, but the experience is a bit scary. The bridge sways, every few feet signs are warning you not to jump over the low guardrails as traffic zooms by noisily. My experience on the Brooklyn Bridge was much calmer. The bridge doesn’t noticeably move, and the pedestrian and bicycle paths are above the vehicular traffic and far from the edge of the bridge. The structure of the bridge itself is spectacular! It was a highlight for all of us on this day and something I would bring any friend visiting NYC to do.
Getting to Brooklyn from Manhattan
Everything we did was within an eight-block walk from the subway. The subway ride from Manhattan took about 45 minutes to get to Coney Island (Stillwell Avenue at the Coney Island Terminal), where we began our exploration. We then headed north, getting off at stops we wanted to visit next using the NYC Subways app on my iPhone to plan where to get off.
We enjoyed a great day in Brooklyn, which included so many varied things- natural beauty, history, great food, architecture, and some campy popular culture. It is a worthwhile escape from the Manhattan craziness.
Rent a bike to explore Brooklyn or get a walking tour here.
Where in the world is your favorite bridge, and why? Have you visited Brooklyn? I would love to hear about it in the comments.