Yacht clubs and private beaches. White picket fences and clapboard houses. Seafood on nearly every street corner.
There’s a classic New England charm here on City Island, but these streets aren’t by the sea in Maine or Massachusetts – they’re in the Bronx, New York City’s northernmost borough, birthplace of hip hop and home to the Yankees.
Visiting City Island in the Bronx is a great way to escape the urban hustle and bustle without actually leaving the city. At just 1.5 miles long and six blocks wide, City Island feels a world away from the iconic – and incredibly busy – heart of Manhattan.
From Grand Central Terminal, we hopped on the 6 train which, after providing us with a birds-eye view of the various Bronx neighbourhoods from the elevated train track, deposited us 45 minutes later at Pelham Bay Park. After a mix-up with the BX 29 buses (we went on an unexpected detour around high-rise apartment blocks and a shopping mall), we eventually arrived at City Island.
Our first order of business was, of course, food.
Located in Long Island Sound, City Island was once famed for its boat building tradition, even providing the US Government with landing craft and minesweepers during wartime. But in 2015, its reputation is as a spot to indulge in plenty of seafood.
“This one’s the best,” a Bronx local, who had taken the bus here especially for the food, told us outside Tony’s Pier, a waterfront restaurant at the southern tip of the island. “The taste is better. And it’s cheap!”
Not ones to ignore the advice of the locals, we settled on Tony’s for lunch. Lunch is a bit of an understatement, given the size of the portions we received. Fried calamari, fried shrimp, and two fillets of fried fish were served atop a pile of chunky fries, along with a variety of condiments. It was delicious, and we clearly weren’t the only ones who thought so – the local who’d offered her advice had an entire table of food in front of her.
Luckily, the charming streets of City Island were waiting, a perfect excuse to walk off a very American-sized lunch.
Although many of the shops on the main thoroughfare, City Island Avenue, were already shut for the winter, I can imagine that it’s a bustling place on summer weekends. Sadly, the time of year also meant that the highly-rated Lickety Split ice cream store was closed – despite the unnaturally warm autumn temperatures reaching 20 degrees celsius.
The homes on City Island were large and well kept, with classic porches, spacious gardens filled with flowers, and even the white picket fences that are staples in movie scenes. In some ways they were reminiscent of the seaside homes in Maine, beautiful old buildings with commanding views of the sea – and American flags flying proudly outside.
At the end of nearly every street was a private beach, a small stretch of sand that overlooked the water and, in the distance, the ever-recognisable Manhattan skyline. People we passed were friendly, smiling, saying hello, and stopping to chat with their neighbours on the street. The island had that small town, close-knit character that’s largely missing in more urban areas of the city.
We caught the subway back to Manhattan nearly three hours later.
Filled with fresh seafood, quaint streets, and a local feel, our afternoon on City Island had offered a window onto another side of New York City, one far removed from the film set scenes of Fifth Avenue and Times Square. So far removed, in fact, that you could forget you were in the Big Apple altogether.
NEED TO KNOW
Where is City Island? City Island is part of The Bronx (one of NYC’s five boroughs), and located at the very edge of Long Island Sound, before it becomes the East River.
How do I get to City Island? We didn’t have a car, so we hopped on the subway: all you need to do is catch the 6 train in Manhattan and ride it uptown to the end of the line at Pelham Bay Park. From outside the subway station, catch the BX29 bus to City Island (and take the return trip on the same bus at the end of the day, too).