Ever since it opened to the public as a park in 2003, Governors Island has been one of the city's best getaways, a minutes-long ferry ride to a largely undeveloped, 172-acre oasis. Over the years, the Governors Island Trust has spruced up the joint, adding "attractions" like Slide Hill, Hammock Grove, and overnight glamping via Collective Retreats (which is up and running, you can make reservations here). But there's still an untamed spirit about the place, and it remains an ideal destination for an easy, unscripted adventure.
This year, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the seasonal opening of Governors Island by about two months, but this week the public was finally allowed back onto the mid-harbor haven, and I must say that in all my years of coming here, it has never felt so relaxing and restorative. Some things have changed, and not everything has reopened, so here's what to expect if you make the journey there.
The Governors Island ferries, whether from Manhattan's Battery Maritime Building, or, new this year, from Brooklyn's Atlantic Basin in Red Hook, are limiting entry to about a third of their usual capacity of 1,200, requiring advance reservations for e-tickets which are scanned before boarding. Four hundred people on a ferry may sound like a lot, but the ferries are large, and on opening day only a handful of folks were on all the boats that I witnessed disembark and/or rode.
WELCOME, WEAR A MASK
At this point no one on the planet should need to be told that masks are required on the ferries, and also whenever you're around other people on the island (or anywhere), but in case you forgot about the virus that has killed tens of thousands of New Yorkers since March, here's your reminder: wear your mask, keep it on the whole time, make sure it's covering both your mouth and nose, don't pull it down when you speak.
WHAT TO EAT
If you don't bring your own lunch there are plenty of food options out here this summer, including three new vendors worth getting excited about. The butchers at Meat Hook have joined the Threes Brewing with a menu of sausage sandwiches (think Serrano Cheddar, Green Chorizo, or Classic Beefy Boy) and (coming soon) a burger or two. Fauzia's from the Bronx is slinging their famous Jerk Chicken and other Caribbean delights. And Yard Pizza shipped over two massive new ovens to fire up both Neapolitan pies and Sicilian-style slices.
Other dining choices include Island Oyster and Taco Vista, looking out toward Lower Manhattan; Venezuelan hot dogs from Perros Y Vainas; Sea Biscuit's barbecue, which comes with views of the Statue of Liberty; Little Eva's crowd pleasers like Mac & Cheese and Island Salads; sweet treats from People's Pops, Melt Bakery, Wafels & Dinges, and Everything About Crepes; and a Joe Coffee booth which now also scoops four flavors of Oddfellows ice cream.
The great Urban Farm will be open for "passive visits" on the weekends this year. Although they had to cancel their public school programming in the spring, the Learning Garden, which is managed by GrowNYC, has remained active, donating their crops — some 4,000 pounds of vegetables so far — to the Black Feminist Project in the Bronx and the Brooklyn-based Chilis on Wheels. And don't forget to check out the composting chickens!
WHAT TO SEE
There's cool public art throughout the park, the huge lawns are extra-plush from lack of use (this makes for excellent nap material), the tattered-but-stately old buildings are as charming as ever, and the island's signature red Adirondack chairs, scattered about by the dozens, make it a breeze to secure a quiet, extremely distanced spot for reading or chatting or whatever you want.
Once you're on the island you can't go inside Fort Jay and Castle Williams, which are closed, nor let your kids run wild in the free-form, "junk"-filled playground called The Yard, which is mostly emptied and completely overgrown. The indoor gallery spaces in Nolan Park and along Colonels Row are also closed to the public.
While you can't go inside of the old buildings, you can give yourself a little walking tour of them — here's a guide to the abandoned buildings of Governors Island.
The bathrooms are open, the water-bottle refilling faucets are running, and not only are there sanitizer dispensers in key locations, there's even a whole hand-washing station, complete with soap and running water, near Slide Hill.
GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND
The Island will be open daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends.
Manhattan ferries will continue to run out of the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street. Brooklyn ferries, which are usually located in Brooklyn Bridge Park, have relocated to Red Hook's Atlantic Basin.
Ferry ticket reservations can be made at govisland.org. Tickets cost $3 for adults, children under 12 ride free, as do all NYCHA residents and seniors 65 and over. Additionally, ferries are free to all on weekends before noon.
Once you're there, you can walk around, or get some wheels. Thankfully, the bike rental place is open, and Citi Bike still has their three big docks here, so it's easy to get out to Picnic Point and back, or take in the expansive views from atop The Hills.