“Visitors to Staten Island will find an array of unexpected attractions, including Historic Richmond Town (a Colonial Williamsburg-like living history restoration complete with colonial buildings), a general store and America’s oldest elementary school. Staten Island also boasts the largest collection of Tibetan art outside Tibet itself, at the cliff-hanging Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art,one of only two Himalayan-style monastery buildings in the Western world, and the only one in the United States. Similarly, the Chinese Scholar’s Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden is the only authentic one of its kind in the country.
Staten Island Ferry
The excursion from the tip of Manhattan to the edge of Staten Island cruises through New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Governors Island and allows an unobstructed view of Lower Manhattan. The adventure doesn’t cost a thing aboard the free Staten Island Ferry.
Snug Harbor Cultural Center
A short bus ride from the ferry terminal is the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, an 83-acre National Historic District with 28 historic buildings set among gardens and a museum/performing arts complex. Once a refuge for retired merchant seamen, Snug Harbor’s historic buildings now house art galleries, performance spaces and museums.
Included in the complex are: the Noble Maritime Collection, a museum focusing on the history of Snug Harbor and the work of Staten Island maritime artist John A. Noble; the Staten Island Botanical Garden, with numerous formal gardens including the internationally renowned Chinese Scholar’s Garden and the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, modeled after the children’s classic; the Staten Island Children’s Museum, a museum for young people and school groups with interactive fun for the whole family; and Fort Wadsworth, one of the oldest military installations in the United States, now a national park.
Other Great Attractions
The Staten Island Zoo has a celebrated collection of reptiles, as well as an aquarium, tropical forest, African savannah and a popular children’s farmyard. Photography buffs will thrill to sweeping views of the harbor from native Staten Island photographer Alice Austen’s Victorian cottage (now the Alice Austen House Museum); the museum itself displays much of her work documenting Staten Island life at the turn of the 20th century. Sandy Ground Historical Society was the oldest community established by freed slaves in North America. Its museum and library examine the life and history of freed African-Americans who settled in the area before the Civil War.
Take a Tour
Explore Staten Island with ease on a Gray Line Discover Staten Island Tour. This hop-on and hop-off bus service with hourly departures every day includes stops at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, the Staten Island Zoo, Clove Lake Park and the St. George Ferry Terminal. Tickets are $15.
Take a Walk
This 13.9-by-7.5 mile island feels more suburban than the other boroughs. Among the hilly streets of the Hamilton Park neighborhood, with its rows of gingerbread-trimmed Victorian mansions and shingle-style homes built during the Civil War era, are two huge Tudoresque homes that appeared on screen as Casa Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1971 classic, The Godfather (look for Longfellow Street). On the other side of the island is Todt Hill, at 409 feet, the highest point along the Atlantic seaboard south of Maine.
South Beach offers beautiful views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. It also has a lengthy boardwalk, with playground, bocce courts, roller hockey rink, shuffleboard, ball fields and picnic areas.
Gateway National Recreation Area, part of the National Park Service. Great Kills Park & Beach has a beautiful swimming beach, nature trails, fishing and a marina. Miller Field, once an active airfield in the early days of aviation, is now a park that includes two post-World War I military aircraft hangers, 64 acres of athletic fields, picnic areas, a community garden and a white oak forest. Fort Wadsworth was a linchpin in the defense of New York Harbor for nearly two centuries. Park rangers lead walks and tours highlighting both the history and the protected natural plant and animal communities at these sites.
The 220-acre Blue Heron Park (718/967-3542) is home to the blue heron bird, hiking trails and picnic areas. The 260-plus-acre Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve (718/967-1976) includes hiking paths and horse trails. The Greenbelt (718/667-2165), a 2,800-acre nature preserve, includes High Rock Park and the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge.”