Free Summertime Fun

By Susan Russo

One of my top picks for a great summer spot in Manhattan is Bryant Park at Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 41st Streets (behind the main New York Public Library) On this website you will find pages and pages of events for all ages, abilities and temperaments – ping pong, arts and crafts including jewelry making (materials provided), petanque (French for bocce ball); free books to read; classes in ballet, fencing, fly fishing, golf, juggling, knitting, modern dance, tai chi, yoga, language classes, “walking meditation”; and pianos for you to play. There are poetry readings, a fitness club, book clubs, poetry readings, “reel talks”, and performances by “Shakespeare in Bryant Park.” In case of rain, events are held under a tent at the “Reading Room” where talks are also given by the likes of “comics superstar” John Romita, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (the Sorbonne-trained 87-year-old sex therapist and media regular), and many others. Games are there, too, from chess and checkers to Apples to Apples to spelling bees. There’s a “Cowboy Sing-a-Long for Kids” and there are nine “Accordions Around the World” events, where all players are welcome, culminating in the Accordion Band Festival on Friday, August 28. There are vendors for food in the park, and a number of sandwich places on the avenue and adjacent streets. If you’re hot or tired, I’d suggest that you duck into the architectural gem of the Library, a cool spot on a hot day, with special exhibits and tours, restrooms, a café, and a library shop (and a great children’s library with books, DVDs and computers).

The Bryant Park Summer Film Festival on Monday nights is fun, too, but very crowded, so someone has to get there early (best around 4:00pm) to find a chair if you’re alone, or spread out your blanket on the lawn to hold space for late-coming friends. It would help to buy a big helium balloon so they can find you. Also, the movies don’t start until dark, so bringing a game, reading, a snack or supper is a good idea. There are restrooms available there, too.

Central Park is another oasis for a full day of fun or just for quiet relaxation:

Besides playing fields, people watching, statuary, benches by fountains and ponds, and quiet gardens, for the theater fanatics there’s Shakespeare in the Park. Free tickets are available by lottery (for the few), but the rest of us sit, stand, sleep, read, kibitz or snog on line for hours, and listen to “pitches” from vendors (food is delivered by a least two diners to the line) and amateur musicians and an occasional con artist giving golf “lessons”. The park opens at 6:00am officially, and, for a popular play or actors, you usually have to get there no later than 7:30am for the 12 noon distribution of two tickets to each person on line for that evening’s performance. More information is available at–events/shakespeare-in-the-park. While this queuing may seem insane, millions of people have endured it since Joseph Papp started in this theater in 1962 with The Merchant of Venice, starring George C. Scott and James Earl Jones, for the glorious setting in the open-air donor-built Delacorte Theater, with the Belvedere Castle in the background and the skies going from dusk to dark, the amazing quality of the well-known and tyro actors who play in the rain (only downpours postpone the shows, but usually they resume when rain lessens), and the accompanying live wonderful music.

And for the kids, in Manhattan there are these “splash parks” and water playgrounds:

On the East side:

  • The “Imagination Playground” at Burling Slip (John Street between Front and South Streets)
  • East River Park at the FDR Drive, enter between Montgomery and East 12th Streets
  • The “Ancient Playground” just north of the Metropolitan Museum at Fifth Avenue and 85th

On the West Side:

  • Heckscher Playground at Seventh Avenue and Central Park South;
  • Madison Square Park Playground at Madison Avenue between 24th and 25th Street (you and the kids might also enjoy the art exhibit throughout the Park “Fata Morgana” by Teresita Fernandez);
  • Chelsea Waterside Playground in Hudson River Park at Eleventh Avenue at West 23rd Street;
  • Hudson River Park Pier 51 Playground at Jane Street;
  • Pearl Street Playground on Pearl Street between Beekman and Fulton Streets;
  • Teardrop Park at Warren and Murray Streets;
  • Nelson A. Rockefeller Playground at Battery Park City (North End Avenue and Vesey Street).