City Island, NY, Guide (22/52)

Orchard Beach and City Island Guide

“So….What did you get up to this weekend?” enquired a colleague.

“We went on an Oceanside hike along a rocky coastal trail, hung out on a deserted golden beach, did some antiquing, and then ate seafood on a dock as the sun set. Look, here are some pictures….”

“Wow….Looks amazing. Where were you, Maine?”

“Actually, the Bronx.”

“**** off. No way.”

Granted, we were similarly skeptical before this visit. The Bronx has a reputation for….well, it ain’t this. But New York is nothing if not full of surprises, and our trip to City Island and Orchard Beach was one of the most unexpectedly delightful fall days we’ve spent in the city. And the best news, it’s subway accessible. So hop on the 6 train and enjoy…….Just don’t expect anyone to believe you when you tell them where you’ve been.   

9am To Orchard Beach

Ride the 6 train all the way to Pelham Bay Park Station. Jump on one of the buses heading towards Orchard Beach or City Island. The BX 5, BX12, BX29, W45, Q44 all seem to go that way. Get off at City Island Circle and seek out one of the unmarked trails that meander through a secluded forest dripping in fall hues until you reach a grassy opening, “The Meadow”. This map of Pelham Bay Park will give you a better sense of it all. Don’t worry if you get a little lost that’s part of the fun. 

11am Orchard Beach, the Bronx Riviera  

From The Meadow find a trail that leads towards the Ocean where you’ll emerge from the forest onto the golden sands of the horseshoe Orchard Beach. Nicknamed the Bronx Riviera, in summer, the beach, like every other inch of prime waterfront in New York, is teeming with beachgoers seeking refuge from the sweltering city. But on a crisp fall morning, you’ll find this perfect sliver of sand practically deserted save for a few inspired dog walkers and intrepid day trippers.

11:30am Kazimiroff Nature Trail: A slice of New England       

At the Northern End of Orchard Beach you’ll find the Kazimiroff Nature Trail, which to be fair to that cynical colleague, does seem like it’s been plucked from the New England coastline. Follow the trail as it winds around Hunter Island, hugging the rocky coast, and turning through forest, until at its Northern end, the trail reaches a boardwalk through a salt marsh leading to a rocky promontory where you can perch, disturbed only by the lapping of the Long Island Sound and the wake of the boats going by. If anyone knows of a more extreme contrast to the city any closer to the city than here we’d love to learn of it. 

1pm A Nautical Lunch on City Island

Time to leave the beach behind and check out a second hidden treasure: City Island. If you followed the trail all the way around Hunter Island it will deposit you in a giant car park. Exiting Orchard Beach, turn left onto Park Drive, and walk along the road for 5-10minutes until you’re back at City Island Circle where you started out, and catch a bus to City Island. Almost as soon as the bus crosses over City Island Bridge, hop off and head for a delicious brunch at Archie’s Tap and Table with its Brooklyn-by-the-sea kind of as aesthetic.

2:30pm City Island: The Bronx’s Nantucket

Okay, Nantucket it ain’t, but City Island exerts a peculiar charm. With its quaint Victorian houses, circling gulls, moored boats dancing in the float, and musky sea air wafting in on the breeze, it’s certainly not New York either. From Archie’s follow City Island Avenue South, interrupting your pleasant ambulating with whatever piques your curiosity. Be it antiques at Early Ruth or Silver Arrow, ice cream served 1950s style at licketty split’s cottage, handcrafted jewelry at Calico Juno Designs, or coffee, art, and music at the Starving Artist Cafe.  Leave time to wander a few side streets and take in some of the historic island homes like 65 Schofield Street and 586 City Island Avenue (built in 1840 and 1876 respectively). And whatever you do, don’t miss the eccentric toy and curio store at Dan’s Parent’s House, 239 City Island Ave.  

5pm:  Eating by the Dock the Bay

At the Southern tip of City Island, a cluster of neon clad seafood restaurants, each adorned with giant flashing lobsters, is all that stands between you and the ocean. Jonny’s Reef has been feeding diverse crowds of patrons since the 1950s. The cafeteria style dining room feels like it’s been little changed since then and the long line of people waiting for fried lobster, calamari, shrimp, oysters and clams, seems to scream: “please stay exactly the same”. A foodie paradise, as yet untouched by hipsters. With belly full, catch the bus back to Pelham Bay Station, and then the 6 train back into Manhattan. That is, if you can still believe it’s just a subway ride away.

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