As part of a summer series, T+L is highlighting amazing lesser-known attractions found in the United States. Next up: an expansive New York City outdoor space that's, well, not Central Park.
Although you can no longer rent croquet mallets for 20 cents an hour like you could in 1874, there’s still a lot to do in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park—which sure has changed since it opened to the public in 1867. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after their buzzed-about Central Park took Manhattan by storm, the park’s charms include bike rides and sea lions, roller disco and concerts, farmers’ markets and even hibachis, ripe for all your grilled hot dog needs. Here’s what to do at Prospect Park—and heck, you can still play croquet there, too.
Whether it’s taking a Citi Bike on a spin around the park’s perimeter, renting a tandem and doing a romantic cruise through the park’s center, or plopping the whole family in a cart, it’s worth rambling around on the park’s newly refurbished bike lanes. (Just stay to the left of the marked bike lane if you’re a slower cyclist, keeping in mind that pro cyclists will often do super-fast loops to your right.)
Gawk at Sea Lions
The park’s zoo may not get the press that its counterparts in the Bronx and Central Park garner, but it has a straight-up adorable sea lion training session three times daily that is as hilarious for adults as it is for kids.
Be a Roller Disco Queen
Love to roller skate or ice skate? This park has you covered, with seasonal skating at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, in the park’s southeast quadrant. During the summer, look for Lola Star’s Dreamland Roller Disco parties, which might feature a “Pretty in Pink,” Purple Rain, or Flashdance musical theme.
See Free Live Music
Most of the Celebrate Brooklyn shows at the Prospect Park bandshell are free as can be, and this summer’s offerings include Hurray for the Riff Raff and Digable Planets. (Pro tip: For the paid shows, locals bring picnic blankets, food, and drink, and sit just outside the perimeter of the paid seats. You can’t see as well, but you can hear!)
Or See a Free Film
The bandshell also hosts occasional movie screenings, such as of the inscrutable film “Labyrinth,” starring none other than the late David Bowie.
Go to the Farmer's Market
One of the city’s most well-appointed farmers’ markets, which has become its own social scene, is the one at Grand Army Plaza on Saturdays, at the northern end of the park. It’s a smart stop for seasonal fruits, pastries, and juices, which you can walk right into the park. (Plus, you’re supporting local farmers.)
As Prospect Park aficionado and New York Local Tours guide Jonathan Anderson, who leads tours of the Brooklyn Bridge, notes, there are grills all over the park, free for public use. “It’s a first come, first serve basis, so if you go on the weekend, plan on being there around 10am. Otherwise, forget about it; you'll get swamped by families who come and claim all of them in one fell swoop!” Anderson loves to spend a lazy day in the shade with friends grilling meat over the coals.
Go to Smorgasburg
Getting hangry in the park is no good, especially if you’ve been biking, boating, or skating up a storm, so if you’re in the belly of the park, look for Smorgasburg, a popular outdoor market featuring eclectic cuisines from a well-curated handful of local vendors.
Alex Van Buren is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.