Staten Island’s Snug Harbor is an excellent day getaway from the island of Manhattan by Staten Island Ferry. A New York City park and cultural center, Snug Harbor is one of those places that can satisfy the urban explorer, the naturalist and the casual tourist in all of us. Here you can learn about local nautical history, spot some contemporary art, watch a performance or walk the beautiful sprawling gardens making up the park grounds.

Snug Harbor in Staten Island was founded in 1801 by Captain Robert Richard Randall as a home for retired seamen. The establishment was first proposed to be set up at Captain Randall’s country estate on the island of Manhattan. Due to the growth of New York City around the estate, Snug Harbor’s trustees moved the proposed institution to Staten Island. The retirement community opened in 1833 and remained open until the 1960s when it was moved to Sea Level, North Carolina. In 1965, Snug Harbor was declared a National Historic Landmark and reopened in 1976 as a cultural/art institution with a sprawling campus-like setting, including a botanic garden, a theater, a chapel, a farm, museums, cottages, and much more.

Upon arrival to Snug Harbor, as you enter past the gate house, you will notice several large Greek Revival buildings known as Temple Row that once housed retired sailors and are now pavilions serving different functions for the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. I recommend checking out the Noble Maritime Collection Museum to see nautical paintings, model boats, as well as an installation replicating the studio of the artist John A. Noble where he used to paint his nautical paintings (Free entry. If the door is closed during open hours, ring the bell). There is also a well-stocked gift store where you can buy postcards, books, and other items related to local history.

The first time we visited Snug Harbor we walked there from the Staten Island Ferry terminal, which was a long but pleasant hike (also a short bus ride on the S40). We suggest that you bring food and drinks with you when you visit. If you do forget to bring food, there is a small pizzeria near the Snug Harbor Center on Richmond Terrace and a wonderful old pub called Leidy’s Shore Inn just about a 10 minute walk from the park. Stop in for a pint and learn a little history from the folks here before you move on. We got a chance to chat with the friendly owner of Leidy’s who said the bar had been run by his family for generations. The neighborhood around Snug Harbor is quiet, attractive and suburban; it is worth a walk for those who have a little time to spare. From the front grounds of Snug Harbor on Richmond Terrace, you can spot the Kill Van Kull, a tidal strait between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey, and see an occasional container ship or tug boat pass.

Staten Island, New York City’s fifth borough is not the first place that comes to mind when one is visiting the city. Far too often than not, most tourists riding the Staten Island Ferry turn around and head back after taking a picture of the Statue of Liberty. But some of the best things about New York are the places that do not immediately stand out. Perhaps they are not easy to get to or are not well known in our collective consciousness. When you take the time to find these places just off the beaten path, you are rewarded with a glimpse into the life of New York citizens. Bring a lunch and make a picnic in Snug Harbor, one of New York City’s most underappreciated destinations.