7 Must-See Spots in New York City's Hidden Gem: City Island, Bronx
Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Have you been frequenting the same spots in your hometown but looking to change it up? The pandemic has made me re-fall in love with my city and try to branch out of my everyday routines exploring the city. One place I rediscovered was City Island, located in the Bronx, NYC.
As a person from Brooklyn, we don’t venture to those parts -- “those parts” refer to the Bronx, haha. Bronx folk will tell you the same thing about Brooklyn.
I sucked up the nearly 2-hour subway ride from deep Brooklyn to deep Bronx to meet my friend for a day excursion to City Island. Well… it was definitely worth it. It was the escape that I did not know I needed from the traditional hustle and bustle in NYC streets. Located in the EXTREME western end of Long Island Sound, south of Pelham Bay, and east of Eastchester Bay, you will find lots to do that you can easily spend an entire day!
City Island is one of those spots you don’t accidentally stumble upon. Rather, you must actively make a trip there. Most visitors tend to frequent in the summertime during the months of May to October. I went in September, and it was a perfect time to avoid the snail-paced traffic from entering and leaving through one bridge.
Here is City Island Map:
FACTS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT CITY ISLAND (Thank You City Island Nautical Museum for the Facts)!
🇺🇸 City Island is only 1.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide
🇺🇸 City Island was originally inhabited by the Siwanoy band of Lenape Indians before it was "settled" by Europeans. Native Americans typically camped there over the summer.
🇺🇸 Dutch trader and ship captain's Adriaen Block sailed past City Island on his way east in Long Island Sound, and he mapped it.
🇺🇸 Benjamin Palmer bought the island in 1761 and named it New City Island (before that it was Minnewits, Minneford, Mulberry, etc.), but quickly dropped the New. He did not build land here; he did manage to get landowners on the water the right to own 400 feet out from the mean high water mark, but he didn’t build much on the island. He had a big plan for development but it was dissolved in October 1776, when the British Navy invaded what is now Pelham Bay Park. Palmer left soon after and went back to Manhattan
🇺🇸 As the island began to develop its own commercial identity, the community of oyster fishers and shipbuilders chose to drop the ‘New’ from their name to become City Island.
🇺🇸 In 1895, residents of City Island voted to detach themselves from Westchester County and to become part of New York City proper. This became official in 1898.
🇺🇸 City Island had a very important role in ship building, mostly yachts. In the 20th century, they played a role in building military vessels
WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT...
🤩 Small town in a BIG city
🤩 New England vibes
🤩 Friendly, close‑knit local community
🤩 Lots of local boutiques
🤩 Endless seafood options
If you want to visit City Island for the first time (or revisit more deeply), have these spots at the very top of your itinerary! Check this link out from News 12 for more information: "Visit NYC's hidden gem City Island to experience a scenic fishing village."
In this blog post, you will get info about:
What is good on City Island?
Is City Island worth visiting?
What is City Island known for?
What is city island best restaurants?
How to spend a day discovering City Island, NYC's Fishing Village Hidden in the Bronx?
Table of Contents:
1. Enjoy fresh seafood1. Enjoy fresh seafood
2. Stroll the island for charming houses2. Stroll the island for charming houses
3. Head to the tip for seaside views3. Head to the tip for seaside views
4. Attend local fairs4. Attend local fairs
5. Support local businesses5. Support local businesses
6. Indulge in Ice Cream from Lickity Split6. Indulge in Ice Cream from Lickity Split
7. Visit City Island Nautical Museum7. Visit City Island Nautical Museum
1. Enjoy fresh seafood
Bronx & Seafood...
I do not immediately associate two things with each other, but City Island is where the two come together! On this island, you will find a plethora of seafood options!
A well-known spot is Johnny’s Reef Restaurant, located all the way out on the point of the island: it is a spacious, casual spot to order baskets of fried seafood and sit on a picnic table overlooking the water.
Here are other recommendations from friends that I hope to check out in future visits:
📍 Johnny’s Reef Restaurant: @johnnysreefrestaurant
📍 Original Crab Shanty: @crabshanty
📍 Arties steak and seafood: @artiescityisland
📍 Scavellos on the island: @scavellos_on_the_island
📍 Seashore restaurant: @seashorerestaurantcityisland
📍 City Island Lobster House: @cityislandlobsterhouse
Whether it is Johnny’s Seafood or one of the many other places I will list below, you have your fair share of options from casual to more formal seafood spots!
2. Stroll the island for charming houses
Have you ever explored somewhere in your hometown that felt so foreign that it felt like another state or country?
𝗘𝗩𝗘𝗥𝗬𝗢𝗡𝗘: Welcome to New England…
𝗠𝗘: oh no, this is THE BRONX!
City Island was that for me! From the assortment of seafood to eat to the cute small streets and cuter houses, I had to remind myself that this is THE BRONX, the Bronx you don’t see. Whether it is the main avenue or the side streets, you will find New England-style houses that you will just want to admire and take a picture of.
Here are some spots to check out charming houses:
Samuel Pell House on City Island Avenue, a well-preserved example of the frame houses that dotted 19th-century New York City
the William H. Schofield House, at 65 Schofield Street, which dates back to the 1860s
A house from the movie “The Royal Tenenbaums,” the family’s turreted summer home at 21 Tier Street.
waterfront mansions on King Avenue
bungalows on Minnieford Avenue
historic cottages on Belden and Horton Streets.
Stroll along City Island Ave near Original Crab Shanty
3. Head to the tip for seaside views
Whether you walk or drive, you will be rewarded with seaside views. Isn’t that one of the perks of exploring an island!?! Get that signature picture with one of those sightseeing binoculars.
Here are some spots to check out water views:
At the Harlem Yacht Club, you will find boats stretched toward the skyline of Manhattan and the East Bronx. One can see Rodman’s Neck.
Sit on a bench at Belden Point, a pocket park at the island’s southern tip (this is where this photo is taken)
Pelham Cemetery on the island’s east side, Pells and other notable New Yorkers rest beneath a panorama of Hart Island.
Grab a bite from an outside bench of Johnny’s Reef
4. Attend local fairs
Many events on the island, such as a Fall Arts & Crafts Fair -- which includes the clam chowder festival -- bring the local community together. When I went, both were occurring the same day. Vendors were selling hand-made jewelry, clothing, professional paintings and child-made drawing, and even T-shirts to raise money for the local fire department. Check out the City Island Chamber of Commerce for the latest events on the island. I noticed about City Island, the sense of community -- at the fair, money was being raised to support local initiatives and promote upcoming events. Local fairs are a great way to support local businesses! Check out my experience at the Fall Arts & Crafts Fair (and time at City Island below)
5. Support local businesses
There are many cute boutique shops (like you would find in New England) or vendors present at local fairs to support. For some local businesses to support consider:
239 Play: a cute vintage shop located in a building that dates back to the 1860s filled with throwback toys, games, and gadgets.
Kaleidoscope Gallery: Founded originally in 1998 by jeweler Paul Klein as Exotiqa International Arts and then revamped in 2010, this business has jewelry that will remind you of the sparkle of the island and pieces that you won't find anywhere else. It also features local artwork, toys, housewares , gifts & more.
Focal Point Gallery: Founded in 1974 by photographer Ron Terner, the gallery features displays of artwork by local artists from Bronx. They hold events such as art work exhibitions and concerts
J.W. Foley Rarities and Obscurities: an antique shop that offers strange and obscure items that they buy, sell, and trade
The Bx Botanist: A native of the Bronx and now living in City Island, Serrina is a co-owner of @thebxbotanist, an online Bronx plant shop. She is from Bronx — humble beginnings — but built her way up with a career in construction. Now she lives on City Island! Check my interview with her below:
Just walking along City Island Ave during the fair, I came across many dope businesses, one being Art by Marta Medina. Although not local to City Island, she is a local New York business. Marta Medina-Feliciano is a Puerto Rican artist who works with mixed media. Her goal is to highlight the mixture of cultural and racial influences in Puerto Rican culture through her art (@artbymartamedina). Check out my interview with her below:
6. Indulge in ice cream from Lickity Split
This is the most well-known ice cream shop on the island — you will get lots of ice cream for a reasonable price! This fun name is the title of an ice cream shoppe and local band — both of which I got to experience the same day.
Some cool facts about Lickity Split Ice Cream Shop
🍦 Owners Skip Giacco and his wife Louise are Bronx Natives who had planned on retiring in FL but moved back to NY
🍦 When they moved to the island, they noticed an out-of-business ice cream parlor just around the corner from their home. Seeing no other ice cream parlor in the area, they decided to purchase it!
🍦 They wanted people to have a spot to sit with their kids that will have room for them to and remind folks to take a break from whatever life may be throwing at them on a hot summer day.
𝗡𝗢𝗧𝗘: it’s not homemade ice cream, BUT it’s locally owned and central to the community.
7. Visit City Island Nautical Museum
Whether you are a history buff, a museum lover, or just want more context of the island, this is a perfect museum to visit! It occupies the top floor of a building of the island’s elementary school from 1897-1975. Interestingly, it also occupies a site that once served as a Revolutionary War graveyard.
Here are my tips for when you visit 📝 :
1️⃣ Call ahead: Since they have very limited hours, I would double-check if they are open, especially if you are visiting this museum.
2️⃣ Must visit on weekends: They are only open from 1-4 pm on Sat & Sun
3️⃣ Allocate at least an hour: From the size of the building, there definitely seems to be a lot there, so I am estimating that time frame.
4️⃣ COVID-19 restrictions: only allow ten visitors at a time, require that everyone sign in, show proof of vaccination, and wear masks.
BONUS: Other things you can do that I did not get a chance to do...
City Island Walking Tour: This company offers walking tours to support City Island's Artists & Businesses with group walks, historical talks & health-conscious activities! You can book by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
City Island Boat Ride: The company Riptide III offers options to do day fishing, night fishing, or a sunset boat ride from City Island. Another charter fishing boat called Island Current also allows you to book for fishing.