What began as a lazy brunch of Mole Poblano at Tacos el Bronco in Sunset Park ended up becoming one of the most pleasantly surprising afternoons of Brooklyn exploring, ending with a beautiful Bay Ridge sunset that certainly rivaled those I used to watch over SF's Golden Gate Bridge.
Bay Ridge and Sunset Park are two fascinating (and seriously under-rated) neighborhoods in their own right. Sunset Park is home to Brooklyn's China Town and a series of amazing Taquerias run by one of the city's most concentrated Hispanic populations. Bay Ridge, recognized in name by many only as the end of the R line, has a beautiful green way along the water which offers picturesque views of Manhattan, the Verrazano bridge, and the sparkling blue seas of the Upper Bay.
What made this day of exploring so fascinating though, was the way it revealed the incredible diversity of this city. Located on the Southwest shore of Brooklyn (a bit of a Subway trek for those of us in Manhattan), these two communities are less gentrified than some of their North Brooklyn neighbors. This also means that the walk from lunch in Sunset Park to sunset in Bay Ridge naturally leads you through a cross-section of neighborhoods that reveal a surprisingly glaring checkerboard of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.
This is one trip that won't lead you to designer boutiques or nouveau industrial style cafes, but will most certainly be cool and interesting in a different and perhaps more authentic way. Below are a few favorite spots to guide your journey. Enjoy!
Sunset Park's Mexican Eats
Most California transplants in New York (like myself) will tell you that the Mexican food in this town is just not that great. BUT since Mr. Kevin Huynh's (highly welcome) intro to Sunset Park, I've decided to redact the current party line on the subject. Tacos El Bronco and Tacos Matamoros have such phenomenal Mexican food that I somehow wound up eating Mole Poblano three weekends in a row. A must visit for anyone craving the real deal. And, don't forget, Sunset Park is also home to Brooklyn's China Town which is surely worth a visit if you're in the area.
The Brooklyn Army Terminal
The Brooklyn Army Terminal is a sprawling 95 acre complex of seemingly abandoned warehouses, piers, loading docks, and smoke stacks. During World War II, it was the largest military supply base in America, even requiring its own fire and police departments. Sold to the city of New York in 1981 and renovated in 1984, the Army Terminal is now a commercial complex home to light manufacturing and small back office businesses.
So, why drag yourself out to 58th street, you ask? There's something stunning and eerie about cavernous, historic, industrial spaces, especially in a city as dense as New York. If you can, I'd suggest visiting on one of the two weekend days per month when (the totally awesome) Turnstile Tours leads a 2 hour walking tour of of the terminal. This way you can get access to the inside of the buildings as well as learn the history of the rise and fall of the Port of New York.
58th Street Pier
Postcard-worthy views of Manhattan and the Hudson River are hidden on a public pier behind the Brooklyn Army Terminal. You'll find nothing here but a few lonely fisherman, blue skies, and the open seas.
Owl's Head Park
Beyond its rolling hills and sweeping views of the Hudson, Owl's Head park is well worth a visit to experience a bit of the flavor of the local community. When I was there one late summer afternoon, a few Puerto Rican families had gathered for an outdoor family celebration, complete with live music and a delicious smelling open grill.
Shore Parkway Greenway
The Shore Parkway Greenway is a beautiful 4.5 mile stretch of pedestrian and biking green space that begins at Owl's Head Park and stretches all the way along the water to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Soak in the sun, listen to the waves lap against the shore, and enjoy stunning views of the Verrazano.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from John Paul Jones Park
As a previous resident of San Francisco, seeing the Verrazano for the first time felt a little like Golden Gate deja-vu. As it turns out, this mammoth Brooklyn to Staten Island suspension is still the largest bridge span in the country, surpassing the Golden Gate by 60 ft. Go at sunset. It's beautiful!
Mapping your trip
Time-wise, this walk is a leisurely lunch to dinner sort of excursion (and well worth it!) Not only are there delicious eats at either end, but you also walk through one of the most incredible cross-sections of ethnic and economic diversity in New York. Map below!