11 of the Coolest Things to Do in Brooklyn
When it comes to NYC's five boroughs, Brooklyn is the indisputable cool kid. On the cusp of everything cutting edge, but still holding strong to its roots, BK is known for its prospering coffee culture, charming Victorian brownstones, thriving street- and fine art scene, buzzy food and drink venues, dynamic ethnic enclaves, and affinity for traffic-halting block parties. Here, just 11 of the spots where we're vying for "regular" status.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
Dekalb Market Hall
DoBro’s Dekalb Market Hall, which sits shoulder-to-shoulder with Trader Joe’s on the bottom floor of City Point Mall, sprawls across 60,000 square feet of space in Downtown Brooklyn. Among the 40 vendors are nose-to-tail grass-fed butcher Forager’s Market; artisanal, Brooklyn-based cheesemakers Belle Cheese; from-scratch ice creamery Ample Hills; and the first outpost of LES icon Katz’s Deli.
Pilot, Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park
Like Grand Banks’ Sherman Zwicker in Hudson River Park, Pilot is one of America’s most beloved wooden schooners. While the ship was once used as a ferry for World War II soldiers and has circumnavigated the world not once but twice—to the delight of Brooklyn day-drinkers and oyster slurpers—she retired to Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 to serve as a floating bar and restaurant. Swing by the pier’s northern promenade to try out the sustainable seafood (see: softshell crab po’boys, lobster rolls, and scallop ceviche), or just go for a tour; Pilot also serves as a living museum and hosts free public programs.
I bet you never would have suspected that NYC operates the world’s largest rooftop soil farms, growing more than 50,000 pounds of organically-cultivated produce every year, but hey—the city is full of surprises. With two locations in Brooklyn Navy Yard and Long Island City (Queens), Brooklyn Grange hosts year-round educational programs and workshops—like beekeeping 101, mushroom cultivation, floral design, and farm-to-table suppers—that promote sustainable living and local ecology. You can also hop on a guided farm tour to learn all about urban agriculture and soak in the city skyline.
The 1 Rooftop, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is just another reason to head to BK's ever-evolving DUMBO neighborhood. While the rooms—with their soaring floor-to-ceiling windows—wow with Manhattan views, it’s the buzzy sky-high bar that really has us awestruck. The sprawling rooftop features a chaise lounge–dotted plunge pool; a wraparound terrace with spot-on views of the waterfront, Statue of Liberty, and One World Trade; and a small-bites menu and cocktail list (think bacon-wrapped dates and a Daisy—Grey Goose, fresh lemon, casis liqueur, lemon wheel) that could keep us up there all day.
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With educational programs, live performances, artists' residencies, and cutting edge exhibitions, Pioneer Works makes space for alternative expression in the arts, technology, music, and science spheres. Swing by the massive Red Hook community center between noon and 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays for free admission to all galleries; the chance to sign up for a workshop if you’re looking to hone your own skills; or simply to spend an afternoon in the half-acre garden. Any way you cut it, you'll be surrounded by some of BK's most innovative thinkers.
Central Park may be NYC's shining example of outdoor space, but BK’s 526-acre Prospect Park is a worthy alternative any day. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (the very same architects behind Manhattan’s green space), the spot also features a zoo, boathouse, nature conservancy, bandshell, lake, and plenty of sporting fields. Drop by the Breeze Hill entrance (East Drive at Lincoln Road) on Sundays and you’ll find Smorgasburg, a flea market–style food festival from the founders of Brooklyn Flea that serves up internet-famous sensations like raindrop cakes and ramen burgers.
Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
If you thought shuffleboard was a geriatric sport relegated only to retirement homes and cruise ships, think again. At Gowanus’ 21+ Royal Palms, Brooklyn millennials come out in droves to take to 10 courts whiles DJs, food trucks, and board games just add to the fun. If you become addicted after your first go (BTW–everyone gets a complimentary lesson), then consider signing up to play in one of their 9-week leagues.
The Bell House
Eighties-themed dance parties, comedy shows, feature films, NPR-hosted trivia hours, and literary read-offs all go down nightly at The Bell House—a converted 1920s warehouse-turned-bar and live music venue in Gowanus. Pre-show, grab a craft beer from the 26-foot-long oak bar and cozy up to a bistro-style table in the low-lit front lounge. Then come showtime, it’s off to the main room, where the red velvet curtains go up to reveal a commanding stage.
Al fresco drinking is a revered New York pastime, and at Greenpoint’s seasonal Brooklyn Barge, you’ll find crowds doing just that. Climb aboard the docked vessel—just next to Transmitter Park—and crack open a menu to peruse food options like grilled Mexican-style corn, griddled quesadillas, and vegan chorizo tacos; and house cocktails like Tom Collins is the Bee’s Knees (lavender, honey, lemon, and gin) and A Buck Roams in Harlem (strawberry, lemon, ginger, and corn whiskey). Once you’ve filled up, you can also check to see if the barge is hosting any events. Past educational programming has included scuba classes, catch-and-release fishing, sailing lessons, and standup paddleboarding.
Art- and culture-rapt travelers may flock to Manhattan’s Museum Mile for the Met, Neue Galerie, and Guggenheim, but little do most know that Brooklyn put its own stamp on NYC’s collection with the Brooklyn Museum. Planting its roots at the crosshairs of the Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Park Slope neighborhoods, the landmark institution holds roughly 1.5 million works with pieces by renowned artists Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell, Edgar Degas, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum pushes for temporary exhibitions that are both innovative and experimental; stop by now for "Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall" (through December 8, 2019) and designer retrospective "Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion" (through January 5, 2020).
Take the L to Williamsburg and hop off at Bedford Ave and you’ll be just a couple blocks from Brooklyn Brewery. The craft brewer hosts a small batch tour that’s a must at just $18 for two hours of drinking and learning (the kind you'll actually enjoy). Book ahead—or prepare yourself for around-the-block lines if you wait—and you’ll get four very generous tastings (plus a glass that's yours to keep) of just-tapped varieties like their flagship Brooklyn Lager and farmhouse Sorachi Ace Saison, as well as seasonal pours like Brooklyn Summer Ale. If you're still around at night, head a few doors down to Brooklyn Bowl—one of the Burg's favorite haunts thanks to a coveted trifecta of cocktails, bowling, and live music.
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