When most visitors to New York City think of Staten Island, their consideration begins and ends with a ride on the iconic Staten Island Ferry. But just beyond the St George Ferry Terminal in downtown Staten Island, you’ll find great cultural attractions, diverse art, local craft beer, world-class eats, and stunning views of the city – so disembark to spend a day exploring what’s on offer in NYC’s unexpected borough.
Staten Island Ferry
One of New York City’s best free adventures is taking the 5.2-mile journey between Manhattan and Staten Island on the colossal, bright orange Staten Island Ferry, a city-operated commuter service that totes some 22 million passengers across New York Harbor each year.
Departing from Manhattan’s Whitehall Terminal, located right above South Ferry subway station on the 1 line, the 25-minute ride offers unparalleled skyline views of lower Manhattan. The cinematic vista widens to include the high-rises of Jersey City and Downtown Brooklyn on the approach to Staten Island, plus the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge that connects the island to Brooklyn. The Statue of Liberty then comes into close view, followed by Robbins Reef Lighthouse, which was known for its female keeper, Kate Walker, who rescued 50 people during her tenure from 1890 to 1919.
Newer ferries in the fleet have extensive side decks, which offer the best views. Older ones only have a small open section at the front and back of the vessel; most people take in views through dingy windows, some of which you may find open on the lower decks. All passengers must disembark at docking, so take the opportunity to head out from the ferry terminal and uncover unique experiences in easy reach.
Postcards 9/11 Memorial
North of the ferry terminal, just beyond Empire Outlets and the Staten Island Yankees baseball stadium, is the site of the Postcards 9/11 Memorial. This artfully somber memorial, dedicated to the 275 Staten Islanders who perished in the attacks on September 11, 2001, features two parallel, imposing fiberglass walls resembling postcards.
On each wall is a granite plaque for every victim, shaped on one end with a silhouette of the person’s profile and inscribed with their name, birthdate and place of work at the time of the attack. The center line between the two walls – a reference to the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan that was destroyed in the attacks – frames Ground Zero across the water, with the silhouette of each individual facing where the towers once stood. Dedicated on the third anniversary of the attack in 2004, this was the first major 9/11 memorial to be completed in New York City.
National Lighthouse Museum
Just south of the ferry terminal, on the grounds of the former US Lighthouse Service’s ‘super depot’ is the National Lighthouse Museum, a worthwhile stop for anybody enthralled with the romance, history, or engineering behind lighthouses. Upon entering, you’ll find an extensive collection of 180 miniature lighthouse models housed in a huge lighthouse structure called the ‘wall of lights’.
There are several displays that illuminate lighthouse lamp and bulb technology over the course of history, as well as architectural elements like foghorns and signals, regional lights, and the history of the US Coast Guard and lighthouse keepers. Bob, the museum’s knowledgeable docent, can shed even more light on the comprehensive exhibits.
The museum offers educational programs, films, and other events throughout the year, and every few weeks between May and October, they operate boat tours to lighthouses around various waterways in the area – check the website for details.
Once you’ve taken an extensive inventory on the nation’s lighthouses, take a load off with a pint at Flagship Brewing Company. After a decades-long drought of craft suds in Staten Island, this brewery and tasting room opened its doors in 2014 and hasn’t stopped pouring its locally beloved brews since.
They’ve got eight taps of easy-to-drink pale ales, lagers and more, but the hometown favorite is the blood orange IPA. The sprawling taproom has views of the brewery through glass windows, and you can often catch live bands – check their website or Instagram for details. Brewery tours and tastings are held on Saturdays at 2:30pm and 4pm ($5).
Alice Austen House
After an adequate craft brew boost, head down to the Alice Austen House, the former residence of trailblazing photographer Alice Austen (1866–1952). You’ll get great views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge just steps from the front door of this shore-side Dutch Colonial house where Austen lived, child-free, with her life partner Gertrude Tate for nearly 30 years.
The home was designated as a national site of LGBTQ+ history in 2017. Here, Austen’s legacy lives on in her photographs that captured her life on Staten Island, as well as the streets of Manhattan, illustrating the realities of immigrants and the working class. But her particularly notable works on display provide intimate glimpses into the lives of Victorian women beyond the restrictive expectations of the era, such as revolutionary images of women embracing traditionally masculine activities and dressing in drag.
The well-preserved historic rooms also display personal items collected by Austen and relics from her life, while other gallery spaces in the house serve as a modern cultural hub where the works of local contemporary artists are celebrated.
MakerSpace & Maker Park
For some hands-on adventure, head back up the island to MakerSpace NYC, a 6000 sq-ft creative studio with equipment for welding, blacksmithing, ceramics, sewing and textiles. Founded by sculptors DB Lampman and Scott Van Campen in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, it’s a welcoming space for artists, hobbyists, entrepreneurs, makers, craftspeople, inventors and more to come together with community members for experiences that range from welding, printmaking, and 3D printing to bee-keeping and dream house building.
Before heading in for one of the many classes, workshops, skill-building and tool training sessions, which start around $20, check out the affiliated Maker Park on the corner of Front and Thompson Sts – this delightful sculpture garden is full of public art created by locals using a range of materials to tell the story of Staten Island’s working waterfront history.
You’ll surely have worked up an appetite after a day of exploring and creating, so head to dinner at Lakruwana, just a block away. Standing out from the handful of other Sri Lankan restaurants around Staten Island – which has the world’s largest population of Sri Lankans outside of Sri Lanka – diners traverse a set of ornate brass doors to the temple-like dining room, bedecked with Buddha statues, clay crockery and ceremonial masks.
Delicious dishes include the likes of aromatic lamprais (rice and curry baked in a banana leaf), ‘string hopper kottu’ (stir-fried rice noodles served with curry), and godamba roti (handkerchief-like folded flatbread to be dipped in, you guessed it, curry). On weekends, the 25-item buffet is an excellent value at $14.95 (cash only).
St George Theatre
Before hopping back on the ferry, round out a day on Staten Island at the lavish St George Theatre, located just a couple of blocks from the terminal. Opened in 1929 as a movie and vaudeville house, it changed hands a few times in the last century, and was even reincarnated as a roller rink, a nightclub, and an antique showroom over the years.
Even with renovations currently underway, the space is magnificent. The Spanish and Italian Baroque interior features ornate fixtures like a majestic winding staircase, elaborate murals, tiled fountains, sculpted figures set in niches, and one of the largest cantilevered balconies ever built. In the grand lobby, illuminated by gargantuan stained glass chandeliers, hangs oversized paintings of a bullfight in a Spanish village.
Today, you’ll catch all manner of music and comedy performances, as well as movie screenings. Past and present acts include the likes of Tony Bennett, Diana Ross, Jerry Seinfeld, The Temptations, Joan Rivers, Cheap Trick and more. Check the schedule online and book to book in advance.
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Carefully crafted collaboratively between Visit Staten Island and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story, we disclose when information isn’t ours.