It’s the “forgotten borough” no more. Long dismissed as the most suburban, least dynamic part of New York City, Staten Island is having a moment.
New waves of migration are revitalizing its North Shore, transforming a place long associated with Italian Americans into a center for the Sri Lankan and Liberian communities. New Yorkers are discovering the lush glories of the city’s greenest borough – with Freshkills Park, the site of a former landfill, set to grow to 2200 acres by the 2030s.
Whether you're looking for some outdoor relaxation or cultural appreciation, here are a few reasons why you need to visit Staten Island right now.
Lie out on the best beaches in New York City
Deeply tanned seniors in beach chairs don’t seem to mind the frolicking kids and Jehovah’s Witnesses passing out pamphlets at South Beach, a 2.5-mile-long stretch of sand that might be New York City’s best. With the majestic Verrazano Bridge as a backdrop, you can take a dip with a view – or go for a walk or bike ride on the boardwalk, made from real, wonderfully creaky planks (and complete with a shadowy space underneath for teens to make mischief). However you do South Beach, expect a tableau of New York eccentricity.
A few miles further south, the dunes at Great Kills – managed by the federal National Parks Service as part of the region-wide Gateway National Recreation Area – sprout with grasses and knobby pines that attract a range of bird life. When you set out from the parking area on foot or bicycle, you’ll discover a habitat seemingly untouched by the 8+ million humans who call New York City home.
Insider tip: A bike path now connects South Beach to the North Shore via Fort Wadsworth, making the trip from the Staten Island Ferry terminal just 30 minutes. Bypass the busy on-ramps to the Verrazano Bridge by pedaling under it.
Take the Staten Island Railway to sip fresh-brewed beer
Staten Island has a worthy contender in the race for New York City’s best craft beer. Named to celebrate the borough’s maritime heritage (and just a block or two from still-active docks), Flagship Brewing Company started by perfecting an IPA, white beer and golden lager – before branching off into brews zested with blood-orange notes, açai, Irish whiskey and other fun ingredients. Also on offer at its spacious taproom are hard seltzers produced in partnership with another Staten Island institution, Ralph’s Famous Italian Ices.
Insider tip: The brewery is only half a mile from the St George Terminal and steps from the Tompkinsville station on the Staten Island Railway. It’s a great spot to pass an hour or two before you take the ferry back to Manhattan.
Find serenity at the extraordinary Chinese Scholar’s Garden
The Chinese Scholar’s Garden occupies a secluded corner of Snug Harbor Cultural Center – and is a treasure of landscape design and cultural connoisseurship. Using Ming-dynasty methods (just pegs, posts and beams, and not a single nail), a team of 40 artisans from China handcrafted the attraction’s lattice screens, pagoda-style roofs, elegant pavilions and bridges that span koi ponds. Beautiful in the stark winter light or amid springtime wisteria and jasmine blossoms, the garden offers a transporting escape all year long.
Insider tip: Make it a full day at Snug Harbor and bring the kids. This unique campus of historic buildings, beautiful plantings and cultural attractions includes a museum packed with exhibits on tugboats, geology, dinosaurs and other family-friendly topics; an award-winning children’s museum; a Renaissance-style Tuscan Garden; the Noble Maritime Collection, which showcases a range of ship-inspired art; and much more.
Immerse yourself in Sri Lankan culture (and fiery flavors) at Lakruwana
This ornately decorated restaurant is an homage to not just the food but the entire culture of Sri Lanka. The front door is flanked by carved Buddhas and elephants, with ceramic vessels, folk art and elaborate textiles from the island nation decking out the dining room. Even with all the visual opulence, however, the menu is the main attraction here. Think mouthwatering specialties such as “hopper” rice pancakes, hathmaluwa vegetable curry made with seven savory spices, kottu roti stir-fry and much more. Can’t decide? Visit for the weekend all-you-can-eat buffet to try a little of everything.
Insider tip: If the dining room whets your appetite for more things Sri Lankan, head down the street to the Sri Lankan Arts & Cultural Museum. Founded by the daughter of Lakruana’s owners, this small but lovingly curated gallery’s first location was in the restaurant’s basement.
Explore a 2800-acre urban forest
Staten Island’s natural beauty has always delighted conservationists, with 19th-century figures as prominent as Henry David Thoreau and Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park) celebrating the diversity and richness of its hills. Decades later, hard work and passionate preservation efforts have resulted in the Staten Island Greenbelt, a contiguous series of wooded reserves.
On family-friendly, color-coded hiking trails, you might cross paths with active seniors, avid bird-watchers and perhaps a few deer as you wander through sloping meadows and serene marshes. For a few hours, you can leave the clamor of New York City behind as you listen for bird calls, look out for bullfrogs and experience nature in its elemental glory.
Insider tip: Not all of the Greenbelt was sculpted by Mother Nature. The imposingly named yet easy to climb “Moses’ Mountain” rises from the woods off the Yellow Trail, a remnant of a highway project conceived (and left happily unfinished) by New York’s ‘master builder’ Robert Moses.
Decide for yourself which is the best pizza in New York City
In the county with a higher percentage of Italian Americans than any other in the USA, there are many contenders for the best slice. Since Staten Islanders hold their opinions fiercely, you’ll just have to do a pie-tasting tour of the borough to decide for yourself.
The signature Staten Island style combines a thin, crispy crust with tangy, orange-tinted vodka sauce and a range of…imaginative toppings. Joe & Pat’s nails the formula with chunks of creamy cheese that let the dough-and-sauce combo really sing. The brick-oven pies at Goodfella’s add just the right bit of char to the crunch. In the social club-style dining room of Denino’s, you can tuck into the signature “garbage pie,” which comes heaped with chunks of sausage and pepperoni. And head to the South Shore for the can’t-miss clam pizza at Reggiano’s, a strong contender for the city’s (and maybe the country’s) best.
Insider tip: The clam at Reggiano’s for the win.
Admire the best collection of Tibetan art this side of Lhasa
Head to the quiet streets adjacent to the Greenbelt and experience a bit of dharma. One of New York’s quirkiest and most peaceful museums, the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art is an improbable oasis, with a world-class collection of Asian sculpture and religious objects assembled by an eccentric patron with a superb eye. Tai chi and yoga classes take place under the prayer flags that flutter above the museum’s flagstone terraces, while beatific Buddhas beckon visitors inside for contemplation. With few other visitors making the journey to this special place, you might have the art all to yourself.
Insider tip: While you’re in the leafy confines of Lighthouse Hill, swing by nearby cul-de-sac Manor Ct to admire the exterior of Crimson Beech. Admire (from afar) its familiar horizontal proportions and cantilevered roof; the building is the only residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in New York City.
Learn some lesser-known Revolutionary War history at Conference House Park
In verdant Conference House Park, you can contemplate not just what transpired but what might have been. In September 1776, parties representing the British Crown and the rebelling colonists – the latter’s delegation included Benjamin Franklin and John Adams – met at this site to discuss a potential settlement to the then-young Revolutionary War. Though the talks didn’t produce any breakthroughs, and the conflict would continue for years to come, you can imagine being a fly on the wall as you walk through the 1680s stone manor house in which the talks took place, now a museum with period furnishings and exhibits on its small contribution to American history.
Insider tip: Wander down the beach a bit from Conference House and look out for the vertical red pipe that marks the southernmost point in New York State. Then earn bragging rights by snapping a selfie in front of the “South Pole.”