Do This: Snug Harbor

Sometimes you just need to get out of the city. The constant crush of people, the loud honks of traffic, the dearth of grass, the fact that sometimes the entire city smells like a kebab – it all can be a bit wearing. Unfortunately, getting away is usually easier said than done. It can be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive.

Does that mean you’re doomed to suffer? No, it just means you need to get creative! As I mentioned yesterday, we spent this past Saturday afternoon at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. While we didn’t technically get out of the city, it sure felt as though we did.

One of the perks of Snug Harbor is that it is easily accessible, so you only need an afternoon. Just hop on the Staten Island Ferry, and then take the S40 bus, which stops in front of the main entrance. It couldn’t be easier!

Isn’t this photo awesome? Marc took it off the Staten Island Ferry sign against the sky.

Snug Harbor was founded in 1801 and was originally a community for retired seamen. This is evident in the amazing nautical imagery on the ceiling in the main building. The entire complex is eighty-three acres that include botanical gardens, a center for arts, and the Staten Island Children’s Museum, among other things. The Staten Island Museum will also be located on the grounds.

Our main objective was to tour the botanical gardens, so we bought our garden tickets ($6 each) and picked up a Self-Guided Walking Tour brochure. All of the gardens are beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised that the gardens were thriving even though we have had such a brutally hot summer.


Aside from flower gardens, Snug Harbor also boasts some theme gardens. We visited both the Healing Garden and the Chinese Scholar’s Garden. I wanted to see the Secret Garden, which was enclosed in a castle-like thing, but it was locked. I scrambled up on some nearby rocks to peer over the walls, but I wasn’t quite tall enough. The Healing Garden, according to the guide,

is a living memorial to the 267 Staten Islanders who perished on September 11, 2001. Located on an acre of forested hillside and overlooking 20 acres of officially mapped wetlands, the Healing Garden includes mixed hardwoods and will be enhanced with 100 canopy trees, 150 understory trees, shrubs, and perennial and seasonal planting displays. The site quietly evokes the healing power of trees as symbols of life and renewal.

It was a really lovely space. A trickling stream runs through the area, and the entire area is lovely and serene. You really forget that you’re still in the city.

Healing Garden

The Chinese Scholar’s Garden is modeled after the scholar’s gardens of the Ming Dynasty. According to the guide, it “is the first outdoor garden of its kind in the United States.” The garden is contained in a structure and encircles a pond full of beautiful fish. There are cards at the beginning of the garden that highlight different elements of the garden. For example, there are bats on the door pulls because the Chinese word for bat is “fu,” which sounds like the word for prosperity. It was a very beautiful and interesting space.

Chinese Scholar’s Garden

Pro Tip: Pack a lunch! We arrived at Snug Harbor around 2:00 pm, and we were hungry. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was expecting to be able to find food somewhere. We followed the map to where it looked as though there should be a café, but there was no building there. We found ourselves standing in front of the Children’s Museum, so I went in and asked if there was food anywhere. The woman told me that I should follow the road back the way we came, and there “might” be a guy with an “American Grill” sign. If he wasn’t there, she warned me, there was no food. (At this point, I considered grabbing the ice cream from some nearby kids and running, but I restrained myself.) Dubious, we returned the way we came and eventually found a small building labeled “Garden Grill.” The food is … not something I would recommend. Definitely bring something to eat, and then you can augment that with a cold drink if need be.

All told, we were at Snug Harbor for around three hours. We really enjoyed our time, and I definitely recommend it!

me screwing around in the weeping willows


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