There’s something about Brooklyn that’s just magical.
Navigating the different neighborhoods of the borough, you’ll find it rough, gentle, hip, historic, soulful and sweet—all at once.
To me, it’s where creatives live, where people who know what they’re about find endless uncommon ways to live true to that. It’s where people actually sit on stoops (that’s not only on TV), soak up summer concerts and relish culture and food without the scene that Manhattan is.
But more than anything, Brooklyn is cool.
Here are a few of my favorite things to do in my favorite part of NYC.
Bike Prospect Park
Prospect Park is the heart of Brooklyn. The 585-acre green space (Central Park is 843 acres in case you want a comparison) touches different neighborhoods, different demographics, and plays host to anything from farmer’s markets to Curl Fest to the Smorgasburg mini global food market, cricket matches, soccer games, weddings and races. But summer bike rides there meld the best of it all. You can cruise the park’s exterior, breeze blowing through your hair, park by the lake and put your feet up, stop by for an elote you’ll come to crave at Smorgasburg, then lie beneath a tree in the shade watching people pass by until it’s time to bike back to where you came from. Citi Bikes are nearby for rental if you don’t happen to have your own handy.
When you’re done biking the park, stay for a concert. In the summer, Celebrate Brooklyn brings free concerts (yes, free) to the Prospect Park Bandshell. This summer, Femi Kuti, Angelique Kidjo’s Celia Cruz tribute, Morgan Heritage and Herbie Hancock were part of the lineup. For what amounts to a pretty perfect summer eve, get in line early, bring a blanket, buy a beer and sit in the grass while the music moves you.
So brunch in New York is kind of a thing. A thing that lasts until 3 or 4:00 p.m. at most places, and one that everyone does in droves. And when they hone in on a spot that’s better than others, it quickly becomes overrun—a scene so to speak—which usually means long waits. In Brooklyn, brunch is far less drama than Manhattan, but one place I’m willing to put up with a little excess on the waiting front is Buttermilk Channel (being one of Bey’s spots adds to the its slight scene-y-ness). But if you’re one of the folk who can get up and get to brunch before noon, chances are your wait will be bearable. The place is known for its buttermilk pancakes, which there are really no words for, and some of the best smoked bacon I have ever had in my life (apologies to the pork-averse). The fried pork chop with cheddar waffles and the pecan pie french toast are also hits.
This might be one of the more touristy things on the list, but no matter the number of times I go, it really never gets old. The 133-year-old bridge is the city’s prettiest (even Manhattanites would be forced to agree), and from up there, the view of Manhattan is grand and you can even get a peek at Miss Liberty. Once you’re set on Instagram snaps, come down into DUMBO and head to Brooklyn Bridge Park to scope life on the East River. If you have kiddies (or just like rotating wooden unicorns), the historic Jane’s Carousel is there too.
Madiba, for whatever reason, is where Brooklyn’s coolest congregate. From fros, to fedoras to locks and curls, you’ll find all manner of beauty from all over the world come to eat at this South African restaurant set in a converted garage. Meals nod to South African street food and taste like home cooking. The breyani Durban style curry is my favorite, but the samoosas and slow-cooked oxtail stew are wins too. If you can, sit outside. Your Castle lager will taste better out there.
The Brooklyn Museum is my favorite for four reasons: I can walk there, it has first rate, untypical exhibits and isn’t pretentious, it is a stunning piece of architecture, and every first Saturday of the month (called Target First Saturdays) it’s free and there’s a concert to boot. Right now, there’s an exhibit on called “Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present, looking at the greatest in sports photography, and one coming up called “Boombox Restrospective” where boombox art sculptures play music, filling the space with sound. Bring your cafe food from the museum outside to eat on the stone steps for a post-art picnic.
Stroll Eastern Parkway
If you don’t live near Eastern Parkway, you may have little reason to go for a walk there, but take a quick one after leaving the museum. On a summer night, the tree-lined boulevard is quiet and breezy and lit just enough to bring out Brooklyn’s magic. If you can imagine a perfect Brooklyn walk, where there’s no rush to be anywhere and time to take in everything, this is the place you’re imagining, whether you realized it or not.
If you like vintage, vendors at the Brooklyn Flea have done the hard work of perusing small towns in middle states to get the greatest old finds and have curated the most chic for your viewing pleasure. From reclaimed barn wood painted with city skylines to vintage steamer trunks to the accessories you’ll need for the Jazz Age Lawn Party, it’s all here. Plus all the stuff that makes Brooklyn apartments look like trendy Brooklyn apartments. Bonus: Smorgasburg comes to the flea on a small scale, so you can feast on Dough donuts, artisanal arepas (only in BK could arepas be artisanal) and overpriced lobster rolls which are damn good if you can get over the overpriced part.
Ali’s Trinidad Roti Shop
One of the best things about Brooklyn is the culture, and for me, especially it’s Caribbean culture. Being of Trini descent, I find no greater joy that getting the tastes of home right in the neighborhood. At Ali’s, the buss up shut (paratha roti so named for looking like a bursted up T-shirt) is hot, fresh and perfect, and the curry chicken tastes like auntie made it. The place is tiny but always full of Trinis—a good sign that they know what’s up.