Brooklyn Bridge Park is one of the borough's crown jewels. Running 1.3 miles along the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park is an 85-acre waterfront park promising recreation, sustainability, and environmental exploration. Whatever your family’s passion—athletics, swimming, fishing, rock climbing, roller skating, kayaking—it can all be done while basking in the glory of the Manhattan skyline. My family simply cannot get enough of it. We've rounded up our favorite things to do to help you explore the park with your little ones.
A quick note about the southern half of the park: it's centered around six refurbished piers, each offering something special. Pier 1 has lawns and extraordinary views of Manhattan. Pier 2 offers basketball and handball courts, a fitness center, roller skating, play areas, kayaking, and a seasonal pop-up pool. Pier 3 features gorgeous green spaces. Pier 4 has a lovely sandy beach. Pier 5 boasts sports fields, fishing, playground, hibachi-style barbecue, and the newly opened Uplands. Pier 6 is where you'll find expansive playground areas featuring sand, water, swings, and climbing, and the ferry to Governors Island. Remember, these are just the highlights—check the park's website for all its offerings.
1. Take in the skyline from the top of Slide Mountain at Pier 6 and zoom down together—you too, Mom. The entire playground is phenomenal.
2. Hop on the summer ferry from Pier 6 to spend the day on Governors Island, which just keeps getting better. In 2016, the car-less isle added new playgrounds, a 57-foot slide, and a new tree house. Now there's a new zipline, maze, and more.
3. Grab a pair of binoculars and go butterfly watching. They are so abundant, a guide is available for download.
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4. Ride a bike. My daughter learned how to ride her bike on the Greenway Terrace, which runs through the park—the perfect terrain for new riders. Rent them here.
5. Take off your socks and shoes and bury your toes in the sandy beach at Pier 4.
6. You might not be able to swim at the beach at Pier 4, but you can swim at the awesome pop-up pool in Pier 2 from the end of June until Labor Day. The pool is open this year after securing a one-year extension of its contract with the City. Grab a Lizzmonade at the concession stand while the kids play in the sandy "beach" section of the pool area. Check the website for swim session times and pool rules.
7. Pick up cool vintage items (or whatever strikes your fancy!) at Brooklyn Flea, which is now in DUMBO on Sundays.
8. Splash and climb around the WaterLab sprinkler playground at Pier 6.
9. Learn a thing or two about the local ecology and sustainability at the awesome Environmental Education Center—interactive elements, an aquarium, something for all ages.
10. Roller skate across from the Manhattan skyline at Pier 2 with the whole family. Check the schedule for free admission times.
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11. Hit Sandbox Village at Pier 6, a massive destination sandbox for the preschooler crowd, to build sand castles and play hide-and-seek in the faux log cabins.
12. Barbecue on one of Pier 5’s hibachi-style grills and pull up a picnic table for the resulting family feast. Get there early to grab a spot. Toddlers will love the adjacent tot playground.
13. Join in our tradition: a ride on the Jane Carousel followed by a pizza picnic, a la Juliana’s Pizza.
14. Gaze into the giant swirling whirlpool that is Anish Kapoor's Descension, on view at Pier 1 through September 10, 2017. Or check out the work of local artists at the nearby 99 Plymouth.
15. It took us months of exploring Brooklyn Bridge Park before realizing there was often live music happening right under our noses at Bargemusic. Check out the FREE Saturday concerts during warmer weather months.
16. Leave your wallet at home to enjoy the FREE family events and programming happening year-round from art, to kiddie concerts, movies, walking tours, and plenty of sports and exercise sessions.
17. Join children's librarians from the Brooklyn Heights Library for Summer Reading Storytime in the park.
18. Skip rocks at Pebble Beach. We typically get a box of cookies at One Girl Cookies and stand between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, testing our abilities and taking in the views.
19. Go rock climbing at DUMBO Boulders. This 12-foot-high outdoor climbing wall is back for summer 2017, but with occasional modified hours due to MTA maintenance.
20. Kayak on the East River from Pier 2 for FREE in the summer months. Little kids can ride with mom or dad.
21. Hop on the East River Ferry from Pier 1 to visit lower Manhattan.
22. Pick a playground, any playground. Main Street Playground was our go-to spot until we realized how much fun it is to explore the park's other jungle gyms.
23. Pump some iron at the Pier 5 fitness area (yes, they have a section for kids!) before stuffing yourselves with the best salted caramel ice cream this side of the East River at Ample Hills.
24. Look up. My 10-year-old loves visiting the Green Roofs at Piers 1, 5, and 6. They keep buildings cool in summer, warm in winter, and add an element of Mother Nature to our concrete jungle.
25. Grab a homemade ice cream sandwich from Melt, which now has a permanent location on Front Street.
Bathrooms can be found from one end of Brooklyn Bridge Park to the other (a major bonus for little ones). Hungry? Concession stands abound in warm weather and family-friendly restaurants are never far. Also worth noting: shade can be found everywhere. For more to see and explore in the neighborhood, check out our Dumbo Neighborhood Guide.
Image credits: Julienne Schaer/courtesy of BBP (slide mountain); Mariko Zapf (climbing wall); Shinya Suzuki via Flickr (carousel); Alexa Hoyer/courtesy of BBP (snail); Charlie via Flickr (boating); Nicholas Wang via Flickr (pebble beach); Courtesy of Brooklyn Flea; Etienne Frossard/courtesy of BBP (pool).
A version of this article first published in April 2012 but it has since been updated.