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, so 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 and 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 and hibachi-style barbecue. 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 Governor’s Island, which just keeps getting better. In 2016, the car-less isle added new playgrounds, a 57-foot slide, new treehouse and more.
3. Grab a pair of binoculars and go butterfly watching. They are so abundant, a guide is available for download.
RELATED: 25 Outdoor Adventures for NYC Kids
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. But hurry up, it might be the last year for the pool unless local officials intervene. Grab a Lizzmonade at the concession stand while the kids play in the sandy "beach" section of the pool area.
7. Pick up cool vintage items (or whatever strikes your fancy!) at Brooklyn Flea, which arrived on Sundays for summer 2016.
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.
RELATED: 50 Things to Do with Kids in Park Slope
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. View the work of local artists at 99 Plymouth, highlighting the nature, ecology and history of the area.
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. Go for a walk. One of the best things about this park is simply the views and the ability to walk for a long stretch without the intrusion of NYC traffic.
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. Hit the outdoor rock climbing wall at the brand-new DUMBO Boulders.
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. Have a homemade ice cream sandwich, offered daily all summer long, from Melt.
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.