My daughter and I enjoyed our spring ride on the Bronx Culture Trolley so much that we decided to try another special borough tour: the City Island Seaside Trolley.
If you’ve never been to City Island—which, though located in the Bronx, is reminiscent of a small New England fishing village—this is a great way to visit. Like its South Bronx sister, the City Island Seaside Trolley offers hop-on-hop-off service to various points of interest. That said, it only runs on the first Friday evening of every month. It departs from the last stop on the 6 train, Pelham Bay Station, but given that you can catch the public bus to City Island from the same spot, you can visit the isle anytime.
We’ve written about City Island before, and although we originally suggested driving to the isle, I disagree (and not just because I don’t have a car or a driver’s license). If you catch the express 6 train during rush hour, the commute from the Upper East Side to Pelham Bay takes less than 30 minutes. Plus, you don’t have to find parking. (Admittedly, the 6 local takes about twice as long, but it’s still doable. Bonus: You'll spy great graffiti along the way.)
The one downside to taking the trolley is that some of the island’s attractions, like the City Island Nautical Museum and various antique stores, aren’t open on Friday evenings. However, in addition to the novelty of riding on the retro red-and-green trolley (which my 5-year-old seems to find endlessly thrilling), you get a cursory tour of the area and special deals at local stores and restaurants, many of which stay open late to accommodate passengers. And you get to see the sun set on City Island!
It’s hard to believe this lovely island is so close to the über-urban Pelham Bay Station. Commuters crowd the bus stops, waiting for their rides home. The trolley picks up its riders at the Bx29 stop.
When the trolley arrived, it clanged its old-fashioned bell and we all piled on. The passengers included many Bronx natives, as well as international tourists. A guide handed us "tickets," really a small strip of paper that highlighted specific island businesses and special bargains for the evening, mostly small discounts and free wine with dinner.
As the trolley rounded Pelham Bay Park, which is New York City’s largest park, the guide shared historical tidbits, and pointed out its golf course and nearby Orchard Beach.
The first stop was still on the mainland: the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum and Carriage House. The trolley is a wonderful way to reach this lovely museum and garden, since it’s difficult to access via public transportation. Although most of the passengers disembarked here, my daughter and I continued to the isle.
When I was in high school, my best friend lived on City Island, so I spent a good deal of time there back in the '80s. Except for the addition of a few big businesses (I was a bit shocked to see a Dunkin’ Donuts—such is capitalism) and some residential development, the isle is relatively unchanged, and that’s a big part of its charm.
City Island has one main drag—City Island Avenue—and the trolley drops you off anywhere along the street. We journeyed to the southern end so we could eat at Johnny’s Famous Reef Restaurant. One of two cafeteria-style eateries at this part of the island (the other is Tony's Pier across the street), Johnny’s offers yummy, greasy seafood and a boisterous atmosphere. We tried to dine outside at the picnic tables, which offer stunning views of the Long Island Sound and the Stepping Stones Lighthouse, but the seagulls circling overhead made us feel like we were in The Birds, so we retreated inside. Happily we could still see the water through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows as we chowed down on fried clams, and fish and chips, all for about 12 bucks.
After dinner, we strolled down City Island Avenue. At first we mostly passed restaurants. We peeked down residential streets—the water is visible at every dead end—and watched a pack of motorcyclists blare by.
Mid-isle we came upon the public school, which has a cute nautical-themed playground, Ambrosini Field. Although the quaint Lickety Split Ice Cream Parlor was closed for renovations (it has since reopened), my daughter enjoyed posing with the colorful stone lion out front. Word is the owners have hula hoops and chalk on hand to amuse their young patrons.
We spent a good deal of time in the Kaleidoscope Gallery, which has an eclectic selection of wares for kids and adults. With the shopkeeper’s blessing, my daughter played with a wooden kitchen set in the toy section, while I perused jewelry (mostly new but a few vintage pieces on consignment), household knickknacks and high-end greeting cards. My kid was particularly taken with the old-fashioned gumball dispenser at the front, which was stocked with exotic flavors.
Our last stop was the Focal Point Gallery, which sells fine art and jewelry. The spot was doling out free snacks and beverages to trolley passengers. I purchased a loud, plastic ring (just my style) while my daughter grabbed a brownie. At this point it was 8pm, so we hopped the trolley back to the mainland. It certainly made for a memorable after-school mommy-daughter playdate!
The City Island Seaside Trolley departs from Pelham Bay Station the first Friday of every month. It makes four loops from 5:30-9:30pm. For more information, call 718-885-9100 or visit cityislandchamber.org.
This post originally published in June 2011.