Socrates Sculpture Park: A Hidden (and Free) Gem in Queens

Part Garden, Part Outdoor Art Museum, The Socrates Sculpture Park Has Views and Classes

It’s a total cliché to say something is a hidden gem, but in the case of Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, it’s hard to find a description that’s more apt. For four years, I constantly drove past the park, which is somewhat concealed behind a tall fence on Vernon Boulevard and Broadway, on the way to my daughter's school. Finally, my family decided to investigate.

We weren’t expecting to find a five-acre, open-air art park with amazing views of the East River and Manhattan. It was built on a landfill and unofficial dumping ground 30 years ago and has a free-wheeling bohemian vibe reminiscent of the '60s or '70s. Artwork changes regularly, but the people who visit are invariably engaged in the same activities: wandering among the sculptures, sunbathing, reading, taking in the city views or gardens, or just having old-fashioned conversation. (In all seriousness, it's one of the few places I can think of where I rarely see someone absorbed in a cell phone.)

The annual LIC Bike Parade is an all-ages affair.

Another retro throwback: not only is admission FREE—everything is free. Socrates offers an impressive education series for kids, teens, and adults. Some, like Saturday Sculpture Workshops and Storytime at Socrates, are drop-in, while a few require registration. There are lots of family-friendly events, like the LIC Bike Parade, the Summer Solstice Celebration, and Queens Food Day. If that’s not enough, there are fitness classes, like yoga and tai chi, and in the summer, there’s kayaking in the East River (fine for accompanied kids with a waiver) and after-dark film screenings. 

RELATED: 30 Best Things to Do in Queens with Preschoolers and Toddlers

Socrates has movie screenings all summer long.

But wait, there's more! On August 3, you can celebrate Louis Armstrong's birthday with a special Jazz for Kids hour prior to the regular performance. Plus, on two Sundays in August, Hip to Hip's Theater Company kicks off its Shakespeare in the Park performances 30 minutes early with a special interactive workshop for kids ages 4-12.

Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again. Photo by Katie Denny Horowitz/courtesy of the park.

As for the art, Socrates Sculpture Park has traditionally displayed works by multiple artists that are switched out after a few months, so there's almost always something new to see. The current exhibit, Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., draws from the African-American experience and political theater and plays off the saying “Greatest of All Time" (a.k.a., "G.O.A.T.") As you’ll see from the sculptures of actual goats scattered throughout the park, the artist makes use of the literal versus the metaphorical, but kids will just be excited to see animal sculptures.

RELATED: Grounds for Sculpture: An Outdoor Art Park in New Jersey

Socrates hosts many kid friendly performances, like Circus Amok.

All in all, a visit to the Socrates Sculpture Park has something for everyone—art, performances, classes, amazing Manhattan views, and if you're so inclined, plenty of green space to spend a lazy day. Picnicking is allowed, although groups of 20 or more need a permit, and alcohol is banned. Bonus: It's open every day, 9am to sunset!

Only street parking is allowed, but my family has never experienced a problem, although we may have to walk a block or two. Or take the N/W to the Broadway stop, and you'll have just a few blocks to walk. Come August 2017, you can even take the ferry here! A ride via the Q103 or Q104 buses will help you reach the park quickly too, and maybe a few other nearby sites like the Noguchi Museum or MoMA PS1. Leashed dogs are allowed (and add to the charm). The park is fully accessible to those with disabilities. For more information, call 718-956-1819.

Top photo: Past exhibition Meg Webster’s Concave Room for Bees. Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the park.

Socrates Sculpture Garden
32-01 Vernon Boulevard
11106 Long Island City , NY
Phone: (718) 956-1819
40° 46' 3.7488" N, 73° 56' 10.2588" W
New York