Midtown Manhattan may be dominated by buildings, but if you look closely you can find tiny, tranquil oases tucked into the cracks. The neighborhood has some of the city's best pocket parks — these small nature-filled nooks contrasting beautifully against the urban streetscapes, cradled by canyons of skyscrapers. Typically pocket parks are no bigger than 1/4 of an acre, with each containing its own unique elements... but all seem to have one connecting feature (psst: it's a waterfall).
Below, check out some of the best pocket parks you'll find in the neighborhood, all accessible to the public (and all close to the locations selling our 1904 sandwich!).
Greenacre Park is the gold standard of pocket parks. It opened in 1971 and was developed, and is still maintained by Greenacre Foundation. Designed by Hideo Sasaki, this pocket park features three levels, each with its own vibe, and a 25-foot waterfall "constructed from huge sculpted granite blocks with a mass of falling water." And yes, this water also flows through a peaceful brook, alongside well-kept plants.
But that's not all — this pocket park has locust trees, a terrace, an outdoor cafe, a trellis, heating for the chilly seasons, and plenty of lush greenery and flowers. It's beloved by locals, and it's on the National Register of Historic Places, having been heralded for its "contributions to contemporary Manhattan life."
You'll find it bustling during the lunch hour, but part of the fun is gathering with New Yorkers in this little paradise.
Greenacre Park is located at 217 E 51st St, between 2nd and 3rd avenues. Open every day, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.
3 minute walk from Lexington Avenue / 53 Street
Paley Park also features a waterfall, which appears more like a wall of water and provides a dramatic 20-foot backdrop to the intimate park. Tucked away and surrounded by residential buildings, the park — which opened in 1967 — allows you an escape from the Midtown bustle while also keeping you in a New York state of mind.
This one also has roots in the past — it is the original "vest pocket park," and was designed by Robert Zion on the former site of the legendary Stork Club. Television pioneer William Paley purchased the club in the 1960s after it had struggled for years, and promptly tore it down to create this park. As the New York Times reported in 1966, Paley had conceived the idea as a memorial to his late father.
Paley Park is located at 3 East 53rd St, between 5th and Madison. Open every day, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.
1 minute walk from 5 Avenue / 53 Street
McGraw-Hill Pocket Park
You'll find another waterfall at the McGraw Hill pocket park, but this one you can walk through, giving it a novel edge over the others.
The park opened in the 1970s, and the 40-feet-wide, and 20-feet-tall water feature was an instant hit with New Yorkers — the New York Times ran several stories that decade, and published a spread showing throngs of New Yorkers there during the summer.
It's also frequented by tourists, being just a few minutes from Times Square. So you may have to wait to get that perfect photo inside the 17-foot-long glass tunnel. The park also acts as a plaza that connects 48th to 49th streets, so even if you're in a hurry you can take a little detour to enjoy it.
McGraw Hill pocket park is located at 1221 6th Ave, between 48th and 49th.
2 minute walk from 47 - 50 Streets - Rockefeller Center
50th Street Commons
The 50th Street Commons is not from the same era as the other pocket parks — this one is fairly new, under ten years old. It was built by the MTA as part of what is now called Grand Central Madison, which is bringing LIRR service to Grand Central.
The park is 2,400 square-feet, and features tables and chairs and a glass waterfall that changes colors. There's also an added function: it's part of an MTA ventilation facility for the new Grand Central Madison concourse, but sound-absorbing materials were used so that you'll still find peace and quiet in this little oasis set back from the street.
50th Street Commons is located at 48 East 50th St, between Park and Madison.
3 minute walk from 51 Street