One of New York City’s greatest offerings and worst-kept secrets is that there’s a large boat you can step aboard for free, 24 hours a day/seven days a week, that will take you on a scenic, breezy tour of the New York Harbor. The Staten Island Ferry (the first iteration of which launched in the early 1800s) is the easiest way to get to the borough, and boards from the tip of Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal, which is just steps from the subway.
2 to 5 minute walk from subway
With the trip taking 25 minutes each way, some people make the journey the destination, and just ride the large orange vessel there and back. You get great views of the Statue of Liberty, the Lower Manhattan skyline, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge – plus, there's plenty of space on the long outdoor decks where you can take it all in.
While the quick round-trip ride is how many non-residents "see" Staten Island, there are plenty of reasons to disembark at the other side and do some exploring. Below you’ll find a non-exhaustive look at the best diversions in St. George, the neighborhood right by the ferry terminal, and its immediate environs.
The concept at this restaurant, located just a few blocks from the ferry at 27 Hyatt Street, is fantastic. At its core, Enoteca Maria is an Italian spot, serving things like long hot peppers stuffed with pork, a rich and sticky medallion of porchetta, and one of the best slabs of lasagna to be found in all five boroughs.
Ever since 2015, though, owner Joe Scaravella has been supplementing his menu della casa by bringing in what he calls the "Nonnas of the World'' as guest chefs, literal grandmothers who prepare dishes from their homeland as the daily specials. There have been nonnas from Japan, Egypt, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Argentina... and that's just a few recent examples.
Portions are huge (bring a crew if you can), the vibe is lively and festive, and the whole space is decked out with action figures and superheroes from Scaravella's personal collection. Enoteca Maria was closed for 18 months during the pandemic, and currently, hours remain limited to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with the last seating at 7:30 p.m. (call for reservations and updates before visiting).
Enoteca Maria is located at 27 Hyatt St. 718-447-2777; enotecamaria.com
RISPOLI PASTRY SHOP
If you're looking for a sweet treat, head right over to Rispoli Pastry Shop — this location (there are two in the borough) is right next to Enoteca Maria, and very close to the ferry. While the old school bakery has plenty of baked goods, they also serve up traditional Italian ice in a little white paper cup, just like you got when you were a kid.
Rispoli Pastry Shop is located at 29 Hyatt St; instagram.com/rispoli_bakery_
When the sprawling, sleekly-designed Empire Outlets mall first opened in May 2019, just steps from the Staten Island Ferry landing, it was billed as "New York City's only outlet shopping destination." And that's still true! The timing wasn't great, obviously, what with COVID hitting less than a year later, but, despite an exodus of tenants during the early pandemic, Empire Outlets remains open, with plenty of shopping and eating options eager for your business.
There's a busy Shake Shack there, for example, and an outpost of Chinatown's first-rate Bake Culture for sweets and snacks, and bubble tea at Kung Fu. Party spot—but still family-friendly—Clinton Hall recently opened a branch of their craft-beer and pub-food chain, featuring a giant outdoor eating, drinking, and game-playing area overlooking the harbor. Levi's, Old Navy, Nike, and Nordstrom have their discounted "factory stores" at the mall. It's worth missing a boat or two to wander around before heading back to Manhattan.
Empire Outlets is located at 55 Richmond Terrace; empireoutlets.nyc
The Staten Island Ferry Hawks
The borough’s home team is now called the Ferry Hawks (bye, Yankees!), and the official name of stadium has been changed to the Staten Island University Hospital Community Park, but watching a game here by the water still offers all the homespun pleasures of not-quite Major League Baseball (this is the Atlantic League) not to mention one of the greatest views in sports, sitting behind the plate and looking out over the harbor.
The Ferry Hawks season lasts from April into September. Good seats can be had for around $14, there's almost always a fun promotion going on, beer is easy to come by, and all your classic baseball food is on the menu: pretzels, hot dogs, and Dippin Dots among them.
The Ferry Hawks play at 75 Richmond Terrace; ferryhawks.com
New Asha Sri Lankan Restaurant
New Asha, the Sri Lankan treasure at 322 Victory Boulevard, isn't new anymore--co-owner Viji Devadas told us she's been cooking here for 24 years--nor is it a secret, with well-publicized visits from politicians, food writers, and the late, legendary Anthony Bourdain back in 2009 (check out S5, E19 of No Reservations).
During a recent visit, Devadas served us one of the best plates of food we've had this year, a lively, rich platter of chicken curry, jackfruit curry, yellow dhal, and green beans. Phenomenal stuff. Staten Island is home to one of the largest Sri Lankan diasporas in the world, and New Asha is a great place to start exploring all of the culinary gems out here.
Heads up: it's a bit of a hike from the ferry, about 20 minutes, though the MTA's S62 bus puts you right out front.
New Asha is located at 322 Victory Blvd. 718-420-0649; facebook.com/New-Asha-Sri-Lankan-Restaurant
"Postcards" 9/11 Memorial
Located in the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade Park, about a five-minute walk from the ferry, Postcards is a unique memorial to the 263 Staten Island residents killed in the September 11 attacks, and the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center. Architect Masayuki Sono positioned the memorial to frame the Freedom Tower across the water, and the wings you’ll see are actually giant folded postcards, which Sono said are meant to symbolize "a desire to create a place that connects the victims back to us... and personal communications between loved ones."
The interior walls of the piece are composed of individual postcards, with the names, birth dates, job titles (the reason they were in the Twin Towers that day), and profiles, rendered in silhouette and based on family photos.
There is also a separate memorial to the 73 Staten Island first responders who died in recent years from exposure to toxic substances at the World Trade Center site. A seedling from the Survivor Tree, the Callery pear tree growing at Ground Zero that somehow survived the attacks, was planted here in 2021, a symbol of resilience and hope.
The 9/11 Memorial is located at North Shore Waterfront Esplanade Park on Bank St, and is accessible 24 hours a day; 911memorial.org
Black Lives Matter Plaza
The Black Lives Matter street sign is at the intersection of Richmond Terrace and Wall Street, near the ferry terminal, where it was dedicated in 2020.
The large yellow Black Lives Matter mural that was painted on the street around the same time — on Richmond Terrace, in front of the court buildings and the NYPD's 120th Precinct — has faded away, however.
National Lighthouse Museum
After nearly two decades of planning and construction, the National Lighthouse Museum, finally opened in the summer of 2015 within the once-bustling complex of the United States Lighthouse Service’s General Depot, located by the ferry on what's now called the Promenade. The mission of this modestly sized but impressively packed museum is to preserve and showcase the history of these once-vital maritime aids, which are threatened with destruction (via disuse and development) around the country.
The centerpiece here is the Wall of Lights, a red lighthouse-shaped structure right at the museum's entrance that houses more than 180 models of famous lighthouses, mostly from the United States but with a few wild cards thrown in like Colossus of Rhodes. Profiles of keepers throughout history, essential workers of their day who chose the "lonely life," as well as navigation charts, timelines, and lighthouse ephemera round out the displays. And hardcore lighthouse heads can sign up for a three-hour boat tour around the harbor.
The National Lighthouse Museum is located at 200 The Promenade at Lighthouse Point; lighthousemuseum.org
Flagship Brewing Company
Minthorne Street in Tompkinsville, the neighborhood just south of St. George and a short walk from the ferry, may only be a block long, but over the past few years it's effectively transformed into a party zone, with a series of restaurants and bars lining the nearly car-free street.
The pioneer here is Flagship Brewing Company, which was opened at 40 Minthorne in 2014 by Staten Island lifers Matt McGinley and Jay Sykes. They offer a wide, rotating variety of beers on tap, all brewed on premises, and the huge open space features communal picnic tables, a thumping sound system, and a plush outdoor seating area make it ideal for big crews and/or people watching.
Also on Minthorne is the glitzy new Flour and Oak, with a menu of Italian crowd-pleasers, a champagne vending machine, and a rowdy vibe. And there’s the upcoming La Greca, a Dominican spot which, based on the volume of the music blasting from the door on a recent Sunday afternoon, seems to be positioning itself in similar fashion.
Take a Train to the Ferry
The Staten Island Ferry runs every 30 minutes, on the hour and half hour, on weekends, holidays, and off-peak times in both directions. During rush hour in the morning and evening it departs every 15 minutes. In Manhattan, the Whitehall Terminal is right near multiple subway lines, including the R/W at Whitehall station, the 1 train at South Ferry, and the 4, 5 at Bowling Green.