Did you know there's an expansive retreat located right on the coast of Staten Island? Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, an 83-acre oasis on the borough's north shore, has a lot going on.
Located just a 10-minute bus ride from the ferry slip, Snug Harbor functions as a public park, with broad lawns for picnicking and playing, and it boasts more than a dozen distinct botanical gardens, each with a different theme. There's also an education center, a working farm, wetlands, two separate 9/11 memorials, several event spaces, and plenty of room to relax and explore.
And that's not even taking into account all of the history! Snug Harbor was founded with a bequest from shipping heir Robert Richard Randall, who died in 1801. His will stated that the family estate, and all of its fortune, be used to build and maintain a haven for "aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors."
The concert hall on the grounds is one of the oldest in New York City, and series of museums have taken over a majestic row of landmarked Greek revival buildings. The Staten Island Children's Museum is located here as well.
It's really too much to see and do in a single day, but our Snug Harbor Guide will give you a broad overview of the place so you can plan your visit accordingly.
One of the stars of the show here, and almost certainly the most-photographed location on the grounds, is the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden, an utterly transportive space tucked away at the southern end of the Cottage Row (itself a charming feature of the place).
Based on gardens from China's Ming Dynasty, which ran from 1368 to 1644, the NYCSG features a spectacular bamboo forest path, eight separate pavilions, bridges and paths and cool little nooks and passageways, numerous waterfalls, a koi-filled pond, and a variety of fantastical gongshi, or scholar’s rocks, which are said to encourage contemplation.
It's all very striking and beautiful, and something of an engineering marvel when you consider that no nails or glue were used in the construction—the wooden elements are joined together through a traditional Chinese mortise-and-tenon system. (Note that entrance to the New York Chinese Scholar's Garden costs $5, and tickets can be purchased at Cottage E.)
Another popular photo-op spot at Snug Harbor is the grand Allée situated right nearby, a verdant, sun-speckled tunnel made from 120 upright hornbeam trees curving around an arched structure. The Allée was created using a technique called pleaching, which is popular in classic French and Italian designs and can be found in extravagant gardens all over Europe, including Versailles.
The Connie Gretz Secret Garden, a hedgerow maze situated within the walls of a tiny castle, was closed for maintenance on a recent visit, but the facade still made for a good photo backdrop. The Carl Grillo Glass House (basically a greenhouse) was also closed, but there were still plenty of stroll-through opportunities at the Rose Garden, the White Garden, the Tuscan Garden, and the Wetlands.
The Museums Of Snug Harbor
The five Greek Revival buildings that greet you as you enter the campus were among the first structures to be landmarked in all of New York City, granted the designation in 1965 by the newly formed New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Today they house three distinct institutions: The Staten Island Museum, focusing on natural science as well as art; the Noble Maritime Collection, which highlights the work of John A. Noble as well as artifacts from New York's long history as a working waterfront; and the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art.
All three of the above require an admission fee to enter, as does the expansive Staten Island Children's Museum. The Children's Museum is located in Building M, looking out over the East Meadow and its gigantic praying mantis, as well an adjacent structure, now connected via glass bridge, that used to be the Snug Harbor barn and is now home to the museum's live animal exhibitions.
Remembering September 11
There are two 9/11 memorials at Snug Harbor. The Healing Garden, a one-acre plot of landscaped hillside that was opened in 2008, is dedicated to the hundreds of Staten Islanders killed on September 11th. A winding path, with commemorative benches at each switchback, leads you through the perennials, shrubs, and hardwood trees down to the wetlands. A reflecting pool, fed by water running through stony culverts, is filled during the summer.
The World Trade Center Educational Tribute building is a more tangible memorial, with photos from the day, remembrances and portraits of those lost, and a few relics from the attack, like the battered FDNY helmet recovered from the rubble. The tribute site is staffed and maintained by FDNY firefighters.
Eating And Relaxing
Picnicking is allowed throughout the Snug Harbor campus, either on blankets on one the many lawns, or at tables along Cottage Row. There's also a snack bar, called Harbor Eats, with an impressively lengthy menu (tacos, burgers, salads, chicken nuggets, cheese steaks, chili dogs, fried pickles, ice cream) at reasonable prices. The on-site Heritage Farm hosts a seasonal greenmarket as well.
There Really IS A lot Going On At Snug Harbor — Is There A Map?
Yes, there is! You can see a detailed map of the grounds here.
Getting To Snug Harbor
In Manhattan, the MTA takes you to the Staten Island Ferry at Whitehall Terminal via multiple subway lines, including the N, R, W to Whitehall station, the 1 train to South Ferry, and the 4, 5 to Bowling Green.
The Staten Island Ferry runs every 30 minutes on weekends, holidays, and off-peak times in both directions. During rush hour in the morning and evening it departs every 15 minutes. The ferry is free.
At the St. George Terminal on Staten Island, take the S40 bus and Snug Harbor is about a 10-minute ride away. The Snug Harbor campus is open daily from dawn to dusk, but some of the features here, such as the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, have more limited hours. Be sure to check the website for special seasonal tours and a map of the grounds.
Snug Harbor's main outdoor grounds and gardens are free of charge, but some areas have an admission fee. There is also a Discovery Pass that will gives you admission to all of the spaces with a fee, if you're feel adventurous. And be sure to check the calendar for upcoming seasonal events.
The ferry is a 2 to 5 minute walk from subway