In Manhattan, Central Park gets all the glory and good press when it comes to beautiful green spaces where kids and families can picnic, play and sign up for low cost classes year round. But take the Number 1 train just a few more stops north, to 145th Street, step outside and head west and you’ll find yourself at Riverbank State Park, Manhattan’s equally beautiful – but less well known – open green space… and much, much more.

What Makes It Special?
Well, for one thing, the inspiration for Riverbank came from modern, urban, Japanese rooftop design, making it the only park of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. While your average park is content to hang around at ground level, Riverbank rises 69 feet above the Hudson River, offering visitors astounding views of said river, the Palisades, and the George Washington Bridge as you amble around its landscaped 28 acre grounds.

What’s There To Do… Outside?
You can grab a picnic table (permits and reservations are necessary for groups of 15 or more, otherwise it’s first come/first served; no grilling or open fire cooking). Or hit one of their two playgrounds. In the Summer, there’s a water splashing area, and a carousel that runs Memorial Day through Labor Day, plus a 25 meter outdoor pool in July and August. Tennis court permits are available from the beginning of April to the end of November, and roller skating happens on a designated rink April through October (weather permitting). The 440 meter running track is open to the public, as are the softball fields and basketball courts.  (They are also available for group rental.)

What’s There To Do… Inside?
Move your picnic indoors at Riverbank’s restaurant, Tian (same great views, better weather).  Or, October through Labor Day, do your laps in a 50 meter indoor Olympic pool. There’s also a gym – membership required; and a handball court, plus an ice-skating rink (the walls are sheer, but it has a roof) open November through March for both family stumbling about and watching performances by companies like the Ice Theatre of New York.

What If I Want To Do Everything… Better?
From Kids to Seniors, and Adult classes open to teens 15 and up, Riverbank has it all!  Swimming lessons for any age at almost any time. Art, Chess, Ballet, Violin, Keyboard, Tap, Guitar, Painting, Drawing, Jazz, Cheerleading, Tumbling, Salsa, Runway Modeling, Soccer, Basketball, Karate, Tennis, Baseball, Track, Flag Football, Figure Skating, Hockey, even a Free Play Co-Ed Youth Open Gym that’s, believe it or not, actually free! As for the classes that aren’t, Riverbank is still one of the best deals in town. Pool fees are $2 Adult, $1 children.  The Fitness Room is $10 a day.  Ice Skating is $5 Adults, $3 children, with a Season Pass available for only $200 for Adults, $150 for children under 18. Some classes start as low as $5 each!

How About Some Culture?
Riverbank’s 800 seat outdoor amphitheater regularly hosts drama and musical acts in the summertime, and Christmas brings an annual tree lighting (with free hot cocoa for all!)

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With Summer coming to an end and parents on the look-out for things their kids can do indoors, Riverbank could easily turn into one-stop – and low-cost – shopping for the entire family. Take that, Central Park!

Do you have a secret gem of a destination other New Yorkers don’t know about? Tell us.  We can be discreet.

— Alina Adams

photo credit: Shannon via flickr & Ice Theater of New York