City Island is a charming and unique spot off the coast of the Bronx. It offers a quaint seaside escape from the bustling streets of New York City. The island features a rich history, unique attractions, and mouthwatering seafood restaurants. It’s no wonder people flock to this charming island for a day trip, especially in the summer. After all, it’s a lot cheaper and easier to get here than any other island with a New England feel, like Nantucket. A lot cheaper, too. Ready to dive into the wonders of City Island? Let’s explore the top things to do on City Island NY!
- Explore City Island’s unique history, seafood restaurants, nautical activities & art scene.
- Enjoy picturesque houses and waterfronts or go on a fishing expedition for an unforgettable experience.
- Visit the Bronx Zoo & NY Botanical Garden nearby for even more unique experiences!
A Brief History of City Island
City Island has a long history. Before Europeans “settled” City Island, it was inhabited by the Siwanoy band of Lenape Native Americans. During the summer, they would typically camp at what they called, “Naptenock.”
Adriaen Block, a Dutch trader and ship captain, sailed past City Island on his way east in Long Island Sound and mapped it.
In 1761, Benjamin Palmer, an influential New Yorker, purchased the island with the vision of creating a thriving seaport. Local settlers had given it various names over the preceding century:
- Minnewits Island
- Minneford Island
- Mulberry Island
His grand development plan was shattered when the British Navy invaded what is now Pelham Bay Park in October 1776. Palmer quickly left and returned to Manhattan.
City Island became a busy fishing village thanks to its strategic location on Long Island Sound. The community of oyster fishermen and shipbuilders decided to drop the ‘New’ from their name as their commercial identity grew.
Residents of City Island voted in 1895 to separate from Westchester County and become a part of New York City proper. This became law in 1898.
1900s to Today
City Island played a significant role in the construction of ships, primarily yachts. They contributed in the construction of military vessels in the twentieth century.
Nowadays, City Island is a special neighborhood in the Bronx that has the charm of a New England seaside town. People often call it the Bronx fishing village.
City Island feels like no where else in the City. It has narrow streets, historic houses, and fresh seafood dining options along City Island Avenue. The locals, who like to be called “clamdiggers,” strongly oppose franchises and major development. Dunkin’ Donuts is the only franchise on the island. It’s likely there to serve the island’s police officers, firefighters, and hospital workers. The island’s commerce board denies most apartments and condos to preserve the island’s small-scale environment.
The general laidback vibe apparently doesn’t apply to developers.
Exploring this Unique Bronx Neighborhood
City Island is on the extreme western end of Long Island Sound. If you’re looking at a map, it’s south of Pelham Bay and east of Eastchester Bay. There is so much to do on City Island that you could easily spend an entire day there! This 1.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide island is like no other place within New York City limits. The best way to enjoy City Island is to park and wander along the 1.5-mile stretch. Some of the major draws to this seaside escape for a day excursion include:
- Enjoying fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants
- Sailing and water sports
- And admiring charming historic houses
Charming Historic Houses
You’ll encounter a mix of New England-style houses while strolling through City Island’s picturesque streets. A few of the historic homes that exemplify the architectural style of this unique Bronx neighborhood to be on the lookout for are:
- On City Island Avenue, the Samuel Pell House is a well-preserved example of the frame houses that dotted 19th-century New York City. It was built in 1837.
- On 65 Schofield Street, the William H. Schofield House was constructed in 1845
Some more spots on the island to be on the lookout for if you’re a fan of architecture or film:
- The turreted summer home of the Tenenbaums family from the film “The Royal Tenenbaums,” located at 21 Tier Street.
- King Avenue waterfront mansions
- Minnieford Avenue bungalows
- Belden and Horton Streets are famous for their historic cottages
- Take a stroll down City Island Avenue near the Original Crab Shanty
They all add to the island’s charm and allure. Wandering the City Island streets to appreciate well-preserved architecture is worth a visit in and of itself.
Aside from seafood, City Island keeps-up the New England image in other ways. Namely: boating.
City Island’s prime location on Long Island Sound makes it an ideal spot for sailing. The New York Sailing Center offers sailing lessons for both beginners and experienced sailors alike. Meanwhile the island’s yacht clubs and marinas cater to boating aficionados, such as:
- The Harlem Yacht Club, where boats stretch toward Rodman’s Neck, Manhattan and East Bronx skylines
- City Island Yacht Club
- And Morris Yacht and Beach Club
The Columbia University Sailing School Team even practices near the island.
Riptide III provides options for day fishing, night fishing, and a sunset boat ride from City Island. You can also book fishing trips on another charter fishing boat called Island Current.
From serene sunset boat rides to thrilling fishing expeditions, you can explore a range of water activities from City Island.
City Island Nautical Museum
Dive into the island’s maritime history at the City Island Nautical Museum. You’ll find it on the top floor of the building that once served as the island’s elementary school from 1897 to 1975. The site was also a Revolutionary War graveyard, interestingly enough.
This local museum showcases an impressive collection of ships , celebrating the island’s nautical heritage. The City Island Nautical Museum is a must-visit attraction if you’re at all interested in the island’s maritime past.
Local Art and Culture
City Island boasts a vibrant art scene, with numerous galleries showcasing the works of local Bronx artists. Two spots that provide a platform for the creative talents of the community are:
Focal Point Gallery was founded in 1974 by photographer Ron Terner. The gallery features artwork by Bronx artists and host events such as art shows and concerts.
The Artist, also known as “Starving Artist,” is a music venue and cafe perfect for artists and fans, offering a variety of coffee and culinary treats.
City Island is home to several houses of worship, including:
- Saint Mary Star of the Sea Holy Roman Catholic Church
- Trinity United Methodist Church
- Grace Episcopal Church
- Temple Beth El
If you’re keen on delving deeper into the island’s cultural landscape, book walking tours of City Island. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explore Belden Point
Belden Point is a popular pocket park located at the southern tip of the island. The name comes from a developer who opened an amusement park in the area. It’s the perfect spot to take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the scenic waterfront views. The public greenspace is also is home to several seafood restaurants. With stunning views of the water, it’s a great place to enjoy a leisurely walk and take in the beauty of the island.
City Island offers plenty of serene parks and waterfront spaces to unwind and soak in the laidback island vibes.
Other greenspaces in and nearby City Island aside from Belden Point include:
- Hawkins Park
- Promenade on Fordham Street
- Pelham Bay Park
- Pells and other notable New Yorkers are buried in Pelham Cemetery on the island’s east side, beneath a view of Hart Island.
These parks provide a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The soothing ambiance and scenic beauty make them perfect for a warm summer day on City Island.
Attend Community Events
City Island remains a vibrant community hosting various fairs and events throughout the year. The Fall Arts & Crafts Festival is a popular event. Vendors’ stalls feature handmade jewelry, clothing, paintings, drawings, and more.
Don’t miss the annual clam chowder festival that happens the same day, either.
City Island is home to a surprisingly diverse array of wildlife, considering its location. Regular appearances are made by:
- And the occasional deer, coyotes, and turkeys
You can see the island’s wildlife in its natural environment at the Ditmars Wetlands. It’s a protected area on the west side of City Island. Be sure to keep an eye out for the various bird species that call City Island home during your visit.
City Island’s transportation history is an intriguing aspect of its past. The island was once connected to the mainland via a tiny rope ferry. The Pelham Park & City Island Railway was a narrow-gauge horsecar route that operated from 1887 to 1919. It played a significant role in the island’s development.
The original City Island Bridge, constructed in 1873, was replaced in 2017 by the new City Island Causeway Bridge. It’s now a modern connection to the island for residents and visitors alike.
City Island Branch of the NYC Public Library
This little-known branch of the New York Public Library has been operating since 1903. It moved to its current location in 1970 and was completely renovated in 1997. The City Island Branch houses a 1,000-volume ship collection dedicated to shipwrecks, naval history, and pirates. It also has a large children’s section and an outdoor garden for special events and activities. There’s also free Internet—provided you call and schedule an appointment.
Notable Filming Locations
City Island’s picturesque setting and quaint atmosphere have made it a popular filming location for a variety of movies and TV shows. Notable films shot on the island include:
- “A Bronx Tale”
- “The Royal Tenenbaums”
- “Raging Bull”
- “Wedding Daze”
- “Don’t Say a Word”
Some of the island’s most iconic locations have served as the backdrop for these productions, such as:
- The City Island Yacht Club
- And City Island Bridge
Obviously, take a tour of filming locations if you want to trace the paths of beloved movie characters.
Shopping on City Island
Like more famous New England island destinations, you’ll find many cute boutique shops here. Support local businesses by visiting:
239 Play is a cute vintage shop located in an 1860s building filled with throwback toys, games, and gadgets. The owner is a 7th-generation City Islander.
Kaleidoscope Gallery, founded in 1998 by jeweler Paul Klein, offers unique jewelry that captures the island’s sparkle. It also sells local artwork, toys, housewares, gifts, and other items.
J.W. Foley Rarities and Obscurities is an antique shop that buys, sells, and trades unusual and obscure items.
Since 1945, Jacks Bait & Tackle has provided all of City Island’s fishing needs. Aside from fishing equipment, this family-owned business offers boat rentals and chartered trips on Long Island Sound.
City Island Restaurants
City Island is a seafood lover’s paradise, with many restaurants offering the freshest catch from Long Island Sound. Locals and visitors alike love:
- City Island Lobster House
- Lobster Box Restaurant
- And Sammy’s Fish Box
For a more laidback dining experience, head over to Johnny’s Reef Restaurant way out on the point. This spacious and relaxed eatery is famous for its delicious baskets of fried seafood. The picnic tables at this original crab shanty offer beautiful views of the water.
Regardless of where you go, the options on the aptly named Seafood City are unparalleled in NYC.
More Restaurants on City Island
City Island may be famous for its seafood, but it also has many different restaurants for everyone’s taste. City Island has a 1.5-mile stretch of restaurants with amazing fresh seafood and locally popular drinks. If you’ve ever heard of a Henny Colada—a pina colada made with Hennessy cognac instead of rum—it was first popularized on City Island. Some of the dining options on the island include:
- Artie’s Steak & Seafood: a steakhouse known for its delicious cuts of meat and fresh seafood
- Clipper Coffee is a well-known island cafe that serves tea, coffee, avocado toast, pastries, and sandwiches. It also functions as a used bookstore, with a cozy nook for book lovers to relax and lose track of time.
There’s no shortage of culinary delights to discover on the island.
A few of the well-known eateries that have earned a loyal following among both locals and visitors alike are:
- City Island Lobster House
- Louie & Ernie’s Pizza
- Sammy’s Fishbox Restaurant
- And the City Island Diner
Regardless of your taste, City Island promises a dining experience that will leave you wanting more.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
Lickity Split Ice Cream Shop is a well-known ice cream shop on the island, serving a wide range of ice cream at affordable prices. Skip Giacco and his wife Louise, both Bronx natives, moved to the island after planning to retire in Florida but coming back home. They came across an out-of-business ice cream parlor nearby and decided to buy it.
On a hot summer day, they wanted to provide a place for people to sit with their children and remind them to take a break from life. Although it is not homemade ice cream, it is owned locally and is an important part of the community. Heads-up, it is cash only.
City Island Hotels, Inns, and Places to Stay Nearby
While it feels much further, City Island is only a 28-minute drive from our Greenwich, CT, bed and breakfast. If you want to extend your City Island adventure, you’ll have to find accommodations nearby. This island is tiny, after all. And the last City Island bed and breakfast closed in 2009.
Some hotels to consider include:
- Fairfield Inn New York LaGuardia Airport / Flushing
- Inn at Great Neck
- Best Western Queens Gold Coast
- Residence Inn by Marriott New York The Bronx at Metro Center Atrium
Along with hotels, cozy inns like Fathoms Hotel & Marina and Ramada by Wyndham Bronx provide a warm and customized place to stay. With an array of lodging options, you’re bound to find the ideal spot to unwind after a day’s exploration of City Island.
Directions to City Island
City Island is one of those places you don’t just happen to come across. Considering its location, you have to know about this place before you go (and make a plan to get here). The majority of visitors come during the summer months, from May to October. September is an ideal time to avoid the slow traffic caused by entering and exiting via one bridge. Reaching City Island is straightforward, whether you choose to commute by:
The quickest route from NYC is to take the Bruckner Expressway north to the New England Thruway (I-95 North). Then take the exit 8B for Orchard Beach/City Island. Simply follow the signs through Pelham Bay Park, and you’ll arrive at your destination in no time. If you’re heading from Greenwich, head south on I-95, and follow the same directions.
There are several bus routes that serve City Island, including the B29, Bx29, and BxM7. You can also take the subway to Pelham Bay Park and transfer to a bus from there.
City Island is accessible by boat, with several marinas and yacht clubs offering docking facilities.
For public transportation, the closest subway station to City Island is the 6 train at Pelham Bay Park. From there, hop on the Bx29 bus to reach the island.
If you prefer a scenic trip by boat, the City Island Ferry operates from the East 34th Street Ferry Landing in Manhattan.
More Unique Places to Explore Near City Island in the Bronx
City Island has many attractions, but the Bronx and Westchester County offer even more things to do. Just across the water, Pelham Bay Park is one of the biggest parks in New York City. It has places to play, paths through nature, and gorgeous views of the water.
Other notable attractions in the Bronx include the world-famous Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. Both are easily accessible from City Island and offer a fantastic day of exploration for the whole family.
Keep exploring Long Island Sound
Head east along the coastline of Long Island Sound to discover more unique attractions.
Some charming Westchester County towns along the shore include:
- Mamaroneck, NY
- Larchmont, New York
- Rye, NY
- Port Chester, New York
- Westport, CT
- Milford, CT
- Old Saybrook, Connecticut
We hope you enjoy wherever the road (or ferry, bike, et cetera) takes you!
City Island is a captivating destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty off the coast of the Bronx. City Island offers a unique escape with charming houses, delicious seafood, vibrant art, and peaceful parks. So why wait? Embark on your City Island adventure today and discover the hidden treasures that await!
Frequently Asked Questions
And now, random facts that didn’t make the cut of the above article:
What is City Island known for?
City Island is renowned for its seafood restaurants, antique stores and historical landmarks.
Is City Island worth it?
City Island provides a special and unforgettable time with beautiful scenes, a pleasant vibe, amazing sights, and intriguing eateries.
It is definitely worth visiting this special place in the Bronx.
What does City Island have?
City Island is a charming place by the sea. It has yacht clubs, waterfront restaurants, antique stores, and scuba diving.
You can also explore Belden Point, an amusement park and resort opened in 1887.
Can I walk on City Island?
Yes, you can walk on City Island! It is connected to the downtown area and Riverfront Park by a pedestrian bridge, and it’s a great spot for kayaking and fishing too.
City Island is a great place to explore and enjoy the outdoors. It has a variety of activities to offer, from kayaking and fishing.
Does anyone live on City Island?
Yes, many people live on City Island with a population of 4,172. The neighborhood is a blend of city and suburb, with many homeowners and views of Manhattan. It has a variety of house styles, including cottages, bungalows, Victorian-style, and shingled homes.
City Island is a unique place to live, with its own culture and history.