All Articles Go for an overnight staycation on Governors Island

Go for an overnight staycation on Governors Island

People sitting in two red Adirondack chairs overlooking Manhattan
Laura Begley Bloom
By Laura Begley BloomJun 24, 2022 7 minutes read

My brother, Tom Begley, has one of the coolest jobs in New York City. He works as a caretaker on Governors Island. One of his major duties: handling the border collies that the island has on staff to help chase away the geese and keep the wide open lawns pristine. As a result of my brother’s job, I’ve had the rare opportunity to get an inside peek at what makes this place so special. I’ve even had a chance to spend time with the island’s friendly working dogs like Leader (a.k.a “Lee”), Max, Chip, Quinn, and Aspen, who have their own Instagram account.

So join me as The WeekEnder Staycation five-borough series returns. This time around, we are taking you on a journey across the harbor to explore this 172-acre former Army and Coast Guard base. “It’s so full of fascinating history, and the old buildings and pathways serve as reminders of the Island’s past,” says Tom. Governors Island is home to Fort Jay and Castle Williams, which defended New York City from invasion going back as far as the War of 1812; today they’re part of the National Park Service, and visitors can explore them and see a number of historic cannons.

Another New Yorker whose love of this destination turned into a full-time job is Clare Newman, who was appointed President and CEO of the Trust for Governors Island in 2019. Under Clare’s leadership, the island has transformed into a bonafide vacation destination that’s now open year-round, with a new day spa, arts and culture exhibitions, and events like this month’s Pride Island, a two-day LGBTQIA+ music festival.

Left: Tom Begley and dog Max on a golf cart; Center: Clare Newman with arms folded wearing blue blazer; Right: Cristiana Franco wearing blue shirt with hands on left hip
Tom Begley and Max (L), Clare Newman (C), Cristiana Franco (R)

“Governors Island is unlike any other place in New York City,” says Clare. “It belongs to all of New York, which is unique. We have visitors from every single zip code, all ages, all backgrounds. There’s a sense that you can choose your own adventure and create your own journey.”

This is from The WeekEnder series: local insider guides for new destinations a short drive from New York City, delivered to your inbox twice a month. Sign up here!

Besides checking out its exquisite nature and unparalleled skyline views, visitors can also taste an assortment of global bites, thanks to people like Cristiana Franco, co-owner of Sabor Restaurant & Bakery, which serves Colombian and Dominican dishes like empanadas and flan. “As soon as you get on the ferry, it’s like you’re literally somewhere else — on a one-day vacation,” says Cristiana.

In this installment of The WeekEnder, we’re going to share tips and advice from our insiders so that you can have the ultimate Governors Island staycation. And on your next visit, be sure to say “hi” to my brother and his dog friends and tell them The WeekEnder sent you.

-Laura Begley Bloom, New York's Senior WeekEnder Writer

Editor’s Note: For the latest on Covid in New York, visit the state’s official COVID-19 information page.

Where to stay (or spend the day)

Large canvas tent with wood furnishings and striped bedding
Collective Governors Island

For glampers: Collective Governors Island

There’s only one place to spend the night on Governors Island, but oh, what a place it is. Collective Governors Island is a one-of-a-kind retreat with glamping tents and iconic views of the cityscape and the Statue of Liberty. There’s a serious dining program, including a menu of wood-fired dishes prepared al fresco on an Argentine barbeque grill, as well as a fine-dining experience with tasting menus showcasing the freshest produce. This summer brings new experiences like the Makers Series with open-air culinary workshops, in-tent spa treatments, and an artist-in-residence program where guests can witness the creative process up close and influence the outcome of the works.

For sybarites: QC NY Spa

QC NY Spa, the first U.S. location of an Italian day spa is helping turn Governors Island into a wellness and relaxation retreat. Though you can’t actually stay the night, you can spend the entire day enjoying the outdoor pools with views of lower Manhattan and lounging in the sauna, steam, and relaxation rooms. “The goal is to have people take a prolonged time out and really disconnect,” says Clare Newman.

Where to eat

Bring your own food for a picnic, reserve a grill and host a cookout, or check out all the vendors and restaurants serving a range of flavors. “The food offerings on this island are reflective of New York City and cater to a lot of different palates: You can get a $3 hot dog or have oysters on the half shell,” says Clare Newman. Besides a number of mainstays, the island also hosts pop-up food trucks throughout the summer season.

Best breakfast

Blue coffee trailer in front of brick building
Joe Coffee

Joe Coffee - Start the day with a cup of joe and a baked treat from this hometown favorite, which roasts its own coffee beans in Long Island City.

Casual bites

Left: Chairs set up on green lawn; Right: Pizza topped with onions and sausage
Sea Biscuit (L), Pizza Yard (R)

Sea Biscuit - Grab a lounge chair and shareable plates of crabcakes and quesadillas, then kick back and enjoy the view of the Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan.

Pizza Yard - Neapolitan and Roman-style wood-fired pizzas served alongside the island’s historic Colonels Row. “It feels like a little outpost of Naples,” says Tom. “Every ingredient is fresh, and the brick oven finishes them perfectly.”

Global flavors

Cristiana and Luis Franco wearing maroon shirts standing in front of orange food trailer
Cristiana and Luis Franco

Fauzia’s Heavenly Delights - Fauzia Abdur-Rahman’s food truck serves up a taste of her native Jamaica. “I shouldn’t say this, but my favorite food on the island is the jerk chicken gyro at Fauzia’s,” says Clare.

Sabor Restaurant & Bakery at the Foodie Spot - Husband-wife team Cristiana and Luis Franco make Colombian and Dominican dishes using family recipes. Cristiana’s top recommendation: “Rice and beans. And, of course, with sweet plantains on top.”

Tokyo Drumstick - East-Asian inspired, chicken-centric bites from Brooklyn’s Kimchi Taco Truck.

Taco Vista - Tasty tacos with a view, plus expertly mixed margaritas and cold cervezas. “I love the fish tacos,” says Clare.

Date night

Left: Bar seating with Manhattan skyline in distance; Right: Outdoor table topped with beverages and appetizers
Island Oyster (L), Gitano Island (R)

Island Oyster - You can’t beat the view from this waterfront seafood restaurant, which will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the tropics. Sip on a Permanent Vacation cocktail (a blend of Caribbean rums, blue Curaçao, coconut, pineapple, orange, and nutmeg) and sample Navy Point oysters harvested in the Long Island South. Fun fact: Island Oyster was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award for Best Restaurant Design.

Gitano Island - Set to open this summer, Gitano Island is a concept from the beach club by the same name in Tulum. Expect upscale Mexican dishes (“​​I’m jazzed to eat their cochinita pibil,” says Clare), inventive cocktails, DJs, and a thoroughly sexy scene.

Drinks

Hand holding up red can with sheeps on it, and Manhattan skyline in background
Threes Brewing

Threes Brewing - This Brooklyn craft brewery teamed up with the Meat Hook, an acclaimed butcher shop in Williamsburg to launch this brew pub. Don’t miss Public Property, a special only-on Governors Island IPA, paired with Clare’s favorite bite: a bratwurst.

Carreau Club - Sip on craft beer, wine, and cocktails while you compete in a rousing game of pétanque and nibble on sandwiches from Brooklyn’s Court Street Grocers.

Sweets

Bowls, cones, and pints of ice cream atop yellow tablecloth
Malai

Malai - Hand-crafted eggless ice cream flavored with unexpected South Asian ingredients (masala chai, star anise, saffron) from an innovative Brooklyn-based dessert company.

What to do

Outdoors

Grassy hills next to water, with downtown Manhattan in distance
The Hills

We got our insiders to share their favorite ways to take in the open-air beauty of Governors Island. Cristiana Franco’s advice: “It’s a wonderful place to spend a whole day — go early and stay until the last boat.”

Ride a Bike - “One of the nicest things to do is just ride a bike,” says Clare. Bring your own, head to one of the Citi Bike stations, or check out the rental company Blazing Saddles. “They will rent cruisers or surreys, so that you can explore with your family.”

Nolan Park - “It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I really do love Nolan Park. Many of the buildings here have rocking chairs on their porches. Grab one and sit back and watch the world go by, as countless others have done over the years,” says Tom.

Left: Two red Adirondack chairs next to a red hammock with Statue of Liberty in distance; Right: Two-story wooden home with porch
Picnic Point (L), Nolan Park (R)

The Yard - “I have an eight year old, and he loves to play in the free junkyard playground,” says Clare. At this kids-only adventure playground, children can get creative with discarded wood, containers, even old lifeboats.

Picnic Point - “This is a secret spot because you have to be intrepid and get all the way down to the southern tip of the island,” says Clare. “It’s also one of the best places on the island to grill.” What Tom loves: “You can admire passing fire boats, tugboats, cruise ships, yachts, tall ships, and dinghies. I’ve even seen a bald eagle here.”

Hammock Grove - Swing in the red hammocks in this vest-pocket park surrounded by lush foliage. “Sometimes we see races in the morning when people get off the ferry to go grab a hammock — they’re a hot commodity,” says Clare.

The Hills - “A picnic at the top of Outlook Hill is really nice — just bring sunscreen. Discovery Hill is amazing in the summer; it’s so abundant with growth that you feel like you’re in a tunnel of greenery,” says Tom. “Even the dogs love The Hills. I swear they appreciate the amazing views as much as our visitors do, I always catch them gazing off into the distance with smiles on their faces.”

Arts and culture

Left: Cherry blossom trees; Right: People on lawn watching large freestanding projector
The Open Orchard by Sam Van Aken (L), Free Outdoor Film Series (R)

From an annual jazz age lawn party to concerts to site-specific public art commissions, this island oasis offers myriad cultural experiences. “Summer on Governors Island is so full of events it’s hard to choose just one,” says Meredith Johnson, Vice President of Arts and Culture and Head Curator of The Trust for Governors Island. We got Meredith to share a few highlights.

Organizations in Residence - “On weekends, there’s a diverse community of cross-disciplinary arts and cultural organizations in the historic houses of Nolan Park and Colonels Row, with everything from outdoor sculptures and performances to science programs and bird walks.”

The Open Orchard by Sam Van Aken - “This monumental growing archive/sculpture has brought antique and heirloom fruits — historically grown or native to New York City — back into the public space. It challenges us to think about our food systems, while being a beautiful and contemplative spot to spend the afternoon.”

The May Room by Shantell Martin - “Commissioned in 2019, The May Room is an immersive and labyrinthine installation in a historic chapel, inviting visitors in for quiet reprieve and shared discussion. This is the last season to catch this not-to-miss artwork.”

Free Outdoor Film Series - During this partnership with Film at Lincoln Center, you can view films like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Friday, July 1) and The Wiz (Friday, August 5). “There really is nothing like watching a movie outside, under the stars, with the glowing city skyline behind the screen.”

More like this:

Laura Begley Bloom
Laura Begley Bloom is a travel expert and content strategist who writes for a wide range of magazines and websites and appears regularly on television outlets ranging from the Weather Channel to CNN. Journalism is part of Laura's heritage. Her great great grandfather was a Civil War correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. You can learn more about Laura on laurabegleybloom.com.