Regular visitors to New York should bypass the tried-and-true of Manhattan for the city streets less traveled. Just a hop, skip and a borough away lies Brooklyn, ripe for its own exploration.
Grit and attitude and heart -- Brooklyn's got all of it. But there's a whole other side to the borough that the uninitiated may not know. The Brooklyn of vibrant, trendsetting neighborhoods with their unique shops and cafes, of serene landscapes and lush parks, of historic brownstones and community stoop culture.
Walking the bridge
A proper visit to the storied borough should begin with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, where regular New York visitors can symbolically leave the familiarity of Manhattan for the adventure of the unknown. Find the pedestrian walkway at Park Row and Centre Street in Lower Manhattan, just across from City Hall Park (by subway, take the 4,5,6 to Brooklyn Bridge - City Hall, or the J,M,Z to Chambers Street).
A trek over the 5,989-foot expanse of steel and wire can take under a half an hour, twice that if you stop often to soak in the stunning views. And you should. They're often proclaimed better than any offered by the tallest of New York skyscrapers.
Gazing from this perch above the East River is to see the literal nuts and bolts of the city and to appreciate the artistry of its architects. Upon its completion in 1883, it stood as the largest suspension bridge in the world, and the first to be made of steel and wire.
Here the city's skyline glistens behind you, with clear views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings to the left. Trudge further up to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to the right, and farther to get a view of the borough waiting to greet you. Along the way, make sure to linger at the twin, gothic-style arches whose wide platforms are dotted with plaques detailing the bridge's history -- how it was built and what the views looked like at its opening on May 24, 1883.
And as cabs rumble beneath and pedestrians swarm, it's difficult not to recall another of the bridge's historical footnotes: that as a somber exit route from Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. Gazing across the river, you can't help but replant the twin towers using your mind's eye, imagining them back in their rightful spot, reaching up from the city skyline.
Once the bridge spills you out onto Adams Street, swing around to find 19 Old Fulton St. and stand in line beneath the bridge to get a taste of the fuss over Grimaldi's famous coal oven pizza. Linger to explore the waterfront and picturesque Brooklyn Heights, or hail a cab for greener pastures.
The best way to enter Prospect Park is by way of Grand Army Plaza, an elaborate arch adorned with bronze sculptures, including a bust of President John F. Kennedy. It's a bit of European flair, Brooklyn-style, right in the heart of a bustling intersection across from the Brooklyn Public Library.
Then, leave behind the blare of traffic, the noise of congregated police cars and busy hot dog carts and let yourself be swallowed by the calm of the park -- another urban gem designed by Calvert Vaux and Hartford's Frederick Law Olmsted.
"It's often said that Olmsted and Vaux tested their ideas out at Central Park, and this is where they perfected them," says Eugene Patron, a spokesman for the 585-acre park, created 10 years after the duo's Manhattan urban oasis. "When you come into the park, you truly lose the city."
And you lose yourself. Meander the well-marked trails and let them take you where they may. Stumble upon dribbling waterfalls, carved bridges, sweeping pond views and rolling, wide-open fields.
This is Brooklyn?
"That's the difference," says Patron. "We're really more people's backyard. People really come here and use the park in a way you don't see in Central Park. We're really a community place.
"We're still Brooklyn."