Spring Awakening: A Visit To Snug Harbor In New York City

After a gruelingly long but otherwise uneventful winter, spring is finally in the air. Green shoots are muscling their way to the front row. Flowers are taking center stage. The hibernating inhabitants of the city are slowly emerging from their slumber, eager and ready to shed their winter layers and expend all that pent up energy. All the usual suspects come to mind: picnics in Central Park, visits to the Brooklyn Botanic and New York Botanical Gardens, and trips to Governors Island. Patio seats and access to rooftop bars become hot commodities. But we thought we’d offer another, oft-forgotten option to add to your list: Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Staten Island.


Magnolia tree, pond and Asian-style structure at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

A corridor at the Chinese Scholar's Garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Bamboo forest path at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Thanks to some inspiration from our friend Lynn from Blue Brightly, we were particularly excited to explore the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which opened in 1999. It features a compilation of different gardens in China, including eight pavilions, a bamboo forest path, waterfalls, a koi pond, gorgeous flowers, Chinese calligraphy, and a variety of Ghongshi scholar’s rocks. Each aspect of the garden holds a deeper meaning, from the architectural details to the selection of plants. Here are a few highlights to look out for as you stroll through:

The Moon Gate

Moon Gate with Chinese calligraphy above and view of the garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Circles are highly symbolic in many cultures, signifying totality, infinity, an unbroken line. The Moon Gate in the Chinese Scholar’s Garden represents the completeness of the universe, but it also offers visitors different perspectives of the garden. As you move through the space, the gate highlights changing views.

Lingering in Clouds Peak

Building flanked by magnolia trees and rock formations by a pond at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Rockeries in the garden are meant to represent the mountainous landscape of China. The largest rock sculpture is named Lingering in Clouds Peak, which symbolizes the lofty goal of a scholar: attaining knowledge.

The Yellow Bamboo

Path leading past yellow bamboo trees at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Bamboo is a symbol of longevity and vitality because it can survive the hardest natural conditions and remains green all year round. Bamboo is the symbol of the scholar as it is both flexible and strong.

The Patterned Ground

Patterned ground with trees rocks at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

River stones are used to create varying patterns on the ground throughout the space. Each brocade pattern carries a different meaning, symbolizing purity, enlightenment, harmony and knowledge.


But Snug Harbor isn’t a one-note destination, the grounds of the converted 19th century charitable rest home for sailors offer myriad sites and activities to enjoy. Opportunities to explore history, architecture, gardens, agriculture, visual and performing arts, and education are spread far and wide across its 83-acres. Take a jaunt. Make a day of it. You won’t regret it.

Allee of trees at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The alley leading to Cottage Row
A row of cottages at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Cottage Row, home to emerging artists in the Snug Harbor Residency Program
A row of cherry blossom trees at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
A row of cherry blossom trees leading to the Connie Gretz Secret Garden
Veterans Memorial Hall and magnolia tree at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Veterans Memorial Hall

Staten Island and How To Get There

When people talk about escaping Manhattan, they almost always mention the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, or Long Island. Staten Island is often treated like the stepchild of the outer boroughs, and that’s really quite unfortunate because it has a lot to offer: a zoo, a park, a cultural center, architectural treasures, a 630-foot observation wheel, museums, beaches, and some really great dining options. It is also the least populated and greenest borough, boasting an incredible 12,300 acres of parkland.

Staten Island is easily accessible by way of a quick 25-minute ferry ride from Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan. (The views on the ride over are nothing to scoff at either, you’ll even get to say hi to Lady Liberty.) Once you arrive in Staten Island take the S40 bus at Gate D to travel along Richmond Terrace, and let the bus driver know that you want to get off at Snug Harbor. It’s less than a 10-minute ride.

Pro Tip: The ferry is free but is largely used for commuting. Avoid weekday commuting rush hours for the most comfortable ride. Do not fall for scams involving strangers in uniforms trying to sell you tickets.


Pair it with:

Lunch at Lakruwana

Interior of Lakruwana with gold wall hanging via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Interior of Lakruwana via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sri Lankan dish Lamprais from Lakruwana via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sri Lankan dish String Hopper Kotu from Lakruwana via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

There are a lot of amazing restaurants in Staten Island, from low-key casual to high-class fancy. But Lynn and I always tend to migrate toward the more adventurous options, and Staten Island has plenty to offer in this category. As it happens, one of the largest populations of Sri Lankans living outside of their native homeland resides in Staten Island. In our minds, the test for authentic ethnic food is the answer to a pretty simple question: how many patrons of said restaurant are of that ethnicity?

When we stepped into Lakruwana recently and discovered that ninety percent of those chowing down were Sri Lankan, it was clear we were in the right place. The interior is covered, floor to ceiling, in genuine Sri Lankan artifacts, shipped piece by piece specifically to produce the elaborate effect. But enough about that, let’s talk about the food. From the affordable, clay pot lined, weekend buffet to à la carte offerings, you really can’t go wrong here. Our Lamprais (an elaborate combination of spiced meats and vegetables on a bed of rice, steamed in a banana leaf wrap) and String Hopper Kotu (a molded pyramid of stir fried rice flower nets with a side of curry) did not disappoint. You’ll be planning your next visit before you clear your plate.

Location:
668 Bay Street

Hours:
Tuesday-Wednesday: 12:00pm-10:00pm
Thursday: 5:00pm-10:00pm
Friday-Sunday: 12:00pm-10:00pm

Like it? Pin it!

Four pictures of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Gardens grounds, including the Chinese Scholar’s Garden trees, flowers, rock formations, and water features, with a pin title of "One Perfect Spring Day in Staten Island".

– J.

5 Non-Traditional Brunch Options You Need To Try in New York City

Whether you’re being grilled at a job interview or filling out a dating profile, you’ve probably been asked to describe yourself in three words. For us, one of those words would be “brunch”. And we’re probably not alone: there are over 18 million posts under the hashtag on Instagram alone. Brunching in New York City is a sport, and we’re training for the Olympics. Continue reading 5 Non-Traditional Brunch Options You Need To Try in New York City

All About Egg Creams and Where To Get Them in New York City

Wherever Lynn and I go, we never skip an opportunity to try local specialties. New York City is no different, other than the fact that it has a ridiculous number of them. Whether it’s pasta and pizza or bagels and babka, New York City has it all, and you can be sure we’re on the hunt for it. You might have read about my not-so-closeted obsession with the venerable soda fountain. Here’s a fun fact about me: when I get into something, I tend to go deep—bananas deep. I’ve made no exception with one of the quintessential soda fountain concoctions: Egg Creams. And Egg Creams are, without a doubt, a New York specialty. Continue reading All About Egg Creams and Where To Get Them in New York City

A Tip Of The Hat: The New York City Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival

Have you ever wondered how we came up with the name of our blog, Mad Hatters NYC? We actually drew inspiration from a number of sources, the most obvious one being Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. We’re not the only ones to draw a parallel between New York City and Carroll’s land of magic and make-believe. But one day a year, the comparison takes on a life on its own. During the New York City Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival, a large group of Mad Hatters descends on Fifth Avenue and the world of fantasy and reality collide. Continue reading A Tip Of The Hat: The New York City Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival

(Soda) Jerks Welcome: A Visit to Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain

My father is a man of simple tastes. He knows exactly what he likes, and he likes what he knows. Take, for example, his birthday. Every year, with few exceptions, his celebratory meal consists of a fully dressed burger (grilled at home, if possible), mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob. For dessert, he has a penchant for a my mother’s chocolate applesauce cake, an exceptionally simple, pan-style cake lightly dusted with powdered sugar. And when my mother happened to be ailing or was out of town on a trip, he served his three boys Chipped Beef On Toast, boiled hot dogs, or ordered a pizza. Culinary master and healthy eating advocate he was not, God bless him, but simplicity was his hallmark. Continue reading (Soda) Jerks Welcome: A Visit to Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain

Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About TL;DR

I read an op-ed recently that struck a nerve. It was written by Canadian author, Michael Harris, and the title was I Have Forgotten How to Read. Coming in at about 1,629 words and creeping just a hair over the three page mark, it was a lengthy read by today’s standards. It came to me care of a dear friend’s Facebook post. I approach content from that platform with equal parts skepticism and curiosity, but I decided to give it a go nonetheless. I’m glad I did.

Continue reading Mad Chatter: Let’s Talk About TL;DR

NYC Icon: The Bowery Wall Mural

If you’re a street art lover, New York City is the gift that keeps on giving. You could turn the corner and find a giant mural of Mickey Mouse, or you could look down and find sidewalk art that’s perfect for your Instagram shoe-fie. Come back the next day, and you might find something completely different. Street art is fleeting in nature, and that’s part of its charm. But can you have something temporary, yet permanent? Something so iconic that it transcends street art’s evanescent nature? Yes, you can. In New York City, that phenomenon exists with the Bowery Wall Mural. Continue reading NYC Icon: The Bowery Wall Mural

Going Mutts at Boris & Horton: New York City’s First Dog Cafe

Here’s something you should know about me: I love animals. And I don’t just mean I love watching cat videos. I hiked up a mountain to visit a monkey park in Japan. I cried during Babe, Free Willy and Homeward Bound. For me, a trip to the zoo is as therapeutic as a walk in a garden or a stroll along the beach. I love, love, love animals. So when we heard a dog cafe had opened in New York City and that our friend, Lauren, had just adopted an adorable chihuahua, Boris & Horton seemed like the perfect spot for a doggie date. Continue reading Going Mutts at Boris & Horton: New York City’s First Dog Cafe

Residence Gone Rogue: A Visit to Street Art Mecca First City Project

I was recently watching one of those ingenious Southwest Airlines commercials—you know, one of the ones with the whole “Wanna Get Away?” taglines—and found myself unconsciously mouthing the words, Hell yeah, I do. We’re big believers that you can get away from the city without getting away from the city. But if you really do, literally, want to get away from the city, there are a number of incredible options that don’t require you to take a flight or even leave the state for that matter. Recently, we discovered the perfect day trip getaway with a visit to First City Project.
Continue reading Residence Gone Rogue: A Visit to Street Art Mecca First City Project

Chasing The Dragon: How To Watch The Lunar New Year Parade in New York City

Tradition is one of those things I found stifling when I was younger, something I desperately needed to break free of. Being of mixed race meant having two sets of rules to adhere to. It meant being saddled by two laborious sets of obligations. I couldn’t wait until I didn’t have to be somewhere I didn’t want to be–I was young and had way cooler things to do, after all. (Cue the eye roll here.) But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a renewed understanding and appreciation for it. Community becomes less about conforming and more about belonging.

Continue reading Chasing The Dragon: How To Watch The Lunar New Year Parade in New York City