Restored gantries with the text Long Island painted on them in Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

How to Spend a Day in Long Island City, Queens

Updated May 19, 2019

We always get excited when visitors start to spend time in New York City’s neighborhoods, because that’s when they discover how wonderfully schizophrenic the city is. There are so many pockets with distinct personalities, and we don’t just mean across ethnic lines like in Chinatown and Koreatown. The Upper West Side and the Upper East Side have distinctly different vibes, and friendships have fractured over the East Village vs. West Village debate. But trekking into the other boroughs is still a daunting task for many. With trendy spots like Williamsburg, Brooklyn gets all the love. But we believe Queens’ criminally underrated, westernmost residential and commercial neighborhood, Long Island City, is the perfect starter neighborhood to explore New York City’s largest borough.

From the heart of New York City, you can hop on the 7 train at Times Square and arrive in Long Island City in under 10 minutes. (MTA train delays not included, of course.) And in a short few hours, you can explore enough of this neighborhood to whet your appetite for many return visits. Here’s how to spend a leisurely day in Long Island City.

Hunters Point South Park and Gantry Plaza State Park

View of Queensboro Bridge and Pepsi Cola sign from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

View of Manhattan from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

View of Manhattan with colorful kayaks in the foreground from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Start your day at Hunters Point South Park where you’ll find bike paths, playground areas, picnic terraces and a 30-foot-high cantilevered platform offering beautiful views of Manhattan’s skyline and the East River. Stroll along the riverfront to Gantry Plaza State Park, where you’ll find the restored gantries the park is named for. The bridgelike overhead structures were once used to load and unload rail car floats and barges, and now they frame the bustling high rises behind them. And don’t forget to take a selfie with the Pepsi Cola sign, which is an official New York City landmark. The sign graced the Pepsi bottling plant on the East River from 1940 until it shuttered in 1999, and was then relocated to the waterfront spot where it sits now.

Brunch at Bellwether

Interior of Bellwether restaurant in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Shrimp and Grits at Bellwether restaurant in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Shrimp and Grits
Taco Salad at Bellwether restaurant in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Taco Salad

Bellwether is the kind of place that toes the line between refined and accessible, metropolitan and local. It has a classy, minimalist vibe, but somehow avoids crossing over into cold and detached territory–sort of a victory when considering the heavy black-and-white aesthetic. There are all sorts of descriptions about what type of food they serve. You’ll see “farm-to-table”. The buzzy “carefully-sourced ingredients” will also make an appearance. And, of course, you’ll read something about “Mediterranean influences”. So, yeah, one of the owners lived on a farm. And, yeah, I’m sure there are some influences, Mediterranean or otherwise.

But ignore all this. Bellwether serves subtly inventive American cuisine, using a lot of tasty, in-season local ingredients–simple as that. We both enjoyed our dishes: a solid rendition of shrimp and grits and a surprisingly tasty Breakfast Taco Salad. We both eyed the Bread Pudding French Toast long and hard. The salted caramel and peanut butter donut (closer to a beignet) on its own earned a repeat visit.


Exterior photo of MoMA PS1 with performance dome captured by Elk Studios in 2012, courtesy of MoMA.
MoMA PS1. Photo: Elk Studios, 2012.
Interior photo of MoMA PS1 lobby captured by Martin Seck in 2011, courtesy of MoMA.
MoMA PS1 lobby. Photo: Martin Seck, 2011.

MoMA PS1 is like the rebellious, buzzy, younger sibling to the stylish, poised Museum of Modern Art. While you’ll find an impressive roster of legendary artists in MoMA’s permanent collection, you never know what you’ll find at MoMA PS1. There are epic parties with up-and-coming artists and DJs (Warm Up) and large-scale projects from architectural school graduates and junior faculty (Young Architects Program). There’s a firm commitment to pushing the boundaries here, so you’ll discover emerging artists or enjoy experimental work from established artists. It’s always somewhat of a surprise, which is part of the charm. If you ever start to feel like the art world is staid and boring, MoMA PS1 will jolt you out of that space.

[Runner-up: Sculpture Center]

If you’re a fan of experimental art and have a penchant for sculptures in particular, then you could also pop into SculptureCenter, an exhibition space dedicated to sculptures and “positioning artists’ work in larger cultural, historical, and aesthetic contexts”.

Arts Org NYC Top to Bottom Mural Project

Southeast corner view of the Arts Org NYC Top to Bottom Mural Project building in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
“Homage” by @cernesto for Arts Org NYC
Northeast corner view of the Arts Org NYC Top to Bottom Mural Project building in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
“Homage” by @cernesto for Arts Org NYC

Arts Org NYC Top to Bottom Mural Project building in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

It’s no secret we’re street art fanatics, and Long Island City certainly feeds the beast. You can find stickers in little nooks and murals on rolling steel gates. But there’s a particular destination every street art fan should make a point to visit: the Top to Bottom Mural Project. Arts Org NYC prides itself on facilitating artistic collaborations, and their partnership with the owners at 43-01 birthed a three story, half-a-city-square-block canvas. Artists are given free reign with all four surfaces of the structure, allowing them to collaborate with peers or advance a narrative on their own. The contributing artists have come from as close as Queens to as far as Argentina.

If you’re as big a fan of street art as we are, be sure to check out our guide to the best street art galleries in New York City.

Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters

Interior of Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Coffee cup with Sweetleaf logo and a slice of blueberry cake at Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Interior of Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters with a view of the Record Room in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

We’ve visited both Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters locations in Long Island City–Jackson Avenue and Center Boulevard–and though the Center Boulevard location is in close proximity to Gantry Plaza State Park, we are drawn more to the Jackson Avenue location. At first glance, this location reminds you of that strewn together, hybrid bar/coffee shop you frequented back in college…because it had a bottomless cup of coffee and they didn’t throw you out after you fell asleep at a table while cramming. But that immediate impression belies both Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters sophistication and its many charms.

Foremost, a great deal of care goes into the production of their coffee, from roasting to extraction. Additionally, there is an open kitchen on location in which they bake a large portion of their excellent cakes, pastries, and breads, including gluten-free and vegan options. And finally, we would be remiss not to mention the great vibe at the Jackson Avenue location. The interior aesthetic–from the original tin ceilings to the chairs and couches better suited for a French lounge than a coffee shop–was the perfect escape from the throngs of visitors at the nearby parks and museums. Even better, you’ll find the Record Room in the back–a tiny space negligibly larger than would qualify as a nook–with walls adorned with vintage band posters and album covers, and a collection of vinyl to thumb through whilst you enjoy your coffee and a bite to eat.

[Runner up: Cannelle LIC]

Interior of Cannelle LIC with Eiffel Tower print and case of pastries in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

If you’re looking for some excellent breads or pastries, Cannelle LIC has you covered. The LIC outpost of their flagship Elmhurst, NY location, Cannelle is a reliably good French patisserie and an excellent choice to pick up anything from a classic baguette to something a little more decadent.

Dinner at Casa Enrique

Guacamole from Casa Enrique restaurant in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Huevos a la Mexicana from Casa Enrique restaurant in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Huevos a la Mexicana
Huevos con Mole from Casa Enrique restaurant in Long Island City, Queens via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Huevos con Mole

When people talk about Casa Enrique, they generally speak in extreme superlatives. They’ll mention that it’s the only Mexican restaurant in New York City with a Michelin star. They’ll make statements like, “I had ______. It was the best ______ I ever tasted.” And you’ll hear about their guacamole. No, seriously, they’ll mention it. A lot. Occasionally, though, you’ll hear from detractors. Things like, “They’re overpriced” or “Their portions are small” or “They’re not authentic”.

The truth about Casa Enrique is simple: there is an intense, expert care in the preparation of every single thing that is plated and brought to your table. You can see it, and you can taste it, and it doesn’t take a genius to understand how that elevates a cuisine–any cuisine. The food at Casa Enrique is delicious. The Michelin star is deserved. Yes, the servings are not gigantic, and the price isn’t cheap by Mexican food standards, but would this really be a discussion point if they were serving Japanese or French? Want something simple and cheap? That’s cool. Go to your neighborhood mom and pop joint. Want something taken to that next level? Go here. Oh, and the guacamole those people mentioned? They weren’t lying, it’s incredible.

Depending on the hour of your reservations at Casa Enrique (strongly recommended, by the way), consider closing out your fun-filled day in Long Island City by returning (before or after dinner, respectively) to Gantry Plaza for some incredible sunset views. Or, if you’re thinking “The night is still young and so am I!”, make your next stop one of the many incredible local breweries Long Island City is known for, like Big aLICe, Rockaway, or Fifth Hammer–all super close by–for some refreshing post-meal libations.

Spending a day in Long Island City is just one of the many recommendations we make to visiting friends and family. Read more in our New York City guide.

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Pinterest pin of view of Manhattan from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, Queens with text of "Spending a Perfect Day in Long Island City, Queens" via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

-L. & J.

18 thoughts on “How to Spend a Day in Long Island City, Queens”

  1. That Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters looks too tempting. I would love to reach out right about now for a blueberry muffin and a cuppa. Your recommendations sound fab and I have to start planning these trips soon, undeterred by the heat. Or let autumn roll in 🙂 xx

    1. You should definitely go to Sweetleaf. Great place to relax. Perfect place to read a book on a lazy Sunday. The baked goods are solid and portions generous. Oh, and I totally forgot to mention their summer iced tea (strawberry, with a subtle sweetness, and prepared like a cocktail) was also excellent.

  2. I love MOma PS1 for the warm up events and the art isn’t too bad either. I haven’t had the chance to explore all of the park near the gantry but I love that the ferry drops you off right there. Great post with lots of good options. Thanks.

    1. Hey Trudy! Thanks for checking out our post. The Warm Up events are always fun, but we also love visiting when the museum is a little quieter. Always something fresh and creative to see there. Gantry Park is fantastic. Gorgeous views. I particularly enjoy it early in the morning during the summer, though I’m looking forward to visiting during the fall, when the air is a little bit crisper, as well. And without a doubt, the ferry (a enjoyable ride itself) makes it so much more convenient to visit.

  3. love this post, so many great tips and pictures too! I must admit I have yet to spend a day exploring LIC yikes! But now I might have to! I have been obsessed with the Pepsi cola sign since I was a little girl, have a huge painting of it hanging in my living room, and been dying to go picnic underneath it for some photo opps 🙂
    thanks for all your great coverage of the city as always xx Bee

    1. Hi Bee! Thank you so much! We’re really glad you enjoyed our post and pics. A picnic under the Pepsi sign sounds fantastic. I wish we’d thought of that. Keep an eye out, we’ll be covering Astoria next. 🙂

  4. This is great info! I think I could hang out at Hunters Point South Park all day. The view is fantastic. And the Top to Bottom Mural Project clearly is a must-see for street art lovers. I was very excited about your food stops, as I am somewhat obsessed with shrimp and grits, and VERY obsessed with cannelles! I assume since they’re called Cannelle LIC, they have cannelles? But no mention of this from you? I am crying a little bit as there is nothing like a cannelle picture to make me happy 🙂

    1. So sorry we did you a disservice on the cannele front, Cynthia! It’s one of our favorite treats too, so we’ll be sure to give it ample coverage in the future 🙂 (I know, I know, we have SO MANY favorites!)

      Hunters Point South Park and Gantry Plaza State Park are such a short hop away from Manhattan and they offer such incredible views, we feel they should be on every visitor’s list! And if you’re lucky enough to hop on the ferry on a beautiful day, you’ll feel like you’ve won the postcard-view lottery. The delicious food is the icing on the cake (quite literally, in some cases!). We really hope you include Long Island City as a part of your itinerary the next time you’re in NYC!

  5. Wait!!! How did I miss this post???????
    The photos, the food make Long Island City look AMAZING!!!!!
    There is so much bookmarking happening, after this post. Brunch at Bellwether with your Taco bowl makes me want to go there now… Maybe after a bike ride near Hunter’s Point South Park. 🙂

    1. Hi Tara! We’re sneaky that way. 😛 The greatest compliment a reader can give us is telling us our post inspired them to go and do the things we are writing about, so thank you. And how clever of you to think ahead and plan your calorie-burning offset activity. A bike ride around Hunter’s Point South Park sounds fantastic. Wish we’d thought of that! Of course, we were concentrating on the food. Imagine that!

  6. Wow, too much to digest! 😉 The word “schizophrenic” hasn’t come to mind when describing NYC, but I totally know what you mean. Many times I’ve tried to explain that phenomenon to people from out of town. If only they would get outside the normal tourist boxes and visit the boroughs!
    You are providing a much-needed stimulus here. I like the piece you showed from the Sculpture Center – I’ve never been. Will try to get there next time I’m in the city. Not to mention those cafes and restaurants, you guys really have so many choices. I haven’t been to Gantry Plaza or Hunters Point Park either, they look like good places for photography.
    I hope you all are having a decent summer; with the heat and humidity, I know it can be rough in the city. Makes you want to stay in your air conditioned office, right? We’re finding our new place feels like being on vacation, with so many incredible sights nearby, but the last few days brought us smoky, hazy, nasty air – from hundreds of miles away. Looks like it’s starting to clear now though.

    1. Hi Lynn! I actually think that the city of New York, its boroughs, and those borough’s neighborhoods are similar to regions of the US and their respective states. There’s a clear cultural shift when you go from one borough to another and one neighborhood to the next. And that, my friend, is exactly why I love it so much. I really hope you visit Socrates Sculpture Park, Gantry Plaza, and Hunters Point Park when you return. With your blog, those locations are positively begging for you to drag your lens across them. And I’d love to see the end result. The summer is just hot enough that we dream of fall, though we’ll complain once more when winter arrives. Sorry to hear about the smoggy haze from the fires–that’ll keep you indoors, for sure. Incredibly scary stuff, that fire. Hope all is well with you.

    1. Sorry to hear to feel that way, Michael. Change is inevitable, but we can still support our old favorites while welcoming new ones. I might be biased, but there’s a lot to love in this city!

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