Riverside Park—the jewel in the Upper West Side’s crown—borders the Hudson River for more than 4 miles between West 68th and 158th Streets. If Central Park is New York’s backyard, then Riverside Park is the Upper West Side’s playground, nature preserve, garden, wine bar, dog run, art gallery and more.
One of my favorite things to do on the UWS is to peacefully stroll through Riverside Park. And as any Upper West Sider can attest, it’s a special place, and one of the best parks in NYC. The City has only eight scenic landmarks, and Riverside Park is one of them.
The stunning weaving of trees, natural stone and walkways might remind you of Central Park . . . and it should. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Central Park’s architect. From it’s commissioning in 1873 until now, the park has been growing and evolving. (Developer Donald Trump dedicated the land between 68th and 72nd for Riverside Park South in 2000, in part to gain approval for his massive development nearby).
Originally stretching from 72nd to 125th, Riverside Park was originally bordered on the east by Riverside Drive, above it, and below on the west by the New York Central Railroad West Side rail line. By the mid-20th century, New York’s dominating planning director Robert Moses covered over the rail lines, extended the park to the west and built the Henry Hudson Parkway. (An Amtrak line runs under the park today through Freedom Tunnel, but you’d never know it unless you’re near a ventilation grate when a train roars past underneath.)
In addition to the natural beauty of the massive stones in the park, there is an English garden feel to the main, tree-lined esplanade running through its heart (and over Freedom Tunnel). The park boasts four dog runs, numerous outlets for outdoor activities (soccer, softball, skate boarding, even kayaking!), benches galore, green space and much more.
There’s art in the park as well. It ranges from the Eleanor Roosevelt statue at Riverside Park’s 72nd Street entrance to Grant’s Tomb at 122nd, with the moving Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 89th Street.
Riverside Park is a “hands-on” park with a community-maintained garden at 91st (where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan met in You’ve Got Mail). And a wine bar/restaurant (open whenever the temps top 65 degree) at Pier i Café at 70th Street. Just under the West Side Highway from Riverside Park at 79th Street is the Boat Basin Café, with good burgers and a great view of the Hudson over the tethered sailboats and houseboats.
And, of course, there’s biking. A significant stretch of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway for walking and biking extends all the way through Riverside Park. Every day that the weather allows, the park, its walks and bike lines are dotted with strollers, walkers, runners and bikers, either out for exercise or, often, taking a more healthy route to work all the way downtown.
Riverside Park boasts the very best of a New York green space, but it manages to maintain that neighborhood feel. It’s a not-to-be-missed slice of Upper West Side life waiting for you to explore. And while you’re there, be absolutely sure to check out the 91st Street Garden!