long island city
things to do in long island city
The gantries (ferry slips) in Long Island City at Gantry Plaza State Park
*This post originally appeared on Jessie on a Journey. A big thanks to Hostelworld for sponsoring the stay!

While I travel every month, most of you know I’m a native New Yorker who is also obsessed with exploring my hometown. And despite living in Long Island and Brooklyn my entire life — and leading NYC photo tours all over the city — there are still some neighborhoods that I don’t know very well.

Which is why when Hostelworld invited me to stay at one of their Long Island City properties, the artsy Q4 Hotel, I jumped at the chance. I’d only been to the Queens hood a handful of times, and the stay offered me the opportunity to make local discoveries from a hip home base.

Hosteling In NYC

Hosteling may not be something you realized you could do in NYC. As of now, there’s a lack of proper regulation in the industry, which has led to missed opportunities for the city. According to Hostelworld, New York City generated only about 1/3 of the revenue it could have made in 2015; about $234 million vs $669 million in London.

Interestingly, local government has mulled over a bill called “Int. 699″ that would lead to more regulations and licensing schemes in the hostel industry. The problem: there’s not enough urgency to bring it to a vote. For now, it’s up to hostel-loving travelers to help the local hostel sector reach its full potential. Other USA cities are already showing growth. Since 2012, Miami and Chicago have each opened four new hostels, and New Orleans and Los Angeles have added six hostels each.

Said Council Member David Greenfield of District 44-Brooklyn, “New York City is expensive. It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to enjoy everything our wonderful city has to offer. Hostels allow anyone to travel on a budget and explore everything our city has to offer from right here in New York City instead of staying elsewhere. Quite frankly, it’s the most progressive form of lodging.”

If you’d like to get involved, please contact the sponsor of the bill — Council Member Margaret Chin — at [email protected] or 212-587-3159 and let her know you support it.

things to do in long island city
Court Square in Long Island City

Hosteling At 30

I’ll be turning 30 this April (ah!), but I do still stay in hostels. In fact, during my latest trip to Reykjavík I stayed in the uber social ODDSSON Ho(s)tel. The trick to hosteling as you get older: get a private room. Many hostels offer them today, and you’ll be able to partake in the budget prices and social activities that make hostels so awesome while retaining your privacy.

Visiting #NYC? Here's why you should #hostel in #LongIslandCity Click To Tweet
things to do in long island city
Andy and I enjoying the unusually warm winter weather right outside our hostel. Hat: BUFF Knit CapLipstick: Stowaway Cosmetics.

Stay: Q4 Hotel

And social it was! I actually brought my boyfriend Andy along for the fun, and we loved having this hostel as our base. It’s located in Queens Plaza, near a ton of experiences (listed below) as well as subways for accessing other parts of NYC. They offer a mix of 2 to 8-person dorms for about $20+ USD per night and privates with en suite bathrooms for about $80 per night.

We loved the hostel’s funky art theme — there’s a lot of Keith Haring-style murals — and the nightly events like Drink & Draw on Mondays and comedy shows on Wednesdays in their basement game room and lounge. They also provide a towel and earplugs, which come in handy due to the hostel’s proximity to the above-ground subway (it can get quite loud!).

things to do in long island city
Moments at the Q4 Hotel

Long Island City: Long Island Or Queens?

Despite the name, Long Island City is Queens’ largest neighborhood, though was historically part of Long Island. It was also its own city until it became a part of New York City in 1898. Today its borders are the East River on the west, Newtown Creek on the south, 36th Avenue on the North and Van Dam Street on the East. That being said, like all NYC neighborhoods there are blurs to the borders, especially as neighborhoods like Astoria, Sunnyside and Hunters Point are debatably sub-neighborhoods of Long Island City.

According to Queens West Villagerwhen the Dutch came to Long Island City in the 1630s the area was used for farming due to the healthy soil. Eventually, it became an industrial area and then a haven for people wishing to escape the bustle of Manhattan, but still wanting access to what it has to offer.

In my opinion, Long island City still offers this today, though it is also rapidly growing in its own right. First of all, wherever you are in Long Island City you almost always have a prime view of the Empire State Building, not to mention the waterfront with its stunning skyline views. There’s easy subway access to Manhattan, or you can walk over the Queensboro Bridge to arrive between 59th and 60th streets in Manhattan. The place is also undergoing a massive rezoning, with former factories and warehouses being turned into living spaces.

One thing to note, unlike the West Village in Manhattan or Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Long Island City’s awesome offerings are spread out. This means it can be tricky to simply wander without a plan, though not impossible. To help, I’ve mapped out most of the suggestions below so you have an idea of where to go before you set out. You’ll find the map in the “Things To Do In Long Island City” section.

things to do in long island city
Andy and I on Roosevelt Island, looking back at Long Island City. Hat: BUFF Knit Cap. Lipstick: Stowaway Cosmetics.

Things To Do In Long Island City

So what exactly makes this neighborhood worth leaving Manhattan for? A lot. In fact, after our weekend exploring things to do in Long Island City, my boyfriend and I actually started a discussion about how cool it would be to move there. Will this Brooklyn lady turn into a Queens gal? Maybe in the future. For now, I plan to return regularly to re-visit the following awesome things to do in Long Island City.

1. Rock Music & Bulletproof Coffee At Etto Espresso Bar

This cozy coffee bar sources premium java from places like Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia, offering cold brews, slow drips and creamy art-adorned lattes laced with caramel, mocha and white chocolate. If you’re visiting Etto Espresso Bar in the morning don’t miss the healthy fat-filled bulletproof coffee made with Kerrygold Grass-fed Butter and brain oil that will leave you extra alert.

If coffee isn’t your thing, unique iced teas like Black Pear Gunpowder and Arctic Raspberry — along with fresh sandwiches — are also on offer. Sip along to music by the Arctic Monkeys and other upbeat rock bands.

things to do in long island city
My yummy caramel latte at Etto Espresso Bar

2. Get Active At The Cliffs At LIC

For those who think you can’t rock climb in NYC, the Cliffs at LIC will prove you wrong. Full disclosure: my boyfriend climbs at this indoor rock gym and I’ve gone with him before. In fact, he actually rescued a wounded kitten in their parking lot, who is now our sweet little furball, aptly named Cliff. As you can see, I share a certain affinity for this spot. It’s enormous with tons of route options, and there are auto belays if you’re traveling solo.

Also check their fitness class schedule for yoga, Pilates and AcroYoga. Afterward head to John Brown Smokehouse, a popular food spot for climbers after a workout.

things to do in long island city
The Cliffs at LIC & the adorable kitty that is Cliff

3. Enjoy Nature In Surprising Places

One thing that surprised me in Long Island City was the amount of green areas situated along busy streets. Right outside the hostel was a lovely 1.5-acre Fresh Kills Green with some short trails and wooden benches, while across the street was a beautiful stone garden. You’ll also find a bike trail that starts at LIC’s Pulaski Bridge and takes you on a scenic ride all the way down to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, with beautiful skyline views mixed in.

Cycling is a great way to feel the beat of a city. Plus, it’s budget-friendly as CitiBike offers passes for $12 per day or $24 for three days (though note that it’s more expensive than the subway, which is $31 unlimited for the week).

things to do in long island city
Sipping a coffee in Fresh Kills Park

4. Drink Out Of A Lightbulb At The Standing Room

If you love inventive cocktails, The Standing Room is your place. Andy and I planned to stop there for “just one drink” and ended up staying for three, and a $10 comedy show. The menu features drinks laced with everything from truffle honey to beets to balsamic reduction.

In the below photo the bartender is making me a “Smoke” made with bourbon, ancho chile, cynar and house bitters — oh, and fire! Another pick: the “Umami” crafted with mezcal, tomato, clam, wasabi and Japanese pickles for a sort of globally-inspired Bloody Mary. It’s a really giddy ambiance compared to most craft cocktail bars, which makes sense as it’s also a comedy club!

things to do in long island city
Trying the creative drinks at The Standing Room

5. Drink For Dirt Cheap At The Shannon Pot

This divey Irish pub offers a crazy good deal: three 7-ounce bottles of Rolling Rock for $5. The other drinks are cheap, as well, typically around $6. Hungry? The Shannon Pot‘s big plates of food range from $8-$12, offering hot wings, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie.

Whether you love #cocktails or #cheapdrinks, #LongIslandCity's got you covered! Click To Tweet
things to do in long island city
Photo via The Shannon Pot

6. Take In Views Galore By Walking The Queensboro Bridge To The Roosevelt Island Tram

I finally conquered my #1 NYC bucket list item: riding the Roosevelt Island Tram. From Long Island City you can do the scenic walk over the Queensboro Bridge — views of the East River, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are visible across the bridge. When you exit on the Manhattan side, you can enter the tram with a subway swipe. Tip: try to go in last so you can get close to the window (vs being pushed into the middle of the car). This way you’ll get to really take in the aerial views.

Roosevelt Island itself has walking and cycling paths along the water, so you can take pictures under the Queensboro Bridge and get the Long Island City skyline, too. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Long Island City if you love taking photos!

things to do in long island city
Views from the Roosevelt Island Tram

7. Learn The Art Of The Cocktail At Dutch Kills

Dutch Kills is a craft cocktail bar started by Richard Boccato and Sasha Petraske of Milk + Honey fame. Here they serve the types of drinks that are $15+ in Manhattan for $14 each. Since I was tired I ordered one of their hot coffee drinks laced with banana liqueur and creamy whipped cream topping. For my second drink I went for the bartender’s choice, simply giving them a few keywords about my preferred flavor profile. From there, he mixed and muddled away to create a refreshing spicy mezcal drink with a frothy top.

For those who love cheap things to do in NYC, Dutch Kills offers a phenomenal happy hour: $8 select cocktails from Sunday through Friday, 5-7pm. Remember, these aren’t quick well drinks; they’re drinkable works of art.

things to do in long island city
Dutch Kills is a cocktail lover’s dream bar

8. Have The Ultimate Wine Pairing Experience At BLVD

Andy and I were actually trying to have dinner nearby at Blend on the Water, but the place was packed. We were pretty bummed because I wanted to eat on the water with a view of the Manhattan skyline; but it all ended up for the best when we stumbled upon the cozy BLVD Wine Bar. This wine bar and restaurant is also on the water.

Surprisingly, we got a table right away, despite it being 8pm on a Friday. The food was phenomenal, from the lobster mac and cheese to the squid ink risotto to the bowl of mussels (we actually drank the broth like soup – it was so good!). Paired with a $30 bottle of wine, it couldn’t have been a better meal. Bonus: they do a live music brunch from 12-3pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

things to do in long island city
A delicious dinner at BLVD. Right behind Andy is a great waterfront view, too!

9. Inspire Your Creativity At PS1

MoMA PS1 is a satellite operation of the world-renowned MoMA, showcasing thought-provoking contemporary art. Instead of stale polished walls you’re roaming around a weathered hundred-year-old Romanesque Revival school building, which gives a laid-back feel. When we visited we saw everything, from dystopic multi-dimension depictions of bodies under duress to themed showcases of “found memories” that make you ponder recent transitions in technology. There was also a LED light-outfitted sun room that unintentionally acted as positive light therapy for me.

Make sure to check out their calendar as MoMA PS1 constantly puts on events and programs. For instance, in the warmer months don’t miss their crazy popular Warm Up series, where you’ll drink and dance to outdoor live music and DJs.

There are many other galleries to put on your list of things to do in Long Island City, too. A few include Local Project, BrickHouse Ceramic Art Center, the Fisher Landau Center For Art, SculptureCenter and the Socrates Sculpture Park in nearby Astoria.

things to do in long island city
Part of a MoMA PS1 exhibit on Felix the Cat. Here he is having a rough day.

10. Have A True Diner Experience At Court Square Diner

New York State is full of classic diners, though in the city itself these are harder to find. Walking into Long Island City’s Court Square Dinerwe were immediately enveloped by the familiar aromas of ketchup, eggs and French fries, reminding me of childhood road trips with my family. The portions are large and inexpensive, just like diner fare should be.

We opted for the veggie-stuffed garden omelette with toast and a baked potato, and a fluffy stack of maple syrup-soaked pancakes with sausage. With our two coffees the meal came to $23.03, including tax. It’s truly a hungry budget traveler’s dream!

things to do in long island city
Our yummy Court Square Diner pancakes

11. See The Manhattan Skyline From Gantry Plaza State Park

This 12-acre riverfront park is a gorgeous walk both during the day and at night, though especially at sunset. From Gantry Plaza State Park you’ll get prime views of the Manhattan skyline and all its popular landmarks. Honestly, this spot offers some of the best views in NYC at night.

There are also tons of benches and Adirondack chairs for sitting, beautiful gardens, four piers you can fish off, and sports fields for playing.  The park is actually named after the restored gantries that once loaded and unloaded rail car floats and barges. Andy and I spent a lot of time wandering through this park and simply enjoying the scenery.

One reason to visit #LongIslandCity in #Queens: the spectacular #views. Wow! Click To Tweet
things to do in long island city
Gantry Plaza State Park Plaza views

12. Have A Quirky Dessert At Sugarcube Dessert & Coffee

Sugarcube Dessert & Coffee offers a novel concept. Shop owner Peter Zaharatos is also an architect, which gets woven into their creative 3D chocolate bars, based on Zaharatos’ 3D printed models. The eatery also serves creative design-centric cakes, gelatos and pastries made fresh daily. Think liquor-filled bonbons, Cucumber Lime Basil gelato and cupcake-shaped pistachio eclairs featuring pistachios from Zaharatos’ father-in-law’s groves in Aegina, Greece.

things to do in lic
Photo of Ekmek Kataifi dessert via Sugarcube Dessert & Coffee

13. Pair Pinball & Comedy At The Creek & The Cave

The Creek & The Cave offers an uber fun way to kill a few hours kicking back cheap beers and challenging your friends to pinball. Along with a basement bar with eight pinball machines, there’s an upstairs restaurant serving burritos and burgers, and a separate encased area with a small stage for cheap — often free — comedy acts. There are also collaborative performances like open mic nights and speed comedy events. Beers at the bar are $6-$8, while cocktails are $9-$10, so it’s budget friendly, too!

things to do in long island city
Beating my boyfriend at pinball at The Creek & The Cave

14.  Dig Into Unusual Burgers At The Baroness Bar + Kitchen

The Baroness Bar + Kitchen is one of many burger joints in Long Island City, though they take a quirky approach to their recipes. First of all, you can choose between beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, seared ahi tuna or veggie. From there, you’ll choose your toppings.

The best burger we ordered was “The Marilyn” featuring a beef and bacon patty stuffed with macaroni and cheese and pancetta crumbles, and wrapped in peppered bacon, Vermont cheddar, beer cheese and spicy bacon ketchup on a potato bun. Another pick: the burger-themed “Quinn” featuring a seasoned patty with an egg cooked inside. From there its fixed with bacon, American cheese, hash browns and spicy ketchup on an English muffin. Make your meal even more exciting by participating in their Champagne sabering where you chop off the neck of a Champagne bottle with a saber!

things to do in long island city
Photo courtesy of The Baroness Bar + Kitchen

15. Have An Offbeat Brunch At Queens Comfort

Queens Comfort  in nearby Astoria is hands down New York City’s best brunchThis is the only place I don’t mind waiting for a table, as the host comes out and tells dirty jokes to the crowd before taking the stage for his freestyle 3pm rap. The venue is decked out with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and other chachkies, while retro movies show against the wall and a DJ plays upbeat music at the perfect volume.

Tip: whether you like it or not you WILL find yourself singing karaoke. Get one of their atypical Benedicts — I suggest the “Hobbits Salty Pork” featuring bacon, fig jam and brie — or a Cap’n Crunch-crusted chicken sandwich. Oh, and it’s BYOB. And I don’t mean just beer and wine. My boyfriend and I brought a bottle of tequila to wash down our eggs with.

things to do in long island city
Delicious BYOB brunch at Queen’s Comfort

16. Try The Atypical Beers At SingleCut Beersmiths

This Astoria brewery is super laid back; the type of place where you can play board games all day while sipping their delicious craft beers. SingleCut Beersmiths‘ does a lot of interesting beers, like a “Kim Hibiscus Sour Lager” (it’s even pink!) and a number of India Pale Lagers (IPLs). After a day of exploring, make this your last stop.

Other breweries in and around Long Island City include Big aLICe Brewing, Rockaway Brewing Co, LIC Beer Project and Transmitter Brewing.

things to do in long island city
Chillin’ out at SingleCut Beersmiths

17. Get Sweet At Martha’s

Martha’s Country Bakery has now expanded to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, though Astoria is its original beloved home. If you’re not good at making decisions then you may want to ask a server to choose from their enormous selection for you. Along with the standards — Andy loves their carrot cake — I opt for the quirky fare. Picture Sour Cream Apple Pie, giant Kitchen Sink Cookies, Banana Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding, and Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate. This is New York, so the classic Egg Cream is also a great choice, made with neither egg nor cream!

things to do in long island city
Perusing the yummy cakes at Martha’s Country Bakery

What are your favorite things to do in Long Island City? Please share in the comments below! 

Further Exploration:

Private Photo Tours Of New York [NYC Experiences]

The Evolution Of Cuban Cuisine In NYC (And Where To Eat It) [Blog Inspiration]

Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments [Travel Safety]

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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