When I first moved to Harlem from the New York City suburbs, I didn’t know much about the north side of Central Park. So I set out exploring — and discovered why everyone should venture north of the 97th Street transverse.
New York City is rife with bustling tourist hotspots and charming hidden gems — and Central Park manages to be both. The 843-acre park is one of the Big Apple’s most well-known destinations, with swarms of visitors and locals alike regularly flocking to landmarks like The Loeb Boathouse, Belvedere Castle, Bow Bridge and more. But far fewer people venture north of the 106-acre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.
In fact, as a New Yorker myself, I didn’t become acquainted with the park’s north end until I moved to Harlem six years ago and found myself living three blocks from the entrance. But now, these off-the-beaten path gems are some of my favorite Central Park spots:
To hit as many of these spots as possible (and in the most efficient manner), start from the top and work your way down. Take the 2 or 3 Subway train to Central Park North, and enter the park at Malcolm X Boulevard to get started.
A Spacious Picnic Spot
On warm, sunny days, hordes of urbanites and tourists gather in Sheep Meadow, a lawn on the west side of the park that stretches from 66th to 69th Street. It’s beautiful and bright, but often requires you to tip-toe around blankets so you don’t knock over someone’s cup of rosé. I prefer the Great Hill, another green area near Central Park West and 105th Street. There, my friends and I can enjoy a picnic among the park’s beauty without worrying about finding a patch of grass to call our own. There’s even plenty of space to throw a frisbee around.
A Pocket of Peace
Looking for some solitude? One of my favorite areas is an unnamed spot just south of the Great Hill, where a path of wood chips veers off the main walkway and leads to a secluded grassy area with a giant boulder. This oasis offers incredible views of the rest of the park and the Midtown skyline. It’s the perfect spot to sit, read, listen to music or just let your mind wander.
A Tranquil City Garden
From there, head east toward The Loch in the North Woods. Walk along the gentle stream while listening to the trickling waterfalls and keeping your eyes peeled for birds. Once you get through this stretch of woodland, you’ll arrive at the Conservatory Garden on the east side of the park at Fifth Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets.
This six-acre garden consists of three smaller gardens in three styles (French, English and Italian) — and it’s my absolute favorite spot in the park. My first thought upon seeing it was that I must have stepped into the pages of The Secret Garden. Stroll through and admire the many blooms (depending on the season, you may spot Japanese lilacs, peonies, purple coneflowers, roses and more), as well as the picturesque statues and gurgling fountains. The Conservatory Garden is an official “Quiet Zone,” free of runners, bicyclists and noisy chatter or music — making it the perfect place to get lost in a good book, your own thoughts or perhaps your next great painting.
If you really want to feel like the Conservatory Garden is your own personal retreat, get there right when it opens at 8 a.m. You can explore this wonderland’s nooks and crannies while other tourists are still eating breakfast.
Next time (or the first time) you find yourself in Central Park, bypass the tourist traps and head uptown to experience it like a local. We’ll keep these secret spots just between us — pinky swear.
Where to Stay: