Travel

The Ultimate Guide to One Of NYC’s Best Kept Secrets, Governors Island

Here's what to do on Governors Island all summer long.

Photo courtesy of Gitano Island
Photo courtesy of Gitano Island
Photo courtesy of Gitano Island

Real talk: It’s okay if you still don’t know exactly what Governors Island is. We’re here to help.

First off, no it’s not a borough. And second, no, you can’t live there (but you can work from there). What the 172-acre island does offer is a wealth of outdoor activities, seasonal glamping, public art installations, delicious eats, and more, all within a whopping 800 yards of Lower Manhattan. And getting there is easy, we promise. All you have to do is hop on a picturesque, five-minute ferry ride from one of a few different ports in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Read on to discover the best places to eat, drink, and play on New York City’s Governors Island.

Photo credit: Sara Fox
Photo credit: Sara Fox
Photo credit: Sara Fox

Settle in to a slower pace with a staycation, spa time, or naps

There are few places better to recharge than Governors Island. Apart from seasonal overnight accommodations, it’s also home to one of the city’s most serene spas, and even sheep for counting (for real).

New York City doesn’t generally come to mind when you think of camping, but Collective Governors Island is perhaps one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Surrounded by the island’s 173 acres of green space, it’s an excellent way to find a pocket of zen in this urban jungle. And, let’s be honest, you’re not really roughing it: the property offers everything from private chef’s tasting menus, to charcuterie board crafting, to tents with en-suite bathrooms. And with nightly room rates starting at $229, it’s one of the most affordable staycation options in the five boroughs.

But if an overnight isn’t in the cards, the island is also perfect for a spa day trip. There are few places as transportative and unique as QC NY, Governors Island’s only spa. A day pass here grants access to the entire wellness program, which includes everything from outdoor spa pools and vichy showers, to saunas; and you can also tack on massages for a larger dose of self-care. Plus, with opening hours stretching until 11 pm on weekends, opt to actually spend all day here before hopping the ferry home.

And finally, if you’re looking for a no-cost way to get some R&R, the island’s Hammock Grove, outfitted with oversized, red hammocks, is the perfect spot to catch a few afternoon winks after a morning spent biking or hiking. But, if you’re still having trouble falling asleep, there are a few friends to help you. Their names are Evening, Chad, Philip Aries, Bowie, and Jupiter, and they’re a sheep family from Friends of Tivoli Lake Pre­serve and Farm in Albany. The furry buddies have a summer-long residency in Hammock Grove helping to nibble on invasive plant species, and you know, look adorable. Look out for sheep herding demos at various points throughout the summer.

Photo courtesy of Gitano Island
Photo courtesy of Gitano Island
Photo courtesy of Gitano Island

Chow down (and drink up) on summertime favorites

One of Governors Island’s biggest draws are the plentiful outdoor food and drink options, none of which have the crowds of some of the city’s busier enclaves. There are a surprising number of places to eat and sip a cocktail here, but the most photogenic spot is definitely seafood mecca Island Oyster: A colorful, waterfront restaurant helmed by chef Kerry Heffernan. Here, slurp sustainable oysters and snack on wild-caught seafood, all while gazing at some of the city’s best skyline views. Don’t skip out on the cocktail menu either, the tropical drinks here are the perfect way to end your day on the island.

Another popular spot is Gitano Island, which is back for its second season, bringing chill Mexican beach vibes with it. This waterfront restaurant and beach lounge, ensconced in a 27,000 square-foot palm tree jungle, feels truly removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. And for 2023, they also have a new menu, courtesy of chef Adam Maldonado; we’re big fans of the Duck Carnitas Huarache and the Black Truffle Sopes.

As for booze: There are few spots more relaxing to crack open a can than Threes Brewing’s seasonal outpost on the island’s Liggett Terrace. Swing by every weekend during the summer for a taste of Public Property, the brewery’s beer that’s only available on the island, plus lunch specials from Brooklyn’s own The Meat Hook.

Of course, you are also more than welcome to BYOB (that’s bring your own blanket, of course). Governors Island is a picnic lover’s dream: Not only are there tons of grassy, shaded spots, but the island also boasts plentiful Adirondack chairs and tables scattered throughout the grounds. And if you really want to get fancy, reserve one of the grills at Pic­nic Point or Nolan Park for a proper summer barbecue.

Photo courtesy of The Trust for Governors Island
Photo courtesy of The Trust for Governors Island
Photo courtesy of The Trust for Governors Island

Explore the island by foot, bike, or… ball

The rolling acres of Governors Island allow for much larger sculptural commissions than virtually anywhere else in New York City, making it a must-see for any art lover. Currently, there are six pieces installed throughout the island, including the giant Yankee Hanger by Mark Handforth and the immersive (and slightly creepy) The Field Sta­tion of the Melan­choly Marine Biol­o­gist by nat­u­ral­ist, Mark Dion. Curate your own walk to see all of them, or enjoy the moment of surprise when you stumble upon one.

To move around even faster, rent bikes. Governors Island has seven miles of car-free biking, nearly all of it with postcard-perfect city views. Rent a bike on-site from Blazing Saddles, and with a fleet 1,000 strong, it’s unlikely they’ll ever run out. Plus, you can also rent Surrey bikes for two to six riders, if you and your friends are looking for some serious bonding time.

Another popular group activity here is Carreau Club’s pétanque courts. And whether you’re a veteran or an absolute beginner, their seasonal Governors Island outpost is one of the best places to throw some boules around. Plus, when you need a break from the action, swing by the club’s outdoor beer garden for craft beer, wine, bottled cocktails or sandwiches.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Juliet Izon is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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