An Urban Adventurer's Guide to Brooklyn

Most people visit New York for the food. Or the shopping. Or the litany of shows, museums, cultural offerings, and so on.

But what if you’re more of an off-the-grid yet in-the-mix kind of traveler? Your idea of fun is less dinner-and-a-show, and more bike-ride-and-a-brewery. You get your kicks kicking it with the locals. And you get just as energized from a highly caffeinated cup of coffee as you do from weaving through traffic on a fixie. In other words, you’re a hipster. But an active one. An “athletic hipster” if you will.

You want to live like a local, but operate like a tourist, packing in as much as you can while also ensuring each activity is of the highest-octane order. FOMO is your jet fuel; stillness your enemy.

If all this sounds even faintly familiar, then you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’re unpacking some of the most action-packed things to do in Brooklyn for the urban adventurer. With a zoomed-in focus on Williamsburg and Greenpoint (plus a couple of other farther-afield sojourns mixed in), here’s how to have a blast in Brooklyn.

Coffee

(Opens in a new window) Partners Coffee in the heart of Williamsburg. Photo by Sung Shin

If there’s one thing Brooklyn-ites love, it’s coffee. Williamsburg and Greenpoint are each bona fide meccas for caffeine fiends. In the heart of Williamsburg, just a stone’s throw from bustline Bedford Avenue, Partners Coffee(Opens in a new window) is where to find chic locals mingling among muffins and pour-overs. Variety(Opens in a new window) offers more of the same, with a handful of locations throughout the city (our favorite is the one on Graham Avenue). For interior decor that screams glossy editorial magazine, Devocion(Opens in a new window) is like a jungly slice of Mexico City or Medellin. Black Brick(Opens in a new window) is a laidback haven with a big backyard perfect for pretending to read Infinite Jest. Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters(Opens in a new window) is a solid spot to hit on a bluebird day when they open up the garage doors and let the smell of baked goods and New York’s own brand of petrichor through. Nearby, Odd Fox(Opens in a new window) is a calm, cute spot without as much foot traffic as some of the scenier spots mentioned thus far, which is a great place to do some computer work or Google up on the “best dive bars in Brooklyn.”

Parks

The McCarren Park track is the beating heart of recreation in Wiliamsburg. Photo by Ry Glover

Parks are the mind, body, and soul of Brooklyn. The lifeblood. The green space arteries of urban adventure. Without parks, there’d be no New York. For you—oh, ‘active hipster’ on the hunt for memorable experiences—the parks represent the best possible way to get active and amongst it in Brooklyn.

McGolrick & McCarren

When in Greenpoint, these two parks—less than a mile from each other—offer a double threat of fun. McGolrick(Opens in a new window) is where you’d go for laidback vibes, picnic lounging under the shade of hundred-year-old London Plane trees, and prime-time people-watching. McCarren is where you go for more active pastimes: a track workout, a game of pickup soccer, watching the intramural softballers, or simply lounging in a sunny patch of grass with a beer and a snack from the newly opened McCarren ParkHouse(Opens in a new window).

Domino Park

(Opens in a new window) Beach volleyball at Domino Park. Photo by Yoav Aziz

On the banks of the East River, Domino Park(Opens in a new window) is an AstroTurf hot spot for sunbathers and volleyball players. It gets crowded, but the views of Manhattan’s skyline across the water are top-notch.

Transmitter Park

Transmitter Park(Opens in a new window) is kind of like Greenpoint’s Domino. It’s on the water, with great views of the city, but possessing more of that laidback Greenpoint-y vibe. From the esplanade, you’ll have one of the best sunset views over the city. The grassy lawn is a solid spot for a picnic or joining a game of Spike Ball. Nearby, Threes Brewing(Opens in a new window) offers grab-and-go beers to take with you to Transmitter or a great sidewalk patio to hang out at with a craft brew and some fish and chips.

Prospect Park

Ah, Prospect Park(Opens in a new window). This is basically Brooklyn’s Central Park and the crown jewel of Brooklyn parks. It’s 526 acres of sprawling greenspace with a botanical garden, a network of surprisingly sizable and swooping double-track trails laid out in a 146-acre section of the park called the Ravine (Brooklyn’s only designated forest), an outer asphalt loop around the park great for road cycling and road running laps, and the piece de resistance: the Long Meadow, a mile-long stretch of rolling, immaculate, grassy lawn and the longest stretch of unbroken meadow in any U.S. urban park. Sunbathers and frisbee throwers come from boroughs far and wide to experience its lazy day majesty.

Cycling

(Opens in a new window) Cycling across the Williamsburg Bridge is a must. Photo by Johny Vino

Hands down, the best way to stay mobile throughout Brooklyn is by bike. Whether you’re coffee shop hopping or brewery bouncing, or even if you’re looking to go on a long ride out to Coney Island or the Rockaways, two-wheeled touring is the way to go. A few of our favorite places to cruise include:

Williamsburg Bridge

While all the tourists inch across the Brooklyn Bridge in a glacial crawl of bumping elbows and selfie sticks, the Williamsburg Bridge is a less-visited, less-congested cousin. It’s the connective tissue between Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Cars and motorcycles zoom across the lower deck. Trains screech and whistle across its middle section. On either side of the train track, on-foot pedestrians (runners and walkers) scurry like ants in both directions, while cyclists and electric scooters zoom across the other. Whichever mode of transport you use to cross the bridge, this much is clear: the Williamsburg Bridge is like its very own microcosm of the city itself. It’s fast-paced. It’s loud. It can be full of locals yelling at you for moving too slowly. But it’s also utterly beautiful, with one of the best views of the East River and the skyscraper skyline in the city.

Red Hook

From Williamsburg to Red Hook is a fun 6-mile bike ride that has it all: designated bike lanes (for most of the route), cool sights and sites along the way (like the cobblestone-clad Dumbo neighborhood and the riverside linear greenspace of Brooklyn Bridge Park), and a top-notch final destination. Red Hook is where old-world New York and new-age New York collide. Among the cobblestone streets and waterfront boardwalks, images of Joseph Mitchell-era mafia gangsters and blue-collar fishmongers and briny charm now contrast against a backdrop of vegan ice cream parlors and craft candle shops. If you’re feeling ravenous after your bike ride, grab some award-winning smoked meats at Hometown Bar-B-Que(Opens in a new window) or some oysters and seafood at the always-kitschy Brooklyn Crab(Opens in a new window).

Post-Adventure Brews

The colorful courtyard of Greenpoint’s FourFiveSix Bar. Photo by Ry Glover

To even attempt to provide an exhaustive list of must-visit Brooklyn bars would be the ultimate lesson in futility. Practically every street corner in Williamsburg and Greenpoint features a brewery or bar that would be the envy of most towns in America. Here are a few of our favorites for post-urban adventure, though:

Williamsburg Bars

In the heart of Williamsburg, on bustling Bedford Avenue, Lucky Dog(Opens in a new window) is a dog-friendly watering hole with games and a backyard. Nearby, Horses and Divorces(Opens in a new window) is a dive-y gem with a pool table. Maracuja(Opens in a new window) is another awesome spot where the pool table attracts folks from all around. A few blocks away, on the corner of Metropolitan and Berry, Skinny Dennis(Opens in a new window) is a honky-tonk haven with frequently killer live music. A block away, The Levee(Opens in a new window) is a laidback corner pub with zero frills. Next door, the very frills-filled Radegast Hall & Biergarten(Opens in a new window) offers some great traditional German beers, schnitzel and spaetzle, and raucous big band brass music.

Greenpoint Bars

The earlier-mentioned Threes Brewing is a must-hit brewery for urban explorers who prefer their post-adventure bevvies to be of the hoppy variety. Nearby Grand Republic Cocktail Club(Opens in a new window) is a cozy hangout with a garden patio and a tremendous hot butter rum (if you’re visiting during the colder months). Broken Land(Opens in a new window) is another hip bar in the same area of Greenpoint with hardwood floors and old-school bar vibes. Newly opened Temkins(Opens in a new window) is a groovy spot with “Ferraris” (fernet + campari) on tap. Capri Social Club(Opens in a new window) is a tucked-away gem described by the New York Times as “a bar so ordinary, it’s a star.” Ponyboy(Opens in a new window) is for dancing. Bernie’s(Opens in a new window) is for sodium-lovers looking for their dirty martini and burger fix. FourFiveSix(Opens in a new window), on the edge of Greenpoint and East Williamsburg, is for swanky jazz in a colorful courtyard.

In short, urban adventure in Brooklyn is awesome. From biking over the Williamsburg Bridge to chilling in Greenpoint’s hippest coffee shops, the neighborhoods in this borough are positively packed with fun opportunities for urban exploration. And the Osprey Arcane(Opens in a new window) is the perfect bag to take you to the best of it.

Written by Ry Glover for Matcha in partnership with Osprey Packs.

Featured image provided by Robert Bye(Opens in a new window)