I have lived by Central Park in New York City for over thirty years and it is one of the most wonderful places to visit in any season. Here’s my suggestion for a nice walk in the park during any weather, although fall and spring are my favorites seasons. The park is full of open areas, fountains, lakes, bridges, statues and flowers. It’s hard to get lost since you can always go East or West and find your way out of it on Fifth Avenue or Central Park West. The park is also in the best shape it’s been in decades thanks to the wonderful work of the Central Park Conservatory. I remember a time when it was truly in a terrible condition, but that is no more. It is the urban oasis that it was planned to be when it was designed in 1858.
Let’s start at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue—which is directly by the Plaza Hotel and the fantastic Apple Store. You can get here easily by subway or bus. If you enter here, you will see the first of many ponds. This one is called appropriately “the pond” and it’s a beautiful, natural area. Head back to Fifth Avenue and walk uptown on the sidewalk from there. You will soon see the Central Park Wildlife Center on your left between 63rd and 66th streets. This is really a small zoo and it has a variety of animals, including sea lions, puffins and polar bears. More than 100 species of animals are shown in three climate zones. There is an admission charge, but it’s well worth it. It’s open from 10 am daily until between 4:30 and 5:30 pm depending on the season. You can also visit the Children’s Zoo, which is nearby. Don’t miss the Delacorte Clock, which plays every half hour and has a variety of musical animals that move. Snacks are available here and all through the park. Don’t miss having a hot dog from one of the many street vendors.
After you have finished at the zoo, go into the park, go directly behind the zoo and walk west. You will find the Wollman Rink. This is an outdoor ice skating rink that was restored by Donald Trump as a gift to the city. It’s a beautiful place in winter but during the other parts of the year it is often home to a carnival or other events. Walk up the hill behind the rink’s entrance area (you will see signs) to the Dairy. This Victorian building houses the Central Park Visitor’s Center. You can ask questions and pick up a map from 10 to 5 daily.
From the Dairy (and hopefully you’ll get a map) continue in the direction you were walking to get there (up the hill) and you’ll hear and see the carousel on the left. It’s worth a ride even if you’re too old. No one cares. You will see the Sheep Meadow beyond this, where sheep actually used to graze and now is a spot for sunbathing. It’s one of the many quiet zones in the park where radios are not allowed. Continue along the road that is there and go right from the carousel. You will see The Mall on your left. Turn into The Mall and continue walking. It’s a beautiful promenade with large trees on each side. The Mall will lead you to one of the favorite places in the park, The Bethesda Fountain and Terrace. You will recognize the fountain and it’s angel statue from many movies and commercials, and the beautiful lake lies beyond it. Spend some time here relaxing and people watching. This is the heart of the park.
If you go right from the fountain and follow the road that is in front of Bethesda Terrace toward Fifth Avenue, you will find the Conservatory Water (better known as The Boat Pond). This is where model boat races are held and but you will also enjoy the ducks who live here. At the end of the pond is one of the most famous statues in the park, Alice in Wonderland. Stories are read to children here on weekends. After you have seen this, head back towards Bethesda Terrace again. You will pass the Boathouse Café where you can have a nice meal or even a snack at their outdoor area. You can also rent a rowboat next to this for a nice, if exhausting, row on the lake. Bicycle rentals are also next to the café if you want to stop walking and start peddling.
Make your way back to the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace. Now you will go in the opposite direction from the way you just went and follow the road towards Central Park West. You will see the entrance to Strawberry Fields. (Thankfully most things in the park are well marked with signs.) Yoko Ono created this area in memory of her husband, John Lennon. They lived in the Dakota apartments overlooking the spot (you can see the apartments at West 72nd Street and Central Park West and she still lives there). He was also killed outside this building. A mosaic in the path with the words “IMAGINE” has become a place where people stop to reflect and often leave flowers. Walk back the way you came to the roadway where you entered Strawberry Fields and start going north, following the lake.
It’s a pretty walk and soon you will come to the Swiss Cottage, a marionette theatre.
Turn right here and walk up the hill through the Shakespeare Garden. At the top of this you will see Belvedere Castle. This offers one of the best views in the park and you can look out over the Great Lawn, where there are baseball fields and where summer concerts are held. You can also see the Shakespeare Theatre, where free shows are offered to the public in the summer. Make your way back the same way you came and keep walking north along the roadway or path. Soon you will reach the Reservoir, which is surrounded by a running track named in memory of Jacqueline Kenney Onassis, who used to run there each day and lived on Fifth Avenue nearby. You can make your way out of the park at this point by going either east or west.
If you go west to Central Park West you will find the American Museum of Natural History at 81st Street. If you go east, then you will come out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both museums are worth visiting, but both take a lot of time. You can easily get a subway on the east or west side back to 57th Street or midtown. These are my highlights of Central Park. This walk can take a couple of hours or all day depending on how much time you spend in each area. You can have a nice lunch in the park and relax. That’s what those of us who live in New York City do. Anywhere you walk you will have a wonderful time. It’s even okay to explore other areas I didn’t mention. It’s not just a park, it’s the city’s oasis and it is an essential part of living in and visiting New York City.