The Lure of City Island

By the early twentieth century, City Island had built a worldwide reputation for building quality wooden boats, especially yachts. Situated in the waters of western Long Island Sound and Eastchester Bay, the island is suitably positioned for great sailing. City Island provided service for schooners stopping along the East Coast, and the yards hired skilled craftsmen to build yachts that would win and defend several America’s Cup races.

The Bx29 City Island bus turns around near the southern tip of the island.

For a time, the boatyards dominated the economy on City Island, and when the wars came, the boatyards contributed to advances in naval technology, including the World War II era minesweepers. Kids on City Island grew up with the water, catching crabs and rowing small boats.

Memories of the glory days of yacht building on a City Island storefront. 

City Island built enormous yachts for the Gilded Age robber barons of New York. The island’s most famous contributions to yachting were the City Island-built racing boats of the 12 Metre Class. Five served as defenders in seven successful America's Cup campaigns. A trip to the City Island Nautical Museum on Fordham Street tells the story of these legendary boats - Columbia, Constellation, Intrepid, Courageous, and Freedom.

A display at the City Island Nautical Museum

The demise of the wooden-hulled boat in racing played a role in the decline of the island’s boatyard industry. Many of the craftsmen found more lucrative work in the construction business or in other trades. Real estate developers were more interested in the land on City Island than the sea.

A Laughing Gull perched on a lighting fixture at Johnny's Reef.

Sailing still plays an important role on the island, with three yacht clubs, commercial marinas, and businesses that offer fishing trip expeditions. The City Island Yacht Club Sailing School, an affiliate school of the American Sailing Association (ASA), offers classes and certification. A few boatyards and marinas can still fix your wooden yacht, if you have one.

A couple of patriotic piña coladas at Johnny's.

Most visitors make the trip to City Island for the many seafood restaurants, the ambience, and the small town setting. Tourist guides often mention that City Island, located in a far northeastern region of the Bronx, has the feeling of a New England-type fishing community.

Hawkins Street Park on City Island

For an overview, take the Bx29 City Island bus all the way to the south tip of the island and walk down to Belden Point. Stop in for a drink and seafood at Johnny’s Reef and enjoy the view from one of the outdoor picnic benches. Then wander back up City Island Avenue either on foot or by bus, and explore side streets. Several shops and good restaurants may be found along the avenue near Hawkins Street Park, a small gathering place for locals. The City Island Nautical Museum is open on the weekends.

City Island Diner and its companion, The Snug, on City Island Avenue at Fordham Street.
The island was hosting its homecoming.  

City Island has been featured in several films, including CITY ISLAND (2009) with Andy García and Julianna Margulies. In an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld talks to Ricky Gervais at City Island Diner. Anthony Bourdain visited Sea Shore Restaurant & Marina for a Bronx episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown. Free dockage is available there if arriving by boat.

 

Directions: To visit City Island by mass transit, take the 6 train all the way to its northern terminus at Pelham Bay Park Station and transfer to the Bx29 City Island bus. Residents of Northern Manhattan have a relatively faster trip, as City Island is almost a straight line due east via the BX12-SBS to the Pelham Bay station and then the bus.

The City Island Laundromat 

Images of City Island by Sailing Off the Big Apple from June 30, 2018.

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