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Road Trip! Destination: Outdoor adventures in New York City

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 5:36 p.m.
Cloisters Museum
View of the Bonnefont Cloister from France, recreated at the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

Travelers most often think of New York City as a destination for indoor activities — theater, museums, shopping and dining.

After an unusually tough and prolonged winter, they may be tempted to bypass the Big Apple so they don't waste a moment of summer sunshine inside buildings.

What they may be overlooking is the city's abundance of alfresco treasures.

When you need a breather from big-city bustle, do what New Yorkers do. You can literally take the A train — or other buses or subways from midtown Manhattan — to within a block of forests, beaches and other wilderness locations.

Other delights allow visitors to enjoy urban arts and retail adventures with an open-air interlude.

A half-dozen or more are listed below. To find others, start by checking out the listings on the New York City Parks and Recreation site at www.nycgovparks.org or go to www.nycgo.com, type outdoors into the search field and scroll through the 378 pages of outdoor locations, activities and events.

Into the woods

You actually can take theA train to the wilderness.

Exit the subway at 207th Street, walk west for three blocks and you're inside the leafy canopy of Inwood Hill Park, which the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation describes as “a living piece of old New York.”

We're talking really old New York. Glaciers carved some of the park's caves, valleys and ridges. Pathways lead to the shoreline where Spuyten Divuil Creek separates Manhattan from the mainland.

While developers have added urban amenities such as basketball courts and barbecue areas, much of the park looks like it did when Native American Lenape tribe members sold Manhattan to Peter Minuit.

Urban Stargazing

By day, Bryant Park's green lawn serves as an attractive lunch spot for brown-bagging office workers seeking fresh air.

On Monday nights through Aug. 18, the area transforms into an open-air movie theater where savvy New Yorkers and others spread their blankets for free screenings of film classics such as “Blazing Saddles” (July 7), “Suddenly Last Summer” (July 14) and “National Lampoon's Vacation” (July 21).

Located behind the New York Public Library and surrounded by gravel walkways, leafy-green trees and towering office buildings, the lawn begins welcoming viewers and their picnic baskets at 5 p.m. Screenings begin at sunset with a classic Warner Bros. cartoon.

Bryant Park is between 40th and 42nd streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues, Manhattan.

Details: 212-512-5700 or www.bryantpark.org

Contemplative interlude

Find a quiet refuge from the buzz and bustle of contemporary New York City with a quick trip back to the Middle Ages.

The interior courtyards of the Cloisters offer opportunities to soak up the sun in outdoor gardens that mimic those of the medieval period or seek the shade and shelter of the covered walkways that encircle the plantings.

A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters Museum is a showcase for some 2,000 works of art and architecture both domestic and religious that date from the 12th through the 15th centuries.

It's located in Fort Tryon Park at the northern tip of Manhattan.

Details: 212-923-3700 or www.metmuseum.org

Wet and wild

Take the number 6 IRT subway to the line's northern end, take the walkway over busy Bruckner Expressway and enter the Bronx's 883-acre Pelham Bay Park.

It's an urban park where more than 400 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects have been spotted within its mature oak forest and along its meadows, salt marsh and man-made beach.

The Urban Park Rangers schedule a variety of nonurban activities, including seal and owl watches and trail hikes.

You can enter the nature center near the entrance or leave headed to Huntingdon Woods, a tranquil area with patches of forest, marsh, and shoreline.

If you're longing for sand and surf, hop one of the city buses that will take you to Orchard Beach, a 1.1 mile stretch of white sand that was called “The Riviera of New York” when it was created in the 1930s. Changing areas, showers and life guards are available during beach season. Details: 718-319-7258 or www.nycgovparks.org/parks/pelhambaypark

High times

Take a break from shopping and museum-going with a detour through an urban forest, grasslands and a meadow of wildflowers in mid-Manhattan.

A 19-block stretch of former elevated freight-train tracks on the West Side has been transformed into the High Line, a well-loved, eco-friendly pedestrian walkway complete with flowering plants, lawn and water features.

The elevated walkway runs from Dyer Avenue and West 30th Street to Gavensvoort and Washington streets, passing through historic urban areas that include the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen/Clinton, providing strollers with an out-of-the-ordinary view of factories and churches from New York's industrial past along with contemporary high-rise apartments, art galleries, boutiques and the Hudson River.

Entry or exit is provided by nine access points along the route, two of which are equipped with elevators.

Vendors such as Brooklyn Soda Works, Melt Bakery and the Taco Truck provide reasons to stop and smell the wildflowers, as do an abundance of conveniently placed wooden benches and lounge chairs.

Details: 212-206-9922 or www.thehighline.org

Open air drama

For cash-starved New York theater fans, nothing says summer delight like a free performance of Shakespeare in Central Park's open-air Delacorte Theatre. From its start in 1962, more than 5 million people have attended one or more performances of this popular summer tradition.

You're welcome to join them.

The New York Public Theater's second production of the season is the tragedy “King Lear” (July 22-Aug. 17) with John Lithgow in the title role.

Free tickets can be obtained by lining up for day-of-performance distribution that begins at noon at the Delacorte Theater. Each person can get two tickets, and the line generally begins forming several hours in advance. Information on two alternate ways to try for a free ticket is available on the website.

To get to the Delacorte Theater, enter Central Park from Central Park West at 81st Street and follow the signs along the path.

Look for the life-size statues depicting characters from “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Tempest” near the theater.

While you're in the neighborhood, you may also want to stop by the 4-acre Shakespeare Garden that features flowers and plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays and poems.

Details: 212-539-8500 or www.publictheater.org

Alice T. Carter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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