Sunnyside (Queens) + "LIC East"
Diverse Queens: an urban neighborhood with a classic garden-city enclave and a significant ethnic/retail mix, plus an adjacent district of revamped factory buildings now home to offices, schools, and even a prison.
Sunnyside, located just a few stops from Manhattan (and even fewer from Long Island City) on the busy 7 train, is a quintessential Queens neighborhood--and an increasingly popular option for those priced out of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
It's perhaps best known for Sunnyside Gardens, the landmark planned residential district of 20th-century row houses and well-tended gardens, once home to the famous urbanist Lewis Mumford. If the architecture isn't as spectacular as Brownstone Brooklyn, the thoughtful details, many variations, and semi-hidden pathways deserve attention, and the tree-lined streets remain an oasis--and the site of some interesting, and not uncontroversial battles over preservation.
Beyond the Gardens, Sunnyside is a densely populated neighborhood with many handsome pre-war art deco apartment buildings. That fuels a busy street and retail life with an enormously diverse population, and some subtle but clear contrasts in the neighborhood north and south of Queens Boulevard.
Retail stores, bakeries, restaurants, bars, and religious structures serve people from around the world, including Ireland, Romania, Korea, Peru, Turkey, Nepal, and Colombia--and, of course, the Americanized generations of previous immigrants. (You want some lunch/dinner advice?) Sunnyside also features some quintessentially Queens subway art, in three stations, that deserves decoding.
At the east, Sunnyside melds into diverse Woodside. At west, our walk extends into Sunnyside's warehouse/commercial district, which has some surprises, and continue to "Sunnyside West" or "LIC East"--mostly the eastern section of Long Island City, below the vast Sunnyside Yard (itself the subject of ambitious, and controversial, plans for a vast redevelopment we can talk about).
This district, technically Long Island City on most blocks, still serves some of those traditional storage, production, and distribution functions. (Hence "LIC East.") Other buildings have been creatively rehabilitated to serve as offices, high schools, LaGuardia Community College, and even a prison. Also, the temporary home for MoMA: Museum of Modern Art.
(Would you believe that NBC in September 2019 premiered a sitcom titled Sunnyside, centered on a New York City Council Member, played by Kal Penn? It didn't quite capture the complex ethnicity and subtle charms of Sunnyside, though, and was soon relegated to streaming.)
Distance from Midtown Manhattan: 20-25 minutes by subway/taxi/bus
Basic tour length: 2-2.5 hours (see fees)
Starting place: Typically 46th Street/Bliss stop on the 7 train.
Ending place: Typically, near 33rd Street stop on the 7 train.
Highlights: History, architecture, parks, public institutions, neighborhood retail, food (which you can return to)
Before tour: Have brunch or lunch in the neighborhood.
After tour: Have a donut, or continue to the LIC waterfront.
Potential tour extensions with me: Visit LIC in much more detail. Jackson Heights tour.
Why I like leading this tour: Sunnyside is under-appreciated but excellent, with a diversity of charms and details, as I've learned on numerous visits over the last 13 years.