Looking for a way to get away without the hassle of taking a trip? Brooklyn Staycation is your guide to taking a breather without ever leaving the borough. Each week, we will zoom in on a different Brooklyn neighborhood. Today, we will take you on a walk through Bensonhurst and its oceanside annex Bath Beach. Check out more Brooklyn Staycations here.
Made up mostly of modest one- and two-family homes, Bensonhurst is one of the few Brooklyn neighborhoods that seems as-yet untouched by gentrification. While teaming with diversity — and only a short train ride to Manhattan — the largely middle-class neighborhood manages to retain a small-town feel. It’s the kind of place where neighbors say hello, children play outside unattended, and bodega coffee still costs 75 cents.
Take a walk through Bensonhurst’s tree-lined blocks and admire residents’ elaborate front-yard vegetable gardens. Families grow their own tomatoes, basil, cilantro, squash, and more. Stay out late enough, and you might just catch one of those spectacular sunsets over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
How To Get There
To get to Bensonhurst, take the D train to New Utrecht Avenue or the N to 18th Avenue. Admire the graffiti-covered, post-apocalyptic N line station houses and the elevated subway tracks that make for some visually interesting cityscapes and have inspired many an artist.
Those coming from northern or central Brooklyn can also take the B9 or B6 bus. Bay Ridge and Sheepshead Bay residents can travel via B1 or B4 buses.
What To Eat
Once a predominantly Italian-American and Jewish stronghold, recent years have brought waves of immigrants from all over the world to Bensonhurst — including from Russia, the Caucuses, the Middle East, Uzbekistan, Guatemala, and China. As a result, some of the most diverse cuisines can be found on its main throughways.
In the last decade, Bensonhust has quickly sprouted New York City’s sixth Chinatown. As you exit the N train at 18th Avenue you will stumble upon two popular Chinese restaurants that could not be more different: the Sichuan-style Spicy Bampa (6920 18th Avenue), a spicy food-lover’s paradise, and Hand Pull Noodle and Dumpling House (7201 18th Avenue), a delicious, no-frills noodle spot where you can get a massive bowl of soup and an appetizer for under $10.
When you’re noodled out, hop across the street to Villabate Alba for dessert. When New Yorkers traverse the city to see Dyker Heights’ spectacular holiday lights — just a few blocks over — they typically make a pit stop at Villabate. The popular Italian bakery has been serving up its iconic cherry garnished cannoli for decades.
Follow 18th Avenue down and you’ll hit Queen Anne Ravioli (7205 18th Avenue), a pasta-maker that dates back to the 1960s, where you can stock up on rustic ravioli in flavors like kale and prosciutto-date.
Alternatively, you can trek over to Kings Highway for a taste of the Caucuses at We Are Georgians (230 Kings Highway). Their khachapuri and khinkali are famous around these parts.
Feeling more adventurous? Hike down to Cafe At Your Mother-In-Law (8611 19th Avenue). Serving up one of the more unusual cuisines in the city, At Your Mother-in-Law, offers a taste of Uzbekistan and Korea wrapped in one hearty, spicy, lamb-soaked, pickled feast. Read more about how the migration of a North Korean population to Uzbekistan in the 1930s birthed this delicious, hybrid cuisine here.
If you venture a little farther south onto Bath Avenue, you will find that there is no shortage of Central American fare in Bensonhurst. Many local Guatemalan bodegas and bakeries are clustered in and around Bath Beach, serving up hearty stews as well as a wide selection of the Central American country’s famous baked goods.
For a more upscale Central American dining experience, grab a plate of pupusas and a glass of wine at the Salvadorian Puerto del Sol on Bay Ridge Avenue.
Finally, if you’re feeling casual, the neighborhood is also known for its plethora of good, old-fashioned American diners. From New Dyker Restaurant (8505 18th Avenue) to Columbus Deli (6610 18th Avenue), charmingly dated decor, hearty home-style foods, and free coffee refills abound at these family-owned eateries.
Get A Glimpse Of The Past
Once upon a time, it was all farmland. Located in the heart of what was once called New Utrecht — the last of six Brooklyn towns established by the Dutch in the 1600s — Bensonhurst is named for gas mogul Arthur Benson who bought up all the land in Southwest Brooklyn in the 1800s and divided it into farm plots. The waterfront area, present-day Bath Beach, was described as Bensonhurst by the Sea.
The neighborhood boasts many historic sites to explore, from ancient cemeteries, to a 300-year-old church, to the historic Lady Moody’s House.
Perhaps Bensonhurst’s most famous and breathtaking landmark is the New Utrecht Reformed Church (1827 84th Street), originally built in 1700 by Dutch settlers.
Once located next door to the overgrown but fascinating Old New Utrecht Cemetery, on the corner of 84th Street and 16th Avenue in 1828, to accommodate the changing needs of the community, the old octagonal structure was dismantled and its stones were used to build a new church at its current location.
One of the Bensonhurst’s best kept secrets, and also one of the coolest places in New York, is the long-neglected, but hauntingly beautiful Calvert Vaux Park. There you will find abandoned ghost ships covered in graffiti and grass, the occasional dead body, and all sorts of exotic wildlife.
On the way you’ll hit Garibaldi Playground, named for Italian liberator Giussepe Garibaldi in 1985 by then-mayor Ed Koch — a nod to the neighborhood’s Italian-American roots. A plaque commemorates Garibaldi’s legacy as a “leader of Italian unification.”
On Sundays, make sure to pick up some farm fresh berries at the award-winning Bensonhurst Greenmarket, which sets up shop in the park during the summer.
Things To Do
A visit to Bensonhurst is not complete without checking out the Statue House on 84th Street. From Marilyn, to Elvis, to Superman, this quirky neighbor takes Bensonhurst’s garden gnome obsession to new levels.
You should also be prepared to do some credit card damage. Bensonhurst’s 86th Street has long been a shopping mecca for southern Brooklynites. Follow the elevated train tracks over the main street and find Gap, Marshall’s, TJ Max, American, and eventually a Century 21.
Keep heading south to Caesar’s Bay Plaza on the water and you’ll find a smattering of franchises like Khol’s, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, BJ’s, Toys ‘R’ Us, and more.
While you’re at the waterfront, check the view over Gravesend Bay of the spectacular Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which recently turned 50.
Finally, if you still have energy to burn, turn left at Shore Parkway and eventually you will hit Southern Brooklyn’s lesser-know amusement park, Adventurer’s Park — former named Nellie Bly Park for the trailblazing woman journalist. It may not be Luna Park, but a full go-cart track and smaller crowds make this kid-centered attraction a neighborhood favorite.
And that’s just the beginning. There are many more great things to do in Bensonhurst and Bath Beach than we could possibly list here. To keep up to date on what’s happening in the neighborhood, sign up for our daily newsletter!