(CNN) — If you like your park excursions packed with activity, you won't find a better spot for it in New York City than Brooklyn Bridge Park. Situated just across the East River from Manhattan and running under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, this green space stretches out along 1.3 miles of the northern Brooklyn waterfront.
It's also one of New York's newest parks. The Dumbo waterfront was once a bustling shipping yard and ferry landing but fell into disuse in the 1980s.
Though the original plan was to open the abandoned piers to commercial development, a group called the Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront Local Development Corporation made the case for turning the space into a public park, and in 2002 the plan was approved. Construction began in 2008, and has been ongoing ever since -- but these days, it's nearly complete.
The result is a cutting-edge park packed with public spaces for every interest, whether you want to play sports, grill up a meal or lay out on the grass and take in the stunning views of lower Manhattan.
Getty Images/Through the Lens
You can reach Brooklyn Bridge Park via multiple subway lines in Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights just inland from the piers. Take the A/C to High Street, the 2/3 to Clark Street or the F to York Street. If you're coming from the A/C or 2/3, the pedestrian-only Squibb Park Bridge is an easy short cut from the heights down to the water.
The most scenic way to access the park, however, is via the New York City Ferry; the East River line stops right at Pier 1, and costs the same amount as a subway ticket.
What to do
Getty Images/Hiroyuki Ito
There's no shortage of distractions to be found in Brooklyn Bridge Park, particularly in the warmer months. Exercise junkies can head to Pier 2 for basketball and handball courts, a roller-skating rink and open-air workout equipment. (There's also bocce and shuffleboard for less active types.)
There are also rock-climbing walls on the Main Street Pier, synthetic-turf soccer fields at Pier 5 and beach volleyball on Pier 6. June through September, free walk-up kayak rentals are available on Pier 2.
For families, there are plenty of playgrounds, with five on Pier 6 alone, including a "Water Lab" where kids can run through jets of water.
Ride vintage ponies on Jane's Carousel, a restored 1922 ride housed in a glass pavilion on the water ($2/ride). Dog owners can let their pets run free in one of the park's two dog runs.
Culture lovers can catch a play at St. Ann's Warehouse, a preeminent performing-arts institution housed inside a 19th-century tobacco warehouse in the park.
In the summer, the park hosts free outdoor movie screenings on the Harbor View Lawn with the Manhattan skyline serving as a dramatic backdrop. Rotating public art exhibits are on display throughout the park, and the Books Beneath the Bridge reading series brings prominent authors to the waterfront.
Classical music buffs can get tickets to waterfront concerts at Bargemusic, which hosts musicians aboard a converted coffee barge.
If you want to just relax or take a stroll or bike ride along the piers, there's plenty of space for that, too. Claim a spot on one of Brooklyn Bridge Park's many lawns and take in sweeping views of the two bridges, the downtown skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
Where to eat
There are tons of places to eat in the surrounding neighborhoods of Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights, but there's plenty right in the park and on its edge.
Dine in style in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge at the River Café, a 40-year-old upscale eatery that boasts some of the best views in New York. For seafood aboard a 100-year-old wooden schooner, head to Pilot on Pier 6, which specializes in oysters and alfresco cocktails.
For a very different classic Brooklyn experience, head to Grimaldi's, an iconic coal-fired pizza spot that serves full pies and often has lines out the door. If you'd rather skip the crowds, tuck into equally tasty wood-fired pies at Fornino on Pier 6.
Grab one of the best (and surprisingly affordable) lobster rolls in the city at Luke's Lobster, which serves fast bites out of the historic Smokestack Building beneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
For dessert, order an old-school ice cream at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on Pier 1 or a new-school ice cream at Ample Hills Creamery on Pier 5, which specializes in unusual flavor combos and takes its name from a poem by Brooklyn native Walt Whitman.
While their park location is open seasonally, there are other Ample Hills shops open year-round, including one inside the new DeKalb Market Hall in downtown Brooklyn. Bargemusic, 1 Water St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, +1 (718) 624-4924 Fornino, Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY 11201, +1 (718) 422-1107 Pilot, Pier 6, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn, NY 11201, +1 (917) 810-8550