The 10 Best Cheap—or Free!—Things to Do in New York On Labor Day Weekend

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Rockaway Beach Social Club
photo by Asha Fuller

Usually starting right after the 4th of July, there are always those people who start complaining that summer’s almost over. They say it’s flying by. They say they’ll never have enough time to do what they want. We tend to roll our eyes at those people. Almost over? we think. It’s only just beginning. But then, just like that, we find ourselves confronting the fact that summer is not “only just beginning,” and that it’s the Friday before Labor Day weekend and we’re standing on the season’s very edge, staring down from summer’s precipice and into the depths of fall. And guess what? We still haven’t done almost anything we’d planned on doing, and we certainly aren’t leaving the city this weekend. No worries though! Because you’ve still got three whole days to fit in a lot of summery fun, and we’ve got 10 great cheap (or free!) things for you to do right here in New York. And even if you can’t get to all of them? That’s ok. Summer’s a rather sad time of longing anyway. Fall’s so much better.

MOMA PS1 Installation in the Rockaways
It’s not that you can’t go to the beach when it’s not summer, but this Klaus Biesenbach/Patti Smith collaboration is only on view till September 1, and you really don’t want to miss the installations by Smith, Adrian Villar Rojas and Janet Cardiff. Admission is free and after you’re done checking out the photography, sculpture, and other site-specific work, you’re, you know, at the beach. So enjoy that too.

Loading Up on Tomatoes at the Greenmarket
Ok, we’ll admit it, our favorite time for seasonal eating is actually fall, because we love root vegetables and stews and braises. But we also love the current greenmarket bounty of tomatoes and highly recommend eating them plain with a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt (yes, definitely Maldon). But! If you really want to get fancy this weekend, try making Smitten Kitchen’s version of tomato corn pie. It’s all summery goodness wrapped up in the middle of a flaky crust. Plus, since it’s not going to be crazy hot this weekend, you won’t hate turning on your oven. And, while you’re at it, read Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking, in which she also extolls the virtue of the humble tomato pie.

West Indian Day Parade
Easily one of the most vibrant annual celebrations in Brooklyn, the West Indian Day parade is a time to celebrate, well, everything. Check out our handy parade guide here (particularly helpful for first-timers), and prepare to enjoy the wonders of sugarcane juice and succulent goat rotis.

Free Kayaking in Jamaica Bay
Want to do something that, besides just feeling really summery, has the added benefit of allowing you to take the kind of photos that will make everyone who follows you on Instagram think you’re somewhere way more exotic than the coastal waters of Brooklyn? Head over to the Sebago Canoeing Club in Jamaica Bay and partake in their offer of free summer kayaking. Now’s the best time of year to do it too, because if you fall into the water, you won’t get the icy chill that newbie kayakers did way back in May. Whoa. May was a lifetime ago. Anyway.

Reading a Book by One of These Brooklyn Authors
Hey! Did you catch up on all the books you wanted to read this summer? Yeah, neither did we. Not really. But we did manage to read a few great books—all coincidentally by Brooklyn-based authors, not that location matters at all compared to quality—that we think you should all consider buying and enjoying yourself. Maybe at a bar? (Yes, definitely at a bar.) Here they are: Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey—a haunting, resonating look at loss (and Joss Whedon-approved);  Friendship by Emily Gould—funny and relatable, this novel explores that most pivotal and profound of relationships: the platonic female friendship; Adam by Ariel Schrag—we’ve all struggled with identity issues, and rarely have I seen them explored with the humor, grace, and, well, perfect raunchiness as Schrag did in her debut novel. And! While I haven’t read it yet, I’m really excited to dive into Marie-Helene Bertino’s 2A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas this weekend. Maybe you should too!

Labor Day at Maison Premiere
Weren’t invited to any rooftop parties or backyard barbecues this Labor Day? Assuage your feelings of bitter emptiness by stopping by this Williamsburg stalwart’s annual Labor Day party. The restaurant opens at noon and you can spend your day feasting on oysters, chilled seafood, absinthe, and all sorts of chef’s specials. Plus, there’s live music and a gorgeous backyard. You’ll forget about your lack of friends in no time.

298 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg

Watch Jaws at Videology
Didn’t get a chance to spend much time in the water this summer? No big deal. Do you know the kind of scary animals that live in there? Go watch Steven Spielberg’s horror masterpiece at Videology tonight at 11pm and congratulate yourself on not getting eaten this summer. You’re no fool. Dry land is where we’re supposed to be.

308 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg

The Unicycle Festival on Governor’s Island
Ever seen someone on a unicycle? They always look like they’re having so much fun. And also, you know, like they’re about to fall over. Head over to Governor’s Island this weekend (you’ll get to take a boat and boats are the ultimate summer mode of transportation) and watch hundreds and hundreds of people balance precariously while having the time of their lives. Plus, you’ll be on Governor’s Island, where there’s lots of good food to eat, art installations to see, and hammocks to nap in. You kind of can’t lose.

Cycle Up to the Cloisters
Not quite ready to hit the road on just one wheel? That’s totally understandable. Take it slow and hop on a bike and make the long, scenic ride up the Hudson River to Fort Tryon Park. Once there, you’ll find the Cloisters, easily one of New York’s most beautiful art museums (it’s a toss-up between this and the Frick, but the Frick does not have the Cloisters’ majestic views). And because the Cloisters is a satellite outpost of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it shares the same suggested donation policy. We suggest you pay what you can, but, well, don’t go crazy unless you can afford it.

Scare Yourself Half to Death on Coney Island’s Thunderbolt
We used to think the Cyclone was scary. And, you know, it is! It’s very, very old and feels very, very rickety and, before it was refurbished recently with higher seat backs, was very, very likely to give you whiplash. However, the Cyclone has nothing on Coney Island’s newest ride, the Thunderbolt. This coaster has a 90 degree drop. That’s intense, to say the least. Screams from its passengers can be heard up and down the boardwalk. We sort of love this? Go on the Thunderbolt to end your summer, and let your voice join the chorus of terror that has resounded throughout Coney Island summers for decades and decades. And so it goes.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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