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History of the Rockaways, Queens – Past and Present

Rockaway, Queens, boardwalk has been a popular daytrip for almost a century.In the summer, New Yorkers line up at Pier 11 to catch the New York Beach Ferry. It takes up to 250 passengers from Wall Street to the Jacob Riis Park Beach in the Rockaways. The ferry travels by the Statue of Liberty, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and past numerous scenic landmarks on the way from Manhattan to Riis Landing. It’s a journey that countless New Yorkers and tour guides have made over the years. In honor of this storied community, let’s take a look at Rockaways’ history from the turn of the century to the new millennium and from Jacob Riis to the Ramones.

What exactly are the Rockaways?

Rockaway, Queens, boardwalk has been a popular daytrip for almost a century.They are a group of communities located on the Rockaway Peninsula in the Borough of Queens. They’re next to Long Island, across the bay from Brooklyn and down the street from the John F. Kennedy International Airport. The Rockaways are famous for being New York’s playground. During the summer, day-trippers and adventure seekers flock from the five boroughs to spend time on the beaches with their friends and family. The area’s popularity and place in New York culture goes back more than a century. Things have changed over the years, but the community’s status as a travel destination shows no signs of diminishing.

Five Fast Facts about the Rockaways

  1. The villages of Far Rockaway and Rockaway Beach were established in 1888 and 1897 respectively. They were incorporated into the metropolitan area in 1898 despite various campaigns to secede.
  2. Although New Yorkers love to argue about their different opinions, most people agree that the Rockaways take their name from the Indian community called Rechaweygh, which is translated as a place with bright waters or a lonely place.
  3. From 1902 to 1982, Rockaways’ Playland was one of the biggest attractions in the area. When the amusement park closed due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, it was truly the end of an era. Now, the site is home to a new crop of apartment buildings.
  4. The Jacob Riis Beach Park was named after a famous Danish writer who lived in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens. He was one of the first photojournalists. Riis was a social commentator who wrote about disparities between the classes and was good friends with Theodore Roosevelt. The park features an eclectic beach bazaar that’s open for tours all year.
  5. One person who left a mark on the villages was New York City’s master planner and resident maniac Robert Moses. In addition to building several important bridges for local travel, Moses expanded Shore Front Parkway. Locals call it the road from nowhere to nowhere. Victorian houses just steps from the beach were sawed in half to accommodate the widened road. Despite ravages from Hurricane Sandy, these relics are still standing.

Rockaway, Queens, boardwalk has been a popular daytrip for almost a century.Today, the area’s main attractions are the miles of beaches, the thriving food scene and the family-friendly parks. For a peninsula that’s just 10 miles long and half a mile wide, the Rockaways have a lot happening throughout the year. There is an unbelievable food truck community offering everything from vegan desserts to tacos made with locally caught fish. You’re more likely to find a Paleo-friendly restaurant than a pizzeria in the Rockaways today. There are surf shops, family owned and operated boutiques, boardwalk events and concerts. It’s a great place to soak in some New York history and culture.

I hear the sound of music…

While you stroll down the beach, you might hear Motown hits or cutting-edge DJs. One band that you may know for its connection with the area is The Ramones, who immortalized the line “We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach” back in 1977. Fans instantly associate those two minutes of solid punk rock with the beaches that the native New Yorkers frequented back in the day. We talked more about New York culture and music history during our overview of the Punk Rock School Bus Tours that the our tour guides hosted back in June.

Rockaway, Queens, boardwalk has been a popular daytrip for almost a century.Our comparison between the punk rockers in the late 1970s and the original gangs of New York was accurate. The hit TV series “Boardwalk Empire” used Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis Park to double as Atlantic City in the final season. Celebrities ranging from Frank Sinatra to Woody Allen filmed movies in the Rockaways too.

Whether you’re interested in New York history, the food scene, local music or an outdoor adventure, you can discover new sights in this special part of Queens. On behalf of Levys’, the area’s first family owned and operated tour company, we invite you to explore the Rockaways like native New Yorkers.

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Al Fresco Dining in New York (Or Eat Your Big Apple Outside)

From gourmet picnics to elegant feasts on a rooftop terrace, New York City offers diners many ways to enjoy world-class food in the great outdoors. Alice Waters, the famed restaurateur, author and organic food activist, once said, “It’s true that appetites are sharpened and tastes are enlivened in the open air.” Exploring the city’s avenues, parks and green spaces is a great way to work up an appetite that will help you eat your way across the Big Apple. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some recommendations from our very own Mr. Moustache and the rest of the Levy family.

The High Line

Dining Al Fresco at the High Line Park in the West Village is super easy. Just ask New York's family of tour guides at LevysUniqueNY.comThe High Line is a meandering urban park set 30 feet above the city on an elevated section of track used by the New York Central Railroad until 1980. Now, it’s a pedestrian-only park and greenway that travels 1.45 miles from Hudson Yards to the Whitney Museum of American Art in the Meatpacking District. There are plenty of places to sit, relax or watch the people along the High Line. Stop at Chelsea Market to grab some picnic fixings that you can enjoy al fresco, or check out some of the bars, restaurants, boutiques and art galleries that are along the route.

Madison Square Park

View of the skyscrapers of Manhattan through the trees on Madison Square Park in New York CityMadison Square Park On Manhattan

Located next to the distinctive wedge-shaped Flatiron Building, Madison Square Park is a Midtown landmark. The park spans three blocks between 5th Avenue and Madison Avenue, two of Manhattan’s most glamorous thoroughfares. It is renowned for art installations, live concerts, landscape plantings and culinary celebrations. Seasonal events like Parktoberfest and Flatiron Chefs draw thousands of visitors. Several times a year, there are pop-up markets showcasing foods and beverages from the city’s best eateries and breweries. When the park isn’t hosting culinary events, you can find coffee, cocktails, craft beer, steak and international fare nearby to enjoy inside or outdoors.

Hudson River Park

Walk in a park along the Hudson River at the Hudson River Park.Hudson River Park is one of the best spots for a memorable day outside or a picture-perfect picnic. This waterfront greenway runs from 59th Street to Battery Park. There are numerous cafes and restaurants located in the 500-acre park and surrounding neighborhoods. In Tribeca, you’ll find eateries near piers 25 and 26 and on the blocks west of Broadway. In Chelsea, you can try local seafood at a riverside restaurant. There’s no shortage of recreational opportunities in the park. Don’t forget about the food trucks that serve up fantastic and affordable meals throughout the city.

Bryant Park

People at leisure on a nice Spring day in Bryant Park, Manhattan, New The Winter Village in Bryant Park is New York’s answer to Europe’s old-world holiday markets. At the end of October, the village is in full swing. In addition to the requisite ice skating on The Pond, there will be more than 125 boutique vendors and a number of top-notch eateries serving up pastries, sandwiches and hot drinks all day. If you hit the park in the evening, you can enjoy handcrafted cocktails and offerings from the wine bar.

Teardrop Park

After seven years of painstaking work, Teardrop Park opened to the public in 2006. This family-friendly green space includes open lawns, play areas, interactive fountains, sustainable landscaping and impressive rock installations. It’s a lush oasis tucked between several modern apartment buildings in lower Manhattan. If you get hungry after playing in the fresh air, you can visit one of the international restaurants along Murray Street. Take time to stroll along the Battery Park City Esplanade next door for fantastic views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey skyline.

There’s more to our city than Central Park. It was fine in 1860, but it’s been done to death. You’ll find many outstanding sites if you’re craving something new in New York.

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Punk Rock to the Rockaways!

Over the past two months, I had the awesome opportunity to co-lead a Punk Rock School Bus tour, in concert with the recently closed HEY HO! LET’S GO! Exhibit on the Ramones at the Queens Museum. One tour was back in June and the other was last month. On each tour I got to take a yellow cheese bus chock full of Punk Rock fans on an awesome neighborhood tour of Forest Hills and Rockaway Beach in Queens.

The Levys’ Unique New York! (LUNY!) provides step-on, group and private tour guides for sightseeing in New York City, including a Punk Rock tour!

For those of you who have never heard of the Ramones, they were the first true punk band. Dressed in matching leather jackets and ripped jeans, they were terrible musicians who more often than not devolved into arguments with one another instead of playing basic three-bar-chord songs, mostly about girls and partying and being bored teenagers. But they were instrumental to MANY many teenagers who went off and started their own band.

The Levys’ Unique New York! (LUNY!) provides step-on, group and private tour guides for sightseeing in New York City, including a Punk Rock tour!I offer a tour, HEY HO! LET’S GO! Punk Rock on the Bowery which, while visiting various bars and shops, compares and contrasts the Gangs of NY of the 1850s with the punks of the 1970s. My whole theory is that the only thing separating these two disparate cultures is 150 years and electricity. And after a couple of pints, you believe me!

The Levys’ Unique New York! (LUNY!) provides step-on, group and private tour guides for sightseeing in New York City, including a Punk Rock tour!On June’s Punk Rock School Bus tour, I co-guided with former punk rocker Richard Adler, of the proto-punk band Tangerine Puppets. Richard was a fellow Forest Hills High School student alongside all four Ramones (hint – none were actually named Ramone.) and future folk superstars Simon and Garfunkel. We visited a number of punk rock cultural landmarks, including the apartment buildings in Forest Hills where they lived and the Law Office (formerly an artist gallery) where they first practiced.

On July’s Punk Rock School Bus tour, I co-guided with Monte Melnick, the Ramone’s touring manager of 20 years. I told stories about how NYC was the birthplace of punk a century before the musical movement actually started, as well as shared some interesting NYC stories and the city that helped to form The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, etc. But the true star of the tour was Monte, with his extraordinary stories about putting up with the Ramones and all their antics. This tour ended in the Rockaways where we joined a punk rock concert-in-progress, featuring local NYC noise rockers Rattrap Bumpkin and the Unstoppable Death Machines.

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I Love The Bronx… Week!

I Love The Bronx Week Levy's Unique New York Family Of Tour GuidesA few weeks ago, Jonah Levy and I had the wonderful opportunity to TAKE a tour, instead of LEAD a tour. Better yet, we got to take a tour of The Bronx – probably the borough I know the least about. (For example, I’ve led Staten Island Bike Beer Blitzes and I’ve led Queens Foodie Tours with aplomb. But the Bronx is a beast. And besides, our Dad happens to be a native Bronxite, so we hand all Bronx tour requests to him.

Therefore, when I learned about I Love The Bronx Week, and the absolutely free guided tour of the Bronx by Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan, younger bro Jonah and I jumped at the chance to learn more about the amazing Northern Territory. Filled with so-bad-they’re-good jokes (whilst passing under the Highbridge, NYC’s oldest bridge, Lloyd quipped “people always ask what the bridge must be smoking!”) and beautiful views of awesome art deco apartment buildings and fun-filled facts about native Bronxites (Stanley Kubrick! DJ Kool Herc! Tony Curtis! Ralph Lauren!) we tootled through a truly diverse collection of neighborhoods and areas. From University Heights to Fordham, Morrisania, the Hub, Belmont and West Farms, everywhere we went Bronxites were happy to see us.I Love The Bronx Week Levy's Unique New York

And even though the views atop that double decker were beautiful, the most refreshing experience in The Bronx was that, while zipping around on a double-decker bus, local New Yorkers were actually waving and cheering our presence! If you’ve ever spent any time on top of a DD bus in Manhattan, the reactions (when you get any) from the locals runs the gamut from disgust to outright hostility. As a tour guide, I’ve heard rude New Yorkers shout “Go love your own city!” to busloads of tourists who take the whole thing in as an “authentic NY experience.” Which, unbeknownst to them, is hardly how most modern-day NYers act. We’re nice people! We’re just always in a rush. Same goes for Brooklynites – whether they’re dyed-in-the-wool natives or they’re recent transplants – they often BOOO! the passing double deckers packed with people itching to see what all the Brooklyn hubbub is about.

Which is why it was so nice to see Bronxites of all ages and colors waving to us and cheering to us and truly welcoming us to The Bronx. That kind of hometown pride, unadorned by cynicism or irony, just pure unabashed passion and pride for their hometown. And that’s what we like to see when touring around our own city. Hooray for New Yorkers! And we LOVE THE BRONX all year round!

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A Concert In My Living Room

A Concert in My Bushwick Living RoomI came home a month ago to find a concert in my living room.

Well actually, I came home a month ago to find 40-some-odd complete strangers, hanging out in my kitchen and living room, drinking beers and wine (they BYO’d,) chatting and mingling, talking and hanging out. But there was a palpable sense of anticipation in the air. And a considerable amount of energy was focused over on one guy, tall and reed-thin, with a floppy hat and oval glasses. This was the guy that everyone had come to see perform. Indie rock and roll music. In my living room. So after about 40 some-odd minutes of excited small talk, everyone took a seat on the floor, this rock and roller took a seat on my couch, and the concert began.


Alex Ounsworth is the former-and-sometimes-current frontman for a seminal lo-fi indie rock band from Philadelphia/Brooklyn called Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They were huuuugge back in the early aughts. Sold out venues, headlined festivals, you get the pic. They also happen to be one of my wife’s favorite bands.

So when Jenny heard that Mr. Ounsworth was organizing a series of “Living Room Shows,” where he would show up and play his acoustic guitar, answer questions, and basically be an anti-rock star in our own home, she jumped at the chance.

Pictures of the “venue” (aka our living room) were snapped and sent to Alec, a standard contract was signed, tickets were sold (with 100% of the proceeds going to Alec – we didn’t make a cent) and the date was set!

That particular day I had an 8 hour tour (!!) and had to pickup the kid from daycare and drop her off at the folks’ place so I didn’t get to chat with Alec until after his 2 hour show had ended, but he was as gracious, generous and good tempered as you could imagine. And after he sold some merch and signed some records, and after everyone had cleaned up their own beer and wine bottles and tossed away their bags of chips, our very own living room rock star packed his own guitar into his car and drove back to Philly.

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