Until 1986, the site of the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens, was an illegal riverside landfill, abandoned and ugly. Fortunately, a group of local artists got together and decided to turn the area into a park and outdoor museum.
In the summer, Socrates hosts a a free outdoor cinema featuring international films and sometimes live music. All are invited to bring a picnic and a blanket, and watch the film starting at dusk. Also throughout the summer, Socrates offers sculpture and art classes for all ages, tai chi and yoga on Saturday mornings until September 30 (all which are also free).
The park foundation awards several artists a residency each year. They may work on site, and have the opportunity to display extremely large scale work, the only location like it in New York. The sculptures change about every 6 months. Visitors are invited to look, play, climb, learn, photograph and let their dogs run around the sculptures and park.
Not to mention the amazing sculptures! Currently, a giant larger-than-life sasquatch is caught mid-saunter, an oversized photo sculpture of a clenched fist celebrates black power, dumpsters and scrap metal are reworked and intricately carved by artist Cal Lane and a table like structure decoupaged in scrap book memories echoes the shape of the skyline across the river. I was checking my photos and accidentally backed into what I thought was a giant muppet, only to discover it was a fur covered actual tree! (yeah, I screamed, ok? I admit it.)
In other words: go there. Year round. There are trees with leaves (a.k.a. autumnal leaves) changing without 1000 other people watching it (which would be the case if you went to Central Park). In fact, they have a Halloween festival on October 14.
To get there: Monday through Friday take the N or W train to the Broadway stop in Queens and walk eight blocks along Broadway toward the East River. On Saturday and Sunday take the N train to the Broadway stop.