In many ways, New Jerseyites know Staten Island better than residents of its fellow New York boroughs do. Shoppers cross back and forth constantly, and Garden State natives who work in Manhattan sometimes take up residence there to make their commute a little lighter. Even with Lower Manhattan only a short ferry ride away, the borough sometimes seems miles from New York. But get ready for a surprise: Staten Island does have things to do. For one thing, the Yankees have one of their Minor League Affiliates planted there. The Staten Island Yankees are the Single A Affiliate of the big club, and through early September, the Baby Bombers (and 2002 NY-Penn League Champions) will host their league rivals at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George. More intimate and quirky than Major League Baseball — and far less costly — the Minor League experience offers kids the chance to get closer to the players, and maybe collect a few autographs. The smaller ballpark also makes it possible to get the aroma of the loamy field, something you just can't get when you're sitting many hundreds of yards away at Yankee Stadium. Located at 75 Richmond Terrace. Most home games begin at 7:15pm. For information, call (718) 720-9200, or go to www.siyanks.com.
Also in Richmond Terrace, the Staten Island Botanical Garden is tucked in, within the grounds of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. Founded in 1977, the Garden, with its Victorian delicacy, certainly doesn't look like it was born during the Ed Koch years. Kids, of course, don't appreciate Victorian delicacy, but for those young people who enjoy the pleasures of the natural world, the place can't be beat. Already a popular field trip location for kids in New York City schools, the Garden boasts more than 20 features, including "Connie Gretz's Secret Garden", one of the most impressive horticultural mazes in the United States, outside Governor's Mansion in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. Lined with three-foot evergreens, the maze leads to a walled secret garden overlooked by a 38-foot castle with a drawbridge and moat. The Staten Island Botanical Garden is located at 1000 Richmond Terrace. For more information, call (718) 273-8200 or go to www.sibg.org.
The Snug Harbor Cultural Center is also home to the Staten Island Children's Museum. From bugs to rainforests to stagecrafts, the museum offers an astonishing variety of experiences for kids in the arts, sciences, and humanities. Exhibits include "Great Expectations", where kids can explore the world of the rainforest; and "Wonder Water", an introduction to the Earth's most basic (but by no means simple) element. Waterfront environments, the world of theatrical production, and — of course — bugs, are also featured on a regular basis. (Feeding time for the zoo's little menagerie of insects, fish toads and guinea pigs take place daily). Located at 1000 Richmond Terrace. Be advised: The museum has been closing periodically for purposes of construction. For more information, call (718) 273-2060 or go to www.fieldtrip.com.
Exhibits at the Staten Island Zoo range from the African Savannah to a tropical forest. Its "African Savannah At Twilight" is a state-of-the-art exhibit that serves as home to scores of exotic animals, all of which are native to the vast grasslands of central and southern Africa. Less familiar species are balanced with the more immediately recognizable leopards, lizards, antelope and baboons of the region; artisans have duplicated the look of the African plains, and the exhibit is kept warm year-round, to emulate the actual climate. Visitors strolling along the boardwalk through the Ralph J. Lamberti Tropical Forest will come face-to-face with native animals of the region, as well as its flora and fauna; while the Children's Center uses a New England farm setting as a backdrop to introduce kids to very nearly every kind of domestic farm animal. The zoo also contains its own aquarium (with sharks), a "Serpentarium" (meaning: reptiles) and plenty of outdoor exhibits. Look for the peacock. Located at 614 Broadway. Open seven days a week. For more information, call (718) 442-3100 or go to www.statenislandzoo.org.
The history of Staten Island, and that of civilization in general, is on display year-round at the Staten Island Institute for Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1881, the Institute began amassing its art collection around 1911, with acquisitions of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts. Later acquisitions focused on the landscape of the Island and its more prominent residents, along with collections of Native American, African, and Asian objects. (The museum's contemporary art collection, in keeping with its philosophy of multidisciplinary study, emphasizes ecology and natural history). The Institute's natural history collection includes what it calls its "Wet Collection" of 1,300 specimens of mostly amphibians and reptiles (along with a smaller number of birds, fish, and mammals), most hailing from the eastern United States. The Invertebrate Zoology Department contains a half-million species. Located at 75 Stuyvesant Place, approximately a five-minute walk from the Staten Island Ferry. For more information, call (718) 727-1135 or go to www.siiasmuseum.org.
Getting there: The trip by ferry takes about 25 minutes. The Staten Island ferry terminal can be reached by subway (#1, 9, 4, 5, N, R ), as well as by bus (M1, M6 and M15). The ferry ride is free. No pets are allowed on the ferry, with the exception of pets in cages and seeing-eye dogs. Currently, no vehicles are allowed on the ferry. Buses are conveniently located at the ferry terminal on the island. Snug Harbor is a short walk from the ferry.