When I first moved to Brooklyn in 2006 I would drive to Red Hook from Clinton Hill. The walk would’ve taken me forever, or like an hour and a half. That sounded insane to me at the time but now not at all. One of my favorite things to do in NYC is just walk and explore and I’ve walked to Red Hook from so many neighborhoods in Brooklyn, so many many times, that I can’t even count.
With the opening of the South Brooklyn Ferry on June 1st, 2017 and having access to the Ikea Water Taxi, Red Hook is much more easily accessible to all. I went back to Brooklyn for a quick visit this past May and decided that I wanted to spend the day walking to Red Hook, like I used to do before I moved to the West Coast. My friend Kristina joined me, as usual. It’s our walk, always the same route and because of this we know all of the landmarks, parks, distilleries (yes there are multiple), bars, restaurants and more.
Why should you visit Red Hook if you’re traveling to Brooklyn? Well, I find that Red Hook just feels different than many other areas of all of NYC. It’s cut off by the Gowanus Canal and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, feeling like the boundaries that they are. There is no subway service there. So to get there walking is to see the transition into this quickly gentrifying neighborhood. This has always been a tough town with high poverty rates and crime and you can still feel the grittiness of it even with the hip shops popping up everywhere. The history of this place is still felt and Hurricane Sandy’s battering is still taking structural prisoners. Old dusty factories, revived warehouses, dirt, litter, unexpected pleasantness all define Red Hook to me. Oh and of course a damn fine view of the Statue of Liberty!
So let’s talk about what to do now that I’ve got you questioning why you’d want to spend a day in this gritty little town. As I said, I typically walk to Red Hook. My first stop is always to Brooklyn Herborium on the border of Red Hook/Carroll Gardens. They have a beautiful array of made-from-scratch, organic and sustainable apothecary and skincare items. All made in their studio next door to the shop. I just love coming in here and testing out the variety of products. You’ll find everything from tinted lip balms, bath soaks, mineral mists, and cow fart juice (named because “it ain’t bullsh*t” according to their website, brilliant!).
Next stop is Raaka Chocolate, the first delicious stop in Red Hook. Chocolate meet mouth! Their thing? They make all of their chocolate with unroasted cacao beans. Apparently this process maintains the complex flavors not found in roasted chocolate. They have a tasting table when you walk into the large warehouse space. All of their products are made in this facility. You can take tours as well. I just really like to sample all of the flavors and typically purchase a bar for my walk home!
Next, we’ll begin to meander down Van Brunt Street, which is the sort of main street in Red Hook. You’ll want to stop in Red Hook Lobster Pound for a Lobster Roll and if you’re really hungry order some chowder as well!
Continue down Van Brunt Street and begin popping in and out of the boutiques along the way. Foxy and Winston is by far my favorite shop in Red Hook. It’s so well curated that I kind of want to live in the space. Much of their offerings are local makers and crafters from the region so it gives you a great taste of what’s happening in the maker scene. I’ve purchased cards and unique toys in there for many holidays! Definitely stop in Kempton and Co for locally made bags of all sorts - clutches, beach totes, crossbody, makeup, gym, diaper and on. Designer and owner, Fiona Kempton, started the company back in 2010 after her “tech-friendly bag with a built-in protective sleeve for a laptop” was well received.
Time for some wine! Dry Dock Wine + Spirits hosts *free* tastings every Friday, Saturday and Sunday - mainly in the evening so perhaps keep walking and come back later if you’ve headed out earlier in the day!
Next you’ll pass by Chelsea Garden Center, my favorite place to buy plants and flowers, I think because it’s feels very intimate, like a fauna oasis among the brick, grit and asphalt.
Here’s when things get a bit tough. You have a few food options, Hometown Bar B Que (pit-smoked bbq yum!), Brooklyn Crab or Fairway Market Cafe. My suggestion, if you’re hungry get the BBQ! Brooklyn Crab is most fun for drinks, in my opinion, because they have awesome views of Upper New York Harbor. Don’t drink too much just yet, there are still other opportunities for that! Go to Fairway Market, around the back, to checkout the vintage subway car and meander around the waterfront. Before you do though, and on your way there, pop into Hot Wood Arts, it’s free but they do take donations. It's open on the weekends between 1-6pm or by appointment. It’s a fun spot, one because it’s an “Civil-War-era Beard Street Warehouse building” and, two because the range of work is pretty incredible. The warehouse is huge so tons of space to show a lot of work.
Okay, now continue down to the waterfront, make a right to navigate behind Fairway Market, continue on and the park sort of ends, you’ll see a container-style boat that says “Lehigh Valley”, hang a right, walk into the sketchy looking parking lot, and you’ll hit the Waterfront Museum and Pier 44 Waterfront Garden! Pier 44 has awesome views of the Statue of Liberty, a great place to sit and watch the sunset over New York City! Also, the Waterfront Museum is a really fun spot to peek into for a few minutes, “The Museum's permanent collection includes a nearly one-century old wooden barge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Don’t stop there, keep walking through the Waterfront Garden and to Pier 41 and Liberty Warehouse. Actually you’ll be tasting more wine, yum! On the south side of Liberty Warehouse you’ll head into Red Hook Winery for the tasting. This isn’t free but it is fun, especially inside this old warehouse setting. Don’t drink too much, we haven’t gotten all of the other options yet!
Anyone interested in pie? Perfect because Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie is our next stop! Yep, this is a thing. They make all of their pies in-house, from scratch and use fresh squeezed key limes, which is why these pies are so tasty. Yes, you are experiencing Red Hook, randomly placed shops and stops in dusty parking lots and unpaved roads. It’s quite the experience.
I like to walk on to Ferris Street for a block and look at the old warehouses. Then take a right on Coffey Street and then a left onto Conover Street and head into Widow Jane whiskey distillery and Cacao Prieto - Dominican and organic - chocolate tastings and tours. From the website “Cacao Prieto tours are an hour and include an in-depth look at the history of cacao in the Dominican Republic, the beans to bar process, the machinery used for processing and science that makes chocolate the unique product it is.” These are great spots to pick up some tasty souvenirs to bring back home.
Supersmith is a great maker-space to check out on your way back up to Van Brunt Street. They are a community of designers, artists and ceramicists. They host classes (such as slip casting and mold-making, intro to leatherwork and, my favorite, boat building!), events and you can walk through and check out the shop. All of the items for sale are made right there in the workshop.
Now you have more options for food and fun! Baked NYC is a delicious spot to grab a coffee (to keep walking) and divine treats. I always get a coffee and a cookie or a cupcake for a boost of energy for the remaining walk. If you’re now interested in dinner head into Fort Defiance, also on Van Brunt and named after a fort during the Battle of Brooklyn (American Revolution), for locally sourced American food and happy hour drink specials.
Head on over to Pioneer Works at some point during this trip! You can take a class, see a concert, view an exhibit, there’s actually so much going on at this multi-disciplinary cultural center that you should head to their website and pick your flavor of cool to experience. After that walk to Red Hook Labs, a photography studio with a twist, of course, because it is Brooklyn after all. The studio is broken down into four Labs: Studio, Production, Gallery, and School. You can head there to check out an exhibit, take a class, attend an event and more.
You’ve now seen a ton of what Red Hook has to offer. There are a few last things to do here before you leave. Specifically, this next one. You have to go to Sunny’s Bar for a drink. This place has been around since 1895, has books written about it, and articles written about those books and Anthony Bourdain went in for a visit for No Reservations! It’s a must-do.
A few last things to do and note. Sixpoint Brewery is in Red Hook. I love their Sweet Action Blonde beer. They are planning on opening a tap room and brewery tours in mid-2018. Until then they have this handy app so you can find their brews around NYC and beyond.
Lastly, there is Red Hook Community Farms which is open for visits and has a farmstand on Saturdays. This is definitely worth a stop if you can bring home some locally grown veggies.
Getting to and around Red Hook
South Brooklyn Ferry
Ikea Water Taxi
F & G Train between Smith Street and W 9th Street (this is about a 20-minute walk)
B61 Bus between Van Brunt Street and King Street
Here's a Quick Recap:
Red Hook Lobster Pound
Fairway Market Cafe
Hometown Bar B Que
Wine + Tastings
Dry Dock Wine + Spirits
Red Hook Winery
Van Brunt Stillhouse (left unmentioned above as I haven’t been yet)
Foxy and Winston
Kempton and Co
Galleries, Exhibits, Classes, Music Venues
Hot Wood Arts
Red Hook Labs
Chelsea Garden Center
Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie
Dolce Brooklyn Artisanal Gelato (left unmentioned above as I haven’t been yet)
Red Hook Community Farms
Pier 44 Waterfront Garden
PS! Also I design these handy NYC and Brooklyn subway map bracelets, perfect for getting around the boroughs if you're visiting New York City!
Guide Note: From the time I wake up to when my head hits the pillow I'm on the GO when traveling to a new place! I hope my guides help you navigate cities in an easy, thoughtful and hectic-free way while being able to take in as much as possible in the time you have! Please let me know if you've used this guide or plan to use this guide in the comments! I'd love your feedback! Also, if you haven't checked out my City + Metro Map cuff bracelets you can follow this link to them! Lastly, check out our Portland and Nashville Travel Guides if you're headed to those cities. Many more coming soon!
About Tiffany: I am the Founder and Creative Director of Designhype! Labels I like on me: designer, traveler and foodie. I've been obsessed with travel and art since I was a child so it only made sense that I would somehow merge the two together. Now after many years of traveling, moving to various cities and designing along the way I have started writing up travel and city guides to share with you!
Tiffany is from the East Coast, now on the West Coast and currently thinking about the next city she'd like to call home for a few years.