Central Park's creators had a simple goal: to design a place where city dwellers could go to forget the city. Even though New York eventually grew far taller than the trees planted to hide it, this goal has never faltered. A combination escape hatch and exercise yard, Central Park is an urbanized Eden that gives residents and visitors alike a bite of the apple. Indeed, without the Central Park's 843 acres of meandering paths, tranquil lakes, ponds, and open meadows, New Yorkers (especially Manhattanites) might be a lot less sane.
The busy southern section of Central Park, from 59th to 72nd Street, is where most visitors get their first impression. But no matter how many people congregate around here, you can always find a spot to picnic, ponder, or just take in the greenery, especially on a sunny day. Playgrounds, lawns, jogging and biking paths, and striking buildings populate the midsection of the park, from 72nd Street to the Reservoir. You can soak up the sun, have a picnic,
have your photo taken at Bethesda Fountain, visit the penguins at the Central Park Zoo, or join the runners huffing counterclockwise on the dirt track that surrounds the reservoir. North of the reservoir and up to 110th Street, Central Park is less crowded and feels more rugged. Not many people know that there's a swimming pool in the northeast corner of the park, which becomes a skating rink in winter—and it's much less crowded than Volker Rink in the southern part of the park. To find out about park events and a variety of walking tours, visit the website of the Central Park Conservancy.
If you're taking the subway to the park's southernmost parts, then the stops at either Columbus Circle (at the west side) or 5th Avenue/59th Street are handy. If headed for points north, the B, D, A, and C subway lines travel along Central Park West, while the 4, 5, and 6 lines travel along Lexington Avenue, three blocks east of 5th Avenue and the park.
There are many paved pedestrian entrances into the park, from 5th Avenue, Central Park North (110th Street), Central Park West, and Central Park South (59th Street) Four roads, or transverses, cut through the park from east to west—66th, 79th, 86th, and 96th Streets. The East and West drives are both along the north–south axis; Center Drive enters the south edge of the park at 6th Avenue and connects with East Drive around 66th Street. Along the main loop, lampposts are marked with location codes that include a letter—always "E" (for east) or "W" (for west)—followed by numbers, the first two of which tell you the nearest cross street. For example, E7803 means you're near 78th Street; above 99, the initial "1" is omitted, so W0401 is near West 104th Street. Download the free Central Park app in advance of your visit for a GPS-enabled map to help you navigate the park. The app also includes an audio guide, self-guided tours, and current events in the park. If you haven't packed a picnic and you want a snack, you can usually find one of those rather tired-looking food carts selling pretzels and ice-cream sandwiches. But these days, there are often more interesting specialty-food carts around, too, mostly in the southern half of the park, so keep on the lookout—your taste buds will thank you. Other reliable options include the café next to the Boathouse Restaurant (mid-park at 74th Street), or the park's branch of Le Pain Quotidien (mid-park at 69th Street). Both serve sandwiches, soup, pastries, and other satisfying on-the-go grub (and Le Pain also has free Wi-Fi). If you're looking for something a little more iconic, you can stop for brunch, lunch, or dinner at the Tavern on the Green, which reopened in summer 2014.
As part of a park-wide restoration project named Central Play, all 21 playgrounds will receive an update over the next few years. A playground at East 110th Street, in the park’s northeast corner, has already undergone renovation and features interconnected circular spaces that have swings, play structures, and water features. The Wild West playground at West 93rd Street and the East 79th Street playground reopened in spring 2015 after a full renovation, and work continues throughout the park.