Start your tour in iconic Manhattan before hopping the commuter ferry for a short ride across the East River to Brooklyn, with great views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. (Note that as the ferry leaves shortly after the tour starts, you must be on time. We recommend arriving at least 15 minutes early to the meeting point to ensure you don’t miss boarding.) Land in Dumbo, named not for the elephant, but because it is “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass.” Long home to shipping piers and industrial warehouses, this charming and historic neighborhood is now one of the most desirable in Brooklyn because of its access to the waterfront, breathtaking views and historic architecture.
Walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park, built largely on those old piers, to learn how the waterfront changed from a source of food to a thriving industrial area (where entrepreneurs did everything from process tobacco to create the first cardboard boxes), to an unsafe abandoned slum, and finally to what it is today: a beautiful park for recreation and home to modern businesses. Stop at Jane’s Carousel, from a 1920’s amusement park. It was purchased by a local artist who restored it, and a glass-enclosed ride offers a view of modern Manhattan from a historic perch.
From there, you’ll head to Smile to Go, a spinoff of a popular downtown restaurant. See where all the pastries are made, watching the bakers at work as you hear about the business and join in on the creative process. Then sample an array of creative, chef-driven pastries fresh from the oven.
At the Empire Stores, you’ll see the latest transformation. This brick warehouse block is believed to be the first place coffee was commercially roasted and processed, but was abandoned for many years as shipping moved elsewhere. Now, it has been revived as a community space with shops, cafes and restaurants, rotating art exhibits and an outpost of the Brooklyn Historical Society. Take in the panorama of Manhattan from a secret viewpoint.
Walk down the old cobblestone streets to see more of the old warehouses and factories that have been converted into lofts, restaurants and art galleries. Stop at Powerhouse Arena. It’s a bookstore specializing in books on art and photography, as well as a space for art exhibitions and literary events, including book readings, launch parties and panel discussions. Meet an employee to talk about the community activities that happen here, and about the literary and art communities that inspire and visit the space.
Pass under the Manhattan Bridge archway and into another part of the neighborhood to visit the Brooklyn Roasting Company. It is housed in an old building that was part of the historic Arbuckles’ Coffee company, whose roasted coffee was a favorite of cowboys for years. Brooklyn Roasting has brought the coffee tradition back to the waterfront. Learn about their history and how it ties into the neighborhood’s past. Of course, sample some coffee, which is curated and blended from beans from all over the world.
Head farther into Dumbo and learn about the growing startup and tech world in the neighborhood. Stop for a quick bite at a local spot like Bread & Spread, featuring chef-driven sandwiches. Get an exclusive peek into an artist’s studio where you will meet them, learn about their process, and see their latest works in progress.
Finally, stop at the hidden gem Randolph Beer. Craft brewing is all the rage, but the Randolph goes it one better and serves its beer where it’s made. Learn about the growing craft beer scene in Brooklyn, and pull your own beer from the tap. (You can’t get much more local than that!) End the tour sipping your beer and reflecting on how far Brooklyn has come, yet how close it remains to its roots.