The Bronx has no shortage of landmarks and hidden gems for travelers and locals alike to enjoy, but one hidden gem in the northernmost borough is City Island, a small beach community east of Pelham Bay Park at the West End of the Long Island Sound, and the only of the bunch that is currently inhabited. Annexed by New York City from Westchester County in 1895, the neighborhood offers a slower paced version of New York City and draws thousands of guests looking to enjoy its unique atmosphere and location.
City Island was once home to a bustling shipbuilding and fishing community, and even produced military vessels during the second World War. Though these industries are no longer a major presence, City Island carries on some tradition with its seemingly inexhaustible assortment of seafood restaurants and several boat clubs and charter fishing boats.
Just one and a half miles long and half a mile wide with about 4,000 residents, it has the lowest population density in the borough. Though it was at one point intended to rival Manhattan as a seaport, the small town feeling it developed is exactly what residents and visitors alike seem to appreciate most.
Josue Rivera is one of the proud City Island residents sharing their unique neighborhood with travelers through Airbnb. Rivera is a veteran of the U.S. military and settled in City Island three years ago after he returned from his first tour in Iraq. He was born in Puerto Rico, but has had plenty of time to become a “full-blown New Yorker” in his 23 years living in the City. Now he puts his knowledge of New York to good use sharing his neighborhood and city with guests from around the world.
What brought you to City Island?
I had heard about City Island before, but didn’t know a ton about the neighborhood. Once I began looking to become a homeowner I just happened on an open house here and I totally fell in love with it! I missed out on the first bid on the house and had decided to look at other options, but just before I closed on another property in Jersey they contacted me to ask if I was still interested, of course I said I absolutely was!
Why did you decide to start hosting?
I fixed up the basement of my house to be an apartment, but hadn’t really been made use of it before Airbnb. About a year ago my cousin convinced me to try hosting and it has been a great experience so far. Owning a home in New York City is expensive, and the money has helped me pay my mortgage and even start to save for retirement. In an unstable job market it’s also great to have that little bit of safety net, and help afford living in such an expensive city.
What surprised you about hosting?
The quality and diversity of guests really shocked me. I was really skeptical at first, but a lot of times they leave the place even better than they find it. I often get people who used to live on City Island or other people just looking to do a staycation. Since Airbnb is one of the only ways to stay here, they need a place while visiting friends or family and it’s really nice to make them comfortable while doing that.
What brings guests to City Island?
I host people from all over the world and truly from all walks of life. The cultural exchange you get from that is really great. I’ll have people from Thailand, Spain or Australia and I’m able to learn a lot about where they’re from. Soon I’ll have even have a priest staying with me which will be a first!
How do guests react to your neighborhood?
Some people who come to stay are just looking to visit the city and have no idea what to expect about the area. They’re pleasantly surprised by the small-time feel and that you can walk anywhere and the great views of the water. It’s got a city experience without all the hustle and bustle and crowdedness, I think that’s what guests really love the most.
What sets City Island apart from other places to stay?
City Island also has an incredible amount of seafood restaurants that guests get to enjoy. People are often surprised by the amount of dining options and there are so many restaurants here you could go out to eat twice a day for a week and not even hit them all. Visitors really love this and seem to gravitate towards places like Bardi’s steakhouse or Sammy’s Seafood. I always make sure to go the extra mile for them when I can too, and give them a ride to the bus station to cut down on the commute or leave them a bottle of wine just to make it special.
What are some special places you recommend?
Many people don’t know City Island is reachable by bike! It connects to about 25 miles of trails that reach down into Manhattan, and I make sure to let everyone who comes know. I have bikes available for guests to borrow so they can take advantage of the trails during their stay.
I frequently tell guests about the many movies and TV shows that are filmed here and they really enjoy it. City Island was where parts of Orange is the New Black was shot recently and they even came into this house to shoot part of the show! I’m always learning about more and more movies filmed in the neighborhood and recently there was a whole movie shot here starring Andy Garcia.
What do you learn from your guests?
Although I’m always telling people about my favorite spots, I’ve also found guests are a great source of information about what’s going on locally. They’re always letting me know about conferences, concerts or other gatherings happening in the City that I never would’ve known about otherwise.