For some, the siren song of alcohol and drugs may be louder in the summer as drinking and partying moves outdoors, but with a plethora of sober-friendly summer activities in New York City, the temptation of a cold boozy drink or fear of picking other substances up need not keep you from taking part in the amazing things happening in and around the city. Here is a sampling of sober-friendly, fun-yet-relaxing summer ideas, events, and opportunities available to you and your friends and family in this dazzling metropolis.
Outdoor Sober-Friendly Activities
The warmth of the sun on your skin, music wafting in from the distance (or nearby on a stage), and a delicious ice-cold booze-free drink in hand–all of these are a few of the gifts of summer and freshly available for your enjoyment in sobriety. On those days when you’re feeling social, outgoing, and may want to not only be around friends, but also feed off the energy of large outdoor crowds, heed the suggestions below for an energizing outdoor experience.
Booze-Free Beach Trip
With an abundance of unique beaches to choose from in New York City, most accessible by public transportation, get ready for a day of relaxation and rest with the soundtrack of the ocean (no Spotify playlist needed). Head out early to nab a favorable spot and remember to pack substantial sun protection, nutritious snacks (as well as a few guilty pleasures), and a cooler (so as not to be tempted to the boozy options readily available).
Coney Island is famous for it’s amusement park Luna Park and buzzy boardwalks with a plethora of concession stands, vintage shops, and stellar people-watching opportunities. Take a chance on surfing lessons from the New York Surf School at Rockaway Beach or watch others get their surf on; the waves are excellent and the crowds less intense than at Coney Island. While there, grab a fresh juice, hot dog, or burger at Rippers or fish tacos at Tacoway Beach.
Further out from Far Rockaway is Fort Tilden Beach, a former US Army base that feels like a well-kept secret with even fewer crowds and occasional art installations. In recent years, Jacob Riis Park Beach, affectionately known as “The People’s Beach” (due to it’s accessibility by public transport) has been booming with it’s Beach Bazaar, food court eats, and golf course. Though the idea of heading to the beach alone may sound daunting, give it a go! A solo beach day may bring with it a different kind of rest and relaxation that being surrounded by friends may not. If you’re self-conscious of being seen alone, chances are no one is paying attention or judging you. If they are, they might even be admiring your courage to go at it alone. Other beaches of note include Jones Beach, Long Beach, and Cherry Grove Beach.
The Sober Scene: Outdoor Music
New Yorkers are lucky to have a bounty of diverse outdoor music series and festivals at their disposal in the summer, all easily accessible by public transit. These concerts showcase all genres, incorporating both classic and contemporary artists, bands, producers, and DJs. Before heading to one of these outdoor shows, be sure to check in with how secure you feel in your sobriety, as you will inevitably be around others who may be drinking. Some things to consider include having someone to check in with before and after the show, whether in-person or over a text, in case you start to feel triggered by the alcohol or drug use around you (otherwise known as “bookending” in many recovery circles).
To check out emerging and established musicians, DJs, and producers across all genres, as well as exclusive art installations once you need a break from the dancing and music, head over to the outdoor Warm Up parties at MoMA P.S.1 in Long Island City, Queens every Saturday until the end of August. If (mostly) hip millennial crowds aren’t your thing, check out City Parks SummerStage, a free outdoor performing arts festival line-up based in Central Park, though also offering concerts in 17 neighborhood parks across NYC. BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! has a similar vibe, though all concerts take place at the gorgeous Prospect Park bandshell. Other concert series of note include Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, Afropunk Festival, and Electric Zoo.
Have A Little Picnic
Some of the best sober gatherings are deceptively simple but boast rest and easy fun like outdoor picnics. Gather some iced beverages, delicious snacks (and perhaps some easily transportable games) for the ultimate alfresco experience. Consider the Great Lawn in Central Park, Governors Island, Astoria Park in Queens, East River State Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, or Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights (which boasts the highest point in Manhattan). Flashy, extravagant surroundings are not a prerequisite for having a genuinely good time with friends and family supportive of your sobriety.
Shakespeare In The Park
For theater fans or even the Shakespeare-wary, check out the famous Shakespeare in the Park: a free large-scale production of works by Shakespeare that’s been hosted by The Public Theater since 1962. Coriolanus is being produced from mid-July to mid-August at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Past productions have included notable actors and actresses such as Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Al Pacino, Blythe Danner, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George C. Scott and Denzel Washington.
Bryant Park: Yoga & Movie Nights
Starting in mid-July until the end of August, Bryant Park hosts a massive free outdoor yoga and movie screening series. The Vinyasa class is every Tuesday morning and Thursday evening, led by a different instructor every week, and absolutely worth checking out for its sheer size. Whether you’re a regular yogi or someone simply curious about dipping your toes into this beneficial practice, the enormity of this class and the sense of community within it are indescribable. There is no need to bring a mat as they are provided for you and already laid out when you arrive. Experiencing yoga outdoors, whether under the shade of trees or looking up at the sky during certain poses, is a beautiful experience that will help you feel in sync with your environment, not cut off or closed in as you might feel in a stuffy studio.
Bryant Park’s Movie Nights has an amazing line-up of outdoor movies on it’s beautiful green lawn. Although the films start at sundown, be sure to get there around 5pm as you’ll be able to stake out a good spot with your blanket (and avoid sitting next to a group that may be loud, drinking a lot, or disturbing in other ways). If lawns and sitting or lying on the ground aren’t your thing, Rooftop Cinema Club (located at SkyLawn) is a fine open-air screening series with comfy deckchairs, headphones, and an option for bottomless popcorn. Tickets sell out fast, often weeks ahead of time, so be sure to check their line-up here to score the tickets you want.
Sober Sweet Treat: Ice Cream!
No summer is complete without it’s fair share of delicious, creamy ice cream to cool you off on those scorchers of days. If you like a variety of built-in add-ons in your ice cream, try
the incredible Ample Hills Creamery, which has locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Ample Hills, as well as Van Leeuwen, Morgenstern’s, and OddFellows, boast rotating vegan options as well. When choosing a flavor, be sure to exercise caution with liquor-infused flavors, like rum or bourbon, as these might be triggering for your sobriety. Even if they don’t have any alcoholic “effect” on you as the amount of liquor in them is usually minimal, the psychological effect is one that should not be underestimated. Take care if you do choose to go with one of these flavors and be honest about why you are having it. It’s OK to miss the flavor of a certain liquor that might have been a large part of your drinking past, but it may not be the wisest idea to seek it out again, even if it’s in the form of a seemingly innocuous ice cream flavor.
Indoor Summer Time
In the summer, you may feel guilty for staying indoors when it’s sunny and warm out and it feels like everyone is spending their time outdoors, or you might have feelings around spending some quality time alone when it seems everyone is out together. However, try giving yourself permission to follow your internal compass and what you truly need for the day, even the hour, and what setting could provide for that need. Honestly assess what you need before asking your friends and family what they’re up to that day or that weekend. Remember to prioritize yourself first and your terms of engagement, and the rest will seamlessly follow.
Some summer days, your needs could look like needing to settle into an air-conditioned cafe with a large iced drink and a good book. Check out Ninth Street Espresso, a cafe where how long is spent inside doesn’t pose an issue. With locations all over Manhattan, you’re bound to find one that works for you. If you’re not in the mood to be around lots of other bodies, or even friends, beat the crowds and claim your own little nook in a cafe.
Summer Sobriety Tips
Remember to hydrate with water on those sweltering days, especially if exercising! Although there is some debate around how much water is enough, the general suggestion is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals half a gallon or two liters. For every caffeinated drink you have, try to have one additional glass of water or herbal, non-caffeinated tea. Hydration helps the skin as well as helps sustain energy levels and brain performance so you can truly enjoy the aforementioned activities. Remember that certain foods are water-rich as well, like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, and cucumbers. Dehydration can cause fatigue, muscle cramps, low blood pressure, skin problems, rapid heart rate, and headaches–all of which can keep you from reaping the benefits of these summer days. Although the body consists of approximately 60% water, we are constantly losing water through urine and sweat, so when in doubt, hydrate!
Social Media Consumption
Try to be mindful with how you engage with social media, especially in the summer when it may appear as though everyone is out and about drinking, drugging, and having fun in the best filter available: the sun. The fear of missing out (affectionately referred to by many as “FOMO”) stems from a feeling of lack and insecurity with one’s self and where one is at; mindless consumption of social media can heighten FOMO in obvious ways, so be kind to yourself and limit how much time you spend on there, especially when it comes to accounts or profiles that glamorize alcohol consumption and other substances you find triggering.
Stay In Touch With Your Sober Network
During the summer, your sober network or support may not look the same as it might during other times of the year; friends may go away or travel for varying amounts of time, so it might be a good idea to stay apprised of who will be in town and who will be away so you know who you can turn to and what timezones they might be in when you do choose to reach out. Otherwise, if you typically go to support group meetings, therapy, outpatient treatment, or partake in other modes of recovery, try to maintain your recovery momentum while allowing yourself to enjoy the joys that summer has to offer.
Have A Safe, Sober Summer
The aforementioned summer events and ideas are only a taste of what’s available to you in New York City in the newfound freedom of sobriety. Although it’s easy to have high expectations of what you think your summer should look like, try to be present with your needs on a day-to-day basis and not have any grand expectations. There is no such thing as a perfect summer. The pursuit of perfection may have driven you to compulsive and obsessive decisions when you were drinking and using drugs–thinking things should be other than what they were–so be cautious when you find yourself feeling let down and notice what expectations you might have set up for yourself.
In sobriety and recovery, we learn to lead healthier lives by regaining our agency and access to emotions, as well as alchemizing our experiences from substance use disorder to help others who are struggling, too. Reach out to those who may be newer in sobriety and see if they need a companion for a summer event that they might be afraid of attending on their own. Being of service to ourselves first, then to others, is an important part of feeling a sense of purpose that may have otherwise been elusive in the throes of addiction. A safe, sober summer can be fun and one that you will actually remember, unclouded by the dreadful hangover that would inevitably be exacerbated by the sun.
Marina R. for Avenues NYC