The very existence of the public library is a monumental achievement when you consider how unlikely it is that it would ever be created today. Pitching the idea of a network of buildings that provide free access to books, technology, knowledge-sharing and the occasional Jay-Z art exhibit now would be met with derision by conservatives and written off by liberals as something the free market could handle. Before you know it, we’d have some tech-centric version of a library financed by a Silicon Valley lizard who only listens to audiobooks about coffee and productivity, and the books you get would either steal your data or explode, or probably both.
The public library system becomes even more impressive when you look at a map showing the location of all 62 locations of the branches in the city’s most populous borough, Brooklyn: each branch is located in an almost-tidy grid pattern across the whole borough, a layout that ensures no resident has to travel too far to find one. It speaks to an optimistic foresight, one that is harder to imagine in a city where Mayor Eric Adams has already taken away one day of library service.
This happens to be a great time to appreciate that library grid: The Brooklyn Public Library last week announced a year-long challenge called Browse the Branches, encouraging you to visit all 62 branches, collect themed stickers and win prizes.
So, as a companion piece to the challenge, we put together a guide of extra reasons to visit those locations, a list that includes trips to dive bar marinas, Uzbek food markets, DIY arcades, little known beaches, the best old-school pizza spots in New York and sprawling parks, all within a short walk of each branch.
You can compete in the contest to win the grand prize and get a professional photo shoot in the Central Library’s stately building; the first 100 people who complete the challenge also receive prizes: a special bookmark, a limited-edition library card and a tote bag with all the branches on it (yeah we’re becoming anti-new-tote bags, but this one is pretty cute).
Visiting them will take you to 62 different micro-neighborhoods of Brooklyn, each library like a little embassy of the tastes, culture and people of that neighborhood. We split the branch-adjacent activities into categories below, so go ahead and branch out.
+ Tamaqua Marina: The library overlooks the water so that’s a good inspiration to walk over to Tamaqua, a friendly dive bar on the waterfront of Plumb Beach Channel.
+ Denny’s Bar (no, not Denny’s the chain): About a 15-minute walk from the library is Denny’s, one of the last true weird dive bars in Brooklyn. It made Dave’s list of best dive bars a few years back.
+ Sycamore: The Cortelyou Road staple is a combination flower shop and bar with a big backyard, which is always an excellent place to crush some chapters during happy hour.
+ Live jazz: The branch in southern Crown Heights is a few blocks from Bar Bayeux, an intimate spot with live jazz every night.
+ Rock ‘n roll: Irving wrote the story of Rip Van Winkle, but you won’t want to sleep if you hop the border to Ridgewood and check out the shows and dancing over at TV Eye, a club founded by legendary DJ Jonathan Toubin.
+ Fiction: The South Williamsburg branch (yes it’s spelled with an “h”) is a few blocks away from the thematically named Fiction, an all-day cafe with jazz at night.
+ Brennan and Carr: The famed 86-year-old hot beef restaurant is nearby, if you’re into hot beef and frosty mugs of beer.
+ Roll N Roaster: The other famous Sheepshead Bay hot beef restaurant, with classic signage everywhere and champagne on the menu.
+ Tatiana: The iconic Russian supper club is a short walk down the Brighton Beach boardwalk, where you can take in the literally whip-cracking, belly dancing floor show spectacular while sipping vodka.
+ Rimi Pastry Shop: The long-standing pastry shop is a frequent contender for the best cannoli in the city.
+ The Diner triangle: Diners are a dying breed in the city but not in Flatlands where the library is in the middle of a diner triangle containing Oasis Diner, Floridian Plaza Diner and BKLYN Diner.
+ Caribbean food: What, were you going to go to East Flatbush and not also eat a bunch of Caribbean food? The library here is near several Caribbean and Jamaican restaurants, including Tropical Taste, The Hills, Silver’s Crust and more.
+ Uzbek food: The library is amid Brooklyn’s Little Uzbek neighborhood which means you can load up on Uzbek goods down the street at Tashkent Market or get shish kebabs and more at Emir Palace and other restaurants.
+ Haitian food: The post-library lunch to get around here is Lakou Cafe, a vegan-friendly Haitian spot that includes chicken and shrimp but also fried oyster mushroom sandwiches and savory crepes.
+ L'Appartement 4F: The library, a brand-new branch in a gorgeous space, and the Center for Brooklyn History are pretty close to each other, so we’re doubling up here. They’re both only a few blocks from the place where you can get very internet famous croissants.
+ Akara House: The newly reopened branch is connected to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and Brower Park. If that isn’t enough to keep you busy, head two blocks over to Nostrand Avenue to try Akara House’s tasty Nigerian-style fast food.
+ Tom’s Diner: The majestic main branch of the library is near the center of everything: the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park, but we suggest keeping it classic and taking yourself to Tom’s Diner on Washington Avenue.
+ Peter Pan donuts: The famous donut shop also, I hear, has a killer breakfast sandwich.
+Secret Garden: This sandwich window deserves to not be a secret: the super cute spot does a lot with its sidewalk seating area, serving up colorful lattes and veggie sandwiches.
+ Totonno’s Pizza: Coney Island’s entry into the pantheon of Best Pizza in the City is not far from the branch.
+ Di Fara Pizza: It’s a chance to visit a library and another of the contenders for best pizza in New York, what are you waiting for?
🏞️ Nature + parks
+ Paerdegat Beach: About a 30-minute walk from the Mill Basin Library is Paerdegat (which is Dutch for “horse gate”) Beach, one of the city’s lesser known water-access points, where you can get a piece of peace (right next to a highway, naturally).
+ Sunset Park itself: The park boasts one of the best views of the skyline in the city, making it a great place to read as well.
+ Narrows Botanical Gardens: It’s only 4.5 acres big but these gardens pack a lot into its space, and are usually less trafficked than the bigger gardens in the Bronx and Prospect Heights.
+ Canarsie Pier: The library, which looks like it’s made of Tetris pieces, is a short walk from Canarsie Pier, a serene place to sit by the water and read, or watch the sunset over Jamaica Bay.
+ Shirley Chisholm State Park: The state park opened here only five years ago and it brought with it a gorgeous waterfront landscape with sweeping trails that will make you forget about the rest of the city for a few minutes.
+ Tudor Park cricket ground: Across the Queens border from the library, Tudor Park is a small green space but it gives you a chance to check out one of the city’s most vibrant subcultures: cricket competitions.
+ Betsy Head Park, a small green space home to events all year long and Summer Stage concerts in the warmer months; Public Enemy played there in 2016.
+ Dyker Beach Park: The branch here is in a more suburban setting but a few blocks away is Dyker Beach Park, where you can go play golf on one of Brooklyn’s two public golf courses — or enjoy the rest of the park that isn’t dedicated to people in funny hats and crooked sticks.
+ The sunken submarine at Calvert Vaux Park, a waterfront green space named for the architect of Central and Prospect Parks. It’s known for its views of not just the Verrazano Bridge but also, just off shore, the sunken remains of the Quester 1, a submarine that sank before it ever explored the waters.
+ Fort Greene Park: Walt Whitman’s namesake library deserves a visit to the park Walt Whitman inspired.
+ Pebble Beach: The relatively new branch is right next to Brooklyn Bridge Park; walk from here to read your book by the river water at Pebble Beach, you can even touch the water, it’s not illegal!
+ Canarsie Cemetery: New York is full of cemeteries packed with generations of stories, which means that even the smaller ones, like Canarsie Cemetery, are full of history. Here you can find graves for soldiers from the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
+ Highland Park and Evergreens Cemetery: The branch is just a few blocks south of Highland Park, a sprawling green space with a reservoir; the cemetery is home to the Triangle Shirtwaist unidentified victim memorial gravesite, to remind you of why locking emergency exits is bad.
+ Holy Cross Cemetery: The branch is just Holy Cross Cemetery, where you can visit several famous graves, including famed Brooklyn Dodgers player and manager Gil Hodges, who entered the baseball Hall of Fame last year.
+ New Lots Reformed Church and Cemetery: The church, right across the street from the library, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and its cemetery is home to several soldiers from the Revolutionary War.
🎭 Art, culture + karaoke
+ Valentine Museum of Art: The private museum celebrates living artists.
+ Tomato Mouse Gallery: About a 17-minute walk away from the library you can find Tomato Mouse, an artist-owned space that focuses on under-represented artists, and has made lists of the best galleries in the city.
+ Tiny Cupboard Comedy Club: Just a few blocks separate the branch from the Tiny Cupboard Comedy Club, where you can catch intimate shows.
+ 100 Fun Karaoke: The library is a few blocks from 100 Fun Karaoke, a neon-soaked karaoke palace where you can rent a private room with a balcony and order a tray of shots that come in the shape of an airplane.
+ I Am Caribbeing market: The permanent I Am Carribeing headquarters opened in December just a 10-minute walk from the library, with galleries, markets and more. The branch is also a few blocks down from the incredible Zed’s Eats and Drinks, where you can find vegan takes on classic dishes like chicken and waffles, curry goat and ackee pizza.
+ Hollywood glam: The library’s neighborhood of Homecrest is mostly quiet, but the library itself is no stranger to the spotlight: it was a filming location for both 1993’s A Bronx Tale and 2009’s Brooklyn Finest.
+ Bernie Sanders’ high school: The branch is the first branch library built in Brooklyn by the City of New York and it’s surrounded by mostly houses, but it is a few blocks from James Madison High School, where future meme grandpa Bernie Sanders attended school and ran a zippy 4:37 mile.
+ Pratt Sculpture Park: The library branch is just a short walk from one of the borough’s great under-appreciated gems: the Pratt campus’s sculpture garden, which is open to the public during the day.
+ DIY arcade: Give your brain a break from all this librarying and take yourself to New York’s DIY arcade, Wonderville, where you can play a large number of kooky indie games, for free.
+ The Dyker Heights houses, minus the lights: The branch is right in the center of the neighborhood that goes hog wild for Christmas; the mini mansion houses are just as intense to look at during the day even without the lights.
+Center for Fiction: The branch is steps from Barclays Center and Atlantic Center, but head to the other side of those and into Fort Greene to find the Center for Fiction, whose cafe is a perfect reading spot (in addition to holding readings, speed dating and other events).
+ Romance books: For books you might not find in the library, check out The Ripped Bodice, the romance novel emporium that opened in 2023.
+ Wyckoff House Museum: It’s a bit of a hike but walk 20 minutes and you can reach the museum, the oldest structure in New York State and its first designated landmark.
Closed libraries (for now)
Several branches remain closed, though a few are slated to open later this year. The closed branches right now include: Ryder, Mapleton, Carroll Gardens, Bedford and Leonard. You can get stamps for those at nearby branches, check the website for more info.
Did we miss any library adjacent attractions? Tell us in the comments!