NEW YORK — Ten years ago, tourists visiting Brooklyn saw it as nothing more than a side trip from Manhattan. Maybe they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge or took the subway out to Coney Island, but few had dinner here or stayed the night.
These days, however, Brooklyn is a destination unto itself.
Now visitors to Brooklyn "stay here and go into Manhattan for the day — or they don't go to Manhattan at all," said Monique Greenwood, who runs the Akwaaba Mansion, a B&B in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. "Most of my European guests have already done Manhattan. Now they want to see Brooklyn. They're going to the Brooklyn Museum, the Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Or they're just hanging out in Brooklyn. They like the idea that it's more of a neighborhood here. They believe that Brooklyn is the hip borough."
The evidence that Brooklyn tourism has come of age is everywhere. The Queen Mary 2 is home-porting in the new cruise terminal in the borough's Red Hook neighborhood. A survey of visitors to the Brooklyn Museum found that 25 percent are from outside the region — compared to 5 percent in 1995. The exalted Michelin guide to fine dining in New York lists 25 Brooklyn restaurants. And drop-ins at Brooklyn Tourism and Visitor Center have nearly doubled in the past year.
When the Brooklyn Marriott opened in 1998, it was the first new hotel to be built in the borough in 68 years. It's been so successful that an additional 280-room tower is being built. Other new hotels are also going up in Brooklyn — including a Holiday Inn Express opening Aug. 7.
Because large numbers of 20-somethings have settled in trendy neighborhoods like Park Slope, Williamsburg, DUMBO, Red Hook and Carroll Gardens, many tourists initially come to visit family and friends. But what's remarkable is how much sightseeing they do without leaving Brooklyn.
Amy O'Leary, who lives in Carroll Gardens, recently hosted her parents from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Their itinerary included Coney Island, a brick-oven pizzeria (Grimaldi's, 19 Old Fulton St.), and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, a waterfront walkway with stunning views of Lower Manhattan.
"What's so neat about Brooklyn is it's so diverse, so eclectic — it's just enjoyable," said Amy's dad Larry. "I sat out on her front stoop this morning and just watched the people going by."
Sitting on the steps of a Brooklyn brownstone is, in fact, a time-honored local pastime. You haven't experienced the borough until you've hung out long enough to admire someone's dog or tossed a wayward ball back to a kid playing in the street.
And yet there's so much more to Brooklyn, from the Russian community in Brighton Beach to the massive West Indian-American Day parade every Labor Day in Crown Heights. Here are some other suggestions for enjoying the borough — from chocolate and bagels to arts and music.
If you go…
Chocolate: Chocolate In Park Slope, the Chocolate Room has chocolate fondue, 86 Fifth Ave., 718-783-2900, or try Cocoa Bar's wine-and-chocolate pairings, 228 Seventh Ave., 718-499-4080. Renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres sells confections at 66 Water St. in DUMBO — http://www.mrchocolate.com, 718-875-9772.
Dining: Brooklynites have long been entitled to three things: the right to feel bitter about the Dodgers' departure nearly 50 years ago, and perfect pizza and hand-rolled bagels on every other corner.
But these days, culinary entitlements don't end with a slice and a schmear. Smith Street in Boerum Hill is foodie heaven, from the BarTabac bistro — 128 Smith St., 718-923-0918 — to Saul, which earned a coveted star from the Michelin guide, 140 Smith St., 718-935-9844.
In Park Slope, $10 gets you fish-and-chips or shepherd's pie at the Chip Shop, 383 Fifth Ave., 718-832-7701, or tofu basil (you won't believe it's not beef) at Rice Thai Kitchen, 311 Seventh Ave., 718-832-9512. Big spenders can indulge at Applewood, 501 11th St., 718-768-2044. After dinner, join the crowds at The Gate for a drink, 321 Fifth Ave., 718-768-4329. For music, head to Southpaw (bands and DJs), 125 Fifth Ave., 718-230-0236, or Puppets (jazz), 294 Fifth Ave., 718-499-2627.
Williamsburg: The L train to Bedford Avenue lands you in the epicenter of hipster Williamsburg, with cafes, galleries and boutiques. At the Bagel Store (247 Bedford, 718-218-7244), have a classic bagel, cream cheese and lox, or a uniquely amazing French toast bagel with syrup. Nearby, Pema New York (225 Bedford, 718-388-8814) sells ecologically correct clothes, woven in Nepal from hemp, $25-55. And Real Form Girdle (218 Bedford) houses not an undergarment factory but a mini-mall with a bookstore, Internet cafe and the Hello Beautiful hair salon.
For nightlife, Galapagos has bands, DJs and other performers — 70 N. Sixth St., 718-782-5188 — while Monkey Town shows videos while serving dinner — 58 N. Third St., 718-384-1369. Also in Williamsburg: Peter Luger Steak House, the granddaddy of Brooklyn fine dining, 178 Broadway, 718-387-7400.
Red Hook: This gritty waterfront neighborhood has turned suddenly trendy. Luxury ships dock here at the new cruise terminal. There's always a buzz about shows from the Brooklyn Waterfront Arts Coalition — 499 Van Brunt St., 718-596-2507, http://www.bwac.org/. And for what is arguably the city's best view of the Statue of Liberty, visit Red Hook's small waterfront parks, or sit at a picnic table on the pier behind the gourmet Fairway Market, 480-500 Van Brunt St., where you can buy lunch.
The F train to Smith/9th is the closest stop to Red Hook, but city buses (B77 and B61) run along Van Brunt, the main drag. Street parking is plentiful.
Dinner at the recently opened Good Fork — 391 Van Brunt St., 718-643-6636 — is worth the trip. Try the crab cake entree ($18), with a Red Hook Cooler (gin and mint), and don't miss the divine chocolate dessert.
It's not uncommon to hear French, Spanish or German among Good Fork's guests, but "New York is such a melting pot, it's hard to tell who's here to visit, and who's here to live," says owner Ben Schneider, whose wife Sohui Kim is the chef.
Coney Island: Rattle your teeth on the Cyclone roller coaster or catch the view 150 feet up on the Wonder Wheel. Rides are open daily Memorial Day-Labor Day, then weekends through September. Year-round, dip your toes in the Atlantic, eat hot dogs at Nathan's Famous or visit the penguins at the New York Aquarium. By subway, D, Q, N or F to Stillwell Avenue; http://www.coneyisland.com/tourism.shtml.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden: A cherry blossom festival takes place each spring, and the Cranford Rose Garden blooms through September. But the garden is worth visiting any time, from the serene Japanese garden and pond, to the orchids and bonsai trees at the Steinhardt Conservatory greenhouse. Open Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; weekends, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closes at 4:30 p.m. October-March. By subway, 2/3 to Eastern Parkway; 1000 Washington Ave., http://www.bbg.org, 718-623-7200. Admission, $5; free Tuesdays and Saturday mornings.
Brooklyn Museum: Popular "First Saturday" parties offer free art and entertainment, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. the first Saturday of each month (but not Sept. 2). Fall shows include an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz photos opening Oct. 20; http://www.brooklynmuseum.org, 200 Eastern Pkwy., 718-638-5000. Open weekends, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Suggested admission, $8. By subway, 2/3 to Eastern Parkway.
Brooklyn Academy of Music: BAM presents indie films, concerts and performance art. The annual Next Wave festival, October-December, ranges from Shakespeare to contemporary dance; http://www.bam.org, 30 Lafayette Ave., 718-636-4100. Take the 2/3, 4/5, B or Q to Atlantic Avenue.
Bus Tours: Gray Line sightseeing buses with a Brooklyn loop depart from South Street Seaport in Manhattan; http://www.newyorksightseeing.com, 212-445-0848, tickets $39. "A Slice Of Brooklyn Pizza Tour" departs from Manhattan's Union Square for a tour of pizza places, movie locations and landmarks; http://www.bknypizza.com/, 212-209-3370, tickets $55. Cultural destination tours, http://heartofbrooklyn.org, 718-638-7700.
Accommodations: Hotel and B&B listings at http://www.visitbrooklyn.org/lodging.html.
* Akwaaba Mansion: http://www.akwaaba.com, 347 MacDonough, Bed-Stuy, 718-455-5958, $150-165.
* Holiday Inn Express: 625 Union St., Park Slope, 718-797-1133, $134 starting Aug. 7 and $179 up starting September.
* Brooklyn Marriott: http://www.brooklynmarriott.com, 333 Adams St., downtown Brooklyn, 800-228-9290, $299 up.
For more info: Brooklyn Tourism and Visitors Center, http://www.visitbrooklyn.org, 209 Joralemon St., 718-802-3846.