Finding Serenity, Music, and Gifts in Central Park’s Best-Kept Secret

Forget a picnic blanket? Need a last-minute gift? Central Park’s largest gift shop has everything you need this summer.

Photo by Timothy Schenck

Stumbling upon the Dairy Visitor Center & Gift Shop was like finding a hidden treasure in the heart of New York City. As someone who frequently walks or runs in Central Park, I thought I knew the landscape and sites very well. It seems, however, that the City’s iconic backyard still had some delightful surprises in store for me.

I’ve always loved Central Park’s quieter spots, but there’s something to be said for the bustling energy along the Mall on a sunny day. As I walked south on this populated promenade to catch the train home on a recent afternoon, I found myself taking a slightly different route than usual, turning toward the adorable cottage building I usually pass from a distance. I heard live music, and I wanted to see who was playing. What I found was not only a delightful performance, but a peaceful spot with bistro chairs, a whimsical gift shop, and even some nearby restrooms. (If you’ve spent any time in Central Park, you know that identifying the closest restroom is a must-do for a successful Park day.)

I learned that the unique structure that makes up the covered outdoor part of the Dairy Visitor Center & Gift Shop is called a “loggia.” This open-air design allows you to feel connected with the natural landscapes surrounding the building while still enjoying protection from the rain or intense sun while you relax in one of the bistro chairs. There were even bouquets of fresh flowers here! Of course, I had to grab one for my apartment. But that was just the beginning. Spoiler alert: I came out of the Dairy gift shop with a few shopping bags.

Within the Dairy gift shop, there were plenty of unique items from local artists, including jewelry, home goods, apparel, and accessories. If you don’t have time to swing by the Park in person, you can order many of these items through the Central Park Conservancy’s online gift shop.

I couldn’t resist picking up a few gifts. I grabbed a beautifully designed tote by a Brooklyn-based artist for my tree-loving sister; a quirky, artistic nest bowl I knew my stepmom would adore; and grounding oil for my friend who takes her wellness rituals seriously. I also found something that my “New York or Nowhere” friend is going to love: a baseball cap with embroidered artwork of one of Central Park’s iconic benches. I love that these items support the local art scene and the Central Park Conservancy (that’s the nonprofit responsible for all aspects of the Park’s care), and I know my friends and family are going to love them too.

As the weather heats up, I know I’ll be spending plenty of time in Central Park this summer. The Dairy gift shop also had items that any New Yorker should have on hand, like a water-resistant picnic blanket with an easy-carry harness and a picnic cooler backpack that comes with plates, glasses, silverware, and even a corkscrew.

And I know I’ll be the favorite honorary auntie at any kid-centric Central Park gathering this summer, because I also purchased the Cloud Identifier, an inexpensive viewfinder that allows you to learn about different cloud types, and a pocket-sized Dual Magnifier, featuring 5x and 10x magnification lenses—perfect for close-ups of the Park’s biodiversity, from insects and leaves to feathers and flowers. If all else fails, I also have the Travel Checker Set and a deck of Central Park Playing Cards, which feature iconic images and conversation-starting fun facts about the Park.

During my visit to the Dairy, I also found out that Central Park Conservancy members get discounts on gift shop purchases and previews of new merchandise. Knowing that my purchases are helping to ensure all New Yorkers have access to a beautiful green space amid our urban environment is, in some ways, the best gift of all.

While I loved finding the gifts, essentials, and flowers here, it wasn’t all about the shopping. It was about discovering a hidden gem in my favorite park. I needed the reminder that even in the busiest parts of New York City, there are always quiet corners waiting to be discovered.