December 11, 2008

My Ultimate New York

New York City, that's where I call home. As with many others, the city put a spell on me when I arrived in the Spring of 2002. By the end of 2007, I decided that I needed to see the world to determine if there was a better city out there to live in while being somewhat young, and to be honest, I still haven't found one.

While traveling, I met many backpackers on a classic around the world trip, that would bring them at some point through New York City. When they found out that I used to live in Manhattan, I was immediately asked a million questions on what to see and do. This is a subject I could talk about for hours, and I was always writing down suggestions on scraps of paper. Most of my suggestions are away from the main tourist areas and are things that I would like to do while living in the city.

Note: This is for people that don't want the Times Square and typical guide book tourist experience.

Without further ado, here are my top things to do, see, eat, and places to go in New York City...and that includes the boroughs too.

Where To Stay:

This is probably one of the most overlooked criteria for having a great New York experience. I get it, NYC lodging is expensive, so you do have to stay where you can find a decent rate, but you could also spend more money on taxi fare late at night if you end up staying far away from the action. My suggestion, stay below 42nd street. The further south the better. If you're looking for a hostel, stay at Jazz On The Town, which is on E. 14th Street at 2nd Avenue. Forget staying on the Upper East or West Sides. All the good action is around Union Square, the East and West Villages, Lower East Side, and the Meat Packing District. All of these areas are from 14th Street and south. Can't afford the $40 hostel bed, try staying on a stranger's couch with Couch Surfing.

Walking Tours:

Downtown Broadway

  • Start at Madison Square Park, located at Broadway and 23rd Street. Take in the famous Flatiron Building, and don't forget to try some tasty treats at the Shake Shack, located on the south side of the park.

  • Walk down Broadway (street numbers get smaller), through the Flatiron district, until you reach Union Square. You'll pass right by ABC Carpet and Home, which is one of the coolest stores in NYC.

  • At Union Square, take a seat on a bench, or on the steps at the south side of the park along 14th Street, and just people watch for at least a half hour. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, there is the Green Market farmer's market, where you can get the best organic produce from local farms outside of the city. To get a bite to eat, check out the outdoor patio at Coffee Shop on the west side of the square. If you have some time and want to shop, there is also the complex along 14th Street, with the super cheap Filene's Basement, DSW, and Whole Foods.

  • Continue South along Broadway until you get to 8th Street. You now have several options that might add some time to your day.

  • Option 1: Head east along E. 8th Street, to visit the artsy East Village (and also my favorite neighborhood, and former residence in NYC). You'll pass by Astor Place, and then continue down St. Marks Street to Tompkins Square Park, located at St. Marks and Avenue A. You'll pass by my favorite brunch place called Cafe Orlin, and will finish at my favorite cheap sushi restaurant called Sushi Lounge.

  • Option 2: Head west along W. 4th Street, to visit Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park (a must), and then further along to see the trendy West Village. Walking Bleeker Street is a great option as well. If you get hungry for some cupcakes, stop at Magnolia Bakery.

  • After your detour, continue south again, down Broadway towards Houston Street (pronounced Howston street, not like the city in Texas). This is where some of my favorite architecture in New York city lies. Take your time and look up. The buildings get even nicer once you cross over Houston and are officially in the neighborhood of SoHo (South of Houston, in case you were wondering).

  • Take a side detour and head west along Prince and Spring Streets, to check out the shops and art galleries.

  • Back on Broadway, continue south to Canal Street and Chinatown. Hang a left (go east) on Canal Street and check out the shops and fake designer knock-offs for sale. Walk until you get to Mott Street and head right (south) along my favorite street in Chinatown. This is where some great restaurants are located, including Wo Hop at the corner of Mott and Worth Streets. My first apartment in NYC was right on this corner, and coincidentally on the famous Five Points. If you don't know about the Five Points, check out the movie Gangs of New York.

  • Head west on Worth Street for one block, and then make a right (go north) at Mulberry Street. You'll pass by my favorite dumpling restaurant, called Tasty Dumpling (go figure), across from the park.

  • Take Mulberry several blocks, back up to Canal Street, and once you cross over Canal, you'll be in the heart of Little Italy. Once you get here, relax after a long day, and get a bite to eat, "family style" at Casa Bella Ristorante. If you're around at the end of September, check out the Feast of San Gennaro street festival. One of my favorite things to do each year. Don't forget to try the deep fried Oreos.

  • Finally, take a taxi or the subway, and go home. You should be exhausted by this point.

The Romantic Walk (date night)

  • Take the A or C subway line from Manhattan to the High Street stop just across the East river, in Brooklyn.

  • Exit the station and look for (or ask directions to) Old Fulton Street, directly under the Brooklyn Bridge.

  • Head to Grimaldi's Pizzeria to share a classic large pizza pie from a coal brick oven.

  • After dinner, walk down to the pier to take in the Manhattan skyline at night. Don't forget to get some desert at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, right on the waterfront.

  • Then walk back up Old Fulton Street to the pedestrian entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge, and take a stroll along the famous bridge towards City Hall, while gazing at the lights ahead of you.

If you book early enough in advance, you can even get a free tour of New York by a volunteer tour guide. Check out Big Apple Greeter. They'll take you where you want to go, and it's a private guide for free, what a deal. They just want to make sure you have a great time in New York.

Parks:

  • Central Park. If it's summer time, bring a blanket, picnic basket, and a frisbee, and hang out in Sheep's Meadow. Check out the dancing rollerbladers/rollerskaters on the east side of Sheep's Meadow near the beach volleyball courts. In the summertime there are free concerts at Summer Stage. The New York Philharmonic also has several summer shows on the Great Lawn.

  • Prospect Park. Located next to Park Slope and Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, it's almost as big as Central Park, but not as busy. You can actually relax and bbq if you want to. There are also free shows in the summertime similar to Central Park.

Museums:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met). Located on 5th Avenue, in Central Park. I think it's the best museum in the world, but that's just my opinion. The good news is that it's pay what you can by suggested donation. Most people don't know this, but you can give $1 if that's what you can afford.

  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Located on W. 53rd Street, near the 5th Avenue. It's actually free on Fridays after 4 pm.

  • PS 1. Located in Long Island City, Queens, in an old public school building (public school #1) that was converted into a modern art gallery, and is run by MoMA. Head there on Saturday afternoons in the summer for the Warm Up parties.

  • The Cloisters. Located in the upper northwest corner of Manhattan, The Cloisters is an oasis in the city. It's a medieval museum with outdoor gardens. Go in the summertime and bring a book. It's also run by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so the entry fee is a suggested donation as well.

Summertime Spots:

  • Warm Up at PS 1. Saturday afternoons at the PS 1 art gallery in Long Island City. There are DJs spinning funky house beats in the courtyard entrance to the gallery. All the cool kids are here.

  • 79th Street Boat Basin. Located on the Hudson River at W. 79th Street. Eat amazing burgers and drink some cold beers while watching the sunset over the Hudson River and New Jersey.

  • Harry's Water Taxi Beach. Also located in Long Island City, this is a man-made beach that overlooks Manhattan from the East River. Another great place to grab some bbq and beer and soak up the sun. It's not far from PS 1, and this becomes the after party from the Warm Up party on Saturday night.

  • Summerstage. Free concerts in Central Park.

  • Bohemian Hall Beer Garden. European style beer garden at it's finest. Located in a huge outdoor space in Astoria, Queens. It's worth the subway ride.

Restaurants and Good Eats:

Best Brunch (midday meal essential for New Yorkers on the weekends)

  • Cafe Orlin - Located on St. Marks Street in the East Village. You have to try their goat cheese and tomato omelet, bagel with lox and cream cheese, and their eggs benedict combinations. It's also great for dinner. Prices around $10-15 a meal. You might even spot a celebrity sitting on the patio, but New Yorkers don't care about this, so don't stare.

Best Burger

  • Corner Bistro - Located on W. 4th Street, in the West Village. The place is an institution, and hands down the best burger in Manhattan. It's a laid back bar, so get some beers and undo your belt buckle a notch.

Best Pizza

  • Lombardi's - Arguably the best traditional Italian pizza in New York. It's located on Spring Street in Little Italy.

Best Cheap Sushi

  • Sushi Lounge - On the corner of St. Marks Street and Avenue A in the East Village. Best value sushi in Manhattan without a doubt. Crazy combination rolls, and an amazing happy hour after 10 pm. You can't argue with $6 pitchers of Kirin beer and $2 Saketinis.

Favorite Dinner spots

  • Panna II Indian Restaurant. This place is packed in with all the other cheap Indian restaurants at E. 6th Street and 1st Avenue in the East Village. Just walk the block of E. 6th from 1st to 2nd Aves and you'll see what I mean. There are chili lights, $10 three course meals, and it's B.Y.O.B, so you can't complain about the price. The food is actually really good, but there is a running joke that all the restaurants on this street share the same kitchen. If it's your birthday you get an extra special treat.

  • Awash Ethiopian Restaurant. Great Ethiopian food also located among the Indian restaurants on E. 6th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues in the East Village. Eat with your hands and leave stuffed for $20.

  • Frank's. Homemade Italian food. Some of the best in the East Village. Also check out Little Frankie's and Supper, all by the same owner, and within walking distance of each other. Somewhat pricey, but not too bad.

  • Il Buco. Another amazing Italian restaurant on the cobblestoned Bond Street in NoLita (north of Little Italy). The place is cozy and is filled with antiques. A great place for a romantic dinner or a night out with a group. Pricey but worth it.

  • Bond St (6 Bond Street). Located in NoLita/East Village. If you have cash to burn, this is my favorite Sushi place in New York City. For great sushi, I also really like Blue Ribbon, and Nobu. These are all expensive restaurants, but well worth it.

  • SEA Thai restaurant and Bistro. Located in Willamsburg, Brooklyn. A huge restaurant with amazing decor, and cheap food. Don't pass this up if you visit Willamsburg, and you should.

  • Al Di La. Amazing Northern Italian food on 5th Avenue, in Park Slope. This street has some of the best eats in Brooklyn.

Dive Bars (rock 'n' roll, jukebox, pool table, and cheap booze):

  • Blue and Gold Tavern. Located on E. 7th Street in the East Village, and my favorite bar in New York. For $5 you can get a shot of whiskey and a beer. This was the my first local hangout, and an institution for me.

  • Cherry Tavern. Located on E. 6th Street in the East Village. Get a Tecate beer and a shot of Tequila for $5 as well.

  • 7 B. Located at the corner of E. 7th Street and Avenue B in the East Village. Play a game of Big Buck Hunter while chugging a beer.

  • Darkroom Bar. Located on Ludlow Street in the LES (Lower East Side). Best place to dance late night. Ludlow has amazing bars within a two block radius.

  • Max Fish. Located on Ludlow Street in the LES, right across from Darkroom Bar.

  • Mc Sorley's Old Ale House. Located on E. 7th Street in the East Village, it's the oldest bar in New York City, no joke. The place is a museum, they serve only two beers (their house light or dark), and there is sawdust on the floor to soak up the suds.

Nightlife:

  • Turntables on the Hudson. Originally held on a pier and barge on the Hudson River, this party has had a number of venues over the last couple of years. It's still one of my favorite nights in New York.

  • Bembe. A tiny Afro-Brazilian bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that has cheap caiparhinas and a tiny dance floor to shake your booty.

  • Sullivan Room. Great house music venue in Greenwich Village, but very small.

  • Piano's. A small bar on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side, with two floors and a music stage to see bands.

  • Bowery Ballroom, Irving Plaza, and Mercury Lounge. Three venues to see live music.

  • North Six. A great live music venue in Willamsburg, Brooklyn. Willamsburg actually has some of the best nightlife in NYC, check out Free Williamsburg for more info.

  • Plan B. A good party bar in the East Village.

If you're after some serious clubs, head over to W. 27th Street near the Hudson. There you'll find venues such as Guest House, Home, and Pink Elephant. Not too far away is the Meat Packing District, which is another great area with cobblestone streets, and some of the best nightlife in NYC.

Shopping:

Depending on what you're looking for, there are numerous places to shop. For vintage clothes, check out the East Village. For designer clothes, go to SoHo, 5th Avenue, and the West Village. For a mix, shop Broadway south of Houston. And for discount clothing, you can't pass up the mecca of Century 21 in the Financial district.

There are plenty of other activities and sights that are cheap or free. Don't waste money on the ferry tour to the Statue of Liberty. Jump on the Staten Island Ferry for free, which goes right past the iconic statue. If you're around during baseball season, take in a Yankees game in the Bronx for about $10+ a ticket.

For the ultimate new york website, check out NewYorkology (credit goes to my friend Jodi from Legal Nomads who turned me onto this site). If you feel like meeting other New Yorkers for some activities, check out Meet Up.

If you're one of the lucky few to visit New York for New Years, and you need some suggestions on events and places to go, check out NOO for recommendations and tickets.

Okay, so this should keep you busy for a couple days, or a couple months. Good luck and enjoy one of the greatest cities in the world.

2 comments:

Jodi said...

Great post, J. I'll be sure to send this to anyone who plans to visit NYC!

Happy diving...

Pierre said...

Hi Jared - thanks for this super article! I've linked to it from the trivago travel community of which I'm a member - perhaps you would care to share some of your experiences directly there also? Thoroughly enjoy your blog - keep up the good work & happy travels!