New York City, U.S.A.
New York City will always have a special place in my heart. After graduating college, I packed up everything I had and moved my life to the Big Apple. Not knowing a soul, it was time to start over. This meant finding a new job, new friends and new neighborhoods to discover. Four years later and I think I've compiled a pretty good list of the best of NY. From the most vibrant neighborhoods and local eateries to trendy rooftops and underground bars, here is a sneak peak into how to live like a local while visiting New York City.
WHAT TO DO
Neighborhoods to Explore
Nolita: Located just east of Soho (a tiny area of just five blocks by five blocks) this charming part of the city is where I called home for four years. It’s still not widely known to regular tourists, so it’s a good place to avoid the crowds. Grab a coffee and fresh cookie at The Little Cupcake Bakeshop and go sit in Elizabeth Street Garden to watch the hustle and bustle of the city go by. This area is full of trendy boutiques, small coffee shops and noteworthy restaurants. Some of my favs include Rubirosa for a slice of pizza, Soho Park for a great burger and Tacombi for authentic Mexican tacos in a cool space.
East Village: Located east of The Bowery and just North of Houston, this is the most affordable area of Manhattan for recent college graduates. This part of town gives off a laid-back vibe, attracting hipsters, artists and all of those misfit types who don’t even know they’re cool, but they are. Wake up early on Saturday and grab a hand-rolled bagel at the famous Tompkins Square Bagels then cruise the streets for unique shopping. Other notable eats include: Rosie’s, Momofuku Noodle Bar, BaoHaus, Prune and Lil Frankie’s.
Lower East Side: This area has really stepped us its game in the past five years. LES is where immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries would settle when they first found a foothold in the United States. Now, it’s a mix of gritty and trendy, with art galleries, boutiques and cool new restaurants popping up every other day. This is also the area to party in your early twenties. Bar hop from Pianos to No Fun Bar and end the night grabbing a slice of pizza from Prince Street located just across the park.
West Village: This charming little section of the city is located downtown along the Hudson River. Although it lacks some much needed subway stops, it’s quant, quiet and home to some of the best restaurants in NY. Some of my all time favs include: Aria Wine Bar - fun vibe, great wine and small dishes served tapas style so you can try lots of different things, Red Farm - inventive Chinese food in a rustic farm-like atmosphere (make sure you order the ‘Pac Man’ Shrimp Dumplings) and Hudson Clearwater - the food is great, but the secret back patio is even better for after work cocktails.
Meat Packing: Some would argue Meat Packing is one of the trendiest areas of New York and while I agree it has great restaurants and clubs, I tend to think this place is overdone. Regardless, it’s still worth visiting for a night out on the town. Hot spots include - Le Bain at the top of The Standard, PH-D Rooftop at The Dream Hotel and The Brass Monkey (if you’re into the all American frat scene thing).
Williamsburg: Throughout the years Williamsburg has gone from a super trendy, hipster spot to mainstream cool, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost its spark. Take the L train to Brooklyn and get off at Bedford. Spend the entire day wandering in and out of trendy boutiques and vintage shops like Beacon’s Closet and Artist and Fleas. Grab a bite to eat at any of the following and you won’t be disappointed: Shelter, Five Leaves, Marlow & Sons, Maison Premiere, AllsWell, Diner or Paulie Gees. Walk down to East River State Park for the best view of Manhattan’s skyline.
Chinatown: Spend a few hours walking around Chinatown and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to another country. The streets are lined with stands selling exotic fruits and fresh seafood, while people hustle you to buy their fake knock-offs. If you’re in the mood for some dim sum try Nom Wah Tea Parlor, a vintage establishment dating back to 1920 or Golden Unicorn for a traditional experience where waitresses arrive at your table with carts of different dishes. If you're ready for a drink after all that excitement head to Apotheke, a pharmacist-style spot that whips up complex cocktails or Pulqueria, a secret underground Mexican joint offering creative cocktails and late night tacos.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: This place is a classic spot and a must do while in New York. Grab a hotdog from the vendor on the street and sit on the steps of the MET, spending a few minutes people watching. Most tourists don’t know that this museum runs on donations, so skip the expensive ticket price and only pay what you deem fair. After walking through the endless hallways of art, head to the rooftop for a coffee (or cocktail) for one of the best views over Central Park.
Top of The Rock: Most tourists would think to go to the Empire State Building for the best view of the city, but the trick is to go to the top of Rockefeller so you get the Empire State Building in your line of sight. Tickets are pricey, but if you’re only coming to NYC once then it’s worth the cost!
Broadway Shows: This is an absolute staple if you’re in the city. Even if you’re not a big musical fan, there is always something for everyone. Some of my favs include: Lion King, Dirty Dancing, Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia and Jersey Boys. Tip: you can get cheap tickets at a TKTS booth if you’re willing to go the same day as the performance. You can find one booth located downtown by the seaport and another one in Times Square.
High Line Park: This is a fun activity to do on a warm, sunny day, but try to go early morning to beat the crowds. The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long park built above the streets on the West Side of the city running from Meat Packing to Hell’s Kitchen. It used to be the old New York Central Railroad Line, which transported products like milk, meat, produce and manufactured goods without disturbing traffic on the streets.
Chelsea Market: Open seven days a week, this is one of my favorite food halls in the city. If you’re extra hungry head to Takumi for a spicy tuna taco, then check out The Lobster Place. You can pick out your own live lobster and they’ll steam it for you, served on a paper plate with a side of melted butter.
Brooklyn Flea: This is one of my favorite Sunday activities during the summer. Founded in 2008, this massive market features hundreds of top vendors with furniture, vintage clothing, collectibles and antiques. This is where I discovered my favorite photographer, Matt Schwartz of She Hit Pause Studio, who takes Polaroids from his world travels and blows them up to a larger scale. The location changes based on the day of the week and season, so check the website before you go!
Smorgasburg: Come hungry and leave uncomfortably full. Smorgasburg, which launched in May 2011, is a spin-off of Brooklyn Flea. This mega food market showcases 100+ local and regional food vendors to upwards of 10,000 visitors daily. Some notable vendors include: Dough, Ramen Burger and Red Hook Lobster Pound.
Comedy Cellar: Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, this is a great place for a night out full of laughs. After enjoying one of the stand up shows, head upstairs to The Olive Tree Cafe, where many of the comedians hang out after performing. They usually have a surprise guest come out during each show. I’ve been lucky enough to see Ray Romano, Chris Rock and Aziz Ansari.
Sunday Night Bingo: This is not your Grandma’s bingo. Located at the Standard Hotel in Meat Packing, this party doesn’t even get started until 11 p.m. on Sunday. Order a giant fishbowl full of punch and by the end of the night you’ll be dancing on the tables. Things get messy and you wish you had called in sick the next day, but it’s a good time and worth the Monday hangover. Make reservations weeks in advance as spots fill up fast.
Brooklyn Bowl: Take an old school tradition, mix in some cocktails and a live band and you have yourself an epic Friday night. Located in Williamsburg, this trendy bowling alley comes with high-tech lanes and upscale fried chicken from New York’s famous Blue Ribbon. Make sure you check the schedule and buy tickets in advance.
Nitehawk Cinema: Catch a flick at this trendy Brooklyn theatre with an eclectic menu and craft cocktails served at your seat. Try the tater tots, truffle butter popcorn and boozey root beer float.
Ice Skating: With a few rinks around the city, this is a classic winter tradition in New York. If you want a view of the famous, giant Christmas tree, head to the rink at Rockefeller Center. If you’re looking for more of a natural setting, visit Central Park's Wollman Rink and enjoy a night under the stars.
Coney Island: Beat the summer heat and take the subway to the very end of the line. Walk the pier, cool off with a dip in the water and visit Luna Park for games, rides and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs.
Go for ice cream at Serendipity III: Famous for their frozen hot chocolate, this place has been visited by many of your favorite celebs. Founded in 1954 and located on the Upper East Side, this charming little establishment has been the scene of several films, including the 2001 romantic comedy Serendipity.
Rent a Citi bike: Cruise along the boardwalk next to the Hudson River or ride around Central Park during a crisp fall day. With many bike stations located around the city, this is the best way to see the sights.
Picnic in Central Park: Make a pit stop at the Trader Joes on Broadway and 72nd street and pick up some lunch essentials - a French baguette, prosciutto, cheese, olive tapenade, wine and red solo cups. Find a spot in Sheep Meadow and enjoy a picnic in the park.
WHERE TO EAT/DRINK
The Butcher’s Daughter: Healthy food, trendy vibe. Try the honey bee heritage juice and avocado toast with chili flakes.
Cafe Gitane: Casual/French food, where the cool kids hang out. Many movies have been filmed here and sometimes you can spot a celeb having a glass of wine on the street-side patio.
Café Habana: Classic Cuban fare. The space is small and fills up fast so if tables are booked, head next door to their take out spot. Get the Mexican corn and Cuban sandwich.
Tacombi: Fun vibe where tacos are served out of an old VW camper van. With locations around the city, this place shares its love of the Mexican food culture through neighborhood taquerias.
Lovely Day: Neighborhood hole in the wall Thai food. This is my all time favorite restaurant in NYC. It might look understated from the outside, but it’s full of Nolita locals who know what’s up. If the main restaurant is full, head downstairs to the secret basement for extra seating.
Rubirosa: This place beats any spot in Little Italy. Get the vodka pizza (and a side of the crispy Brussels sprouts). This homey, local spot is usually packed, so make sure you make a reservation before you go.
Balaboosta: Stop by this Nolita gem on pay day, as it’s a little pricer than most places. The mix of Israeli/Mediterranean fare is packed with flavor and never disappoints. Try the Crispy Cauliflower, Israeli Street Fair and Lamburger.
Jack’s Wife Freda: A popular spot among the Blogger community, this American/Mediterranean bistro has two locations in Nolita and West Village. Favorite brunch dish: Green Shakshuka.
Black Seed Bagels: Combining Montreal and New York style bagels this is the best hangover cure. I used to live two blocks from Black Seed and when I was too hungover to leave my bed I would pay $20 to have these bagels delivered - they are that good! Classics include: the #1 - Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese, Red Onion, Tomato, Capers and the #11 - Wood Fired Baked Eggs (over medium), Cheddar, Avocado, & Tomato.
Egg Shop: Cute little spot on Elizabeth Street, serving up organic and locally sourced breakfast bowls all day. Try the B.E.C. sandwich or Warrior One Cruiser Bowl.
Katz's Deli: Best late night (drunk) food. This East Side establishment has been open since 1888, serving up delectable sandwiches, platters and meats. Do yourself a favor and order the pastrami on rye.
La Esquina: Located on the corner of Kenmore and Cleveland, this corner taqueria serves up Mexican fare on its main level. The secret is the hidden brasserie in the basement. You have to bypass a hostess and a bouncer, go down multiple levels, through a kitchen and around a few corners before you reach your destination.
Dimes: Located on the border of Chinatown and Lower East Side, this healthy, good for the soul spot became super trendy, super fast. Try the love toast and black rice bowl.
Bluestone Lane Cafe: An Australian coffee house in Greenwich Village that serves up unique breakfast dishes like pumpkin and feta fritters with a poached egg and green baked eggs.
Nourish Kitchen + Table: The menu here changes daily based on available seasonal ingredients. Great place to stop in for a casual lunch. Pick what you want at the counter and they’ll bring it over to your table.
Los Feliz: I’ve spent many birthday parties down in the basement of this Lower East Side joint. The food is great (classic Mexican fare), but if you choose to skip dinner head directly to one of the bars, spread out over three levels. Grab a margarita or try one of 150 types of tequila.
Freemans: Located at the back of a small alleyway in the Lower East Side, this spot offers upscale American dishes, while drawing in a hip crowd. The eclectic interior is cozy and welcoming during a cold winter day and they have a beautiful private room for birthday parties.
GG’s: I love the rustic-chic interior of this East Village pizza spot. They serve bespoke cocktails with gourmet pizza, small plates and oven-baked pasta. Share the burrata with the table, but order an entire ebony and ivory pie to yourself!
WHERE TO GO OUT
The Jane: This is my absolute favorite place for a night out in the city. Located on the main floor of the historic Jane Hotel in West Village, this place plays amazing 90s throwback music, while people climb on top of the velvet couches and tabletops for hours of dancing. The eclectic, yet lavish interior has a grand fireplace, taxidermy on the walls and a balcony that overlooks the humming masses below.
The Ides Rooftop at the Wythe Hotel: Located just across the river in Brooklyn, this art-deco inspired rooftop bar offers amazing views of the Manhattan skyline. Drinks are pricey but the views alone are worth the cost.
The Standard Biergarten: Transport yourself to Munich’s Oktoberfest at this German inspired beer garden in the heart of Meat Packing. Grab some beer and a pretzel and meet new friends at the family-styles tables or play a game for ping pong in the open air venue.
Houston Hall: A laid back beer garden in West Village serving an exclusive selection of craft beers and specialty cocktails. This massive space is a good choice for large birthday events.
Marlton Hotel: Cozy spot in Greenwich Village on a cold winter day. Grab a craft cocktail at the bar, snag a seat by the wood burning fire and join the crowd of under-30’s.
Mulberry Project: Enter this SoHo establishment through an unmarked red door on Mulberry Street. This place has a very old school speakeasy vibe, but it’s best to go during the summer when you can enjoy cocktails on the back patio.
Jimmy at the James Hotel: Located on the 18th floor of the James Hotel, this upscale rooftop offers sweeping views of the city. Go for sunset and grab a cocktail while watching the sun dip behind the Hudson.
Fat Cat: A fun place to start the night. This underground bar offers pool, ping pong and board games, while a live jazz band keeps the vibe going.
Tom & Jerry’s: Fun dive bar in Nolita. Grab a seat under the giant moose head on the wall and drink prickleback shots until it’s time to go home.
Mother's Ruin: This bustling, neighborhood lounge is a great little spot for after work drinks. The bartenders shake a mean cocktail and the snack food is on par.
Blue Hill Farm: Escape the concrete jungle and head to Blue Hill Farm in Pocantico Hills, NY. Spend the day walking around the grounds, visiting all of the animals, then grab lunch at the market café, which offers farm fresh snacks, lattes and other locally grown goodies.
Apple Picking: Rent a car and drive upstate to Warwick Valley Winery located an hour and 45 minutes outside the city. Pick a few baskets of apples (enough to make an apple pie or two) and enjoy a tasting of blended wines and a selection of hard ciders