This article was planned to go live on November 1 but we needed time to process the fact that one of the areas we love and recommend was the site where the terrorist used a van to plow over innocent people. We are crushed for the victims and for all of New York. We debated scrapping the article but decided that the spirit of New York is what it is because of the people who live there and who always show greatness in the face of tragedy. So, despite our heavy hearts for the city we love, we will channel this spirit when we recommend living like a New Yorker when you visit NYC!
New York Like a Local
We have been to NYC many times when we visit the NJ relatives. We always liked going and would check off the tourist attractions on each visit. Things hit a new level and we fell in love with NYC when we stopped doing that and started acting like we live there instead! If you have seen most of the top attractions, I challenge you to change your mindset and pretend you are a New Yorker.
Step one for this plan to work is to go beyond just Times Square! Don’t get me wrong. We love the theatre district, stay at the Marriott Marquis to be close to the theaters, and have two favorite food spots right there, but being in Times Square does not make you feel like you are a New Yorker.
While Times Square is full of great street performers, this guy is part of our crew.
Instead, find an apartment to rent on the Upper West Side (or any other area you are interested in). We chose an area one block off of Central Park West, close to Columbia, met up with a student we knew and found out all the local eating spots from him (Nussbaum’s for bagels, Milano's Market for deli food and desserts were two of our our favorites). It is like an entirely different place when you are up out of Midtown and immersing yourself in the local neighborhoods. You can rent bikes and ride them in Central Park or up and down Riverside park. Or, take advantage of the area and go to brunch on Sunday and sit there like the locals do. During our first Sunday brunching, we happened to sit near Al Roker and his family (pretty New Yorker right there!). The Upper West Side is still convenient to any of the touristy attractions you want to enjoy via a quick trip on the subway. Returning back to the quiet streets of your local neighborhood at night is so much better than the craziness of Times Square.
As for activities, we now pick an area and spend the day meandering and stopping when something looks fun. We hit the local markets, festivals or craft fairs, stop in parks and chill, watch pick up basketball games or dogs at dog parks and eat where the locals eat. Sometimes this revolves around a tourist activity and other times it is just about feeling the different vibes in the different parts of the city. Local activities are easy to find via google.
Dessert from Carmine's (Tiramisu) at the Hudson
Here are some of our favorites -
*While in Brooklyn last trip we stumbled upon Thighs and Pies in Williamsburg and loved the food and the area. It is a little bit further out than Brooklyn Heights where we love to walk along the promenade to the Brooklyn bridge or to Juliana’s pizza and the Brooklyn ice cream factory. The walk back to Manhattan on the Brooklyn Bridge is magical, especially if you can do it on 9/11 when you can see the tribute lit up.
Promenade in Brooklyn Heights - best views of the skyline!
*After a day at the Bronx Zoo (well worth the trip up there) we headed to Arthur Avenue for Italian that isn’t touristy like Little Italy. While walking back to the subway we experienced the local kids cooling off in the fire hydrant and eating piraguas.
*Harlem is now happening and is full of amazing places to eat (Harlem Shake, Amy Ruth’s, Red Rooster). It is an easy walk back to the Upper West Side if you want to work off the food you have consumed (we walk there after dinner with our 4 kids and feel completely safe).
*Our Hamilton obsession found us up at the Grange on 141st. This area is beautiful and nothing like midtown. We also crossed over to NJ for the dueling grounds and saw the most amazing NYC skyline views.
We did not throw away our shot to learn some history on our Hamilton tour.
*We love the Chelsea Market, especially the take out pasta at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina. Once we get our pasta, we head out and explore the area around the market. The High Line is near there and has become one of our favorite places to stroll because you feel like you are out of the city while being right in the city.
*Chinatown is great if you get beyond the shops lining the streets around the subway. You can get amazingly priced manicures, pedicures and massages and grab real Chinese food and eat it in the park next to the older people playing games on upside down boxes. All three of my girls experienced their first, and only treatments while in Chinatown. The four of us can get feet and hands done for less than a manicure for one at home.
*Bryant Park is amazing during the lunch hour. Grab food from a local grocery store or deli and join the people who are on lunch break. It is great people watching. The ice skating rink here is also a local hangout. We skated with Sasha Cohen (US silver medalist) on multiple occasions when her rink was flooded after the hurricane. My little girls were also asked to model for New York Magazine while skating and appeared as a full page photo and interview! Broadway in Bryant Park is our favorite summer activity. It’s a chance to hear the music from the top shows for free. Again, grab lunch and venture there to watch.
*Crafts on Columbus is a craft fair that happens several times a year. We met an artist there and commissioned her to do a painting for us. We still talk to her regularly. This is a great place to pick up gifts and non traditional souveniers.
*Madison Square Park is another great place to spend an afternoon. The original Shake Shack is right in the park, Eataly is close by for take out and if you are lucky, "Uncle Bubbles" (a local 'performer' who works off tips) may show up and teach you how to make bubbles big enough to cover a person.
The possibilities for finding great things to do in NYC are endless but so are the crowds. Venture past the top tourist attractions and you may have a more intimate NYC experience.