Last week, one of my daughter’s college friends was visiting New York for the first time and asked if we had any suggestions for what to do and see and eat over the course of a single weekend. It was fun (if overwhelming) to think about, and reminded me of a loose formula I used when the girls were young and we’d want to explore a new place (cities or otherwise) without completely exhausting them. We’d pick a neighborhood, then come up with a three-part itinerary that included the following 1) a good outdoorsy walk to get the blood going — think parks, hikes, trails, farms, spots with nice views; 2) a culture hit — defined broadly: small, doable museums, book stores, spice emporiums!; and, of course 3) a meal or a treat to keep everyone incentivized. Using this strategy, I wrote up six shorthand itineraries — barely scratching the surface of this great city, but definitely more than enough for a weekend. You should feel free to improve upon them or add any of the other eight thousand neighborhoods in the comment section based on the same formula. I’m especially starving for ideas in Queens and deeper Brooklyn, where food and culture abounds, and one could spend every day of the year exploring something new.
Brooklyn Bridge/Manhattan’s Chinatown: It’s fun to start on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge (or hang in the Brooklyn Bridge Park if you have time), walk across towards Manhattan, then head north on Centre towards Canal Street to the heart of Chinatown. Wander through the streets off Canal, making sure to grab bubble tea (or cannolis; there’s Little Italy overlap!) and shop for novelties at the bustling side markets along the way (I could spend a whole day in Pearl River Mart); lastly, grab dim sum on East Broadway or Hong-Kong-style lo mein at NY Noodletown (re-opening this weekend: 7/1/22)
Upper East Side: Walk the upper loop of Central Park (or the reservoir, or literally wander any trail and get lost); then lunch at JG Melon, the iconic green-checkered-tableclothed New York tavern with famous burgers; no reservations, line can be long, or coffee/treats at Cafe Sabarsky (quintessential UES elegance; Viennese pastries and coffee in the Neue Galerie); then check out the Old Masters at The Frick, arguably the most romantic museum in NYC (*they are renovating as of today 6/28/22, but check back!)
Park Avenue South/Murray Hill: Explore and admire Grand Central for its exquisite Beaux Arts beauty (I’ve commuted through the station for my entire life and I still gasp every time I walk in its main terminal), then order some oysters or a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder at the snakey Oyster Bar counter (or knock back a martini at the Campbell, depending on time of day); walk south on Park Ave and shop at Kalustyans (above) for spices and snacks from around the world (or just ogle the spilleths-over bounty of the place and buy nothing); check out what’s new at the Morgan Library, Pierpont Morgan’s early 1900s mansion-turned-museum, that usually has a literature-related exhibit and a bright beautiful cafe where you can have lunch or coffee. See what’s happening in Madison Square Park (home of the very first Shake Shack) or just sit on a bench and soak in the sunshine.
Soho/Lower East Side: Hit Russ & Daughters (shown up top) for the best bagels, smoked fish, and Jewish delights or a New York slice at Scarr’s pizza on Orchard (or, if it’s dinner and you have time and stamina, wait for an outdoor table at trendy Cervo’s — no reservations, long waits); browse McNally Jackson and buy any book the staffers recommend — they are always on the money; my art-school friend Jodi recommends two galleries in the area: James Fuentes Gallery on Delancey or The Drawing Center on Wooster. “You’re guaranteed to find something surprising at either one,” she told me.
Chelsea/West Village: Walk The High Line which goes from Gansevoort in Tribeca (at The Whitney) all the way to Hudson Yards in the West 30s; If you’re not up for a big museum like the Whitney, the Matthew Marks Gallery and two David Zwirner Galleries (one on West 19th one on West 20th) in Chelsea are going to be good bets (more recs from Jodi); If you head from North to South, you can finish in the West Village and walk over to Via Carota (lunch or dinner for the dreamiest pasta; FYI no reservations, and on the pricier end); or, if you just want a treat, Fabrique on West 14th for coffee and Swedish baked goods like their famous cardamon bun.
Brooklyn Heights/Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill: Walk the Promenade for dramatic downtown views (fun fact: my whole wedding did this after the ceremony on the way to the reception); check out the Middle Eastern markets on Atlantic Ave (between Court & Henry) for shopping and snacks (specifically Sahadi’s and Damascus Bakery) or have pho or bánh mì at Hanco’s on Smith Street; browse the shelves at Books Are Magic, the bright, energetic indie shop, darling of book lovers everywhere.
Midtown West/Chelsea: Walk around the relatively new Little Island public pier (above), set atop Dr. Seussian columns, for great Hudson River views (touristy, but really cool, especially for kids); walk up the High Line (or hop in an Uber, it’s about a half hour walk) to eat at Chodang Gol in Koreatown (my friend Matt, who co-authored Koreatown with Deuki Hong, emailed me “I go 7 to 10 times a year…Tofu is the house specialty, but the banchan is def my fav in Manhattan”); then shop for stationary and design books at Kinokuniya, the Japanese book store just off Bryant Park. The park is an excellent place to rest and people-watch.
What three-part itinerary would you recommend to a visitor, whether that’s a first-time tourist or an adventure-seeking local? Comment below…especially looking at you, New Yorkers!
P.S. When I sorted my iphotos by neighborhood to find a good opening picture, I came upon approximately 150 restaurants and food destinations not mentioned in these itineraries. Looks like this might have to be a running series.
Opening photo credit: Russ and Daughters; Little Island photo Go Love NY.
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