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.
P.S. I’m really glad you’re here, but just a reminder: All the fun stuff these days happens in my newsletter on Substack, which is consistently in the Top 10 most-read food newsletters on the entire platform. You can subscribe here.
I’ve got one for Brooklyn: Start by the B/Q train stop in Brighton Beach. Enjoy some Russian food: Pick up a snack from Brighton Bazaar’s delicious prepared foods or bakery section. Walk down to the boardwalk, and wander towards Coney Island. You can stop at the NY Aquarium if you feel like it, or do some rides at Luna Park if you’re a rides person. There’s a ton of food options on either the Coney Island side or the Brighton Beach side. In Coney Island you can have a Nathan’s Hotdog, or if it’s open Totonno’s for great old school pizza. If you want to head back to Brighton, you can have a huge variety of Eastern European food – there’s probably more variety than you know! I’m partial to Skovorodka on Brighton Beach Avenue, but there’s lots of places to check out.
What a great plan! I just read that the historic Cyclone roller coaster turned 95 this week (not sure if that makes it more or less appealing!) Also, if you plan ahead, you can catch a Brooklyn Cyclones game; they’re the single-A farm team for the Mets, and we used to do that a lot when we lived in Brooklyn. Such a fun way to spend a summer night. https://www.milb.com/brooklyn/tickets
I love this post. the concept of a mini itinerary is pretty much exactly what my partner and I do when we’re on vacation in a new spot. We tend to find as good of a breakfast sandwich as we can, go for a hike/walk in the morning, then find a place for late lunch or early dinner.
We’ll definitely be doing at least one of these itineraries next time we’re in NY! Thanks!
This is gold, thank you! I grew up and lived in NYC for most of my life…but I will be using and sharing this list!
Stroll in Prospect Park, get some epic sandwiches or pastries at WINNER on 11st and 7av in Park Slope (or classic diner food at Purity Diner on 8th and 7th), then a quick citi bike to the Brooklyn Museum or even the Brooklyn Library at Grand Army Plaza – it’s very impressive!
Ft Green/Clinton Hill are also low key neighborhoods I like to take guests. Fr Greene park is beautiful, there’s a ton of great eats on DeKalb, and the architecture in neighborhood is some of the best in Brooklyn.
Would love a mini-itinerary for when one sees a Broadway show. We don’t know the city well but come in for shows and would love to be more off the beaten path but it’s sometimes hard to know where to start in NYC!
Start with the Chelsea/Midtown West above, and plan it so you end up with an early dinner in Koreatown. It’s a quick walk from there to the theater district.
We really enjoyed John’s Pizza when we were in NYC to see Wicked in 2019. We walked from there to the show.
If you are Jackson heights…
Here’s one for Inwood! Get off the A train at Dyckman, walk up through Fort Tryon to visit the Cloisters (part of the Met), walk back down and up Broadway, stopping at G’s coffee shop on W 207th for a breakfast burrito and egg cream or anything from Serrano Salsa, take it to go and eat in Isham Park, then go for a stroll through Inwood Hill Park before heading back downtown on the A’s last stop at 214th.
I am definitely going to do this — Inwood is very quick drive from my house up the Hudson River and I know so little about the area. Thank you so much, see you at G’s 🙂
These are fabulous – I can’t wait to use them for an upcoming visit to NYC! Thank you!
When you’re in Grand Central, be sure to visit the Whispering Gallery.
My last visit to NYC I was chaperoning my daughter attending a class at Adelphi. I had no plans one day, and ended up taking the Staten Island ferry just to be on the water and see the Statue of Liberty..and it was free! Saw the Mighty Girl Statue on Wall St.. Got a bit lost trying to find the Brooklyn Bridge to walk across it, so cabbed it instead…wandered around DUMBO…bought a vintage necklace at Thea Grant…and Thea herself was full o Brooklyn history…her shop is in a building tha was an old coffee warehouse. Had a lovely alfresco lobster roll dinner, water taxied to the subway, and took the LIRR back to the hotel. Lovely day, completely unplanned and random!
With these itineraries and your wonderful travel posts (how often I’ve recommended those amazing spots in Rome!), this could be your next book – food-centric travel by region/neighborhood… I would love to read that one! Of course, subscribing to your newsletter may be all that’s needed (which I love!)