NYC Oddities: North Woods

If it’s peace and quiet you’re after, the middle of Manhattan is usually not the place you want to be. Except, maybe it is? The North Woods–the lush, green, overgrown 90-acre section of northern Central Park–is filled with rushing waterfalls (I came across three), tight canopies of trees and winding, wooded paths. When you’re in the thick of it, the city’s skyline completely disappears. Originally designed to simulate the Adirondacks, you could imagine yourself anywhere, from central Vermont to rural Shenandoah, except you’re at about 105th Street near Central Park West, mere yards away from some of the liveliest sections of the city. The starkness is highlighted when you finally exit the woods–which I did at the eastern end of the Pool–and you’re greeted by the pleasant din of picnicking tourists and racing bicyclists. The Central Park Conservancy doesn’t meticulously cultivate the area the way they do most of the park; fallen trees are left unmoved unless they are deemed hazardous, lending the woods a pleasant untouched quality. It’s a slice of the rural life tucked inside the world’s busiest urban park.

Below, a walk through the North Woods on a rainy day. I entered from the East Side, near 104th Street, right by the Central Park loop.

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Favorite Gift Shops

I love giving gifts. I’m one of those annoying people who prides herself on getting just the right thing for the right person. But even I can admit that shopping for gifts in the city can be annoyingly difficult. Folks elsewhere may think we have it easy, what with all of the options right under our noses, but we may suffer from a tyranny of choice (using the term very lightly). Sometimes, there are too many options. And one option is an hour subway ride away from another option. By the time you’re done, it’s evening, and all you’ve scored is one Voluspa candle, which, though lovely, you could’ve gotten at any area Anthropologie.

In order to lessen the anxiety, I’ve compiled a list of my go-to gifting shops:

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Blue Apron Foods is a local gourmet foods store that just happens to be down the block from my apartment in Park Slope. It’s a great place to fill a gift basket for a food-obsessed friend (yes, I’m purposefully avoiding the term foodie), with area artisan-made items like Nunu Chocolates as well as imported goodies like chocolate-covered Gavottes biscuits from France. They also have a great selection of meats, cheeses and baked goods.

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With its expertly sourced collection of vintage as well as new housewares, Sterling Place in South Slope and Boerum Hill, is the perfect place to find an eclectic gift for a birthday or housewarming. And, it’s one of the few places that stocks items for men, including vintage bar utensils, shaving accessories, globes and games.

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Yes, it’s a chain, but it’s a great one. Paper Source features a huge selection of cards and paper goods by top brands like Rifle Paper Co. and Smock. Gift items include journals, picture frames, coffee table books and more. Though there are a few locations around the city, I prefer the first New York outpost, in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood.

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Shopping for a friend’s baby can be a tad confusing. Which toy, which onesie, which stuffed animal will suit them just so? I’m so grateful for Pink Olive owner Grace Kang’s curatorial eye. Though the shop, with locations in Park Slope and the East Village, is modest in size, it’s overflowing with thoughtful gifts for the baby in your life. It’s also a great place for art prints, stationery and girly finds.

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A New York staple, Fishs Eddy, located in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, is a wonderland of adorable tableware, glassware, flatware and gift items. There are New York and Brooklyn themed trinkets, collaborations with artists like cartoonist Roz Chast and the late illustrator Charley Harper (as designed by Todd Oldham) and vintage china collected from across the country. An ideal place to shop for a wedding or housewarming.

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Idlewild Books, a travel bookstore that also runs language courses, is one of my favorite gift spots in NYC. Here, you can find country-specific critically acclaimed literature and essays in addition to standard guide books. Why not surprise a friend going on a big trip with a book that’ll do more than tell them how to manage the metro? There’s nothing like immersing yourself in the culture of a specific place and getting a feel for the people and the mood. It’s also a totally unexpected gift and one I’m sure they’ll appreciate. The main store is in Flatiron, with a smaller location in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill.

This is Why: A City for All Seasons

It was hot this past weekend in NYC. H-O-T-T hot. What to do on a Sunday afternoon with no plans? A quick trip to the beach, of course. New York City has miles of beaches easily accessed by subway. Pretty incredible for the most urban, most densely populated major city in the U.S.

If we need to make it a quick trip, we head down to the western end of Brighton Beach, a 30 minute ride away on the Q train. It’s fairly quiet, fairly clean, and convenient to tasty Russian food.

If you want to party at the beach, Coney Island is a short walk away. Here, the umbrellas are ruffle-to-ruffle, reggaeton is blasting and vendors are selling everything from homemade churros to flowering mangos on a stick.

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Our chosen spot near the Ocean Parkway entrance

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Large, festive crowds in Coney Island

The Wonder City Does The River City

A snapshot summary of a recent visit to my lovely hometown of Richmond, Va.

The Brown Derby, a bourbon and grapefruit concoction, at Heritage restaurant in the Fan district

Just one section of the mind-boggling card selection at my favorite stationery and gift shop of all time, Mongrel, in Carytown

Picturesque cornfields near my parents’ home

Pie bliss at Proper Pie Co. in historic Church Hill

From top: “Not Derby” pie and mixed-berry streusel pie at Proper Pie Co.

Vying for the title of “my favorite doughnut ever”: a piping hot glazed sourdough doughnut from Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen food truck at South of the James Market in Forest Hill Park

Light fixtures at Amuse Restaurant at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Sol LeWitt cubes mural at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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