The Been-There-Done-That Guide to NYC

There’s much more to this city than Central Park and a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s. (Though both of those things are wonderful.) If you’ve visited a number of times and have exhausted the travel guides, or if you live here but haven’t yet had the chance to really explore, then read on.  I’ve been here 12 years, and I still come across surprises. These are some of my favorites.


Walk the length of Broadway: Sure, you’ve seen a show on Broadway, but have you walked the entire length of the thoroughfare, starting at 220th street and ending at the Battery? It’s a 13.2 mile walk, so make sure to schedule food and drink stops along the way. Celebrate the finish line with trays of square pepperoni pies at Adrienne’s on Stone Street.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park: Some of the best views of Manhattan are found off the island. Take the tram to Roosevelt Island (view from the tram pictured above), and walk to the southern tip. You’ll pass the former smallpox hospital, one of the most haunting buildings in the city. The park itself is pristine and sprawling. The trees are saplings and don’t provide much shade, so wait for a not-scorching day.

City Island: Eat your way through piles of fried seafood on City Island, a picturesque New England-like village off the coast of the Bronx mainland. In addition to being home to a handful of destination restaurants, the main street, City Island Avenue, is lined with familiar small-town spots, like ice cream and candy shops, art galleries and antique stores. Incredibly, it’s all within city limits.

The Morgan Library: Recently named one of the 50 Most Beautiful Places in America by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, the Morgan is something out of a fairytale. (I’m reminded of Beast’s castle library in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast). This once-personal library of 19th century financier Pierpont Morgan features a trove of rare materials like early children’s books and music manuscripts.

Unisphere and Queens Museum: Visiting the Unisphere in Queens’s Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, one gets a taste of what it must have felt like to see the structure for the first time at the 1964 World’s Fair. There is a futurist’s optimism to the design; it looks like something from a sci-fi film, one in which all nations work together to conquer challenges. Next door, the Queens Museum is home to the Panorama of the City of New York, a to-scale 9,335 square foot model of the city.

Morbid Anatomy Museum: Was Wednesday Addams always your go-to Halloween costume growing up? Do you obsessively look up strange and obscure medical ailments? Are you still not over that whole 90s witch trend? Have I got the museum for you! The Morbid Anatomy Museum in Gowanus features a fascinating collection of obscura in its gift shop, rotating exhibits upstairs and an intriguing lecture series. Oh, and taxidermy classes, if that’s your thing.

Wave Hill: This former estate on the banks of the Hudson River is a schlep to get to if you live south of Midtown, but the pristine gardens and the Jersey-cliff views make up for the out-of-the-way location. I’d venture to say this Bronx park is one of the most beautiful spots in the five boroughs.


Nargis Cafe: This Uzbek restaurant in Sheepshead Bay has quickly become one of my favorite spots in South Brooklyn. Everything here is delicious, but I especially recommend the plov (rice pilaf with lamb), fried manti (Uzbek dumplings), Tashkent salad (lamb and radish salad), lagman soup (spicy noodle soup), and ALL OF THE KEBABS. It’s BYO whatever, but there’s a $5 corkage fee per bottle, so spring for the larger size and bring a crowd. It’s always lively, especially on weekends.

Villabate Alba: Cannoli, made with ricotta imported from Sicily, is what to get at this Sicilian bakery in prime Bensonhurst. I’m also partial to the lobster tails and to gawking at the brightly colored cakes, cookies, and pastries lining the sprawling display shelves.

Taqueria El Mezcal: The tacos at this tiny Sunset Park shop are flavorful and authentic, but what really won me over was their cemita. Made on a traditional, fluffy, sesame seed-covered sandwich bun with avocado, shredded queso, black beans, and, in my case, moist al pastor pork, it might just be the perfect sandwich.

Coppelia: There’s something very old-school New York about this 24-hour Cuban diner (pictured above) on 14th Street. Past midnight it services a cross-section of nighttime revelers, from those out clubbing in the nearby Meatpacking District to local residents out for a late dinner. Dishes and drinks are inventive and way better than they need to be for a 24-hour joint.

San Matteo Pizza and Espresso Bar: This small, authentic Italian restaurant and sandwich shop is located in an unlikely spot on the Upper East Side. The Neapolitan pies are pretty good, but it’s the panouzzi, sandwich-calzone hybrids made from pizza dough, that are the real standouts.

East Harbor Seafood Palace: Come hungry and with not much money in your pocket to this Bensonhurst dim sum hall with a seafood-inflected menu. It’s the size of a small shopping mall, so while the weekends are busy, the waits are bearable. The shrimp dishes–fried shrimp wrapped in bacon, shrimp dumplings, rice noodle rolls stuffed with shrimp–are winners.

Goa Taco: The pork belly taco as this fusion-y spot on the Lower East Side (with weekend showings at Smorgasburg) was one of my most memorable recent meals. It was perfectly constructed: tender, crispy-skinned pork belly, buttery paratha (an Indian flatbread), red slaw. The entire dish is a master course in how to make fusion cuisine that elevates instead of dilutes.

Wangs: I’m still confused about why this Park Slope takeout spot isn’t a bigger deal. My husband and I have to restrain ourselves every time we walk by, and we’re usually passing by after a filling dinner. Their specialty Korean jumbo fried chicken wings are sticky, crispy, spicy, heavenly. Get them, and the cornbread with salted scallion butter and Thai chili pepper jam, and prepare to fall in love.


Luckydog: This low-key bar on Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue is a dog- and beer-lovers’ dream. It’s an specially good spot for gawkers who don’t actually have a pet of their own. The adorable back yard is like those dog runs you’re only allowed to observe through a chainlink fence, except here, you’re face-to-face with an array of fluffy puppy butts. On a recent weekend night, the place was filled with as many as a half-dozen pooches, from terriers to Pomeranians to labs. Oh, and the beer list is pretty good, too.

The Double Windsor: I’m a huge fan of this comfortable, airy Windsor Terrace bar, and not just because it’s less than a 20-minute walk from my apartment. It’s the rare spot where one can get an expertly made cocktail, a sought-after beer, and a stellar burger.

Blueprint: “Laid back” and “craft cocktail” aren’t words usually used to describe the same spot. The cocktails at this Park Slope bar are as good if not better than those at more sceney lounges. There’s also a lovely little backyard and a very generous happy hour until 7 p.m.

Covenhoven: There’s absolutely no pretension at this beer nerd’s haven in Prospect Heights. Pick a bottle from their expansive fridge (price vary depending on whether you’re taking out or drinking in) or try something on tap. The backyard, with its small, elevated grassy expanse and iron cafe chairs, is perfect for wiling away summer afternoons.

Ear Inn: Billed as NYC’s oldest bar, this Hudson Square institution has been slinging alcohol continuously since 1817, even during Prohibition. Most out-of-towners go to McSorley’s and miss out on this eccentric spot. Here’s why it’s a can’t-miss: the atmosphere is classic New York, the drinks and food are simple and well-made, and the crowd–a mixture of low-key locals, a post-work crowd, Soho deserters, and a smattering of tourists–is a microcosm of the city.

Red Hook Bait and Tackle: This eclectic Red Hook bar pairs well with a visit to the Morbid Anatomy Museum, mentioned above–the welcoming interior is covered in tchotchkes and an array of taxidermy. It’s not just about the decor, though. It’s also standout for its friendly, laid-back vibe. This bar is the kind of watering hole every neighborhood wishes it had.


View-Lover’s Guide to NYC

I love a scenic view. I especially love a scenic view when I travel. I love taking photographs of scenic views during my travels and reminiscing about them later on. Are you like me? Well then check out this unnecessarily specific NYC guide.


Views of the City

1. The Cloisters: Marvel at the expansive views from this Uptown Manhattan city museum and garden, part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Enjoy medieval art and architecture (and cool temps on even the hottest days thanks to all of the stone), blissfully peaceful courtyards and balconies with dramatic views of the Hudson River and the lush green cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades.

99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan. (212) 923-3700. Open year-round with slightly longer hours in the summer. Recommended donation of $25.


George Washington Bridge and New Jersey as seen from The Cloisters

(Image via jwelsh,; made available under Creative Commons license)

2. Brooklyn Heights Promenade/Brooklyn Bridge Park: Start at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, where you’ll to be treated to up-close views of Downtown Manhattan. If you’re into gawking at the other half, check out the back gardens and intricate wrought iron balconies of regal neighborhood brownstones whose backs face the promenade. (History Lesson: Brooklyn Heights is considered America’s first suburb.)

Follow Columbia Heights down to Old Fulton Street and enter Fulton Ferry Landing and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The views of the Brooklyn Bridge are unmatched, which is why you’ll be competing for photo ops with dozens upon dozens of wedding parties. The large green at Pier 1 is a great place for a picnic (if it’s not too hot, that is; shade is virtually non-existent), or a nighttime movie. There are plenty of concessions during the summer, but I suggest you save room for a cone at the excellent Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, which I pray is reopening in time for spring.

The promenade starts at the western end of Remsen Street, while the Pier 1 of Brooklyn Bridge Park can be reached by walking to the western end of Old Fulton Street.


Syfy Movies with a View on Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park

(Image via @NYCphotos-Flickr,; made available under Creative Commons license)

3.  Top of the Rock: You’re not going to the top of the Empire State Building. You’re coming to Top of the Rock instead, and I’ll tell you why: the views are just as amazing, plus, unlike the Empire State Building, whose 86th floor observation deck is surrounded by steel cage, the only thing between you and the entirety of New York City is a thick pane of glass.  AND! You get to see and enjoy the Empire State Building from here. It’s open late, so come at night to see the true splendor of the city.

30 Rockefeller Plaza, Manhattan. 8 a.m. to midnight. $25.


4. Green-Wood CemeteryYes, it’s a cemetery, and I get it if you’re not into things that remind you of your own mortality. But, if you can get past that, Green-Wood is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Pay your respects to famous residents like “Boss” Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, Horace Greeley, Jean-Michel Basquiat and George Bellows. Oh, and the views! Depending on tree coverage, you might be able to see the entirety of lower Manhattan if you venture up to the top of the hill. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the monk parrots nesting in the spires of the Gothic gates at the cemetery’s main entrance.

500 25th Street, Brooklyn. (718) 768-7300. The main museum entrance on Fifth Avenue is open until 5 p.m., with extended hours in the summer.

5. Governors Island: On a pleasant summer day, take a free 5-minute ferry to this former U.S. Coast Guard base. Explore the abandoned quarters and public art pieces and marvel at close-up views of the Statue of Liberty, lower Manhattan and nearby Brooklyn. The island plays host to countless festivals and concerts, so check out the schedule before you go. A word about an alternative way to glimpse New York Bay: yes, the Staten Island Ferry is awesome and, best-of-all, free, but man, do I hate waiting in that terminal with nothing to do for the ferry back to Manhattan.

During summer weekends, ferries depart approximately every 20 minutes from the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street in Manhattan, and Pier 6 on Columbia Street in Brooklyn.


A view of Lower Manhattan from Governors Island

6. Gantry Plaza State ParkA cute, well-manicured park with Midtown Manhattan views on the Long Island City, Queens side of the East River. It’s rarely crowded and offers a pretty stellar nighttime vantage point of one of the most dense (i.e. brightest) parts of the city. The famed Pepsi-Cola sign adorns the north end of the park.

4-09 47th Road.  Long Island City. (718) 786-6385. Park officially closes at 10 p.m.


A view of Midtown at dusk from Gantry Plaza State Park

(Image via imacnewyork,; made available under Creative Commons license)

7. The Standard Rooftop: Hear me out. Yes, at night The Standard’s roof is filled with the city’s highest-heeled residents paying top dollar for mediocre drinks, but during the day it’s downright peaceful. A great place to creep out on the some of  New York City’s most jaw-dropping rooftops. The sunsets over the Hudson River are pretty cool, too. Grab an expensive drink and consider it an admissions charge. (I once spent 3 hours nursing a $16 vodka tonic on a particularly beautiful late summer Saturday.) Be warned, depending on the time of year, weekend days can get crowded.

848 Washington Street, Manhattan. (212) 645-4646.

8. The High Line: Stop listening to the haters. Yes, this place is super-hyped, but it’s for a REASON. The High Line is, without question, one of the coolest places in NYC. Start at the park’s north end on 30th street, and work your way down to its southern entrance on Gansevoort Street. Along the way you’ll pass expertly planted wildflowers along the elevated park’s abandoned train track and glimpse the best examples of modern building design in the city. Check out this helpful guide to surrounding architecture from New York magazine.

Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street just West of 10th Avenue, Manhattan.

9. Wave Hill: I’m embarrassed to say that, although I consider myself a fairly adventurous urban explorer, I didn’t know about  Wave Hill until a few years ago. Please don’t be as foolish as I was. Imagine a secluded oasis with immaculate flower and herb gardens, spotless greens, scenic overlooks and walking trails. You’ll feel like you’re anywhere else but the Bronx.

West 249th Street and Independence Avenue, Bronx. Tuesday through Sunday. Hours depend on season. $8. 


View of the New Jersey Palisades from a pergola at Wave Hill

(Image via keroism,; made available via Creative Commons license)

Bites with a View

1. The River Café: Situated under the Brooklyn Bride, The River Café is one of many business still suffering from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. It’s closed until further notice, but I hope it reopens soon. The café boasts stunning East River and Manhattan skyline views and delectable upscale cuisine. If you’re here on a weekend, you’re almost guaranteed to spot a proposal or two. Please note: this place is not cheap; it’s a special occasion destination and is priced accordingly.

1 Water Street, Brooklyn. (718) 522-5200. Closed until further notice with plans to reopen.

2. Boat Basin Café: Grab a drink among the post-college crowd at the Boat Basin Café. It’s situated on the Hudson River, which equals gorgeous sunset vistas. Food is standard American fare. (Sidenote: See those boats bobbing in the marina? Some of those are houseboats! Yes, people actually live there year-round.)

Riverside Park and 79th Street, Manhattan. (212) 496-5542. Seasonal. Weather-permitting.

3. The Frying Pan: It’s easy to forgot that New York is a series of islands with a storied maritime history. Get in touch with your inner sailor at the Frying Pan (and brother ship fireboat John J. Harvey), moored at Pier 66 off the West Side Highway. Though it can get a bit “dude-y”, it’s still a fun, unique experience. Just try to come either early or on a low-key weekend. Grab a Pat LaFrieda burger and a bucket of Coronas and park it for the day. The breeze from the river is nice, but the boats and barge do sway on occasion–not the best place for the easily seasick.

Pier 66 Maritime, West 26th Street Hudson River Park, Manhattan. (212) 989-6363. Seasonal. Weather-permitting.


View of Midtown Manhattan from Pier 66

(Image via Yardena 2009,; available under Creative Commons license)

4. The Fairway Patio Grill: An under-the-radar spot for waterfront dining, the Fairway Patio Grill is an ideal place to enjoy reasonably priced eats while gazing at a close-up view of the Statue of Liberty and New York Bay. Unfortunately, the Red Hook location of the famed grocery store and its adjoining casual café were also victims of Sandy. A lot of the neighborhood was completely decimated, and I sincerely hope Fairway as well as other hard-hit area businesses are able to return soon.

480 Van Brunt Street, (718) 694-6868. Brooklyn, NY. Closed until further notice with plans to reopen.

*March 1, 2013 update: The supermarket and patio grill have reopened!

5. Met Roof Garden: Okay, technically it’s a drink with a view, since food options are pretty slim, but it’s a no-miss spot none-the-less. There’s always an exhibit to “ooh” and “ahh” over (whether Mike and Doug Starn’s oversize bamboo nest or Jeff Koon’s balloon animal dog made of stainless steel), and the views of Central Park are unparalleled.

Free with admission to museum


View of Central Park, the Upper East Side and Midtown from the Met Roof Garden

(Image via brownpau,; made available under Creative Common license)

6. Smorgasburg: I’m a total sucker for overpriced, locally sourced, artisanal fair, and there’s no better place to snag your own jar of premium horseradish than Smorgasburg. The weekly festival runs from April to October, Saturdays on the Williamsburg waterfront, and Sundays in DUMBO. Pick up a cemita (the best sandwich you’ve never had). Wash it down with a grapefruit, jalapeño and honey soda and a s’mores pie for dessert. Both locations are accompanied by great cross-river views. There are worse ways to spend a lovely summer day than gazing at Manhattan and stuffing yourself silly.

Saturdays, April through November, between North 6th and North 7th Streets, on the East River in Williamsburg, and Sundays at the Tobacco Warehouse on the DUMBO waterfront.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: