As I was writing this, I started to feel a little bit like a fraud. I’m not a native New Yorker and in fact, I didn’t visit New York for the first time until I was 23 years old.
How could I tell you the best things to do if I’m not even a true New Yorker? It made me realize though that people who are born and raised here – true locals – are few and far between. New York represents a coming together of people from all walks of life, contributing to the awesome melting pot culture which makes it so unique.
I once read a quote by Tom Wolfe that said “One belongs to New York instantly; one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” This quote resonates with me because it describes the opportunity everyone has to become a local. No matter how long you’ve been here or how long you plan to stay, you can create your own memories here which will be vastly different from anyone else’s.
With that being said, I’m not going to tell you to skip all of the tourist attractions and visit “locals only” spots. After all, what would a trip to New York be without a walk through Times Square or a ferry boat ride to the Statue of Liberty?
I will, however, offer up a few tips to help you find your own version of New York.
I’m a foodie through and through and it breaks my heart to walk by large chain restaurants or fast-food joints (that can be found anywhere else in the country) and see lines out the door. Please don’t go to places like this while you are in New York!
There are so many unique dining experiences here you’d be crazy not to take advantage of, and finding a good place to go is probably a lot easier than you think. You don’t need a personal recommendation or advice from the hotel concierge. Restaurants here are constantly opening and closing but you can easily find what’s hot in town by doing a little research online. The most important thing to know is that there are thousands of amazing places to eat; you just need to do some digging.
Skip the guys trying to sell you Comedy tickets in Times Square
One of my favorite things to do in New York is to catch the Friday night late show (12:15am) at the Comedy Cellar. This is notoriously the best show to attend at one of the best comedy clubs in the city. In addition to the stellar line-ups, it’s common for well-known comedians to drop in unannounced for some unexpected debauchery. Before the show, grab a burger across the street at Minetta Tavern. The Black Label Burger might set you back a few dollars but the sensation of it melting in your mouth is worth every penny. Reservations recommended for both the Comedy Cellar and Minetta Tavern.
Get out of Manhattan
If you didn’t already know, New York City consists of five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. While the island of Manhattan is the most popular for visitors, the other boroughs have just as much (if not more) to offer. Brooklyn and Queens are hot destinations of their own these days with some great restaurants and bars popping up in neighborhoods such as Williamsburg and Astoria, respectively. There are also strong immigrant influences in these boroughs which contribute to the overabundance of delicious ethnic cuisine.
With Brooklyn to the east of lower Manhattan and New Jersey to the west, there are plenty of great views of Manhattan to be seen from all angles. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and spend the afternoon in Brooklyn Bridge Park. There you can enjoy art installations, outdoor activities and stunning views across the East River.
Alternatively, head west to New Jersey for an outdoor drink and a variety of food trucks at Pier 13 in Hoboken or feel the beach bar vibes at Surf City in Jersey City with a fun cocktail and some seafood.
Reflect at Ground Zero
The 9/11 Memorial at ground zero and the World Trade Center buildings that have sprung up around it are simply stunning and can’t be missed. This is one tourist attraction that I not only sanction, but highly recommend to everyone that visits. While you’re there, take an elevator up 100 floors to the One World Observatory for panoramic views of the city. Or venture into the depths of the 9/11 Memorial Museum for an emotional journey through an unforgettable day in New York history.
Drink on a roof
Rooftop bars are the epitome of New York happy hours in the summer and many of them even have enclosures for winter enjoyment. Two of my favorite rooftop bars are the Skylark, which offers sunset views over the Hudson, a peek at Times Square, and a great view of the Empire State Building. My other recommendation is the rustic-chic Refinery Rooftop where you’ll find yourself directly under the Empire State Building as you lounge by their stone fireplace.
Go to a game
With two teams per professional sport – Yankees and Mets for Baseball, Jets and Giants for Football, Knicks and Nets for Basketball, and Rangers and Islanders for Hockey – there is PLENTY of sports action to catch in New York. Even if you’re not a fan, join in with the locals and route for the home team. With so many teams, there are always ways to find cheap tickets at the last minute.
Learn the meaning of “brunching”
Breakfast is for the birds on Saturdays and Sundays in New York. If you’re not eating between the hours of 12pm and 4pm, you’re doing it wrong. Going to brunch is undoubtedly a quintessential New York experience. From traditional eggs and bacon to elaborate French toast dishes, there is every type of breakfast served. If you’ve hit the bars a little too hard the night before and need the hair of the dog to set you at ease there is no shame in finding the nearest bottomless brunch for an endless supply of mimosas and Bloody Marys. Remember how I told you earlier that restaurants open and close all the time? My FAVORITE brunch spot closed recently and I’m still crying over it. Other favorites include Baker & Co, PUBLIC, and Westville.
Understand that the best things in New York are FREE!!
Walk through the East Village and wander into a coffee shop or an antique store. Meander through the winding streets of the West Village and find a quaint restaurant or a secluded pub.
Some of my favorite spots in New York are places that mean everything to me, but nothing to anyone else, and all of them were found from just wandering around and being in the right place at the right time.
New York is a place where you can create your own great experience, and before long, you’ll be enjoying it all like a local.