Monday, July 28, 2014

Felicia's Unofficial Guide to New York City

So you are going to NYC.  I’ve done many of the touristy things, but I keep going back. I’m addicted, what can I say?

Things I Do Nearly Every Time I Visit
Walk on a bridge. My fav is the Brooklyn Bridge - lower east side of Manhattan. Almost any of the bridges will provide a breathtaking view of the city. Lots of great photo opps.

One of the more famous restaurants in the Brooklyn Bridge area is Grimaldi’s Pizza.  They only take cash and there is often a line.  No, they don’t do take out.  1 Front Street, Brooklyn 11201.  And no, I don’t go there often.  In fact, I have been to the one in Arizona more.  But the NYC one is the real Grimaldi’s, and you should go at least once.
Enjoy the skyline view at a more leisurely pace. This may be done from Brooklyn, Queens, or Jersey. I suggest Brooklyn Promenade if you walk the Brooklyn Bridge. On this tree lined walkway you see lower Manhattan.

Or you can take a Path train from WTC to Jersey City and go hang out at the Hyatt for a minute and see the lower west side. Easy and cheap. If you don't go in the Hyatt, it's cheap. There is a deli closeby. Not as cheap as the ones in Manhattan but you can escape for less than $10 pp for lunch and sit outside if it is a nice day. Here is the view.

Queens has some amazing views of midtown also.  More expensive view alternatives are Empire State Building (definitely worth it). At 5th Avenue and 34th Street.

Go to Chinatown. I buy scarves (always) and purses (occasionally).  Bring cash, shop fast, and save a bit of room for some Chinese yummies. My fav is Mei Li Wah Bakery, 64 Bayard Street (between Elizabeth and Mott). Fast and cheap (cash) and you can order dim sum all day so no need to get big meals - just a snack. As far as shopping, fake purses are everywhere. I have the best scarf collection in Utah as I get more of these colorful swirls of fabric every time I go. They should be no more than $5 each and sometimes less. Sometimes you will see live fish jumping out of the bins at the neighborhood fish stores. And there are cheap NYC souvenirs but those can be found other places that take credit cards.

Hear some free music underground. I recommend the 42nd Street station or maybe Union Square. You can get into the vibe for about two songs, then move on and hold on so you don't get swept up by the current of people. There is often free music in parks on the weekends or evenings.

I love Union Square (14th Street at 5th Avenue) by the way and it's down by the Village. Another cool place to go is the Flatiron Building (21st Street at 5th Avenue).

Break the bank on at least one really nice restaurant. If you get down there and happen to have about $35-$100 a person for dinner (or more, it depends on how much alcohol and dessert are involved), I HIGHLY recommend Gotham Bar & Grill (12 East 12th Street). I don't consider myself a foodie and I don’t part with cash easily, but this place is worth it. Great tuna tartare.  It is a dress up place, but last time we went, the guy next to us was wearing a sweat suit (yes, his date was quite mad about it and we heard their drama, but it made our dinner more interesting).

Another good place is Nougatine in the Trump Tower (1 Central Park West - so basically at 59th Street and about 8th Avenue). I saw Gwyneth Paltrow there once. I love everything on their menu and it was my fav restaurant til I went to Gotham Bar & Grill. But both are excellent, really!!!

You may need reservations so call ahead or use
Go to a deli. There are all the big name touristy ones (Katz Deli or Carnegie Deli), but the reason they are so popular is they put wayyyyyyyy too much meat on the sandwiches (a lethal amount in my opinion, but … any amount would be a lethal amount, in my opinion). So just go to a deli possibly lower Manhattan, upper west side, off Broadway. The delis are great for any meal, including breakfast and usually they make everything while you wait and will customize on request, including lovely vegetarian wraps or other healthy options to counter some of the calorie-rich dinners in which you may indulge. Just smile and you will have your way with them. No tip required either.  I once had a delicious Cajon chicken sub for $2.99 delivered to my son’s apartment after traveling all day to get to NYC.  It was like manna from heaven.  There are delis on every block.  I’d pick one that has a good restaurant inspection rating and doesn’t look like a franchise.

Go to a park. My unequaled favorite is Central Park because it has everything including rock climbing and a zoo. Wear tennis shoes (in fact I recommend that for your entire visit, but you may want to carry a bag with more classy shoes to change if you are going to dinner). Start at 59th Street at about 5th Avenue. I like the stuff on the east side best, but if you want to see the John Lennon memorial that is at 72nd Street on the west side. Be sure to go to the Conservatory (105th Street near Central Park East) to see beautiful flowers and walkways. In the summer, there are free concerts and music festivals. 

Another great park (and not too far from Central Park) is Riverside Park which overlooks New Jersey and the Hudson River. All parks in NYC have such beautiful foliage.  Riverside Park is where we had to stand squished to watch the Fourth of July fireworks.

Bryant Park (at 42nd Street) is smaller but pretty and there may be a festival set up with shopping.

The Highline is very cool.  A redo of a freight rail line, converted into a park.

Shop. If you want the "name brand" experience, 5th Avenue from 42nd Street all the way up to Central Park at 59th is best.

I like Union Square. Same stores, less crowded. Fashion Avenue runs down 12th Avenue to 5th Avenue and 34th Street to 39th Street. TONS of great shopping.  My son painted me a picture of Union Square as a gift once.  That’s how much I like it.

You will find lots of little boutiques in the Village and Soho but they're more expensive. You will find that the stores you have at home are there, but with a way better selection. My most shopped store is Nordstrom Rack in Union Square.  This is not to be confused with the same store here in my hometown of Salt Lake City.  And you can have "street meat" in the park and watch some random entertainment if you’re not a shopper. You can also shop underground at 42nd Street subway station (another great reason to go there).

After shopping, there’s a fun little restaurant, The Grey Dog, 242 West 16th Street, NYC.  In the winter months, they have great spiced warm wine.  As I recall, I also had a great salad there.
Walk on Broadway.  If it were me, I’d at least start at FDR Drive and head all the way up Broadway to 110th Street.  And I have many times. Good shopping, boutiques, inexpensive (or expensive) food. It's actually a fabulous way to get an interesting slice of the city as it changes so much from lower Manhattan to the upper west side.

Brooklyn-ish Stuff

Greenpoint.  My son lives in Greenpoint, which is a Polish neighborhood.  About half or more of the businesses and restaurants have Polish names and you’ll hear plenty of people speaking Polish when you walk down the street.  And you will see Polish magazines and books in the store windows. 
I like the Manhattan Inn, 632 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, for Sunday brunch.  Order the French toast.  There is a piano player on duty much of the time.  
Smourgasburg.  This is a fun thing to do on the weekend.  An amazing array of food vendors gather and bring out every type of street food imaginable.  Bring cash.

·         Saturdays in Williamsburg at East River State Park (where Kent Avenue meets N. 7th Street)
·         Sundays at Brooklyn Bridge Park (Pier 5)

Williamsburg.  Williamsburg is hip and is bustling with boutiques, cafes, and people walking their dogs.  My son has recruited me as a volunteer for BARC (the local dog shelter) so I end up walking stray dogs on the streets of Williamsburg on Sunday mornings. 

Bedford Avenue is the main drag, between 1st Street and 12th Street, at which point you’ll run into McCarren Park.  At the park is a very distinguished Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 228 North 12th Street, Brooklyn 11211.

The Wythe Hotel, 80 Wythe Avenue at 11th Street, Williamsburg 11249, has a bar at the top that has a to die for view of the city.  You MUST go.  Promise.

If you are hungry, Mables BBQ, 44 Berry Street, Brooklyn 11211, has fantastic southern food and the ambiance is right out of Texas.  The owners have Southern US roots.  And the Brooklyn Brewery, 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn 11249, is not far away.  Kids may go if accompanied by an adult. 

Brooklyn Bazaar.  Located at 165 Banker Street, Brooklyn 11222.  This is shopping, art, live music, and food under one roof on Friday and Saturday evenings from 7 pm to 1 am.  It’s free to get in, but you may need bucks nonetheless.  Depending on the bands (there will be several each night), it can be amazingly crowded and fun.

Other Places, If You Have Time (in no particular order)

Take the Staten Island ferry at sunset. You can catch the ferry down by Battery Park and go to Staten Island. As I recall it's either really cheap or free and the view at sunset will be spectacular. You will see the Statue of Liberty.

There’s a great Italian restaurant on Staten Island, 27 Hyatt Street, Staten Island 10301.  The cooks are Italian grandmothers (nonnas) who take turns cooking for each of the days the restaurant is open.  It’s just a short walk from the ferry port.  They’re open Wed – Sun, from 3 pm on.

Go to the WTC memorial. There may not be as long a wait in the evening, and it's way more beautiful at night. I've heard tickets are required but we just walked right in on a Sunday night.

Go to a diner. Okay, I don't always but a good one is clear up by Columbia. It's the one that they used in Seinfeld. West 112th Street and Broadway. But diners are everywhere.  The ones near Times Square are very expensive, and I’d avoid all of them, except Juniors, and then only for the official cheesecake.

Go to Grand Central Station. This famous train station is located at 42nd Street to the EAST of 5th Avenue (there are three streets that are named, not numbered, Park Avenue, Lexington, and Madison). You needn't spend a long time there, but the beautiful historic building is a must see. You definitely will want to photograph the ceiling.

Times Square. It's insane there, and if I go, it’s usually to go to a movie or a play, but you must go see it (also at 42nd Street - midtown). If you go to the Marriott Marquis, there is a lounge up a couple floors where you can see the view and take pictures from a few floors up (at no charge).  Be sure to get a picture of yourself to put on Facebook.  In my opinion, the cowboy and Hello Kitty down in Times Square are way creepy.

47th Street. This is the "diamond district."  It’s worth going, even if you are not in the market for jewelry.  I once went there wearing my grandma’s star sapphire wedding ring and a sapphire ring that daughter and son-in-law had given me and all the dealers thought I wanted to trade. Like NO WAY!!! But seriously, it's very close to Times Square and you will see Hasidic Jews in traditional dress. It's only a block so an easy walk if you want to look around. 47th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.

Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. The tour takes about a half day or more by the time you wait in line and go through everything, so keep that in mind. You and your kids will learn a lot if you go. If you don't, be sure to hit the Staten Island ferry as I recommended, because then you'll get a good glimpse of Lady Liberty.

Citi Field.  The home of the Mets is in Queens so it’s a short subway ride. The ballpark is gorgeous.  So fun to sit and watch a game and sometimes there are concerts afterwards included with the ticket price (which isn’t too expensive, really).  And you can see the home of the US Open at the same time. I guess there's Yankee Stadium but since my son is a Mets fan, I've never been to see the Yankees.

St. Patricks Cathedral. Very big, it was very beautiful except now it’s covered in scaffolding in and out. Free. On 5th Avenue at 53rd Street. There are masses all day on Sunday.  Shopping at Saks is out the side door.

Take the tram to and from Roosevelt Island. You use your subway pass and it goes from 59th street & 2nd Avenue over the water to Roosevelt Island. There's not anything so exciting at Roosevelt Island except the view so chances are you will want to head back into town, but it's still pretty fun (inexpensive) thing to do.

Madison Square Garden. This is where lots of famous sporting events are held. Billy Joel does concerts here once a month.  It's between 7th and 8th Avenues at 32nd Street and it's always crowded on the streets nearby. 

While you are down in this area, go to The Vu, 17 West 32nd Street, 14th floor of LaQuinta, NYC 10001, in K-Town for a drink and an amazing view of the skyline from the middle of the city. 

Wall Street.  The most tiny, powerful street in America.  Trinity Church is an unmistakable landmark.  Cemeteries are nearby also and you’ll find the graves of some famous Americans.

Other stuff to do.

Theater.   Broadway plays are almost always worth the $, but not necessarily waiting in line half a day for tickets, at least that’s not my rodeo.  

Museums.  They're good but you can get sucked in for an entire day, so keep that in mind.

Movie theaters.   It’s fun to go see a movie in Times Square if you have time.

People watching.  Subways or the Village are my favorites for that.

Best unhealthy cheap food.  Shake Shack (burgers and shakes) or Gray's Papaya (hot dogs and smoothies) meet this criteria.

United Nations Building.  I got the employee tour of the General Assembly, so I can’t really give any idea what the public tour might be like.  FYI … the General Assembly room is under construction, so not sure if it would be worth seeing, but the outside of the UN is quite spectacular with all the flags and such.

Rockefeller Center.  One of the most photographed and videographed spots in the US, Rockefeller Center has a certain ambiance if you go on Christmas Day and watch people ice skating.  Well, you and several thousand others, that is.  I haven’t been to Top of the Rock, only Empire State Building, plus a bunch of other random tall buildings for me.

Hells Kitchen.  As far as unique places to eat, I really like Hells Kitchen (midtown west from 34th Street to 59th Street).  I’ve eaten a couple times at Balkanika Restaurant, 691 9th Ave New York, NY 10036.  Always a great reminder of the foods we ate in Croatia. 

Little Italy.   I usually end up walking through Little Italy because it’s close to Chinatown, and as noted I almost always stop in there.  Little Italy is very touristy, not to say the food is bad the few times I’ve eaten there.  It's just that it's not the best Italian food in town. So keep that in mind.  But it’s a good place to stop for gelato.

Queens.  I love all the ethnic neighborhoods and foods, ie Indian, Columbian, Irish, and more.  I have had to twist arms to get to Astoria as it is less accessible by MTA, but as far as Greek cuisine, it’s at the top of my list.

Harlem.  Costco is in Spanish Harlem.  If you are a connoisseur of fine cheeses, it’s worth a trip.  Not like the Costco at home.  There’s also the Apollo Theater, definitely go on Amateur Night and you will love the array of musicians, plus in front of the building you can see gold stars on the pavement with the names of the musicians that have performed there.  There are several streets with quite beautiful row homes and brownstones.

Long Island.  Jones Beach is a great destination in the summer.  You take the subway to the Long Island Railroad and get off at Freeport, then bus to Jones Beach.  I cannot say enough good things about the wonderful and amazing Jones Beach Amphitheater.  I saw Matchbox 20 and Goo Goo Dolls there.  The seats not only have a great view of the stage but also an amazing view of the bay and the ocean.  It’s beautiful at dusk.

Other To Do’s and Tips

Add subway lines to your phone. Okay this is something my son taught me. The MTA has a website with all the train maps. There are some you will use a lot to get to/from your hotel. At a minimum download this to "offline reading" on your phone and you won't have to rely on getting close to the maps at the subway station or on the train.

Add a map to your phone.  I don't think the city is hard to navigate, but just in case.

Plan your potty breaks. If you are at a restaurant they will have a nice restroom, but most apparel stores or grocery stores don't. The least number of restrooms seems to be in the Village by NYU. I don't know why. I rely on hotels, and I have a secret list of all the best ones. The best ladies room in the city is the Waldorf Astoria - 301 Park Avenue between 49th and 50th. You should see this famous hotel (and ladies room, if you are one) even if you don’t need to go.  I’ve heard they have great hamburgers, too.  Bergdorf Goodmans on 5th Avenue has lovely hand printed towels in their ladies room. 

Safety. The city is pretty safe but probably best to do what you can to look local. Don't dress flashy. You will see an amazing array of creative clothing and it's not unusual to see people wearing costumes around town. I have taken the subway and walked around late at night. But be cautious. You won't be alone if you are out after dark.

Cash.  You will need cash for the street vendors.  I always stock up on $5 sunglasses when I'm in the city.

Price fix. A lot of restaurants have this three course special for $x. It depends on how much you like their menu items and you will always be extra full if you have dessert.

Umbrellas. You will need one if rain is in the forecast, but I'd chance it and buy them there for $5 if needed.

Airplane mode.  You may want to turn your phone to airplane mode when you are on the subway or you will lose battery quickly.

Phone chargers. Phone signals suck with all the buildings and people. You may be able to plug in at a Starbucks (they are ubiquitous). Another thing to carry with you at all times.

Shoes. Tennis shoes. And carry bandaids, too.

Foursquare. I have never used my phone to identify the places nearby, but my daughter said she used Foursquare a lot in NYC to let her know where nearby coffee houses were. She was working remotely and always looking for a cup of Joe and wifi.  I have used my Foursquare check ins as a way to remember all the places I have been on my NYC and other travels.

Yelp. Get the phone app so you can find good food easily.

Enjoy. It’s so easy to get caught up with the “must see’s” that you lose sight of the fact that in every square block lies an abundance of American history and culture.  The architecture is captivating.  Even the fire stations are beautiful!  Oh and the graffiti … just open your eyes and be amazed.  So many scenes are photo worthy.

I'm sure that I forgot something but this is a good start.

Have a great time.

Sorry the pictures are not a perfect match to the text.  It's my first blog post in nearly two years, so cut me some slack please.  Also please keep in mind, I'm far from a "real" New Yorker.  From what I have read, that is a status which takes years to achieve.  :)