New York City Essentials

See the best New York has to offer, from world-class art to serene nature.


©Photo courtesy of Central Park Conservancy

Photo courtesy of Central Park Conservancy

Central Park's Great Lawn is most inviting in summer, when you can toss a Frisbee, play some ball or just spread a blanket and catch a few rays.

By: Paul McGinniss

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to ...


Regional Farmers Markets Throughout The City
One of the most enjoyable ways to buy groceries is at a NYC green market. You can get everything from fish to fowl, artisan cheeses, fresh baked bread and the freshest produce. What began with 12 farmers in an empty parking lot in 1976 now includes almost 50 green markets spread out in every borough. The program has grown into the largest network of its kind in the country. What’s cool about shopping at a green market is that it promotes regional agriculture, supports local farmers and preserves farmland for the future by providing regional, small family farmers with opportunities to sell their fruits, vegetables and other farm products directly to New Yorkers.


You never know what mood you might be in when you need a late-night bite. If you need some late-night chow and don’t want take-out from the corner bodega, the best places to find a wide variety of choices are the East Village or West Village in downtown Manhattan. Here are a few reliable choices that natives know will satisfy late-night cravings:

144 Second Ave. at Ninth Street, 212-228-9682
Ukranian-American venue well known to be open all night. You can get a satisfying borscht or a filling burger at affordable prices. It’s a perfect place to people-watch as the East Village still maintains its anything-goes attitude meaning that at any hour there will be some entertaining eye candy.

Empire Diner
210 10th Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets, 212-243-2736
This sleek diner has been around since the 1970s and retains its well-earned popularity. There’s a very mellow vibe enhanced by an art deco elegance that doesn’t leave you feeling that you're stuck in time. In warm weather, sit at a table outside and sip a late-night cocktail and order up some home fries.

The Waverly Restaurant
385 Avenue of The Americas (Sixth Avenue) at Waverly, 212-675-3181
A West Village standby diner. It’s not the sexiest place, but sometimes you just want some good ol' diner food whether it be onion rings or a 3 a.m. Spanish omelet. This one is definitely a step back in time. And, the West Village in the middle of the night can give you the feeling of being caught in someone’s literary novel where you order a cup of Joe from a waitress named Flo and blend in seamlessly with all the other night owls.  


The Chip Shop
383 Fifth Ave., South Park Slope, Brooklyn, 718-832-7701
Fifth Avenue in Park Slope is the new hip street of the hood, and it’s lined with all sorts of mouthwatering options. The Chip Shop is a must stop if you’re in the mood for some awesome fish and chips. Have a pint to go with it; make sure you get extra tartar sauce and some vinegar for the chips.


Brooklyn Brewery
79 N 11th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-486-7422
Founded by two beer-loving guys who quit their day jobs to open a brewery upstate in 1989. The Brooklyn brewery located in NYC opened in 1996. It is the first company in NYC to have 100 percent of its electricity powered by wind energy. There’s happy hour most Fridays with special low prices on several types of beer. Tours are available on Saturday afternoons. On the way back from imbibing brewskis, you can stop at one of the many popular cafes or restaurants in Williamsburg.


Starbucks is great if you’re in a fix and need a place to rest your weary bones from the hustle and bustle. But there are cooler, more indigenous spots to get a latte such as at Cafe Champignon at 200 Seventh Avenue in Chelsea (212-366-4410). The French-style cafe is run by Lebanese Israelis and part of the bakery next door. You will feel like you're in Belgium or Amsterdam, not New York City.

For a special latte treat, visit the Neue Gallerie Museum for German and Austrian Art (1048 Fifth Ave., at 86th Street, 212-628-6200) on the Upper East Side. There you will find Cafe Sabarsky and Cafe Fledermaus which are vintage recreations of the best Viennese and German cafes at the turn of the century. They are decorated and furnished with exquisite designs from the era’s best artists and designers, period objects and furniture. The museum has one of the best Gustav Klimt collections in the world, so you might want to make sure you have enough time to see the gorgeous art upstairs.   

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to ...


Art may be expensive to buy but it’s free to look at. A Chelsea art gallery crawl is great if you’re in the mood for the latest art provocateurs. Most of the galleries are between 20th and 28th streets, west of Ninth Avenue. After you’ve had enough art, head back into central Chelsea and go to super-affordable Thai restaurant Cafe Spice at 199 Eighth Ave. (212-989-1116).

If your tastes are more blue chip, it’s also fun to attend an art auction at Sotheby’s (1334 York Avenue at 72nd Street, 212-606-7000) or Christie’s (20 Rockefeller Plaza, at 49th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, 212-636-2000) and watch the bidding. You can also visit the auction houses and preview the exhibits prior to the actual auction. There’s always a slight electrical buzz and quirky energy at an auction house and you’ll leave thinking you experienced something secret and sacred.


One Step Beyond
Rose Center for Earth and Space, American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street, 212-769-5100
That’s right -- it’s a museum, but there’s serious dancing going on. You can launch your weekend on Friday nights with drinks while kicking up your heels to one of the featured live bands. DJs and VJs also spin the hottest tunes while projecting dynamic visuals at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.  


Green Drinks NYC
Part of Green Drinks International, an average of 500 people show up every month to Green Drinks NYC. It’s a great place to meet people in a relaxed atmosphere. Everyone wears a name tag and strangers will often walk up to you and ask who you are and what you are up to. It’s a welcoming, non-pretentious atmosphere and draws a cross section of smart, environmentally conscious people with common interests in meeting new people and connecting. Meets second Tuesday of each month at different locations. For more info, email

An Evening at an Art Museum
To attract new audiences, many of the museums schedule evening concerts and cocktail parties that have become very popular. It’s a good excuse to dress up a tad and see who you might meet in front of a well-known work of art. Try the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, 212-535-7710) or the Whitney Museum of American Art (Madison Ave at 75th Street, 212-570-3600).

A Music Club on the Lower East Side
If a museum seems too stuffy, drop in to one of the many music clubs on the Lower East Side such as Mercury Lounge (217 East Houston, 212-260-4700) or Max Fish (178 Ludlow St., 212-253-1922). Always a convenient place to meet people and feel like a real New Yorker, you might also catch the next music sensation without realizing it.


It might seem old fashioned, but there’s nothing more romantic than exploring every nook and cranny of Central Park with your significant other. The Great Lawn is most inviting in summer where you can toss a Frisbee or catch a few rays. Even during the winter, it’s enchanting to explore the many trails, fields and lawns. Stroll around the reservoir for a romantic experience. After you’re done holding hands in the park, grab a bite at the Whole Foods in the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle on Central Park West. There’s a restaurant area with tables where you can sit and relax.  


Ellis Island
Even if your ancestors came to America through another city, Ellis Island is a good way to explore the history of our country and your own family. Between 1892 and 1924, almost 20 million people passed through the 28-acre island. While there, you can search for relatives who came through as you enjoy the stunning views. The ferry ride to and back is the perfect time to talk to your parents or grandparents about the history of your family and how you all got to where you are today.


Chelsea Piers, Between 17th and 23rd Streets along the Hudson River on the West Side of Manhattan
A 30-acre waterfront sports extravaganza that has everything from golf to ice skating to wall climbing. If your kids like sports, they’ll have a blast.

Tada, 15 West 28th St., 3rd Floor (between Broadway and 5th), 212-252-1619
Take your kids to see other kids perform at Tada, a leading producer of youth theater that fosters young talent and allows children to learn the art of theater in professionally directed productions. If your child wants to be the next Annie or Billy Elliott, they can check out the competition.

The Hayden Planetarium at The American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, 212-769-5100
There are trips to the moon and a mind-blowing space show about the universe called Cosmic Collisions narrated by Robert Redford. For kids a bit older, there is the digitally animated, alternative-music show created by hipster Moby. It’s so cool, even adults love the Hayden Planetarium.   


Have Dinner in “Little India” on East Sixth Street in Manhattan
The block of Sixth Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue is known to be a great place to go out for reasonably priced, very tasty Indian food. It’s a visual and culinary experience with an eclectic, fun mix of out-of-towners and locals who are in the mood for some curry when they’re not in a terrible hurry.


Big Onion Walking Tours offers a smorgasbord of tours including one on the Lower East Side with lots of ethnic food along the way. Even for locals, the tours are fun and informative. Given by Columbia University Ph.D. students, the tours are two hours and two miles of thought-provoking walking and talking. It’s like going out with the old college professors who you had a crush on because they knew how to take you out of the classroom and into the street of life. Except in this case, the tour takes you out of the ordinary streets and peels back the layers of NYC to show you the pulsating history below the surface.


Ice Skating in Central Park
One of the more classic New York activities. Wollman Skating Rink (212-439-6900) is a two-minute walk from the entrance of the park at Central Park South (59th Street) and Sixth Avenue.

Rollerblade up or down the West Side of Manhattan
You can rent Rollerblades, blade boards and skates at Blades (156 West 72nd St., 212-787-3911). The entire west side of Hudson River Park from the 79th street Boat Basin all the way south to Battery Park City is accessible for safe skating, biking and walking. There is no better way to spend a spring day with a new friend. Along the way, there are plenty of benches, piers and parks to relax, snack and take in the scenery.    

Outdoor Movie in Bryant Park, 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue
Dinner and a movie have always been a romantic thing to do if you pick the right restaurant and right movie. Well, having dinner with a movie while sitting outside in a dramatic location is even more romantic. NYC has a wide assortment of outdoor film screenings where you can enjoy cinema and nosh on the spread you picked up at the Gourmet Garage. Try summer screenings at Bryant Park -- an eight-acre, urban enclave behind the main branch of the New York Public Library. Get there by 6 or 7 p.m. for the 9 o'clock movies as the lawn will fill up for the screenings of “classic” films. Bring a blanket and snuggle up with your date for a cinematic evening under the stars.

See Something at New York University, surrounding Washington Square in Manhattan
As students head back to school, the ideally-situated campus offers a wide choice of activities and entertainment that the general public can attend. So, go to a school for a date and tap into all that brain power. You can see an art show at the Grey Art Gallery off Washington Square and then grab a falafel at a nearby cafe. Or, check out the university drama or film departments and see what plays or movies are open to the public. It’s New York University -- there’s always something good going on.  


Naked Angels (212-343-7394) has inexpensive and free offerings including readings of plays in development and workshop productions. Regular performances give you first-rate theatrical talent for a fraction of the cost of seeing a Broadway show. A recent play was directed by David Schwimmer of Friends fame, starring a cast you would recognize from film and TV.


Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, 307 W. 26th St., 212-366-9176
Surreal, sensational, sublime -- all at the same time. Beneath a Gristedes Supermarket, in the basement of the building, is UCBT -- a welcome reminder that creativity lurks in every corner of NYC. Two hundred people sit comfortably around a small stage and get taken on cerebral theater trips. UCBT presents an astounding display of New York’s best up-and-coming actors and comedians. Watching these high energy/improv-driven performances makes one think what backstage at Saturday Night Live must be like. You leave UCBT feeling lucky because you were in on something special.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to ...


New York Botanical Garden, 2736 Marion Ave., Bronx, 718-817-8700
Founded in 1891, this amazing institution is worth the trip from Manhattan. With a collection of more than one million plants, the New York Botanical Gardens is spread out over 250 artistically landscaped acres. There are 50 curated display gardens, a 50-acre native forest, state-of-the-art greenhouses, a herbarium, a botanical and horticultural library and a spectacular Victorian-era glass conservatory -- an NYC landmark and the largest Victorian-era glass house in America.

The largest botanical garden in the United States and one of the largest in the world, the institution recently hosted one of the most extensive exhibits of outdoor Alexander Calder sculptures ever. The Garden’s Holiday Train Show is an annual favorite and features model trains set in a landscape with 140 replicas of New York landmarks made from plant parts. You can take the Metro North train from Grand Central Station directly to the entrance of the museum.  


Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
Access to the bridge is at the easterly end of Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan across from City Hall. Residents and their dogs need to see the quintessential New York view that is beloved by tourists and locals alike.

You can also take Fido to one of the dog runs in several groovy parks, where one of you might luck out and meet someone special. Meet other animal lovers and let your pets romp to their hearts' delight at the Union Square Dog Run (15th Street and Union Square West), Washington Square Park (Fifth Avenue, Waverly Place, West Fourth Street, between MacDougal and Thompson streets, south side of the park [behind building]) and Tompkins Square Park (First Avenue to Avenue B, from East Seventh to East 10th streets).


Socrates Sculpture Park, LIC, Queens, Broadway at Vernon Boulevard, 718-956-1819
There are many famous vantage points from which to view the Manhattan skyline. The top of Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock) is certainly a well-known one. The Empire State Building is world famous, having been memorialized in many films including King Kong and An Affair To Remember.

But, if you’re up for a bit of a trek (which is what New York is all about, especially for the millions of immigrants who trekked across the globe to get here), go to Socrates Sculpture Park. You’ll find it just across the East River from Manhattan on the waterfront in Long Island City, Queens. Once an abandoned, garbage-strewn mess, the riverfront land was cleaned up by sculptor Mark di Suvero. He transformed the urban blight into an outdoor forum for sculptors from around the world who come and experiment and present their experiments for free to the New York City public. The views of the Manhattan landscape from this once abandoned, riverside landfill and illegal dumpsite are to die for. The public art experience set against the backdrop of Manhattan is a New York moment in time you will never forget.    


Dia Art Foundation in Beacon, 845-440-0100
Take the Metro North train up the Hudson River to this former Nabisco factory and sprawling shrine to conceptual and modern art overlooking the river. You might not be a fan of dandy Andy Warhol or like the heady art found at Dia Beacon, but the trip is worth it just for the train ride. Make sure you sit on the riverfront side of the train up and back as the views of the river are enchanting.


It’s a tossup between going out to the east end of Long Island (otherwise known as the Hamptons) and a weekend trip north/northwest to the Hudson Valley/Catskills region. If it’s summer and you want the beach, try Sag Harbor, Long Island, an old whaling town turned chic hot spot. Hamptons locals call it the Un-Hampton. Despite its popularity, it has retained its vintage village charm. Nestled between Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, Sag Harbor is a favorite among hard-to-please local Hamptonites.

The Hudson Valley/Catskills has many interesting options. On the east side of the Hudson River, about a two-hour drive from NYC, is Rhinebeck, Dutchess County. Here you'll find the upstate version of the Hamptons. Directly opposite Dutchess County, on the west side of the Hudson River, is groovy and historic Ulster County. Here you'll find funky Woodstock, the most famous small town in America. Nearer to New Paltz, outdoors lovers can play for days in all seasons in the Mohonk Preserve and adjacent Minnewaska State Park. Sprawled across the famous, glacier-formed Shawangunk Ridge, there are thousands upon thousands of preserved acres with lakes, waterfalls and rock ledges that attract rock climbers from around the world.   


Brighton Beach
Nestled between Manhattan Beach and Coney Island on the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn, Brighton Beach was originally established as a resort in the 1860s. Famous for attracting Ukrainians and Russians, the area is now a destination for immigrants from other countries like China, Pakistan, Asia and Latin America. To get there, take the B or Q subway from Manhattan to Brighton Beach. Stroll along the boardwalk or Brighton Beach Avenue and sample some of the diverse assortment of Middle Eastern, Russian and Asian ethnic foods available.

You can find inexpensive take-out alternatives to pricey restaurants. Go to the M&I International Food Market at 249 Brighton Beach Avenue and shop for a spread to eat at the beach. M&I is a three-level food emporium with an amazing assortment of Russian and Eastern European food. Or, you can try Taste of Russia at 219 Brighton Beach Avenue where you can get a basket of food to enjoy while you watch the surf and kaleidoscope that is Brighton Beach. The annual Jubilee Festival in August attracts over 100,000 people and is a music and food extravaganza. And the New York Aquarium and famous Coney Island amusement park are nearby.


Greenwich Village Halloween Parade
The Halloween Parade follows Sixth Avenue from Spring to 23rd Street and is an astounding assortment of costumes, floats, street artists, performers, friends, families, old and young celebrating our favorite excuse to ditch our everyday selves and dress up. Experiencing the parade is witnessing firsthand why NYC is indeed the theater capital of the world. The level and quality of many costumes and floats are so mind-bendingly good that you realize much of it is probably created, if not inspired, by whoever helped to execute the brilliant costumes in a Broadway hit such as The Lion King.

For the NYC Halloween parade, groups of people will get together and design “group” costumes to accompany choreographed dance routines practiced for months beforehand. The youngster with the store-bought Spiderman outfit is welcome to parade as well. All that’s required to participate is a costume -- be it custom-made or off the rack. Don’t be intimidated, though, without a costume. As an onlooker, you get the special treat -- to see the entire parade as it passes by -- and it is very possible that you’ll be swept away in the sea of magic surrealism that briefly takes over the streets of Manhattan.   

New York City Easter Parade

Since the 1800s, people have paraded down Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday after attending service at St. Patrick's Cathedral or one of the avenue's other churches. When the parade originated, it was a chance for the social elite to show off their new couture and for the less well-off to see the latest trends in fashion.

Today, the parade tends to be more fanciful than fashionable, with paraders wearing Easter bonnets adorned with live birds and flowers. The parade starts at 10 a.m. and lasts for hours. Find a spot on Fifth Avenue early for a good view of the festivities..

Uniquely New York Essentials ...


Joanne Hendrick's cookbooks and books about food and wine
488 Greenwich St., 212-226-5731
Located in a small, 1823 Federal-style townhome, just north of TriBeCa, this shop is a kind of life-as-performance-art project. Joanne and her artist husband, John, actually live there. They have been in the neighborhood since long before the arrival of million-dollar apartments, lounges with 100 varieties of scotch and tapas bars. John’s artist brother, Jeff, lives in the adjoining, nearly identical townhome.

If you walked by the tiny buildings, you might almost miss them. Look for the tiny gold sign on the door of 488 that says "Cookbooks" and the intriguing words painted above Jeff’s door that say "water spilled from source to use." Inside the cookbook store, you will find Joanne and an amazing assortment of cookbooks that include vintage classics by everyone from Gertrude Stein to James Beard. Always mixed in the decor is some original art that hangs without screaming "big art world" at you. Little do you know that Jeff next door started the whole FLUXUS art movement and that John is Yoko Ono’s longtime curator.


Act like you're staying there and go into to a large hotel and explore the lobby and public areas. Hotels with lobbies or restaurants and bars upstairs are the best. For instance, in the central Times Square area, go to the Marriot Marquis. Near Port Authority Bus Terminal is the LOEWS at 43rd and 8th. The second-floor lobby is a cool place to chill out and use one of the cleanest public bathrooms around.


Grand Central Station, 42nd Street and Park Avenue
Thanks to former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, this architectural gem was not razed to build a tower in its place. Now landmarked, Grand Central is grand but with such a soothing, understated elegance you would hardly guess there were 67 train tracks and that over 100,000 people pass through each day. Even during rush hour, the Main Concourse of Grand Central, which is about 275 feet long by about 120 feet wide and about 125 feet high, is almost quiet and calming.

Sip some java or nurse a cocktail at one of the bars overlooking the main concourse and marvel at the beaux-arts architecture and the vaulted-ceiling painting of constellations. You’ll feel like a real New Yorker who happened upon a scene worthy of the next great filmed epic about the Big Apple.  


World Music Institute (WMI), 212-545-7536
WMI supports and promotes both U.S.-resident artists as well international masters. The group presents 60 concerts a year at theaters throughout the city. Performances include acts from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and the Middle East as well as regional music from throughout North America.

With one of the most diverse artist rosters and audiences, WMI plays an important role in presenting under-recognized dance and music traditions from more than 100 countries and ethnic minorities from around the world. WMI celebrates the culture of the many immigrant communities in New York, while exposing New Yorkers to musical traditions that include Afro-Peruvian, American Gospel, New York Flamenco, Soul music from Mali and Indian dancers.


In addition to being one of the most filmed cities in the world, New York City hosts international film festivals throughout the year. At almost any given time, there's a film festival where you can see the latest cinema from around the globe. Here are three to know about:

Queens International Film Festival, November


NYCTV on cable has the coolest, most informative shows about the city. They are equally appealing and useful to out-of-towners as well locals who appreciate that there is always something new to learn about NYC. This official NYC channel includes excellent offerings like Cool in Your Code (about the coolest ZIP codes throughout the five boroughs) and Blueprint: New York City, a fascinating look at buildings and landmarks in NYC.


NYC & Company is the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization for the City of New York. You will find excellent maps, suggested things to do and an up-to-date calendar of events.   

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