If I Had a Day In New York City: A Tour from a Local’s Perspective

manhattan1year“I still believed in possibilities then, still had the sense, so peculiar to New York, that something extraordinary would happen any minute, any day, any month.” Joan Didion

“A bad day in New York City is still better than a good day anywhere else.” Etsy

Spending one day in New York City is like standing under Niagara Falls with your mouth open and hoping to get a drink of water. There is so much to see, and no agenda can really do the City or all of its five boroughs justice. If I had one recommendation to make, it would be this: You can’t get that lost in NYC (if you are, jump in a taxi), so pick a neighborhood, take a lot of walks without an agenda, and just discover all of its surprises, charms and delights. Above all, don’t anchor yourself in Times Square. You’re missing the best parts of the city if you stay more than 30 minutes in Times Square.

IF I HAD ONE DAY …  I would begin by getting a bagel and creamed cheese or lox at H & H Bagels or -Ess-A Bagel, download the app Google Maps so you will never be lost on subway or street (also includes subway stations and times), and check out the Time Out Magazine website or paper coy to decide on the best options for the day based on your interests. The Friday edition of The New York Times also has an overview or arts and music offerings for the weekend.

If I had one day, here are the 10 things I would want to do or choose from, and in order from the north side of Manhattan to its south end: 1. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (see the European Art, American Art and Egyptian exhibits) 2. Central Park (Bethesda Fountain and Boat House), then walk down 5th Avenue to The Plaza Hotel (lunch in the Todd English cafe in the basement), Trump Tower, and quickly visit stores like Bergdorff Goodman, Barney’s or Saks Fifth Avenue. End at Rockefeller Center at 5th and 50th. Take a quick look inside beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 3. The NBC Tour 4. Times Square — take a picture and leave. 5. Chinatown and Little Italy OR Soho and Greenwich Village. These are unique neighborhoods with great food, cafe and shopping options. 6. Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange, and Century 21 Department Store. 7. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum (tickets are not required for the Memorial but are required for the Museum) 8. The Staten Island Ferry to see the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island for photo ops and a free ride. 9. See a Broadway show. Get discounted tickets one week in advance or same day on the mobile app TodayTix. 10. The Empire State Building Observation Deck or Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center.

IF I HAD MORE THAN ONE DAY … I would take the subway to the North Woods of Central Park (enter at 110th and 5th ave.), or Brooklyn Heights, or Greenwich Village, or the East Village, or Prospect Park, or Astoria, Queens, or sample Thai food in Elmhurst, Queens, or get lost in the real Chinatown of Flushing, Queens … and just explore, eat and drink until you’re ready to come home.

AIRPORTS AND TRANSPORTATION: There are 3 airports that easily serve Manhattan, and all have their advantages and disadvantages. If you are disabled or your top priority is ease and convenience to the city, LaGuardia is the best option. If you are looking for an airport with public transportation options that are less costly than cars, then you should choose JFK (subway access) or Newark (New Jersey Transit train access to Penn Station). For transportation other than subway or train to the airport, call Dial 7 cars at 212-777-7777 for a fare that is competitive with taxis (and you won’t have to stand in line at the taxi line). Manhattan hotels do not provide airport shuttles so you should calculate airport transportation costs into your total airfare costs when comparing airports and airfares.

APPS AND SITES The most convenient way to get around NYC is a taxi, but they can be difficult to find during certain hours or during weather events. Even better, take an Uber car. Click on this link to save $25 on your first ride. The one app you must have if you plan to take public transportation in NYC is Google Maps app (Apple Maps even better in Manhattan for iPhone users). It gives subway and walking directions from one location to another using GPS that are impeccable. You can’t get lost anywhere in the city. Other nice apps to have: TodayTix, NYC Subway, The Scoop by the NYT, and Time Out NYC. For web based tools, I highly recommend Time Out New York and NYC Go.

BEACH Take the subway to Rockaway Beach in Queens, or Pelham Bay Park on Long Island Sound in the Bronx. These are the only two beaches conveniently located near public transportation. Ferries also run to Fire Island from the Sayerville ferry station off the Long Island Railroad, or take the LIR to the serene and much less crowded Long Island Beach.

BROADWAY The best source for Broadway tickets at a discount price, and a few days in advance even, is the mobile app TodayTix (I will consider you crazy if you stand in line at the TKTS booth when you can get the same tickets on TodayTix from your hotel room). Also don’t overlook matinee and balcony options that are available by going directly to the box office or Ticketmaster. Book of Mormon and Hamilton hold lotteries for discount tickets on the day of the show. Show up 2 1/2 hours before Mormon to enter, or enter the Hamilton digital lottery here. Cancelation tickets and standing room tickets also may be available if you’re willing to stand in line.

BROOKLYN Brooklyn is every bit as popular as Manhattan these days thanks to the hipsters and techies who have made it a wonderful place to visit and live. If you love artisanal food or handmade items, it’s a must for you. Take the F train to Carroll Street exit and explore my neighborhood of serene tree lined streets and beautiful brownstones, and be sure to have lunch or dinner at one of the wonderful restaurants like Bar Bruno, Le Petit Cafe, Battersby, Nightingale 9, Buttermilk Cafe, or Wilma Jean (best fried chicken in NYC). For a sample of Brooklyn hipster life, take the L train from Union Station / 14th Street to Williamsburg. Smorgasbord on Saturdays (12-6 pm) at Prospect Park during the summer is a sampling of some of the best food that is setting the trends in the country like ramen burgers and homemade ice cream sandwiches. For a walk in the park, explore Brooklyn’s own “Central Park” called Prospect Park, also designed by the same designers as Central Park and just as expansive. To see the newest developments in Brooklyn, take the G or C train to the gentrifying Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood. Try out the sandwiches and coffee at Scratchbread, or the lunch and dinner at Emily. For a list of Yelp reviewer’s top 100 Brooklyn restaurants, see here.

CHILDREN If you are bringing children, the NY Times has a great guide here.

HOTELS If affordability is your main criteria for a place in pricey New York City, I encourage you to consider hotels in nearby Hoboken or Jersey City . There are thousands of hotel rooms in NYC, so it’s difficult to make recommendations. Time Out makes these affordable recommendations. I recommend that you use Booking.Com, read ratings and reviews, and pick one that is in the location you prefer and at the price point you prefer. The issue to watch for: room size (they are small in Manhattan unless you pay for larger). There are no unsafe neighborhoods in Manhattan for the most part (especially below East an West 90th Streets), so that should not be a consideration. We locals would never choose to stay around Times Square, but do as you please 🙂  Where would we choose? West Village, Upper West Side, Downtown, Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn.

While some New Yorkers rent their apartments on Airbnb.com or Home Away, be aware that it is illegal to do so in New York. Other affordable options that I like are The Ameritania, The Holiday Inn on 55th between 10th and 11th (large rooms for families), The Marriott Courtyard in Midtown, Four Points by Sheraton SoHo, and The Wyndham in Chelsea. For boutique hotels, my favorites are The Strand, The Library Hotel, The Hudson, Yotel, Ace Hotel, and Dream Hotel Chelsea. For a very reasonable option, consider the Days Inn on W. 94th St. or the Quality Inn on W. 36th St.

SHOPPING Because of the unlimited shopping options in NYC, and the many varied tastes and income levels of my readers, I refrain from making shopping suggestions. Here are a few of my personal favorites: For Discounts on Name Brands: Century 21 (the best and largest one is downtown near Wall St.), Uniqlo, Nordstrom Rack For Unique Non-Clothing Items: The West and East Villages, SoHo For Name Brands and National / Global brands: SoHo neighborhood, 5th Avenue from 14th St. to 34th St. For Department Stores: Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Century 21.

RESTAURANTS BY TYPE OF CUISINE Where to begin? One can live in NYC a life time and never experience all the culinary pleasures of this place, so there is no way that I can really begin to list all of my favorite places here. For goodness sake, children or no children, please do not eat at a chain while in New York. I do careful research before I eat in NYC, so my Yelp profile including my NYC list is a great place to start. I also recommend this guide to the current hot restaurants from Bon Appetit. A list of the top ranked (expensive) restaurants in New York.

The Restaurants I Visit Most Often in Manhattan (and a lot of other locals): The Rocking Horse Cafe (Chelsea), Pure Thai Cookhouse (Hell’s Kitchen), Celeste (Upper West Side), Prune, Stanton Social Club, Buvette (West Village), andThe Marshal (Hell’s Kitchen). In Brooklyn: Lucali, Farmacy, Jakewalk, Buttermilk Channel, Bar Bruno, Gladys, Peaches, Pies n’ Thighs, Nightingale 9.  **Do yourself and your pocketbook a favor: Resist every urge to eat around Times Square or the Meatpacking District. It’s overcrowded, over priced, and nowhere near the best food in New York City. (Exceptions: Del Posto, Tacuba, Gallagher’s, Chez Napoleon, Orso, Etcetera Etcetera).

A native New Yorker reveals his reasonable favorites in Business Insider, and I agree with his recommendations.

But if you had to force me to choose a few more restaurants that locals love and that won’t break the bank, here they are:

For Bagels: Russ and Daughters, Essa Bagels, Absolute Bagels, Bagel Pub (Park Slope)

For Breakfast / Brunch: Balthazar, Sarabeth, Prune, Rocking Horse Cafe (prix fixed is a great deal on weekends), Joseph Leonard, Lafayette, High Street on Hudson, Egg Shop, Dimes, Jeffrey’s Grocery, Uncle Boon, Jane or Buttermilk Channel (Carroll Gardens). For farm to table options, try The Marshal or Root and Bone (some of the best fried chicken in NYC).

For Barbq. Memphis Style: Dinosaur Barbq (Harlem) or Blue Smoke. For Texas style: Hometown BBQ (Red Hook), Hill Country Barbq Market, Mighty Quinn’s or Dinosaur BBQ (Harlem and Brooklyn).

For Beer: Biergarten at Chelsea Market, Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden (Astoria), Gallow Green, Mr. Bigg, The Pony (best place for craft beer), Carroll Place.

For Burgers: The Burger Joint (hidden in the Le Parker Meridien on 57th St.), Burger and Barrel, Minetta Tavern, Nomad Bar, Alder, Montmartre, The Bowery Meat Co., The Spotted Pig, The Green Table at Chelsea Market, Shake Shack, Raoul’s (Go early).

For Chinese: Hakkasan (expensive), Szechuan Gourmet (39th), Szechuan Palace (42nd and 9th), Thakali Kitchen (Queens), Mission Chinese, and anything in downtown Flushing, Queens. If you must have Chinese in Chinatown, I recommend the very reasonable and delicious Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles.

For Cocktails: Bar Centrale (quiet, secret and classy), Employees Only (speakeasy and best access with reservation), Pouring Ribbons, Milk and Honey, Maison Premier (Williamsburg), Attaboy (Chinatown), Sweet Afton (Astoria), The Jakewalk (Brooklyn), Mandarin Oriental lounge (view), The Dead Rabbit, Death & Company.

For Coffee: Stumptown Coffee (the Portland transplant), Cafe Grumpy, Gregory Coffee, Birch Coffee, Frison Espresso, Blue Bottle Coffee.

For Classic New York: Russian Tea Room, Sardi’s, Le Cirque, Giogio of Gramercy, Tavern on the Green

For Dessert: Serendipity, Big Gay Ice Cream (not what it seems, but it’s darn good), Momofuku Milk Bar, Ice and Vice (ice cream), Serendipity, Farmacy (Carroll Gardens), Cafe Lalo (from “You’ve Got Mail”)

For French: Le District (food hall for Frenchies), Artisanal (cheese lovers), Marseille (reasonable and great), Bar Six (brunch), Buvette (the most adorable cafe in NYC and perfect for brunch or wine/cheese but not dinner), Montmartre (brunch), Dirty French (hipster French), Perry Street (new French by Jean Georges), and Chez Napoleon (old school).

For Fried Chicken Sandwich: Carla Hall’s, Emmy Squared, Fuku, Delaney’s (Urban Food Hall)

For Greek / Mediterranean /Israeli: Taverna Kyclades, Stamatis (Astoria), Daphne, Kashkaval, Avlee (Brooklyn)

For Ice Cream: Ample Hills (Gowanus), Big Gay Ice Cream, Leeuwin, Morgenstern’s, Milkmade (Brooklyn), Farmacy (Brooklyn)

For Indian: East 6th Street in the East Village is similar to London’s Brick Street with several options including Haveli. Curry Hill on Lexington boasts a few more options, the best being Curry in a Hurry. Dawat on the Upper East Side is a NYC classic.  Other more upscale options: Tapestry, Indian Accent, Babu Ji, Paowalla.

For Italian: Eataly (a must), Lillia (Brooklyn), Del Posto (Battali’s flagship for new school Italian), Carbone (old school Italian and an Obama favorite), Malatesta (cash only), Becco, Roberta’s, Casa Nona (great for theater goers), Celeste (my personal favorite on the Upper West Side),  Via Carota, Meatball (casual and fun), Queen (for traditional red sauce in Brooklyn). This is the Time Out list of the best Italian restaurants.

For Mexican: Rocking Horse Cafe (Mexico City style with excellent margaritas), Bar Bruno in Carroll Gardens, Los Tacos No. 1 (Chelsea Market), Empellon Al Pastor (take out), Javelina (Tex Mex), Dos Caminos (Chain but good), Fonda, Cowgirl or Ariba Ariba (for margaritas).

For New American / Farm to Table: The Marshal (personal fave), ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina (yummy!), Giorgio’s of Gramercy (sexy and intimate), The Green Table at Chelsea Market, Battersby (Brooklyn), Eleven Madison Park, Red Cat. Most of these require reservations 2 weeks to one month in advance but most have walk-in options.

For Filipino: Jeepney

For Pizza: Roberta’s (Brooklyn), John’s of Bleecker (44th St. or Village), Marta, Don Antonio, Emmy Squared (Detroit style, Brooklyn). If you are willing to make the trip to Brooklyn, it’s hard to beat Lucali in Carroll Gardens. Beyonce and JZ are regulars.

For Ramen: Ivan Ramen, Totto Ramen

For Rooftop Drinks With a View: 230 Fifth Ave. Rooftop, Strand Rooftop, Dream Hotel Downtown Rooftop, Le Bain at The Standard, Gansevoort Hotel rooftop (Meatpacking).

For Sandwiches / Deli: Katz Deli, Num Pang, Carnegie Deli, Junior’s

For Seafood: Aqua Grill (expensive), The Atlantic Chip Shop (Brooklyn -best fish and chips ever), Crave Fishbar, Grand Banks (oyster bar on a boat at Pier 51), The Mermaid Inn (oysters)

For Southern/Soul/Cajun: Root and Bone (amazing fried chicken), Red Rooster (Harlem), Jacob’s Pickles, Birds and Bubbles, Pork Slope (Brooklyn), Wilma Jean (Brooklyn), Soco (Brooklyn), Burnside Biscuit (Astoria), Duck Eatery, and Peaches Hothouse (Nashville style hot chicken). For fried chicken fans: Wilma Jean, Root and Bone, Charles Country, Blue Ribbon, Carla Hall’s (Nashville style fried chicken).

For Spanish Tapas: El Colmado at Gotham West Market, Espoleta (East Village), Tia Pol, Sevilla (Spanish entrees)

For Sushi: Sushi of Gari, Blue Ribbon Sushi, Sushi Nakazawa, Shuko

For Steak: Prime, Keen, Gallagher’s, Homestead Steak, Bowery Meat Co, Porter House

For Street Carts: Schwarma Cart: 39th and 7th Ave., The Halal Guys (53rd and 6th)

For Thai: Pure Thai Cookhouse, Uncle Boon’s, Pok Pok Thai (Brooklyn), and SriPaPhrai (In Queens, and you won’t regret the trip)

For Wine Bars: Buvette, Casellula, Wine Escape

For Miscellaneous Tastes: Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel (great for a family with varied tastes), Chelsea Market (home of the Food Network), the Gotham West food court, and Zahbar Market.


Midtown / Times Square/Hell’s Kitchen: John’s Pizza, The Marshal, 44 X 10, Etcetera Etcetera, Shake Shack, Pure Thai Cookhouse, Five Napkin Burger, Empanada Mama, El Originale, Ariba Ariba (margaritas), Qui or Room Service, Gallagher’s, Totta Ramen, Pizza Antonio, Casa Nonna, Virgil’s, Carnegie Deli, Stardust Diner. Bars: The Pony (craft beer heaven), Brickyard Gastropub, Rudy’s (oldest bar in HK), Flaming Saddles (LGBT), O’Malley’s, Mr. Biggs, Vodka Soda (LGBT), DBL (LGBT), Stone Rose Lounge.

East Village: Jeepney, Il Buco Alimentari, Ippudo, Northern Spy, Motorino. Bars: Bar Goto, Death & Co., Pouring Ribbons, Drop Off Service, PDT, Phoenix (LGBT)

West Village: Spotted Pig, Minetta Tavern, Malatesta Trattoria, Alta, Bar Bolonat, Big Gay Ice Cream. Bar: Rusty Knot, Employees Only, White Horse Tavern, The Duplex, Marie’s Crisis, Stonewall Inn (LGBT), Pieces (LGBT), Le Bain at The Standard.

Soho / Tribeca/Nolita: Bubby’s, Batard, The Grey Dog, Gato, White Street, Beille. Bar: Dead Rabbit, Mothers Ruin

Chinatown: Ivan Ramen, Katz Deli, Estela, Roff and Daughters, Taste of Northern China, Dimes (brunch), Cheeky, Lost Weekend, Ice and Vice (ice cream). Bar: Attaboy, Max Fish

Downtown: Colonie, Jack the Horse, River Deli. Bar: Henry Public, Fraunces Tavern, Dead Rabbit

Upper East Side: Cafe Dalsace, Hospoda, JG Melon, Sandro’s. Bar: Penrose

Upper West Side: Boat Basin, Cafe Lalo, Celeste, Jacob’s Pickles, Tom’s. Bar: The Dead Poet, Prohibition

Harlem: Harlem Shake, Lolita, Red Rooster, Harlem Public

Astoria, Queens: The Sparrow Tavern, Burnside Biscuit, Taverna Kyclades, Stamatis. Bar: Sweet Afton, Astoria Brewhouse, Dutch Kills

Williamsburg, Brooklyn: St. Anselm, Greenpoint Fish, Smorgasbord (Saturdays during the spring to fall), The Commodore, Brooklyn Fare, Pies ‘N Thighs, Juliette (brunch). Bars: Wythe Hotel Rooftop, Maison Premier, Metropolitan (LGBT), and TNT (LGBT)

Staten Island: Denino’s, Goodfella’s, Joe and Pat’s (all pizza)

Bronx: Italian on Arthur Blvd., Cuchifritos (an Anthony Bourdain visit), Carnitas El Atoradero

This blog entry is part of a larger series of travel articles on Toddbouldin.com called “If I Had a Day” covering New York City, New Orleans, Nashville and Los Angeles.

Todd is available for travel consultation and reservations to these cities and more for a negotiated rate per hour. Todd is a travel writer and Yelp Elite based on his restaurant and travel reviews. If you are interested, please contact Todd at Todd@toddbouldin.com.


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