I have loved New York City for what seems like forever. Or at least as far back as I can remember being aware of it as a place that I wanted to visit - when I was about 10 or 11. I have no idea where that desire came from. This was long before the internet. And I lived in a small city on the prairies with a family that wasn't particularly interested in travelling to big cities. I didn't know much about it beyond yellow cabs, Times Square and theatre. Oh how I wanted to see theatre on Broadway. Forget that, I wanted to BE on Broadway!
I am so very very lucky to travel to NYC at least once a year. Sometimes with my husband and daughter (it's a great place to travel with family) and sometimes on my own. This past November I had five, count 'em, FIVE days on my own in NYC. Some people look to spas to regenerate and rejuvenate and rest - I go to NYC and see as many plays and museums as I can, walk 100's of blocks in various neighbourhoods and eat incredible food. Now THAT is what inspires me.
Here are some of the places that I visited on this past trip - I hope that you get at least a taste of what I love about NYC.
First order of business when travelling to NYC - comfortable shoes. It's a walking town. You need to hear the noise and smell the schmutz in order to experience the city. You need shoes that will take you from 42nd Street in Times Square all the way up 5th Avenue to the Jewish Museum at 92nd Street and back down again. You need to explore on foot.
Next order of business - good coffee. Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea is one of my faves - some of THE best pulled shots ever. It's small, it's neighbourhoody and it's got a great atmosphere. Bring your diary and be inspired to scribble down some ideas while slurping on your latte.
Yes it's that cliched concrete jungle but there are many many parks and greenspaces to explore. When the "dogs" are tired from all that walking, take a break, grab a bench in a park and watch the world go by. Imagine what your life would be like if you lived in NYC. One of my favourites is Madison Square Park. Fun, new playground and waterpark for the kids. Large green lawn with free kids entertainment in the summer months (check the schedule on the website). Danny Meyer's Shake Shack for lunch - yummy burgers, fries and lemonade. Don't be put off by the lines - you can find other locations up near the Museum of Natural History too and in Times Square on 44th between 8th and 9th. For upscale dining there's 11 Madison Park but don't forget to reserve ahead of time!
The city has some of THE best museums in the world. Before you get there, do a quick rundown of MOMA, the Metropolitan, the Whitney, the Frick and others. At MOMA I saw the Diego Rivera exhibit of murals. And at the Jewish Museum I saw the Radical Camera exhibit about photographers in NYC who combined art with social activism in the 1930's and 1940's - that's NYC to me. It's not a large museum but it's exhibits are well-curated. And check out the gift shop on your way out - tiny but lots of interesting books and tchotchkes.
If you are bringing the kids, register ahead of time at the Whitney and/or MOMA for Saturday kids programs. The tours are perfectly pitched at specfic age groups - a lovely way to introduce your kids to museums. And if you want a classic brunch nearby try Sarabeth's at Madison and 92nd Street. Don't forget to order the four flowers juice!
What's NYC without at least a little shopping? I mix it up a bit between chain stores that I don't have here in Canada and independent stores that are only in NYC. Muji is a shop from Japan that has housewares plus some clothing - I like the minimalist style. The Chelsea location is near ABC Carpet and Home for decor items as well as Madewell for clothing. I have started learning to knit (and am getting to be an expert at unravelling the hats so that I can start again!) so Purl Soho was a treat.
After a day of walking (I really DO walk one hundred blocks or more - you never know what or who you will find), I sneak back to my hotel for an hour or so to freshen up and relax before heading out again to the theatre. This trip I saw three dramas and one comedy. I have seen many musicals too - it just depends upon what is showing. Book ahead as well. You CAN get half price tickets at TKTS in Times Square but do you really want to spend a few hours standing in line when you can arrive knowing what you are seeing and when? It IS magical. It'll spoil you for any other theatre. And check out the off Broadway theatre too - that's just a definition based on the size of the audience. You'll be inspired and amazed no matter what you see.
Here's a tip for Monday nights at Birdland. The theatres are "dark" (closed). However, head down to Birdland on 44th Steet and 8th Avenue for Jim Caruso's Cast Party at 9pm or so. It's an open mike for anyone and everyone from Broadway stars to amateurs. Liza Minelli was there the week after I visited. Frank Langella was in the audience. A TON of fun.
You do have to eat and here are some more of my faves. Another coffee place just south of Gramercy Park is 71 Irving Place. It's in the basement of a brownstone and has organic/natural food that they source directly from their farm. Walk around Gramercy Park on your way - only the residents who live around the park have a key to get in!
Peels at Bowery and 2nd Avenue has THE best scones and they open early for breakfast. Grab the Sunday New York Times and head down for breakfast.
Todd English at the Plaza Hotel is fun - it's a food hall and if you go early enough you can avoid reservations. You'll be sitting at the bar but that's okay - it's a lively place.
And if you reserve at least a month in advance and have some extra dollars, go to Mario Batali's Babbo in the Village. THE best Italian food. If you are on your own, line up for 5pm and you can get a seat at the bar with no reservations. Batali's restaurant Lupa, also in the Village, is a more neighbourhoody place and less expensive.
I returned tired but inspired and energized and motivated. The city is alive - no matter what profession people are in, they are working, planning, creating, thinking, dreaming, moving. When I am there I feel like ANYTHING is possible, no matter what the dream. After all these years and all these trips to NYC, I STILL get butterflies driving into Manhattan from the airport. Perhaps we can meet up in NYC soon?