Every time I go to NY, I do my best to experience new things. I’ll explore a neighborhood I’m not familiar with, walk streets that don’t necessarily get me from a-to-b the quickest, and leave time open for spontaneity. Even though I travel with my husband, I’m often on my own while he attends to his business. Regardless, I like to pack in a full day with no down time, so I always have a list of shops, museums, parks, restaurants, etc. to keep me busy.
Typically, I walk everywhere. I feel like it’s the best way to really see the city, take in its energy, and discover hidden gems. In NY, I was averaging 10 miles a day, which is why my shoe choices are the foundation of what I pack (wearing these sneakers, above). Walking also helps justify the extra calories consumed from dining out at superb restaurants. I’m not one to watch calories while traveling and miss out on signature dishes from top chefs. I’m also comfortable dining alone. I’d much rather sit at the bar at a great restaurant while absorbing the atmosphere then grab a to-go meal or room service.
After all these years, I’m surprised I’d never been to The Frick Collection. The history of the Fifth Avenue residence and Henry Clay Frick intertwined with a magnificent art collection made for a memorable visit. Small in size, I felt like I could take time to enjoy the stories about how the rooms were used and the explanation behind Frick’s acquisition of specific works of art. I loved how the decorative arts were given equal importance to the Old Master paintings, specifically the stunning collection of European furniture throughout the rooms.
Afterwards, I randomly stumbled into a little Italian cafe around the corner, Via Quadronno. I got a seat at one of two tables in the window right before the tiny restaurant became jam-packed with afternoon crowds. It was the perfect spot to take in the bustling atmosphere. From old men sipping espresso at the coffee bar, to ladies lunching, or children popping in for a gelato, I felt like I got a fantastic glimpse of life in the neighborhood. The food, not surprisingly given the crowds, was outstanding too. I had an arugula salad and tartufata on toast. You’d never know walking by that this neighborhood gem served such amazing Italian food.
I usually gear my itinerary to the season, and this being April meant a hopeful display of cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The previous time I visited Brooklyn, I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, so I wanted to try a different mode of arrival. A reader suggested I take the East River Ferry from mid-town, and I’m so glad I did. It was a gorgeous, clear day, and both the approach to Brooklyn via several quick stops and the Manhattan skyline behind were scenic and beautiful.
Close to the ferry landing, right under the Brooklyn Bridge, I grabbed a delicious lobster roll at Luke’s lobster shack before heading to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in search of the cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, the cherry trees in the esplanade hadn’t peaked yet, but the magnolia’s were vibrant and full of gorgeous flowers. I had to laugh because I came all the way to Brooklyn to see the cherry blossoms, but the flowering trees (and tulips) throughout the city were far more abundant with blooms. The remainder of the day was spent exploring the “fruit streets and charming neighborhoods in Brooklyn Heights, walking the promenade and stopping for coffee at Joe.
As far as shopping, I always try to find time to swing in Barneys when I’m in NY. I don’t think their website does their merchandise any favors, so it’s best to see the selection in person. I particularly like their shoe selection. Over on Lexington Avenue, I stocked up on skin care goods at Knockout Beauty after a consultation with Cayli Cavaco (more on that in another post). Roman and Williams Guild opened in SoHo a week after my last visit, so it was high on my list to see. A beautifully curated, gallery-like store, with a cozy cafe, La Mercerie, and Emily Thompson Flowers all in one space. Various objects, ceramics, textiles, furniture, art, glassware, etc., have stories behind the artist or process and seamlessly flow together in a cohesive organic fashion. It’s a visually satisfying experience to take a stroll through and spend some time to really study each item and the expertly styled vignettes.
While still in SoHo, I popped in The Real Real, who I often consign with, at their retail location on Wooster. It’s very well-organized and I’m sure if you’re there at the right time, there are treasures to be found. I then headed over to John Derian‘s shop in the East Village. It was filled to the brim with his signature decoupage glass objects mixed with Astier de Villate ceramics, Anke Drechsel throws, and a curated mix of antique and new interesting goods for the home. If I had more time, I would have loved to pop in his new shop on 18 Christopher Street.
While I often return to my favs, I also like to try new spots. I love getting recommendations from others and had a growing list going in this time. The first night, after a long flight, I wanted to walk a bit, so chose Union Square Cafe which was just 20 minutes from the hotel. It was bustling, especially for a Monday night at 9:30, and the food, wine and service were fantastic. Another night, I ate at The Waverly Inn and sat in the enclosed patio by the fire. The food is consistently good, but it’s the atmosphere and location that make this a NY fav. Speaking of location, Freemans Restaurant is another winner. At the end of Freemans Alley sits this dark, atmospheric gem. It’s best described on their website as a “rugged clandestine colonial American Tavern”. Inside, there are two bars and table seating scattered throughout a few rooms on the main floor, but hidden upstairs is the buzzed about speakeasy Banzarbar. The whole place was packed. Another evening, after a long walk to the Nili Lotan store on Duane Street, I ended up in Tribeca around dinner time, so made my way to nearby Locanda Verde. It’s another favorite and I’ve been there many times so I felt at ease dining on my own at the busy bar inside the restaurant.
Staying at different hotels each time I come to NY forces me to get to know different neighborhoods, which I like. Over the last year, I stayed at 11 Howard in SoHo, which has tons of great restaurants and shops right out of its doorstep. In December, I stayed at The Ritz Carlton, which kept me close to many of the festive holiday traditions the city is well-known for, including the convenience of strolling through Central Park after freshly fallen snow. Last week, I stayed at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel. I was pleasantly surprised with the decor of the contemporary rooms featuring floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the city. Other amenities that contributed to a comfortable stay included good lighting, crisp linens, an Italian marble bathroom and attentive service. For me, the garment district location isn’t ideal visually, but it was very convenient to appointments and walking just about anywhere.
On a last note, did you know the Empire State Building is open until 2am? I was walking by at 11:40pm and decided to go up to the 86th Floor Observation Deck. No lines, no crowds, and awesome views.
Another spontaneous thing I love to do in NY when I’m solo is go to the theater. Last minute single tickets are always available at very discounted prices. I sat center orchestra for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen on previous trips for under $250.
For more dining recommendations, check out this post, Dining in New York, from 2017.
Plus, my continually updated comprehensive NYC guide is here.
I’d love to hear about your favorites! Please share in comments below.