Everyone always writes about all the best touristy things you should do if you’re in New York City so I thought I’d flip that and write about the best things to do that aren’t touristy (or at least not too touristy). I live in a very non-touristy part of the city, so a lot of it might be located on the Upper West Side. Sorry, but also not sorry.
- Visit Riverside Park: If you want to avoid most of the tourists, go for a stroll in Riverside Park instead of Central Park. (Honestly, you should also check out Central Park, but it’s always really packed and filled with tourists.)
- Visit the Harlem Levain Bakery: These guys make the best chocolate chip cookies – and they’re huge. The original bakery’s location is on 74th and Amsterdam, but there is always a huge line outside. Instead I’d recommend you take the C train uptown to 116th Street and visit the location on Frederick Douglas Boulevard between 116th and 117th Streets.
- Visit the Oldest House in Manhattan: Take the train up to Washington Heights and visit the oldest house in the borough, the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Lots of historic figures have lived in this house and it once served as the headquarters for the Union army during the Revolutionary War. Take the C train up to 163rd Street and it’s a few blocks away. You can find out more information here.
- Visit Zucchotti Park: I wrote about this park before but it was the site of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m not down there often but any time I happen to be in the area, there are never any tourists. Take the 2/3/A/C/4/5 trains to Fulton Street.
- Grab a Meal at the Cornelia Street Cafe: This little cafe on Cornelia Street (duh) in the West Village has been operating since 1977 and has seen many a famous artist and poet come through it’s doors, like singer-song writer Suzanne Vega and playwright Eve Ensler. I used to come here a lot with my friends for brunch in college so if you’re going for brunch, make sure you get there early. They’re always having performances, too, so make sure to check out their calendar before you go.
- Check Out All the Secret Courtyards and Alleys: There are a number of secret streets and alleys in the city and although you might not be able to actually walk into them (as they’re all private property) but they’re so cool to see. You can check out MacDougal Alley, the Washington Mews, Pomander Walk, Millegan Place, and countless others, but those are some of my favorites.
- Stroll East on St. Mark’s Place Towards Tompkins Square Park: Okay, so this one a little touristy, I’ve loved St. Mark’s Place since I was 15 and you can shop in vintage stores, get a piercing, grab a variety of food, and who knows what else. Tompkins Square Park is at the most eastern end of St. Mark’s Place and it’s usually pretty low key. Grab a cupcake at Butter Lane Bakery a block away and rest your feet on a bench in the park. (You should also know that St. Mark’s Place is another name for East 8th Street, so take the N/R to 8th Street and you’ll be a block away.)
- Go to a Cat Cafe: I’m partial to Koneko Cat Cafe because it’s the cafe that I adopted one of my furmonsters from, but Meow Parlour will meet all of your cat cafe needs. They’re also located around the corner from one another, so if you can’t get into one, then try the other. I’d definitely recommend making reservations ahead of time though.
- Visit the Hotel Chelsea: This could, on some levels, be considered touristy, too, but it’s also a rundown old hotel (that’s currently being renovated and restored) that I don’t often see tourists anywhere near. I work down the block from it so I’m nearby often. Patti Smith and Dylan Thomas and Allen Ginsburg and Arthur Miller, among countless other important artists of the 20th century lived here. There are so many plaques on the front I never know where to start reading. Afterwards you should grab a donut and a coffee a few doors down at the Doughnut Plant.
- Grab a drink at The Campbell: Since you should kind of, definitely see the beauty of Grand Central, you should make sure you’re appropriately dressed (meaning no jeans, flip flops, or sneakers) and go grab a drink at The Campbell. It used to be called The Campbell Apartment because it lives in what was once John W. Campbell’s private office. He was a highly successful businessman in the 1920’s this doubled as his reception hall. It was bought by a new management company in the last couple of years but I hear it’s still gorgeous. The few times I’ve been there the atmosphere is worth the lavish drink prices. It’s also supposedly haunted, if you’re into that kind of thing!
These are a few of my favorite non-touristy things to do in New York City once you’ve visited Times Square and Rockefeller Center, and Magnolia Bakery and the World Trade Center.
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