I get asked a lot by people who are traveling to New York what they should do while they are there. I wouldn’t feel compelled to write this down formally if it weren’t always the same question and so frequently- “What can we do that isn’t touristy?” So if nothing else, this will simply serve as something I can point people to, rather than texting them a thrown together response.
Before I go any further, let me insert a disclaimer if I let you down with my suggestions. I am not a born and raised New Yorker, I am just a silly southern boy in awe of the big city. My list is composed of things that I’ve done and wish I did while i had the opportunity.
So now that we have established my ignorance, let me establish my credentials. I spent all of 2014 and parts of the surrounding years going back and fourth to the Big Apple. I went so much that we developed favorite hotels, airports, drivers and even dealt with a few manhattan land lords. I am no expert, but I have eaten at Katz’s and know not to dare ask for mayo. There, ya trust me?
1. Katz’s Deli.
Since I mentioned it already, I will lead off with it. You know the type of guy you expect to run into while visiting New York? You know, the guy who says “Don’t worry ’bout it.”? This is why you go to Katz’s. Unless you’re just crazy about pastrami on rye like I am.. See that tub in the picture below? Wait till ya see what’s in it..
2. Get a Metro Card
This may fall into your definition of ‘Touristy’ but a trip is incomplete unless you experience the pulse of NYC. The simple madness of it all is the best part- entertainers, business men, homeless people.. You thought people watching at your local mall was interesting? Oh, and not to mention the amount of money you will save not dealing with a cab.
3. Citi Bike
On the subject of transportation, A great way to fly across town on a beautiful day is renting a Citi Bike. There are bike racks set up all across the city that allow you to simply insert your card and ride to the next location (Likely by where you want to be anyway. They are everywhere, seriously..) One of my favorite memories from all of my time spent in NYC is the day we rode from the flat iron building, all the way down Ave of the Americas, weaving through traffic, eventually arriving in Central Park. You just can’t experience that anywhere else.
4. Madison Square Park
Like a political debate, I suppose if I mention it, I should allow it time to shine. Madison Square Park, like all NY parks in the summer, is a sight to see. I think this is when you fully understand that, “Oh, these people don’t have back yards to lounge around in.” It’s kinda funny the first time you see it. This park is particularly special because there is a Shake Shack right in the middle (Great Burgers!!!) and it is next door to my favorite building in the city- The Flat Iron Building. Bring a blanket, grab a burger and shake, and just chill before you nearly kill yourself riding through the city on a bike.
5. Greeley Square
I would say this one is time sensitive. Twilight at Greeley Square is just cool. You are smack dab in the middle of the city, and like an island in the Pacific, a little oasis simply appears. I suggest evening time, only because of the Christmas lights that are strung from food vendor to food vendor.. I don’t think this will be an all night affair for you, but I think it speaks volumes for NYC.
OK, Let’s talk food.
This is where I will definitely offend some people, but I’m only mentioning one spot- my favorite:
6. Lure Fish Bar
Fresh everything, incredible decor, A-List Celebrities, SOHO District… Yeah, this is a special dinner, indeed. —I regrettably will only glaze over “SOHO” as I talk about Lure. But this entire area of NYC, known by being ‘South Of Houston St.’, is SO special. Brick roads, great vibe, incredible food all over… But Lure especially is a real treat. The inside of the restaurant looks like a Yacht. I have never been on a yacht, but I’ve been to Lure, and that is close enough. Plus I saw Pharrell last time I went. If I had a yacht, I would invite Pharrell. So, so good.
Much like SOHO, Brooklyn is a special place and deserves to be frolicked upon. Spend an afternoon here, walk around, take it in, and wind up at Brooklyn Bowl. Incredible venue, whether you like bowling or not- Live music, great food…and bowling. You may want to see if you can reserve a lane though… It’s a VERY popular spot..
Jumping back to Manhattan, taking in an evening on a rooftop in the city is special. I have my favorites, but I’m not going to suggest anything here.. There are so many and they are all worth exploring. I will suggest, however, to be as close to the Empire State Building as possible.. or the Hudson… Or Central Park… Oh what the heck- there isn’t a bad view. Hint: Stay in a hotel that has their own swank rooftop. The better the view, the more VIP you have to be to access it (unless you are already staying there).
Please see a broadway show. For me, would you? I can’t tell you how much I kick myself for going as many times as I did and I didn’t see one show. Everyone I’ve talked to who has been says it’s an unforgettable experience. I’m speaking blind here, but go. This is NY we are talking about.
10. Redeemer Presbyterian Church
This one may seem out of place on this list, but I was an idiot for not taking advantage of my opportunity to hear Tim Keller speak live. If I ever go back, this will be at the top of my list. An author who has changed so many lives, helped so many grow in their faith, is standing in his NYC pulpit every Sunday, free of charge (I’ve actually learned that there is an unannounced rotation at Redeemer to help crowd control in his popularity, so this may be easier said than done). Maybe you can’t stomach the price of a Broadway ticket, I suggest catching a Keller sermon. It’s free & I have no doubt that it will be an unforgettable experience.
In closing though, let me encourage you to be as touristy as you hope not to be. Stick your head out of a cab window and look up in Time Square. Go to Ellis Island and learn something amazing. Go take a picture by the bull on Wall St.
Be silly. Be a tourist. Because truthfully I can’t wait to get back.