The Big Apple like a Local, 3-days in NYC

This post is brought to you by my wonderful father, William Wiggins, who so graciously spent his time creating this for all of you. He grew up on the North Folk of Long Island, about 3 hours outside of the city. He went to college in the Northeast and returned to NYC in 1985 where he has lived ever since. He works in the film industry as a set dresser, and is way cooler than I will ever be. I hope you enjoy! Love, Lane.

New York City. One of the greatest cities in the world. It can conjure up images of skyscrapers, art, sports or food. It can be different things to different people. It can be different things to the same person. Hopefully at some point you’ll have the gumption to take the plunge and visit New York.

It has something for everyone.

Don’t try to do everything- you’ll never do it and you’ll go broke trying. 
This is my very biased and personal tour for three (or four days) in New York City. 

For our purposes, we are going to consider only the island of Manhattan. We’ll save the other four boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island) for another day. To make it a bit simpler, we will be primarily concerned with Manhattan below 59th St (with a few necessary exceptions).

new york city like a local
The Whitney

Where to Stay

You will need a place to stay. Check the reviews (TripAdvisor and Yelp for starters) and make sure you feel comfortable with your choice. My option when I visit another city is Airbnb. A quick look at the Airbnb website showed a private room in a loft in Hell’s Kitchen for $128/night, a one bedroom penthouse studio in the east 50s for $135/night and lastly a private room for  $95/night.

Don’t rule out hotels. A web search showed three, three star hotels from $72 to $116, all in the Times Square area.  Call and see about location and fees. Be a wise shopper and ask questions. Shop around. I am sure there are deals to be found.

Don’t be intimidated by the price tag (on lodging and just about everything else), 65 million people visited New York last year and most of them were real people just like you. If you’re eligible, do a web search of ‘hostels in Manhattan’, you can find a reasonable place there and the synergy of a hostel can elevate your visit.

How to Navigate

highline, the big apple, nyc
Highline

You need to get around. New Yorkers use mass transit. If you don’t want to be mistaken for a tourist, use the subway and bus system. The system has its problems, but it’s safe and the second best way to get around (the first is walking which you will do plenty of). And I promise you’ll have a few indelible subway stories to take home. Keep your heels and new shoes at home. Bring good walking shoes. 

nyc like a local
Staten Island Ferry

Download a subway map and a bus map. Google maps has directions within the app. Both bus and subway, although most of the time you will be taking the train (subway). I prefer my own map because it gives options and lets you see how many stops until yours and more importantly, if you’re heading in the right direction. Don’t be tough on yourself if you get lost or get on the wrong train. I’ve taken trains all my life and got on the right train heading in the wrong direction just last week! I always tell visitors: no one should be deprived of a transit story. Embrace yours!

locals on a nyc bus
Subway Car

Fear of the subway? It’s safe, sort of clean and sort of reliable. It’s how most everyone gets around.

Buy a Metrocard from a subway station agent or use a credit or debit card at a vending machine at any station. Get a seven day unlimited Metrocard for $32. If you’re at an agent booth, ask for a subway map. It can be useful when your phone battery dies and it’s a free souvenir.

“Wait! I’m only going to be here for three or four days. Why should I get a seven day Metrocard?” In the end, you’ll save money. With an unlimited Metrocard (for subways, buses and the tram to Roosevelt Island), you will be more likely to go uptown then back downtown then take a bus to dinner then a train back to your Airbnb/hotel. That’s about $12 right there. Uber’s and taxis have their place. They are everywhere. But they can get expensive. With an unlimited card you can feel extravagant by taking a train just two stops if it’s raining, cold, hot or you’re just pooped. An unlimited Metrocard allows you the choice to move all over the city without having to worry about the $2.50 fare every time you use the train or bus. And an unlimited Metrocard will allow free transfers between buses and trains. A regular Metrocard (one preloaded with a dollar amount) only allows one transfer per swipe.

the big apple rockefeller center
Rockefeller Center

Other alternatives: there are buses which (most double decker and free ponchos when it rains) for a flat fee you can travel designated loops all over the city. They are hop on/hop off. They are sold on the street (usually in congested tourist spots like Times Square, midtown and outside the Empire State Building) by people with jackets and placards. A ticket can range from $28 and up. If there are three of you, that’s $84. You can take a lot of train rides for that.

Taxis get expensive quickly. I rarely take them. But if you’re in a hurry or it’s raining, it can be a good choice. Uber is equally good. My wife feels safer in an Uber than a cab. You know who is picking you up and if you leave your wallet or camera in an Uber, you stand a very good chance of getting it back.

In general, because you are traveling and out of your routine, be careful with your belongings. Not because you are a target for crime, but I’ve found I chronically misplace water bottles, hats, and valuables moreso when I’m traveling than when I’m at home.

Where do we go now? First a little bit of orientation.

Uptown is north. Downtown-South. An address that begins at 1 East 32nd St. is on the east side of 5th Avenue on 32nd St. 1 West 32nd St. is on 32nd St. on the west side of 5th Avenue. And so on. With few exceptions, on odd numbered streets the traffic runs one way (WEST). On even numbered streets (E for East), the traffic runs EAST. Find cross streets on avenues here.

Explore your neighborhood. Get to know your immediate surroundings. I like to find a place to get a cup up of coffee or to get a bit of breakfast. Fortunately or unfortunately Starbucks are ubiquitous. Their coffee is exactly what you can expect. But ask around, there may be a coffee shop that isn’t a chain close by.

First a tip about the city and restrooms. At some point while you are out and about, you will need a restroom. There are precious few public restrooms in New York. There are restrooms in Grand Central Station. It is located at 42nd St. between Lexington and Madison Avenues – Grand Central Terminal (terminal and station are incorrectly used interchangeably). I haven’t been to Penn Station in a while, but I am sure there are restrooms there, too. Other large municipal buildings may have restrooms. The fall back and predictable go-to is a coffee shop chain. Starbucks is one of the few places in New York where you can find a free restroom. There is usually a code to unlock the restroom. You can buy a cup of coffee to get the code (usually printed on the receipt. And yes, I fished a few receipts out of the trash) or wait outside the door and grab it before it closes. I don’t mind buying a cup of coffee for the pleasure of using a clean restroom. My other convenient place to use a bathroom is the Plaza Hotel (785 5th Ave. between 58th and 59th St.) on Central Park South set back from 5th Avenue. Walk in like you own the place. The men’s room is to the left and downstairs. The women’s room is through the bar area and to the right down the stairs. Another hotel where you can use the restroom is the Roosevelt Hotel (45 E 45th St.) on Madison Avenue and 45th St. The entrance is on 45th St. Bathrooms are up a short flight of stairs and to the right. You can try this at most large and busy hotels. I can’t guarantee your success. In a pinch it’s worth a try.

My experience with NYC parks is hit or miss. If you’re looking for break dancing and street performers and find them it equals a great experience. If you’re looking for a quiet place to have lunch and some peace and quiet- break dancing is not going to be your choice. Since you are there and I can not possibly know what you’re looking for, walk around and be open to the possible. It lurks everywhere.

If you feel like you’re lost or need some help with a train or bus, ask somebody. New Yorkers are surprisingly friendly. If they don’t look like it, it’s because they are on their way to work, or to the doctor or heading home or to meet someone. You might be pleasantly surprised. Then again, you might have asked the wrong person having a bad day. We love our city. We want you to love it, too.

My experience with NYC parks is hit or miss. If you’re looking for break dancing and street performers and find them, it equals a great experience. If you’re looking for a quiet place to have lunch, break dancing is not going to be your choice. Since you are there and I can not possibly know what you’re looking for, walk around and be open to the possible. It lurks everywhere.

battery park, nyc
Battery Park

Tours

I’ve put together several routes for you. They reflect the city I know. They are personal and subjective.
Day One: Brooklyn Bridge, Municipal NY, Chinatown
Day Two: Greenwich Village, Chelsea Market, Chelsea, Highline
Day Three: Battery Park, 9/11 Memorial, Statue of Liberty, Wall St., Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Museum of the American Indian

Day One: Brooklyn Bridge, Municipal NY, Chinatown

Take the F train (try to get in the rear or last car of the train) towards downtown/Brooklyn to the first stop, York Street. Exit and turn right when you reach the street. Quickly turn left and walk with the traffic on York St.
Look for signs to the Brooklyn Bridge. Make a left on Washington St. Walk up the stairs and walk over the bridge. You’re heading toward the building on the Manhattan side, 1 Center St.

bryant park in the big apple
Bryant Park

Great pizza at Juliana’s, 19 Old Fulton St. Worth the side trip and the (inevitably) possible wait. Continue on York St. Make a left on Front St. Walk a few hundred yards, make a right onto Old Fulton St. CC= takes credit cards.

nyc like a local
Katz’s Deli

When you get back to the Manhattan side of the bridge walk up Center St. Nerd alert: I’m a big fan of architecture. So I will be recommending buildings and churches. They’re free, too. There’s a great building (31 Chambers) on the corner of Chambers St. and Center St. If you don’t mind going through security, check out the lobby. At least walk in and have a quick look.

Continue up Center St. for one block.  Make a left on Reade St. Make the next right on Elk St. and look for the African Burial Ground National Monument. It was discovered when they were digging for the new building behind it.

Get back on Center St. Continue walking uptown. Walk towards and past the Triumph of the Human Spirit, the tall basalt monument in the fountain. Federal and state courthouses are on the east side of Foley Square. They are worth a look if you like that kind of architecture and want to spend the time to get through security.

Continue up Center St. to Worth St. Make a right on Worth St. When you get to Baxter St. where it intersects Worth stop at what used to be The Five Points. Continue up Baxter St. Go into the Columbus Park. Great for people watching.

At the corner of Baxter and Bayard there is a good Thai restaurant. Great lunch specials. Going up Baxter is Nha Trang One Vietnamese restaurant. We usually have the barbecued pork chops and a squid dish. I can’t vouch for the Pho, I’ve never had Pho here. Overall, the food is good. Service is quick.

Go back toward the park on Baxter St. Turn on Bayard and walk into Chinatown. You’ll find different types of Chinese food-Hunan, Szechuan, Cantonese, Mandarin. One of my favorites is Wo Hop at 17 Mott St. The food is good, not great. The tee shirts could use some work, too. Its easy to find. Turn right on Mott St. It’s down in a cellar, it’s tiny and noisy and it feels like New York. Chinatown is bordered on the north by Canal St.; to the east by the Bowery and to the west by Church St. There has been a lot of spill over in all four directions in the last 50 years. Wander around Chinatown for as long as you like. If you still have the time, find Broadway and follow it down town. Walk to the right to enter TriBeCa.

Because Manhattan is squeezed into a triangular shape, the trains conveniently converge in lower Manhattan. End of day one.

Day Two: Greenwich Village, Chelsea, Highline

Begin at Greenwich Village/Chelsea Market on 75 9th Ave at 15th St./ Chelsea/Highline. It begins at Washington St. and Gansevoort St.

Note from Lane: you may be able to sneak in a bit of SoHo today if you are feeling ambitious and if your legs aren’t crying (yet).

Take the train (L,N,Q,R,W,4,5,6) to Union Square. Exit anywhere. Walk around Union Square. There is always something going on. There is a Farmer’s Market several times a week, a Christmas market during the holidays and it’s a great place to pass the time of day. There is a Barnes and Noble bookstore at the north end of the park. Four floors of books and coffee.

union square like a local
Union Square

Broadway runs down the east side of Union Square. Find it and head south, walking with traffic. At 12th St. you will find the Strand bookstore. It is one of the only bookstores left from what used to be a collection of bookstores in the vicinity. You can spend as much or as little time as you want here. Check out the rare books on the third floor. First and signed editions are here and yes they are for sale. There are bins of sale books outside on rolling racks. Continue your walk south. Stop anywhere you like. Explore some of the side streets. Grace church is at 10th and Broadway. At Washington Place, turn right. At the corner of Greene St. and Washington Place is the building that housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (history nerd alert). Look for the plaque commemorating the fire and the 146 women, most of them young immigrants, that died in 1911.

nyc, big apple bookstore
Strand Bookstore

You are now on the campus of NYU. There is an art gallery (Grey Art Gallery) on the corner of Washington Square East and Washington Place. Enter Washington Square Park. You are now on the campus of NYU. Washington Square Park is a great place to hang out and people watch. In the afternoon on a warm day you might find, comedians, folk singers, jugglers, break dancers and more.

grace church, big apple
Grace Church

For lunch head to Mamoun’s Falafel at 119 MacDougal Street (walk to the opposite side of Washington Square Park that you entered from toward Washington Square West. It becomes MacDougal St. Follow traffic south to a tiny place on the right, look for the (hopefully) quick moving line. I get a Falafel with everything. I like to get a side, usually babaganoush or hummus. Walk back to Washington Square Park and sit down. Check out the chess players on the corner. At the southwest corner of the park turn right on West 4th St. Wander away from Washington Square Park and head towards Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Get lost in the West Village. The architecture is typical of new from the late 19th century.

nyc, washington square park
Washington Square Park

If you have a map it can be reassuring. A smart phone has a map. If you don’t use one, Bleecker and W 4th St. are parallel. John’s Pizzeria at 278 Bleecker St. has a reputation for great pizza (cannot buy it by the slice). I ate there a few times and the pizza is very good, but the wait and service-with-attitude can numb the experience.

john's pizzeria like a local
John’s Pizzeria

Continue west along West 4th or Bleecker and enjoy the quieter streets that connect them. Continue on Bleecker to Hudson St. and make a right on Hudson walk uptown to Horatio St, make a left. Take a right on Washington St. There you have a choice. The Whitney Museum of American Art is at 99 Gansevoort St. Tickets are $25/adults $18/students. Pay what you wish Fridays 7-9:30 CC. Second choice is the Highline. Go one block, find and climb up the stairs. A summer day may find the Highline mobbed. I like going off season and early. Go in the winter or inclement weather. These thin out the crowd and the dramatic weather can add another dimension.

high line in the big apple
The Highline

But don’t stay away on a nice day. Some things New York gets wrong and some things New York gets right. New York got the Highline right on. The Highline is amazing. Serene and gentle while incorporating the city in a flattering way. It appears organized, and my favorite place is the tiered seating overlooking 10 Ave.

If you’re hungry, exit the Highline at 14th  St. Walk away from the West Side and New Jersey. Get to 9th Ave and make a left and head uptown to 75 Ninth Ave. Walk the entire length from 9th to 10th Avenues. The vendors have changed over the years but the food and shop quality has remained very high. The art and fountain at the Chelsea market are New York cool.

chelsea market, nyc
Chelsea Market

There is also the Gansevoort Market on the corner of Ninth Ave and 14th St. Both are hard to beat. I’ve have eaten and continue to eat at both places. This is, of course, if you’re still hungry. There’s still, dinner.

You can continue on the Highline by returning to 14th St or head to the galleries via Tenth Avenue. There are many galleries between 10th and 11th Avenues on every street from 23rd St. to 29th St. The bulk of them on 24th, 25th and 26th St. Get a gallery guide from the first gallery you visit. Keep the post cards from the shows that are free and typically on the desk in the gallery. A good way to remember the art you liked or didn’t.

world trade center, big apple, nyc
World Trade Center

I also highly recommend Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer. They have the MOST instagram-able milkshakes!

black tap craft burgers in nyc
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Bar

Day Three: Battery Park, 9/11 Museum, Statue of Liberty, Wall St, Trinity, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Take the #1 train to South Ferry. Or take the #4 or #5 train to Bowling Green. Or lastly take the R or W train to Whitehall St./South Ferry. If you’ve taken the #4 or #5 train walk out to Broadway and follow it south till you see the Statue of Liberty or the large yellow orange Staten Island Ferry. There is a large sign that reads Staten Island Ferry or something like that. Walk upstairs and wait for the next boat (it’s free!). Get a seat on the side of the boat that faces the statue. Hopefully you’ll have good weather to enjoy a free ride, the salt air and a great view of the Statue of Liberty. You can see, visit the island, and climb up to the crown if you like. Find that information for the National Park Service here.

I like the Ferry. The price is right (free!). It won’t take a huge chunk of time out of your day and on the return trip you can get a feel of what it may have been like in 1905 to see the statue after 9 days in steerage. On the return trip, it’s an impressive view of Manhattan too.

After the hour and 20 minutes or so to Staten Island and back walk around Battery Park. There are two museums with the park located to the west: the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Skyscraper Museum. I don’t know anything about them.

nyc like a local
One Bowling Green Museum

When you’ve exhausted Battery Park find State St. If you walk away from the Ferry it will turn into Broadway. I don’t recall seeing street signs around the ferry so you may have to wing it. I know ‘winging it’ is not what you’d expect from a tour guide. But if you took the #5 train, head back that way. Check out the Museum of the American Indianthe old Customs House or 1 Bowling Green. It’s only a hundred yards away. The Customs House is one of my favorite municipal buildings. I’ve the unique good fortune to see the parts of the building that few people see. And it is splendid. However, there is plenty of beauty to see. It starts outside with the sculpture on either side of the entrance. Admission is free as it is part of the Smithsonian. The exhibits rotate and can be eclectic. They had Jimi Hendrix’s jacket a few years back. Check their website.

If and when you’re done with the NMAI, exit and go sit in the park out front. It really was a green for the Dutch to go bowling on. The ‘Wall St. Bull’ is at the north end of Bowling Green and is a great photo op if can photoshop the 60 tourists out.

bull in the nyc
The Bull

Continue up Broadway to Wall St. and Broadway (89 Broadway). There you will find Trinity Church. Go in and explore the church constructed in 1846. It is the third church building on this spot. The cemetery around the church is worth a visit. Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton are buried here among others. Further up Broadway at 209 Broadway is St. Paul’s Chapel. George Washington prayed here after his inauguration in 1789 and this church was instrumental in the physical and spiritual revival of lower Manhattan afterwards. These are great oases to collect your thoughts and enjoy the church as a sanctuary.

trinity church in the big apple
Trinity Church

Next you have a choice to make. Wall St. or the 9/11 Memorial. First, I’ll walk you through Wall St.

federal hall like a local
Federal Hall

Walk back to Wall St. and imagine this as a wall to separate a nascent Dutch colony to the south and an unbroken carpet of green north all the way to the Arctic Circle. It was loosely populated with dozens of indigenous peoples. They are all gone now. Remembered only by Lenape Indian names. Canarsie. Rockaway. Manhattan et al.

Head down hill on Wall St. to the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets. This is the hub of the financial district and the home of the New York Stock Exchange. Federal Hall at 26 Wall St. is the building behind the statue of George Washington. It was on this spot that he took the oath of office. This National Park building replaces the structure from Washington’s time. In here, you will find articles and artifacts from the presidency and currently an exhibit honoring Alexander Hamilton.

hot dogs in the big apple
Federal Hall with an infamous “Dirty Water Dog” (a hotdog from one of the hotdog stands)

Across the street on the east side of Wall St. across from the stock exchange at 23 Wall St. is the former offices of J. P. Morgan. Businessman, financier and art collector. Here you can see the results of the 1920 bombing that killed 30 and injured dozens. Look for the fist sized pock marks on the exterior of the building. The Stock Exchange used to be open for tours. They are no longer available for security reasons. Now, we can head over to the World Trade Center.

Walk back to Broadway and turn right and head uptown to Liberty St. Turn left on Liberty St. and walk to Greenwich St. Here you will find the 9/11 Memorial and the 9/11 Museum.

My friend has visited the Memorial and said it’s a reflective space about lives lost and the attack on 9/11. I have not been to either one. I was home from work that day and saw everything from my living room window. But this is advice I would offer any visitor to any place in New York. Get tickets online ahead of time. Go early in the day. Crowds tend to build from noon into the afternoon. After the Museum and Memorial, there is the Oculus nearby. The Oculus is the building that looks like it is built from giant fish bones. It is quite spectacular from the inside as well as the outside. Go in and walk around. There are shops inside and trains below. There is more shopping and restaurants across the West Side highway in the World Financial Center. As you approach the WFC you will cross the bike and pedestrian greenway that travels along the highway all the to 175th St./George Washington Bridge. For other food options there is Eataly on Liberty St. between Trinity Place and Greenwich St. I am only familiar with the mother store on 23rd and 5th Ave. If it is a even a remote cousin to the main store it is worth a visit. The selection is impressive. Someone has scoured Italy from top to bottom and brought the best of it to NYC. As I said above I have not been to this location. But I’m still certain that the prepared food is of a very high quality and you might want to indulge. End of Day 3.

I am keeping my guide to three days. You can improvise, add, subtract or split things up as you wish. I encourage you to just wander around and put your stamp on your trip.

Note by Lane: if you are here an extra day, I would recommend doing Times Square, Bryant Park (my favorite place in the city), NY Public Library, Grand Central Station, and Rockefeller Center (and Empire State Building if it’s a must-see for you). They are all within walking distance of each other (bring good walking shoes). Although I do not enjoy Times Square because of the masses of people, I could spend all day in Bryant Park- there is always something going on like juggling classes, outdoor symphony, yoga, sun bathing, picnics, weddings, ice skating, markets, street fairs, and more! My favorite thing to do is grab a lunch from Whole Foods adjacent to Bryant Park and lay in the grass and people watch. The NY Public Library has fun events, as well. One time I went, there was a free exhibit of the Declaration of Independence! Grand Central Station was my mom’s favorite place in the city- there are shops but just people watching and staring at the beautiful ceiling is my favorite!

To that end, I want to add a few tips and a few lists.

MUSEUMS

https://www.tenement.org/ (one of the top 3 non art museums in the world. And my wife has the honor of working there.)

https://www.guggenheim.org (a Frank Lloyd Wright building. Spectacular building and world class art)

https://metmuseum.org/  (a must see)

Note from Lane: The MET is my favorite museum of all time! It is also located near Central Park- killing two birds with one stone! My second favorite museum is MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), but instead of going into the Museum if I am pressed for time, I check out their gift shop which is so fun!

http://www.frick.org (great art in a gorgeous home courtesy of a much hated robber baron)

https://www.themorgan.org/

https://www.frauncestavernmuseum.org/ (have a bite to eat where George Washington gave a farewell speech to his troops)

https://www.mcny.org (New York City Museum)

http://www.elmuseo.org/ (Museum dedicated to the preservation of the arts and culture of Puerto Rican’s and Latinos and Latinas of all nationalities in America. Conveniently located near the Museum of the City of New York

https://www.nyhistory.org NYC history and lots more

https://www.newmuseum.org/ Contemporary art

In addition there are numerous smaller niche museums. I was in an elevator a couple of years ago and two students were on there way to the Accounting Museum in the same building. There is also the National Museum of Mathematics, no kidding. There are so many I can’t even begin to find them all much less list them. If this intrigues you, look on the web. Here are places to start:

  1. https://www.cntraveler.com/galleries/2015-03-11/new-york-10-best-small-museums ,
  2. https://www.walksofnewyork.com/blog/best-nyc-museums
  3. and finally, https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g60763-i5-k10067009-Small_Museums_in_NYC-New_York_City_New_York.html

FOOD

Pizza

Patsy’s 1279 1st Ave. (Harlem)

Lombardi’s  32 Spring Sty (Little Italy)

Eataly 5th Ave. at 23rd St. Entrance on 23rd St. (Flatiron)

Joe’s Pizzeria 7 Carmine St. (Greenwich Village)

Una Pizza Napoletano 175 Orchard St. (Lower East Side)

John’s Pizza 278 Bleecker St. (Greenwich Village)

NY Pizza Suprema 413 8th Ave. (Penn Station) 30th/31st Sts.

 Juliana’s 19 Old Fulton St.

Delicatessens

Katz New York classic

Second Ave Deli 

Sarge’s Deli

Dumplings

Vanessa’s Dumpling House

118A Eldridge St. (LES)

Also at 70 Pine St. (Financial district) and 220 E 14th St. (Union Square)

I hope you enjoy New York. There is so I much left out. And the city is constantly changing. If I wrote this again in two years it would be different. But for now I think it will suffice for someone visiting New York for the first time. Or if you’ve been here before perhaps you can see something new. Cheers!

But this is advice I would offer any visitor to any place in New York. Get tickets online ahead of time. Go early in the day. Crowds tend to build from noon into the afternoon.

Cheers, William Wiggins (the author of and inspiration for this post)

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