Cover: Do you love New York? Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
Do you remember the I ♥ New York marketing campaign? It was all the rage with the t-shirts and billboards back in the late 70s and early 80s. I’ll confess, I’ve never loved New York and all told, neither of us has ever really even liked it much. There’s just something about New York that never clicked for us. It’s not the size – we love Chicago, Paris, Rome, and other large cities. It’s not the tourists and crowds. We’ve done Venice in the summer and still managed to love it. And, it’s not for a lack of visits – we’ve been to the Big Apple many times over the years.
So, what were we missing? I’ll admit, the issue bothered me a bit. So, we decided we needed to give the Big Apple another chance and booked three nights for a long weekend to explore the city with new eyes and, who knows, maybe we’d learn to love New York…
In search of something to make us love New York
We landed at La Guardia on a Friday afternoon about 4:00pm. Admittedly, an hour-long cab ride to Lower Manhattan was probably not the best way to begin our weekend, but schedules are what they are, and traffic is what it is.
Where we stayed
I found a great deal at The Andaz Wall Street – and we really liked the hotel and location. The hotel is modern, low-key and located a couple of blocks from the New York Stock Exchange. The Financial District is quiet on the weekend, with none of the chaos of Midtown – which we strongly preferred. The rooms have a loft feel, with high ceilings, wood floors, and a window seat overlooking the street below.
Travel tip: If visiting New York City on the weekend, check rates on hotels in Lower Manhattan. While hotels may be filled during the week with Financial District business travelers, weekend rates can be over $100 per night less than Midtown hotels of comparable quality.
Once in the city and checked in, it was time to set out and fall in love with (well, at least in like with) New York. I’d made a long list of places to visit, attractions to check out and things to do – thirty in all. What better way to open one’s mind than with a martini and a great meal? That’s where we started…
A “Things to do list” that will make you fall in love with New York
1. Dinner and drinks at Harry’s Café and Steak
About a block away from the Andaz, we stopped in at Harry’s Café and Steak, formerly Harry’s at Hanover Square, which you may remember being mentioned in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities or Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. A long time favorite watering hole of traders, the bar is lively, the dining room is a classic steakhouse, and the food is divine. We started the evening with a couple of lemon drop martinis, followed by an amazing Tuna Au Poivre. Loved Harry’s and the upscale, yet casual feel of the restaurant.
2. An evening visit to the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street
After dinner, we casually wandered over to the New York Stock Exchange. Located at 11 Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange is the world’s largest stock exchange with a market capitalization of listed companies exceeding 19 trillion dollars. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978, the New York Stock Exchange is no longer open to the public, but is a popular spot for financially focused visitors to stop by and is kind of pretty lit up at night.
After our visit, we found our way to the bar at the hotel and chatted with the bartenders over a glass of wine before turning in for the day. We were starting to warm up to this new version of New York. Was it love yet? No.. but we were off to a good start.
A rainy day museum hopping
The forecast called for rain on Saturday and sun on Sunday, so we decided to start our first full day in New York at the museums. Grabbing a Starbucks and a cab, we headed up to the Central Park area to begin our day’s adventures.
3. A stop by Central Park, even in the rain
Designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in the middle of the 19th century, Central Park is an 843-acre oasis in the middle of the city filled with trails, green space, lakes, and attractions and was the first man-made park in the United States. Even on a dreary Saturday morning, the iconic park was bustling and full of life as people of all ages and walks of life gathered to enjoy some time outdoors.
On the west side of the park sits one of our favorite museums, the American Museum of Natural History, and where we would start on our museum jaunt.
Travel tip: New York CityPASS can save you money and time on the top attractions in the city.
New York CityPASS attractions include the Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, choice of either Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum, choice of Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, and choice of Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum or 9/11 Memorial Museum.
4. A morning at the American Museum of Natural History
With 45 exhibition halls and over 32 million specimens housed in over 2 million square feet, the American Museum of Natural History is the largest natural history museum in the world. Founded in 1869, the world-renowned museum has only increased in popularity in recent times with the release of the movie, A Night at the Museum. Star attractions at the museum include a 94-foot long blue whale replica, the Hall of African mammals, Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the Hall of African Peoples, the Hall of Mexico and Central America, and the Giant Anopheles Mosquito.
After a couple of hours of exploring the museum, we headed next door to the New-York Historical Society Museum.
5. Zap! Bam! Pow! at the New-York Historical Society Museum
In all honesty, this was an unplanned visit, but when walking by, we spotted the Batmobile in the lobby. Yes, the real Batmobile from the 1960s TV show – well, apparently there were several, but yes, the REAL Batmobile.
Part of an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society Museum, Superheroes in Gotham, the car drew passersby ranging from toddlers to elders into the museum from the street, eagerly shelling out the $20 admission fee to be in the presence of the venerable Batmobile. Very cool – one more point in the “reasons to love New York” column.
Once past the lobby, visitors also have the opportunity to discover New York’s oldest museum, with more than 1.6 million works of art. Highlights include a large Hudson River School collection, all 435 of John James Audubon’s extant preparatory watercolors for Birds of America, and the museum hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year.
6. So much to love at The Met
Crossing to the east side of Central Park, we next made our way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commonly referred to as The Met.
The largest art museum in the United States, the Met has amassed a permanent collection of over two million pieces of art since it opened in 1872. One could roam The Met for days and not view the entire museum with works of art spanning a 5,000-year period.
From the Temple of Dendur, to the Sphinx of Hatshepsut, to Arms and Armor, the Met has something for every interest. While visiting, take break with Diana, a bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, in The Charles Engelhard Court in the American Wing or stop by the Great Hall Balcony Bar for a glass of wine and do some people watching.
7. A stop by the Guggenheim
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, generally referred to as The Guggenheim, features an impressive collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art. Located on the Upper East Side, The Guggenheim collection is housed in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with a ramp gallery that winds its way from ground level to the top of the museum.
We hadn’t been to the Guggenheim in… well just say a long time. Huge fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, the building alone is worth the ticket price.
8. Going local with a visit to the Museum of the City of New York
Founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown, the Museum of the City of New York’s primary focus is on telling the history of New York and its residents. Over 1.5 million objects comprise the museum’s collection and include a wide variety of items such as costumes, home furnishings, toys, paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, each representing a small piece of the story of New York. The activist exhibit was very cool and the museum has great authenticity.
After a full day of uptown museums, we grabbed a light dinner then headed downtown for one last stop for the day, 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
9. Reflecting on the 9/11 terrorist attacks
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is located at site of the World Trade Center, where 2,983 people were killed in terrorist attacks on September 11, 2011. The 110,00 square foot 9/11 Memorial Museum contains more than 10,000 personal and historic objects related to the 9/11 events, including two steel tridents, which were part of the Twin Towers, in the Museums glass atrium.
Adjacent to the Museum, the Memorial consists of two enormous reflecting pools with waterfall cascades built in the footprint of the Twin Towers. Exceptionally beautiful, the Memorial is entitled Reflecting Absence and was designed by Michael Arad and Peter Walker. More than 24 million people have visited the Memorial since it opened in September 2011, including visitors from all 50 U.S. states and 175 countries.
A humbling piece of New York history, the Memorial is not to be missed.
10. Exploring Lower Manhattan
The next morning, we decided to begin our day closer to our hotel and explore Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The center of business and home to the City of New York government, Lower Manhattan is where New Amsterdam, which is now known as New York, originated in 1624. We once again grabbed a chai latte and simply headed out strolling the blissfully nearly empty streets on a Sunday morning downtown.
Defined on three sides by bodies of water – the Hudson River on the west, the East River on the east, and New York Harbor on the South – Lower Manhattan includes the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Chinatown, the Freedom Tower, the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and Battery Park, where the Statue of Liberty Cruises depart.
11. Heading over to Battery Park
Situated on the southern tip of Manhattan, Battery Park is a 25-acre park that dates back to the 17th century. Home to Hope Garden, the East Coast Memorial and Castle Clinton, Battery Park is also the Manhattan boarding location for taking Statue Cruises to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
12. Paying a visit to Lady a Liberty
An iconic symbol of freedom, the Statue of Liberty stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. A gift from France to the United States, the copper statue was designed by French sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, and was dedicated on October 28, 1886. After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Statue of Liberty was closed for security reasons. In 2004, visits to Liberty Island resumed at the pedestal level and, in 2009 visits to the crown were once again allowed. The Statue of Liberty is a part of the National Parks Service.
13. Next stop, Ellis Island
The next stop on the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island cruise is Ellis Island. The building that originally served as the port of entry to the United States now is home to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Around 12 million immigrants passed through the Ellis Island processing center from the time it opened in 1892 until it closed in 1954. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. The main building was reopened in 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and the Peopling of America Center® was added in 2015.
14. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry – it’s free, you have to love that
For a view of the Statue of Liberty from the harbor versus a visit on Liberty Island, the Staten Island Ferry is a good (and free) option. The Ferry departs from Whitehall Ferry Terminal next to Battery Park, takes about 25 minutes to reach Staten Island, and provides stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge.
15. Visiting One World Trade Center
Even though we’d visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum the night before, we wanted to go by One World Trade Center during the day. The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, One World Trade Center, also called the Freedom Tower, stands on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center grounds. Including its spire, the structure reaches a height of 1,776 feet (541 meters), referencing the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. One World Trade Center has an observation deck, but the line was loooooong and we knew we still had other two observation decks on the agenda. Next time.
16. A boat ride under the Brooklyn Bridge
Since 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has spanned the East River connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. One of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 but is still heavily used to this day. According to the New York Department of Transportation, more than 120,000 vehicles drive across the bridge daily and 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross via the pedestrian and bicycling promenade each day.
Torn between walking the bridge and riding under it on a harbor cruise, we opted for the latter. The views were simply amazing.
17. Going hipster and paying Brooklyn a call
The most populous of the five New York City boroughs, if Brooklyn were not a part of New York City, it would be the fourth largest city on the United States. With its tree-lined streets of row houses, unique shopping and charming eateries, Brooklyn has a European feel and diverse neighborhoods, ranging from quiet to hipster.
Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s version of Central Park, also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after their completion of Manhattan’s famous green space. With a zoo, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Audubon Center, the LeFrak Center, miles of hiking and biking trails and 585 acres of space, Prospect Park is a popular spot to get some fresh air and exercise in Brooklyn.
Heading back to Midtown
A cab ride back across the Manhattan bridge and we headed back up to Midtown – yes, on a Sunday afternoon. We knew it would be crowded with tourists, but it had to be on the list…
18. Midday in Midtown at Times Square
In the heart of Midtown, Times Square is where Broadway theaters, television studios, restaurants, hotels and tour companies converge in a sea of neon lights, giant billboards, traffic and tourists. The site of to the annual New Year’s Eve ball drop, Times Square is also home to Duffy Square and a giant red staircase, which provides panoramic views of the area. Below the staircase, TKTS Discount Booths can be found, where tickets to Broadway and Off Broadway musicals, plays, and dance productions can be purchased for 20% to 50% off regular prices.
It was crowded, but a quick stop passing through didn’t seem quite as insufferable as when staying there. I think of Times Square in similar terms of the Las Vegas Strip. It’s flashy, noisy and touristy and bears little likeness to the real United States, even most of the rest of NYC.
19. A late lunch at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar
Arriving in midtown mid-afternoon, we were starved. We’d just had the Guy Fieri’s in Vegas at the Rio (killer tacos) and decided to give it a try. We split the Sashimi tacos and a shrimp po-boy and it was really tasty. Cool place.
20. Taking a break at Bryant Park
Located next to the New York Public Library, Bryant Park is the home of numerous events and a great place to stop for a few minutes, find a bench and watch the city go by.
21. Checking out Rockefeller Center
If you want to pick up a Jimmy Fallon coffee mug, attempt to get on the Today Show with your sign, go shopping, grab a coffee, take a spin around the ice or take in sweeping views of New York City, Rockefeller Center is the place to be.
Completed in 1933, the art deco-styled skyscraper at 30 Rockefeller Plaza has been known throughout the years as the RCA Building, the GE Building, Rockefeller Plaza, 30 Rock and, as of July 2015, the Comcast Building. Home to the NBC television network, the building rises 70 stories and is 14th tallest in New York.
While you’re at Rockefeller Center, stop by and book your appointment for the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, which uses a timed entrance system. A visit to the Top of the Rock ticket counter enables purchasing of tickets or exchanging CityPASS vouchers for a timed-entry ticket based on the next availability. In other words, access to the top is scheduled at the time of ticket purchase for a time in the future and access is limited (although once at the top, you can stay as long as you wish).
22. Go big at Radio City Music Hall
Directly across from Rockefeller Center sits the largest indoor theatre in the world, Radio City Music Hall, which has hosted more than 300 million people to film premieres, stage shows, attractions and media events. With a city-block long marquee, the largest stage curtain in the world, a stage considered to the be the best equipped in the world, more than 25,000 lights, a massive custom-built organ, and special effects capabilities that include the ability to make fog and rain, Radio City Music Hall is truly a spectacular venue.
23. Take a spin around the ice (or at least watch the skaters)
It’s one of New York’s most famous attractions – The Rink at Rockefeller Center. With room for only 150 skaters per session, it’s best to reserve a spot ahead online to make sure you get that chance to lace up your skates and take a spin in one of the sessions throughout the day.
24. Observing the city at the Empire State Building
Since 1931, the Empire State Building has served as a landmark in Midtown Manhattan and one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world. Built in the art deco style, it stands 1,454 feet, and offers visitors spectacular views of the city. The Empire State Building has two observatories, one of the 86th floor and another on 102nd floor, and is one of the most popular attractions in New York City.
The CityPASS New York tickets actually provide entry two times during the same day – one during the daytime and a return visit later, which we took advantage of, visiting in the afternoon and again at twilight.
25. A stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The seat of the archbishop of New York, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a majestic structure of neo-Gothic design with spires that reach to 330 feet. A site where many, both famous and not, have christened, married, worshipped and mourned, the beautiful cathedral can hold 3,000 people and occupies an entire city block between 50th and 51st, Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue.
26. Watch New York at night from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck
Visitors can take in views of New York from the top three floors of Rockefeller Plaza at the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
Offering a panoramic city view that includes the Empire State Building, the 67th and 69th floor of the Top of the Rock observation deck is enclosed with glass, which has small gaps between the glass panels where cameras can catch shots unobstructed. For the best views, head straight to the 70th floor, for wide-open viewing.
27. A late night dinner at ReSette
When we left the Top of the Rock about 10 pm, we were famished. I’d noticed an Italian eatery on 45th as we made our way earlier from the Empire State Building to the Top of the Rock, and suggested we check it out. As we walked along, we noticed everything was shuttered in the city that never sleeps, and dinner plans were looking bleak. Arriving at the restaurant, we discovered it indeed was still open and were welcomed warmly, even though there were only a couple of other diners (they close at 11pm on Sundays). A beautiful restaurant, the pasta was delicious and the service welcoming and attentive.
After dinner, we headed back downtown to rest up for our final day in the city.
28. Walk around downtown as Wall Street gets back to work
By the time we awoke on Monday morning, Lower Manhattan was already in full swing. We stopped in grab our morning chai teas, then wandered around the Financial District, as suit-clad, cell phone talking movers and shakers hustled along, on their way in pursuit of the American dream.
Following our morning stroll, we packed up and left our bags with the hotel. There was only one more destination on the list, the Intrepid, and our plan was to visit to the museum then have a casual lunch before heading to the airport.
29. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Featuring the former U.S. aircraft carrier Intrepid, the space shuttle Enterprise, the submarine Growler, and the east coast’s most varied collection of aircraft, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is a popular attraction visited by over one million people each year. After serving in World War II and the Vietnam War, the Intrepid was retired and moved to New York’s Pier 86 at 46th Street, with the museum opening in 1982.
30. Some New York casual time
Leaving the museum, we wandered over to Hell’s Kitchen, and found a little spot for some Thai. After lunch, we continued on a leisurely walk towards midtown.
As our time in New York drew to a close, we hailed a cab to pick up our bags and head to the airport. As we drove along, I rolled down the window to let in the spring breeze and watched the city pass by. The buildings glistened in the afternoon light against a bright blue sky; a dog walker attempted to control five playful pups; joggers ran along the sidewalks at a leisurely pace as New Yorkers went about their Monday on this spring day.
After a whirlwind visit sampling the best of the city, did we fall in love with New York? Without a doubt, New York has so much to offer – attractions, museums, theater, restaurants, shopping, and the list goes on and on. We like the diverse culture, the skyline, and the fast pace. So, in love? We’re probably not there yet, but we did gain a new appreciation for the city.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to CityPASS New York for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.