Ferris Bueller, you're my hero
September 18, 2009 10:17 AM   Subscribe

How can I channel my inner Ferris Bueller and have one great day, except in New York?

It's my little brother's very first trip to the East Coast! He's coming to see me in Boston, but he also really wants to see New York while he's out here. I've gone looking through a ton of the old NYC touristfilter questions, but trying to combine all of those great suggestions with my limited understanding of New York and an extremely ambitious timeline is proving daunting.

Mostly because of limited funds, we were hoping to make this a one day affair; we take the Chinatown bus out there, see whatever sights we can manage, stay up all night, and then take the first bus back in the morning. I've never taken the Chinatown bus before, so please talk me out of this if it seems like a tremendously bad idea.

My brother is a lot like Cameron: sarcastic, funny, fairly disinterested in most things, but still an all-around good guy and generally more easy-going than Cameron. The only thing I know for sure he wants to see is Times Square (I know). We're both in our early- to mid-twenties, kinda square, but still adventurous, and this East Coast trip is supposed to be his big last hurrah before becoming a grown-up. “Life moves pretty fast”, so how can we have one great day in New York, on the cheap?
posted by Diagonalize to Travel & Transportation (36 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Pay someone to stand on line for you at the Shake Shack :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:22 AM on September 18, 2009

Avoid Disneyland ... ah, I mean, avoid Times Square.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:30 AM on September 18, 2009

Don't miss the High Line.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2009

You can walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2009

Get hot dogs @ Gray's Papaya. Order a papaya juice with it. YUM.

Go to Strawberry Fields.

DO go to Times Square. I hate that people are so against it. YES it's a clusterfuck. But you have to see it! Take the subway to the Times Square stop, get off... walk all around, walk a few blocks on over to 5th ave... walk around there. Then move on. There's not a lot to do right there except take it all in. But DO take it all in.
posted by mittenbex at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Chinatown Icecream Factory

65 Bayard Street
Manhattan Chinatown
New York, NY 10013
Phone: (212) 608-4170

(just a few blocks from the chinatown bus drop off...)

Regular Flavors:

Almond Cookie
Black Sesame
Chocolate Carmel Pecan **
Chocolate Pandan
Green Tea
Lychee (Chinese Fruit)
Passion Fruit **
Peanut Butter and Jelly (New)**
Red Bean (Dessert Bean)
Strawberry Shortcake *
Taro (Potato-like)
Wild Blueberry (New)
Zen Butter (New)
posted by R. Mutt at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

The art museum moment from the film is one I always liked, so towards that end:

* The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a "suggested donation". It SAYS that the admission is $10 or so, but that, again, is a suggestion. You can get in for two bucks if that's all you have.

* Or, you could wait until Friday and go to MOMA -- Friday nights at MOMA are totally free from about 5 pm to closing (about 8 or 9).

As for cheap food -- New York is THICK with mom-and-pop pizza joints that sell pizza by the slice. These are usually pretty cheap -- and may not be the best pizza you've ever had, but it's usually fast, fresh, and fills the void. Or, keep an eye out for "Gray's Papaya" establishments -- these are small counter-grill places that specialize in hot dogs and fruit juice smoothies. Some larger ones also have burgers and chicken sandwiches available, but you can't go wrong with the burgers. You can get two dogs and a 16-oz smoothie for about five bucks.

Also: Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is totally free. So is the Staten Island Ferry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on September 18, 2009

Look, I live near Times Square and I hate it too, but it's silly to advise first time visitors to NYC to avoid it. It's one of the wonders of the world! Day or night, it will knock your socks off, guaranteed. It still knocks my socks off coming home when I can't avoid going through it.
That said, get off the subway, take a gawk around, and then go somewhere else. Don't buy anything there or eat there - you will be disappointed and/or rooked.

The other key thing for your list is a sunset ride on the Staten Island ferry.

Everything else is negotiable. Great cheap things are a walk through Chinatown and a ride on the M1 down Fifth Avenue.

Here are some one day itineraries. (That last one would take about three days, but it might give you ideas)
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2009

I've taken both the chinatown bus and Bolt; they're both fine.

I'd take the ferry too, I enjoyed that the last time I was in NY.
posted by nat at 10:43 AM on September 18, 2009

If you can afford the Bolt bus, take it instead of one of the Chinatown buses—they're much nicer, and have the added benefit of not having a history of bursting into flames on the highway.

Once you're here, I'd suggest you select one thing that you absolutely MUST do from each of the following categories: food, art, landmarks, and "only in New York." Build your day around that set of four things, leaving some time in between to wander and/or get lost (on purpose or not).

My set of four things that I want to do (I live here and I haven't explored the city as well as I'd like) is as follows:
posted by ocherdraco at 10:44 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Earth Room

141 Wooster Street
New York City

In SoHo, and FREE!
Where else would you see a second floor loft entirely filled with moist soil?
Ferris would go.

A Loft Filled with Dirt, the Man Who's Cared for it for 19 Years
posted by R. Mutt at 10:48 AM on September 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

When I was a teenager and started going down to NYC for weekends by myself, my #1 favorite thing to do was the Natural History Museum. The best thing to do is start at the side with the planetarium (it's a big glass cube), look at the newer space stuff, and then prepare for your trip back to the 1950s as you enter the original stone building. It sounds kind of childish (and maybe it is), but there's nothing like walking through the dark, musty hallways surrounded by taxidermied animals carefully posed to look like they're living their lives. It's creepy and wonderful. And the dinosaur hall is actually pretty impressive. I've mostly graduated to doing the same wandering-in-awe thing at the Met across Central Park, but that's what I'd recommend for someone who's never been to the city. Holden Caulfield would probably recommend the same thing, maybe with a trip to the pond in Central Park afterward.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:03 AM on September 18, 2009

Do a NYC Scavenger Hunt.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:05 AM on September 18, 2009

Yeah, I don't think we'll be able to avoid going to Times Square. I don't really care for it, but it's too iconic to deprive a first timer of. Central Park is also probably a must.

I've never actually tried Gray's Papaya, so grabbing a late night dog might be fun with my little spendthrift in tow. The Staten Island Ferry sounds about right too. I love museums, but I'll probably have to throw the various options at him and see if any stick. I also love the idea of walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, but I wonder if it would eat up too much time.

We essentially grew up in a Chinatown, so I don't know how much appeal that will hold, but The Earth Room sounds really neat in an extremely bizarre sort of way.

I was leaning toward Bolt Bus, so it's nice to see a few more endorsements.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:08 AM on September 18, 2009

2nd'ing the Natural History Museum. It is hands down my favorite place in all of NYC. I sometimes go there on my lunch break. And as a bonus, there's a Shake Shack a block away!

Also, check your MeFi Mail.
posted by mrsshotglass at 11:12 AM on September 18, 2009

Man, Shake Shack, Gray's Papaya, pizza, delis...I get the feeling we could just spend the whole day eating (which would be awesome!)
posted by Diagonalize at 11:18 AM on September 18, 2009

Check this previous thread and find a special, likely free and fabulous NY event.
posted by Pineapplicious at 11:23 AM on September 18, 2009

Definitely take the Bolt Bus. Free wifi, clean and efficient. If you want to walk around, I recommend walking down 5th Ave from the Met to 40th (you can always hop on a bus if you get tired). FAO Schwarz is also a fun place to browse; they still have the giant sized keyboard from Big (the Tom Hanks movie) on display.
posted by pianohands at 11:26 AM on September 18, 2009

If you do walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, Jacques Torres' chocolate factory is near the brooklyn end.

66 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
posted by R. Mutt at 11:37 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, if you're going to walk around Times Square, the Toys 'R Us has clean restrooms and a huge ferris wheel.

Marie's Crisis is TONS of fun. I'm there all the time. It's particularly tourist-packed on Friday and Saturday nights, which means more recognizable showtunes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:39 AM on September 18, 2009

Chocolate factory and toy stores...damn, I knew there was a reason people equate New York with heaven. Seriously, these are downright amazing suggestions.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:44 AM on September 18, 2009

I have done this. (Took the Chinatown bus from DC at 5pm New Years eve, stayed out all night and took the 9am bus back on New Year day.) I recommend finding an all night diner in a busy area to kill the time from 4 or 5am to when your bus comes. My trip was exhausting but fun. Good luck!
posted by JennyK at 11:56 AM on September 18, 2009

Get off the Chinatown bus. It'll probably drop you off on Bowery and Canal.

Walk towards Broadway on Canal Street and look at all the crap they're selling on the street. Haggle for a counterfeit watch on the street. Find one of the ladies who is holding photos of expensive handbags. Tell her you want to buy one (say it's for your girlfriend or mother I guess). Most likely she will make you follow her to a van or locked apartment. Try not to panic if they close and lock the door behind you.

Turn around and go back the way you came and walk north on Bowery. You're in the lighting district. Go inside at least one of the shops and see all the crazy lighting and lamps they have inside.

Go to the Essex Street Market just off Delancey Street. Go to Shopsin's for lunch. It's got some tables and a counter towards the south end of the market. TUES thru FRI 9am to 3pm & SATURDAY 9:30am to 2pm. Try not to get cursed at by Kenny or thrown out. Be nice to Melinda and Mara. Gawk at the pages long menu. Don't do anything stupid or ask for special requests. I hope you're not offended by F-bombs.

Afterwards, take a tour of an old Lower East Side tenement apartment via the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

If you're actually hungry at this point, go to Russ & Daughters (a Jewish appetizing store that's been run by the same family for years) and order a bagel sandwich with smoked salmon. It's pretty big, you can definitely split it between the two of you.

The ferry to and from Staten Island could be interesting. You can buy beer. The ferry is free and you can see the Statue of Liberty (albeit from afar).

I also like McSorley's in the afternoon. You can get two different kinds of beer. Light. Dark. There's sawdust on the floor. It's the oldest Irish tavern in NYC and didn't allow women in until 1970. It's like a museum in there, and the atmosphere is decidedly less "frat boy" in the late afternoon hours.

Or at precisely 6pm, go to Crif Dogs in the East Village, open the phone booth. Pick up the phone. Hit the buzzer once. Wait for the door to open. Ask for two seats at the bar. Enter the "secret" bar PDT and order a Benton's Old Fashioned ($13). Pricey but very New York. Leave and eat some deep fried hot dogs from Crif Dogs on the way out.

A short walk away is The Cube aka The Alamo. It spins on its axis if you push it. Rest a while and people watch if you like.

Go to a show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.

Go inside Grand Central Terminal's main hall and just sit and watch the people coming and going. Look for the dark spot that represents how dirty it used to be before the renovations. Step inside the famous oyster bar. Stay away from the basement food court. Try out the whispering gallery.

Go to the Top of the Rock at night. They stop letting people in around 11pm. Newer, nicer, better experience overall than the Empire State Building. Buy tickets online in advance for $18. It's timed entry but in my experience, it's not very policed.

Then walk over to Times Square. I took a fantastic night tour of Times Square last year which included:
- watching the light show at the The New 42nd Street Studios (next to the American Airlines Theatre)
- looking at the art from Tom Otterness in front of the Hilton Times Square
- looking at the interior detailing of the gorgeous five story theatre that is now the AMC Empire 25 (you can see it if you just walk in the lobby and look up at the ceiling)
- the remaining peep show and XXX DVD places on 8th Avenue and between 42nd-44th
- the freaky and surreal but beautiful lobby of the Paramount Hotel
- listening to the sound sculpture at the north end of the triangular pedestrian island located at Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets
- a peek inside the chic, Gothic-themed Night Hotel at 132 W 45th St, which seems a bit out of place with its surroundings

Times Square, for all its glitz, can still be an interesting place, if you ignore the Applebee's, Red Lobster, etc.

Also, the big branch of the New York Public Library is right around Times Square. Take a photo with Patience and Fortitude (the two Lions), at least.

If you're hungry, go over to the southeast corner of 53rd and 6th. Look for the halal cart with the giant line and red velvet rope. Stand in line with all the B+Ters and partygoers and night owls. Go easy on the red sauce, it's insanely spicy. Make sure you get the guys with the yellow bags, round containers, and round red/yellow logo. There's quite a few imitators out there. The real guys are on the southeast corner after about 7 or so until the wee hours of the night.

Go sit in Odessa in the East Village in the middle of the night and eat some crappy diner food, and hope you get to sit next to some cranks who've been living off of Tompkins Square Park since the 80s.

Or go to Katz's Deli, which is open until 2:45am on Fridays and Saturdays. Find the table where Harry and Sally sat.

Go to Union Square around 5-6am if it's a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday morning. Watch the farmers drive in and set up the farmer's markets. Famous chefs are out doing their schmoozing and shopping at this hour, too.
posted by kathryn at 12:28 PM on September 18, 2009 [18 favorites]

Holy cow, that's quite an itinerary, kathryn! I imagine no one would blink twice if I asked to see handbags, what with my being of the purse-carrying female type, and I'd probably avoid browsing too much porn with my little brother in tow, but otherwise, this is all pretty amazing! Thanks!
posted by Diagonalize at 12:39 PM on September 18, 2009

Seconding the Tenement Museum, though I seem to remember that you need to reserve tickets.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:46 PM on September 18, 2009

Do walk the Brooklyn Bridge, hit Jacques Torres, and walk through the surrounding neighborhood (DUMBO). Make sure you get down to the park along the water!!! When you get bored, hop on the F train at York Street to get back into NYC. Seconding PDT, it's a total hoot.

If you guys really like Scotch, and you decide to hit Times Square, go walk into the bar room at Keen's Steak and Chophouse for a glass - their menu has over 200 different Scotches, and the restaurant has been in business since 1871.

If it wasn't for the fact that the rest of Coney Island is a total wasteland at this point, I would even suggest the (very much a stretch) trip out to Coney Island to Ride the Cyclone, but given your time constraints that's a bit of a pinch.

It never hurts to pick up a copy of Time Out NY at any magazine shop to see what's going on once you arrive - there are a ton of things going on every night of the week.
posted by swngnmonk at 12:58 PM on September 18, 2009

If you're hungry, go over to the southeast corner of 53rd and 6th. Look for the halal cart with the giant line and red velvet rope. Stand in line with all the B+Ters and partygoers and night owls. Go easy on the red sauce, it's insanely spicy. Make sure you get the guys with the yellow bags, round containers, and round red/yellow logo. There's quite a few imitators out there. The real guys are on the southeast corner after about 7 or so until the wee hours of the night.

Should be the southwest corner actually, just south of the Hilton hotel. Either way you'll know by the enormous line.
posted by chalbe at 2:54 PM on September 18, 2009

Time-Out, New York used to have a guide every year to all the free things you can do in the city (with time-schedules). Ah yes, here it is. All neatly categorized. Have at it.

One piece of advice: whatever you do, try and stick to just a couple of geographical areas (W. Brooklyn to Lower East-Side, for example, or the Hell's Kitchen to the Village). New York is (physically) a lot larger than you realize, especially if you have to walk (Yes, I know the MTA is the greatest subway in the free world and the only one open 24/7, which is wonderful, but it is way too goddamned fucking expensive). /end rant.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:53 PM on September 18, 2009

I compiled a few answers from previous AskMes, a Kottke thread and a Chowhound thread to make this, my map of Manhattan on Google Maps.

posted by djgh at 4:50 PM on September 18, 2009 [4 favorites]

That map is excellent! Thanks, drjgh!
posted by Diagonalize at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2009

(Yes, I know the MTA is the greatest subway in the free world and the only one open 24/7, which is wonderful, but it is way too goddamned fucking expensive). /end rant.

At $2.25 a ride, I agree... but for one day tourists (though you would each need to buy one):

1-Day Fun Pass
Cost: $8.25
Good for unlimited subway and local bus rides from first use until 3 a.m. the following day. Sold at MetroCard Vending Machines and at neighborhood stores. Not available at station booths.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:29 PM on September 18, 2009

If you want to do the Brooklyn bridge but don't want to spend the time/distance, just go halfway across, sing a song or otherwise celebrate, then come back. That counts as crossing the bridge :-)
posted by CathyG at 9:56 PM on September 18, 2009

D'oh. The famous halal cart has a outpost southEAST corner during the day (until about 7ish) and there's the original, first one on the southWEST. In any case, look for this logo on a bright yellow bag and don't trust any vendor because they'll all answer, "Why yes! That's us!" if you ask.

Seconding a visit to the bar at Keens Steakhouse. Say hi to Ms. Keens for me.

Do walk the Brooklyn Bridge, hit Jacques Torres, and walk through the surrounding neighborhood (DUMBO). Make sure you get down to the park along the water!!! When you get bored, hop on the F train at York Street to get back into NYC. Seconding PDT, it's a total hoot.

Actually I think the Tribeca-ish Jacques Torres is more fun because a) Torres might actually be there and b) you can see them making the chocolates. It looks a bit like a Willy Wonka factory with big glass windows.

NB: there are some notes to make on drjgh's map
- the High Line is now a fully fledged park, not something you break into and walk illegally, any more
- there are two Shake Shacks now in Manhattan, one in Madison Square Park, and one on 77th and Columbus near Central Park on the UWS
- the cupcakes at Magnolia are not that great but I highly recommend any ice box pies they have
- Dessert Studio has closed
- Momofuku Noodle Bar moved 3 doors down the block, so it's about halfway down the block now
posted by kathryn at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you must go to central park, the place to get lunch is the Burger Joint in the Parker Meridian Hotel. 57th street between 6th and 7th ave.
posted by Freen at 1:23 PM on September 19, 2009

Also, I want to second kathryn's itinerary. That would truly be a grand day out.
posted by Freen at 1:25 PM on September 19, 2009

NB: there are some notes to make on drjgh's map

posted by djgh at 3:51 PM on September 19, 2009

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