Help me experience NYC to the fullest, while I have the spare time.
December 29, 2010 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently unemployed and living in New York City. I have a lot of spare time that I haven't really been taking advantage of — if you were in my situation, how would you explore/take in the city to the fullest? Note: I'm broke, so suggestions must be free or cheap.

Please, no recommendations for finding work. I'm already on that. I just want to take advantage of my free time while I have it. Ideas needn't be one shot things. Recommendations for pursuits that take an extended period of time would be great, too.
posted by defenestration to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
As an NYC resident you will invariably be asked to show people around, so you might as well bone up on those skills. You never really realize how much you tend to stick to the same haunts until someone asks you to show them something cool. So pretend you're showing someone around and go find shit - it may help to have a friend along.

Also: go sign up for a college class, drop it before you have to pay, and use your Student ID to get in places you would regularly have to pay for (MoMA, etc.)
posted by griphus at 10:18 AM on December 29, 2010

Volunteer as an usher for off-Broadway shows! This is an old list, but somewhere to start.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:26 AM on December 29, 2010

It's an obvious suggestion, but spend a lot of time at the Met. When they say "suggested donation," they mean it-- you can give whatever change you have in your pocket. It's really nice to know a museum well enough that, when you're visiting with a friend and they say, "I'd really like to see so-and-so," you know exactly where to go, and which cool things to point out on the way.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're banking with Bank of America, check the website - there's something on there about getting into museums for free. I haven't checked this, but when I was in San Francisco, I got into a few museums with the BoA card. I think MOMA might be on the list, as well as some of the other big ones; there might be set days for the freebie.

Go and wander the parks - check out the one near the Cloisters (Inwood, I think); go for a subway ride out to Coney Island or even take the train to Montauk and see the lighthouse. Find a guidebook or a tourist website and see if you can follow all the recommended walking tours (Frommer's might be good for this).

Volunteer at one of the many, many soup kitchens in the City; or the food bank; or wherever else that catches your interest.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2010

I went through this two years ago. Not sure of your interests/talents but:
- find the free days/evenings for the museums
- do your own walking tour (take photos if you're in to photography)
- explore the cemetaries (find famous people, etc.)
- take advantage of the lottery system for broadway shows (tix for $20)
- people watch
- volunteer (also great for networking)
- take advantage of happy hour!!

I also tasked myself with a creative project that forced me out of the house. I also took advantage of hanging out with some acquaintances who were in the same boat who became fast friends (most of my friends had jobs and couldn't spontaneously go to a diner for cheap breakfast at 10:30am on Wed).
posted by getmetoSF at 10:31 AM on December 29, 2010

You want The Skint.

I'll admit that being broke in New York is a lot easier in the warmer months. You can go dick around in parks, explore new neighborhoods, wander down interesting side streets, eat taxi driver Indian takeout or Yonah Shimmel knishes on Houston Street...

However, in the winter one can always take advantage of the fact that, ultimately, the Metropolitan Museum is "pay what you wish". (Ignore the $20 "suggested" donation.) There's no way anyone can see all of the Met in one day - I worked there for a year and had virtually unlimited access to the galleries, and there's still a lot I haven't seen.

Better than a bogus student discount would be volunteering at a museum (or other cultural institute, perhaps?). Your museum ID card will get you into just about any other museum in the city, for free.

It also wouldn't be a bad idea to invest in a membership to MoMA, where you can watch classic films all day, to your heart's content.
posted by Sara C. at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would go to the Met and visit the Temple of Dendur every damn day. Then I would go wandering around the museum. Then back to the Temple of Dendur.

The Met is suggested entry donation - so you can give them a dollar and still visit. An art student friend of mine in the way back used to give them a dime!

Yeah. The Temple of Dendur. I'm so jealous.
posted by jbenben at 10:33 AM on December 29, 2010

...go for a subway ride out to Coney Island.

I'd suggest waiting for better weather (or even spring) to go to Coney Island. It's sort of a incredibly windy, seagull-packed (I'm talking Hitchcock-density here) wasteland this time of year, and not in the best neighborhood, to boot. If you do decide to go, however, make it around sunset and bring a camera and go out on to the boardwalk extension that's just a bit away from Astroland Luna Park, going toward the stadium. For about fifteen minutes, the sun setting over the water is absolutely beautiful.
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on December 29, 2010

...okay, that strikeout should have ended after the word Astroland.
posted by griphus at 10:36 AM on December 29, 2010

Heh, I came in to say "go to the Met every damn day until the weather gets warmer".

This woman blogs about going to the Met every day but she hasn't been updating much lately.
posted by anastasiav at 10:38 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go to Shakespeare in the Park. It's a summertime thing. Tickets are free (but you need lots of time to wait in line). Check out this previously.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:39 AM on December 29, 2010

Oh, also, if you're interested in any particular academic subject, check out the event calendars for academic departments at NYU and Columbia. You'd be surprised how many free talks you can get into without a student ID.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:43 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

What I did during my periods of NYC unemployment was get really into cooking. If you're not already into cooking already, this is a great way to save money as well as taking up a lot of time. Go to the library and look at what cookbooks they have if you don't feel like googling recipes. If you get some sort of non-American cookbook, like Greek or Thai or Chinese or whatnot, you can also have fun traveling to whatever neighborhoods have stores specializing in these things.
posted by wondermouse at 10:43 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you been on the Staten Island ferry at sunset?
posted by nicwolff at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2010

For free drinks, I used to use

To find out about gallery openings (once the new year starts), use the Douglas Kelly Show List.

Use google to find a full list of free/suggested donation museums. My favorites are the Met (as everyone has mentioned), Natural History, and the Forbes Galleries.

When broke, I also like to eat inexpensive dumplings in the Brooklyn, Queens, or Manhattan Chinatown.
posted by abirae at 11:02 AM on December 29, 2010

Hang out at Etsy Labs and learn how to sew, or knit, or craft. Join a choir. Take cheap yoga classes at Yoga to the People. Volunteer to sell merch at small rock shows; get free admission in return. Take your laptop to various cafes, a different one every day until you find one that suits you. When it gets warmer, visit one of New York's millions of cemeteries and take photos of the parrots. Go down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, set up a ladder outside the wall, and take photos of the crumbling, abandoned officers' quarters. Do crazy awesome street art. Get that student ID. Visit the Cloisters, because you probably haven't done it yet. Or the Frick. MOMA and the Met and the Guggenheim are awesome, yes, but if you've been there a thousand times try the Tenement Museum or the Museum of Sex or the New Museum. Join a hipster cooking club. Look on Nonsense NYC for ridiculous things you'd like to try. Get a group of friends together to participate in the Quiz-Off at Pete's Candy Store, or enter the Williamsburg Spelling Bee. (No cover! No drink minimum!) Learn to ice skate! Join a food co op; take cooking classes in exchange for your labors. Join a book club -- say, the Bushwick Book Club. Volunteer at the Brooklyn Public Library, reading to kids or helping folks learn to read. Spend lots and lots of time looking at microfilm at the 42nd Street library, because microfilm is awesome and free and you can research anything in the whole entire world. Go to lots of book readings, which are almost always free.

Really, anything you can think of to do, you can do. There are free or cheap classes in just about everything, there are communities for absolutely everything, and all you have to give up is a bit of courage.
posted by brina at 11:24 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I fantasize about going to random outer boro subway stops and exploring. One day, I would love to visit every stop on the 7 - it's like traveling the world, going from Bangladesh to Singapore to Ecuador, with just a MetroPass.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:27 AM on December 29, 2010

No one is going to argue that NYC is cheap, but if you have a living situation sorted and enough money to keep yourself fed, I would think that NYC would be one of the best places to have a lot of free time, even without a lot of extra money. I recall an article in the NYT a few years ago give or take about a couple that decided not to spend any money one year (other than for absolute necessities). They sought out free films, lectures, days at museums, etc. and were shocked to discover how much you can do for free in NYC (and they saved something like $15,000 to boot).

Here is a website that lists free museums, as well as those with suggested donations and pay as you wish days for others.

If you need to brush up on basic computer skills or entry level personal finance, NYPL has free classes. They also have free exhibitions.

I'm sure that there are other places you can check for the cultural stuff, but if you just are looking for cheap fun things to do you can also check out Broke Ass Stuart's blog.
posted by kaybdc at 11:30 AM on December 29, 2010

Be a part of a live studio audience.
posted by sswiller at 11:33 AM on December 29, 2010

Looks to be lots of great urbex opportunities in NYC.
posted by TheManChild2000 at 11:53 AM on December 29, 2010

Sign-up with NY Cares and do some volunteer projects. They've got one shot volunteer opportunities (play bingo with seniors, take kids to the zoo, play math games with kids, do mock interviews with job seekers) as well as ones that require mulit-session commitments of usually once a week for 6 weeks(be an English language conversation partner, record books for the blind, tutor adults/children). Great way to spend time without spending money while doing good for others.
posted by Pineapplicious at 12:22 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, meant to add that if you choose volunteer projects outside your neighborhood/borough then it'll be a great opportunities to explore NYC.
posted by Pineapplicious at 12:24 PM on December 29, 2010

I'd hang out at one of the several gazillion libraries you have. One of them has, for instance, hundreds of boxes of original materials about the Spanish Civil War - there are tons of photos and letters from my grandfather there.

I would also do a Revolutionary War walking tour, because it amuses me how people were marching up and down the island, attacking each other in the forests, and now it's completely urbanized.

Oh, and I'd watch all those New York scenes in movies and pick shots and go get my picture taken such that I could pair each screenshot with a meshot. I would put it all on Flickr and hope for internet fame.

And if I had some money but not a lot, I'd try to go to all of those famous cheap restaurants (in LA we have Pink's, for instance) with celebrity photos on the wall. Also that diner where Jonathan Larson and Jesse Martin worked before they did Rent.

Plus, window shopping. Now is the time to go to FAO Schwartz without being at risk of spending too much, because you can't spend anything at all.

I think also some of the NYC consulates have events. When I did my DC internship I did tons of free embassy stuff.
posted by SMPA at 12:28 PM on December 29, 2010

Natural History

I've found the ticket sellers at the Natural History museum to be the toughest cookies in the Suggested Donation wars. They will glare deep into your eyes when you hand them a dollar. You will feel the burn of 5 billion years of natural historical shame. Stare them down, and consider it points added to your NYC cred.
posted by Sara C. at 12:59 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd hang out at one of the several gazillion libraries you have. One of them has, for instance, hundreds of boxes of original materials about the Spanish Civil War - there are tons of photos and letters from my grandfather there.

A lot of these collections are not open to the public.

When I did my DC internship I did tons of free embassy stuff.

DC, as a city, has a lot more official free stuff on offer as compared to New York. I've also found (though I have friends who've worked on capitol hill) that access to semi-private events is much easier. I was there for Obama's inauguration, and when we got tired of waiting in that damn Blue Ticket security line, we decided to just go hit up one of the lobbyist parties on the Hill. Heat, shelter, free food, open bar, big screen TV broadcasting the ceremony, all because somebody tangentially knew somebody and sent a text and presto, doors opened. This is something that would pretty much never happen in New York.
posted by Sara C. at 1:04 PM on December 29, 2010

Well, the collection at NYU where my grandpa's stuff is just wants you to call or email first. I've gotten that response a lot from NY academic types - if you go through a curator for a particular collection (or whatever,) it's not nearly as exclusive as you'd think.

As for free stuff - yeah, DC is pretty much made of free. A side effect of depending on the unpaid labor of interns, I think.
posted by SMPA at 1:45 PM on December 29, 2010

A friend of mine is a librarian in such a collection. All I wanted for my birthday was to visit him at work and lay eyes on some of the original On The Road scrolls. Nein. Access denied.

It's a lot easier to get access to that stuff if you can say, "some of the items in your collection belonged to my grandfather."
posted by Sara C. at 1:48 PM on December 29, 2010

Walk the streets. I did tons of that when I had similar amounts of free time, alone and with similarly inclined flâneurs, and I never got tired of it—every side street has its own beauties and weirdnesses. There's no better way to get to know a city, and unlike going to the Met and all the other excellent suggestions, it's something you're unlikely to make time for when you're gainfully employed.
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I asked about this before NYC-weird-stuff-to-do-for-visitors. In particular, I loved Barcade, The Earth Room, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.
posted by gregglind at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2010

Seconding NY Cares, a great organization and you can do one shot things that will get you to a new neighborhood and meeting some people.

If you had something that you were really interested in in college you can take advantage of one of the great research libraries in the world.

If you have a camera, no matter how basic, you might enjoy taking street photography, when you are looking for something beautiful in every block you see the city a whole new way.
posted by shothotbot at 4:07 PM on December 29, 2010

Go to the Living Museum at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. It's a studio/gallery space in a former cafeteria on the grounds of one of New York's state psych centers. The art is by current and former patients, some of whom may be working on pieces when you're there. It is beyond awesome. You have to call and make an appt, but you can go any weekday except one (Wednesday, I think). I'm on my phone, so I can't look up the number, but I usually find it on the Office of Mental Health website or by googling some combination of Creedmoor and Living Museum.
posted by Mavri at 4:58 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest waiting for better weather (or even spring) to go to Coney Island.

Off-season, shuttered Coney is actually pretty fun -- it was all chain link and dobermans and tumbleweeds and shoot the geek banners partially ripped down in tatters in winter. Maybe that's all changed now, though. Having plenty of free time is exactly why you should go, though, because when you're busy you have a harder time justifying doing seemingly pointless things. Take a camera, hit all five boroughs looking for things in an interesting state of seasonal disarray. This would take forever if you didn't have your days free.

Assuming it will be dug out, walking the Brooklyn (and Manhattan) bridge can be therapeutic. Works as a daily ritual. It's one of those few spots in the city that really grants you space to think, and for me that usually translates into inspiration. There's a small grocery at the NE corner of Adams and Tillary, a crappy cut of hot coffee can help make this more enjoyable in the winter.

Prospect Heights has a bunch of things to do for cheap. Winter weekdays are free at the Brooklyn Botanic garden. The desert pavilion is an oasis. Free admission to the Brooklyn Museum this Sunday. The Brooklyn public library central branch is showing "Drawn in Brooklyn" in the foyer. There is some strange puppet shit inside the GOP arch but maybe that's only open in summer.
posted by eddydamascene at 10:28 PM on December 29, 2010

N-thing the library. Pick a topic to research and read, read, read!

Spend two mornings a week reading the New Yorker at a coffee shop.

Crafting! Freecycle can be competitive in Brooklyn, but the weird crap I've ended up with has inspired me to make art.

Take a walk through Prospect Park - it's so beautiful right now and throughout the winter. (Meet me at my office on PPW and 5th and I can take you around in my electric buggy. We were supposed to hang out again after the meetup last summer anyway!)

Exploring neighborhoods with a camera is always satisfying, IMO. And as eddydamascene said above, Coney Island is gorgeous right now, as is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

But most important to me during my unemployment in 2008 was volunteer work. Go on and pick something that looks interesting and commit to it for one or two shifts a week. That's how I got all my freelance work in 2009.
posted by anthropoid at 5:27 PM on December 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommendations, everyone. This thread is full of great ideas.
posted by defenestration at 10:46 AM on December 31, 2010

I bake a lot instead of cooking; spices and whatnot are expensive

Not if you know where to find the cheap ones! In Queens, we've got a chain of grocery stores called Trade Fair. They have a bunch of spices for $2 or less per jar, by brands like La Flor, Badia, and Maya (this one would be in the Indian food section). The unemployed cooking quest is fun because you actually have time to seek out the places that will get you the best deals. Spices that cost $5-6 by McCormick go for $1.79 by La Flor, and they come in a nice glass jar too.

There is a big Trade Fair right down the stairs from the N Train at 30th avenue, if you do decide to go on a spice hunt.
posted by wondermouse at 8:11 PM on December 31, 2010

The La Flor and Badia brands are available at just about every midrange and lower supermarket I've used in New York, actually. I know the spices are subpar in quality and probably sourced via unethical/non-sustainable means, but when you have a dollar to spend on spices, they are always there. Awesome for experimenting, actually - you can do Penzeys and Kalustyan's when you are a little more confident in your Mad Cooking Skills.

(Kalustyan's is an amazing store to browse in, though, and when you're unemployed, splurging on $4 specialty spices/dry goods/condiments feels really special and provides a lot more value than the equivalent spent at McDonald's.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:24 PM on December 31, 2010

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