Not your average NYC tourist guide
August 6, 2011 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm visiting New York City for the second time. The first time I was there for a month and travelled alone and did little of the "tourist" stuff. Now I'm going with my girlfriend who hasn't seem the city yet. I'm looking for personal experiences instead of general tourist guide style descriptions.

This could be anything from your personal answer to this post or links to travel stories, people's travel blogs, etc. The regular websites (e.g., NY Times) and listings about NYC don't tell me much. Maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places.

I'm purposefully not describing my interests or what I've already seen: I'm open to anything.

posted by wolfr to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (25 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Walk the length of Manhattan, from bottom to top, along Broadway. Well worth it and you see a good chunk of Manhattan in one day. Of course there are other NYC megawalks. Cheers!
posted by plep at 11:30 AM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'personal experience.' I mean, my personal experience of New York includes a lot of riding the subway back and forth between my apartment in Brooklyn and my office in Midtown. It also means lots of time spent in local bars, restaurants, parks, etc., and visiting the homes of friends and relatives. Most of these things are not on the tourist path, though some are.

That said, if you're looking to spend time outside the tourist areas, I'd say spend most of your time outside Manhattan. Ride the 7, check out the food in Flushing and Jackson Heights. Go to a hookah bar in Astoria. Get pierogis and sausages in Greenpoint then go to cocktail bar. Go to the Brooklyn Museum, Prospect Park, Coney Island. Drink a beer on the Staten Island Ferry (yes, I know, there's tourists there) then walk up to the Sri Lankan restaurant near the Staten Island end. Go to the Queens Hall of Science, look at the scale diorama of the five boroughs. Walk along the boardwalk in the Rockaways. Go to a Russian nightclub in Brighton Beach. Get pizza at Difara in Midwood and drink a cheap 40 of beer while you wait. Go to Pelham Bay Park for nature and City Island for seafood.

You could pretty easily make a vacation out of the four non-Manhattan boroughs of NYC, and you'd see few tourists outside of a couple of areas. I don't know that you'd want to do this, seeing as your girlfriend has never been here before (I mean, some of the tourist stuff is cool for a newcomer), but it would be a fun trip, if one that involves riding the subway a whole lot.
posted by breakin' the law at 11:30 AM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I enjoyed walking the length of the Highline park. Beautiful design, gardens, and in many places, beautiful views.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2011

The regular websites (e.g., NY Times) and listings about NYC don't tell me much.

Try Time Out, NewYorkology, or the New Yorker.

Previously, previously.
posted by John Cohen at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2011

Visit Brooklyn.

Go to the Brooklyn Promenade. Get off at Court Street in Brooklyn. Walk up Montague St to the promenade.

Go to the botanical gardens, one of the best in the counrty.

Go to Coney Island. It is past its prime, but it is still a great spot. Eat at Nathan's. Go to one of the freak shows (sword swallowing, tattoo people, etc). Walk the boardwalk. Ride the Cyclone.

There are lots of cool things in Brooklyn, and most tourists never bother to go there.
posted by Flood at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2011

Grand Central Station was much lovelier than I expected. Going there at rush hour is fun - the guards won't let you linger too long on the steps, but if you can hang out there for even a minute, you'll get the most incredible view of herds of commuters intersecting like schools of fish on the floor below.

I also liked just walking until I heard beautiful music, and then going there.
posted by jessicapierce at 12:07 PM on August 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

So, wait, i'm confused: do you want advice about what stuff (touristy or not) was really enjoyable? Or are you specifically looking for things that are off the beaten path/wouldn't be on nymag/nytimes?

(FYI, pretty much all paths in NYC are beaten, to some extent.)
posted by Kololo at 12:11 PM on August 6, 2011

-Barney Greengrass. A lox-and-bagel place, with rude service and lots of locals. Amsterdam at 86th.

-Fanelli's at Prince and Mercer. Burgers and beer. The large bald bartender is said to have once been a professional boxer.

-Walk around the West Village on a weekend afternoon.

-The Highline, for sure.

-Book Thug Nation 100 N. 3rd Street at Berry in Williamsburg. This is arguably the best small book store in the United States.

-Brazenhead Books -- a secret bookstore in this guy's apartment. The guy's name is Michael Seidenberg. Call him at (212) 288-7581 to arrange for an appointment. It's on the Upper East Side.

-If you can afford the $100 cover, go see Woody Allen play live jazz every Monday night at the Carlyle.

-The Met. You have to go to the Met.
posted by thecolor12 at 12:38 PM on August 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm seconding the love for Brooklyn, and I think the absolute best way to get there for a visit is a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge (which leaves you close the the Promenade when you get off on the Brooklyn side--you could also go downhill after getting off the bridge to check out Dumbo, which has a beautiful park along the river, a cool carousel, and other spots worth visiting.
posted by layceepee at 12:46 PM on August 6, 2011

I went last night to a Staten Island Yankees game. Took the ferry over. It was pretty great, and cheap. It was hilarious when they announced "welcome employees of the IRS!" (I guess a few people from the office got together and got tickets) and the whole ballpark booed. If you like baseball, I'd say do it. Also the ferry is free and you end up smelling like saltwater :) (You should do the ferry anyway, even if you don't go to a game.)
posted by AlisonM at 1:32 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sleep No More.

Head over the Williamsburg bridge toward Peter Luger but have dinner at Dressler instead.

Have pizza at L&B Spumoni.

Have a bloody Mary / whisky / beer at DBA. Have a bloody Mary at Old Town.

I was born and raised in NYC and if I had to work when I had friends in town, I'd tell them to buy an unlimited metrocard, get on the bus and hop off when something looked interesting.

Go to a rooftop film.

Go to a rollerderby bout!
posted by omarlittle at 2:12 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify: I want do to the tourist stuff because like breakin' the law said in his reply some of it is cool. But since I've already done most of that, I'm also looking for the hidden gems. To give an example: I don't have the slightest idea where we would go out at night.

I like getting recommendations even if it's from strangers; magazines and website reviewers tend to like anything and everything and will never be negative about some place. There's some great answers in here already. Thanks.
posted by wolfr at 2:22 PM on August 6, 2011

You can find all manner of interesting less-than-usually-touristy stuff to see at forgotten ny. It includes all 5 boroughs plus long island.
posted by elizardbits at 2:58 PM on August 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I used to live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and recommend that and Carroll Gardens to visitors--both are full of good restaurants, boutiques, bars, and clubs. The residential areas are mostly picturesque Sesame-Street-style brownstones. The main drags for Carroll Gardens are Smith Street and Court Street between Atlantic and 9th Street; the main drags of Park Slope are 5th and 7th Avenues, between, oh, Bergen and 9th Street. Park Slope is also, as its name implies, right off of Prospect Park, which is a great alternative to Central Park.

You could easily make a day (or two) of it by starting at the north end of Carroll Gardens, working your way south to 9th Street, hopping the F at 9th for two stops to 7th Avenue, and working your way north through Park Slope.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:03 PM on August 6, 2011

The F/G train station at Smith/9th is closed and will be for a while due to construction.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:51 PM on August 6, 2011

The circle line boat around New York is an awesome way to spend an afternoon and you get to see the city from a different angle.

Oh and I love the rooftop bar at the Metropolitan Museum. Its open seasonally but it has an amazing view and everyone I've taken has loved it.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 4:53 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: * pulls up chair and sits down *

1. One of the world's best pub quizzes is in a little bar called Rocky Sullivan's in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Thursday nights. Since getting to Red Hook is a bit tricky, though, plan to make a whole afternoon of it -- there's another bar called "fort Defiance" about two blocks from Rocky's which is one of the darlings of the bar scene right now, and one block north of that is a bakery/coffee shop called "Baked" which is another darling of the foodie scene. And two blocks east of THAT is a hole-in-the-wall place that makes nothing but key lime pies in various sizes -- and something they call the "Swingle," which is a baby key lime pie, deep-frozen, then dipped in chocolate and refrozen. Then have a quick jaunt in one of the kayaks that the Red Hook Boaters loan out for free for 20 minutes at a time, off a pier just north of the key lime pie place. ....If pub quizzes aren't your thing, come on Sunday afternoon for the other kayak sessions.

2. Catch the free ferry from Battery Park out to Governor's Island, where you can rent a bike or just walk around. It's an old army base that's been given over to the National Parks service and to various arts groups, so you have tours of the old fort rubbing elbows with hands-on art installation kinds of stuff (including a minigolf course). Lots of food trucks - and these are upscale food trucks -- offer food, and there's a picnic spot at the very southern end which has a few hammocks set up for the borrowing, and KILLER views of the Statue of Liberty.

3. Prospect Park is what Central Park was supposed to be like. The open spaces are more open, the views are prettier, the facilities are nicer and less obtrusive, and they have the best free concerts in summer. (I have seen Bill Withers, Lou Reed, The Swell Season and Dr. John so far there.) If you're a dog lover, check out the "dog beach" they have as well (a fenced-off part of the pond where people can bring their dogs to have a swim).

4. The Brooklyn Museum isn't too shabby either, nor is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Both are right bang next to each other, and both are small enough that you can hit both in the same day. Or, if you're there on the first Saturday of a given month, hit the garden first -- then wait until the early evening to head to the museum, because they have free admission and all sorts of quirky special events (like a dance in the 3rd floor grand hall).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:58 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, first off, as someone who's visited NYC upwards of a dozen times over the last 8 years, i gotta tell ya: there's no way you've seen most of the tourist stuff yet. There's so much!

If you can get tickets, definitely see Sleep No More, as suggested above. I went when i was in NYC last weekend, and i literally felt like it was the best 'experience' i've ever paid for. It's surreal.

The Tenement Museum is really interesting - you don't often get their sort of 'living history' experience anywhere else i've been.

On sunday, go to brooklyn and wander around Williamsburg and go to the Brooklyn Flea.

For going out at night: it really depends on what you're looking for. If you want to go out dancing, and drinking, and general fun silliness like that, the head to the LES and bar hop.
posted by Kololo at 5:14 PM on August 6, 2011

Best answer: Seconding Sleep No More. Very hard to describe, but exceedingly cool.

I also really enjoyed the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl.
posted by Noon Under the Trees at 9:13 PM on August 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can give specific dates, it's easier to recommend events and things. Where to go out at night depends upon what you're drinking (beer, wine, cocktails), or if you want to do a specific activity (dancing, skeeball/video games/bowling, etc) while also drinking. The Highline is also gorgeous at night.

Thirding Sleep No More. Also Tenement Museum, Brooklyn Flea (go to Smorgasburg too), the Brooklyn Promenade. And outside of Manhattan, if you don't mind the travel time, do check out Woodside (Sripraphai), Jackson Heights, Di Fara, Kabab Cafe in Astoria, maybe Brighton Beach, Totonno's pizza in Coney Island, Flushing.

Re: Di Fara & Barney Greengrass, check hours before you go. Di Fara is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. BG is closed one day of the week as well.

See also:
An urbanist travels to New York
NYC for nerds
Greatest hits of NY
posted by kathryn at 5:57 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Dates --> Mid september
posted by wolfr at 8:08 AM on August 7, 2011

Check out Newyorkology's calendar.
posted by kathryn at 9:40 AM on August 7, 2011

Some free + mellow/awesome stuff: Have yourselves a wander around the Central Park Reservoir at sundown. If you're so inclined, grab some portable chow, stop at one of the more dazzling spots, grab some grass and make it an impromptu picnic. I've jogged that track nightly for years now and you can still find me surreptitiously blowing kisses like a complete idiot or stopping dead in my tracks to marvel at the magnificence of that view. And if you wander from there out the east side at the main entrance at 90th st. or so, you'll be able to mosey down museum mile and check out the Guggenheim and other assorted buildings at night when they're all lit up and lovely.

Another excellent outside wander or bike-rental adventure is the long riverside path on the far West Side, where you could pop in for a free kayaking lesson on the East River down around... 10th street or so? I think? Google will know. Bike rentals seem to be

Another suggestion if you're food-adventurous: make it a mini-mission to try to exclusively dine on foods you've never had a chance to experience before. Afghani. Ethiopian. Yemeni. All completely delicious. You can find all kinds of restaurants here you probably won't find elsewhere. Try them. They're awesome. They will take you off the beaten path of your average tourist, and are usually unique little experiences in themselves.
posted by involution at 5:43 PM on August 7, 2011

Holy crap, me - really? Dropping off in mid-sentence? Yeesh.

That's supposed to say: "Bike rentals seem to be on offer all over town these days."
posted by involution at 5:52 PM on August 7, 2011

Response by poster: I'm back from my trip and compressed my newfound knowledge in a guide. Thanks everyone!
posted by wolfr at 6:46 AM on October 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

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