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May 1, 2012 12:54 PM   Subscribe

New York City vacation! Metafilter made San Francisco so memorable, can you do the same with New York?

My family of four adults (Mom,Dad,Son-23yo,Daughter-20yo) are arriving in New York on May 14th and leaving on May 24th. We are planning to book an apartment via Our choices are somewhat limited due to the last-minute planning and the long stay, but I think I have a nice place in Soho available. Not booked yet, so if you think I should change that please let me know. (We like booking the vacation apartments because we have more room and don't have to eat breakfast out every day.) We will not have a car.

We loved San Francisco, thanks to the unbelievable help from Mefites and yelp. We want to do the usual touristy stuff, but the nice long length of the stay gives us plenty of time for more off-the-beaten-path things, too. Quirky is good, inexpensive works really well but is not necessary. We are not high-end foodies and one of us is vegetarian. (Will yelp be as helpful in Manhattan as it was in SF?) Dad likes jazz and any music-related stuff, kids love art, bookstores, brainy stuff. We enjoy museums and most of our activities will be centered there, but probably wont' be interested in a Broadway show.

We are looking for suggestions of things to do, places to go, people to see. Food and accommodation advice would also be greatly appreciated.
posted by raisingsand to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (29 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Dad should look at the various Jazz clubs we have here in NYC. I would suggest Birdland since it has dinner and you can get two things accomplished in one place. Yelp is actually wonderful in NYC, but what kinds of food do you like? I can suggest lots of different places if you tell me what cuisine you like. Give me an idea of what you have planned so far and I can suggest places to eat and things to visit around your plans. Mail me!
posted by Yellow at 1:08 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

You wont need a car if you're in SoHo, you can pretty much get to any of the places you need to in the 5 boroughs of NYC via mass transit - get a subway map you will master it in seconds.
Buy metrocard credits in bulk (subway tokens. also work for the buses)

When boarding subways just be knowledgeable of uptown/downtown trains - I feel like this trows off a lot of visitors. Dont be afraid to ask someone for quick subway help.

Yelp is my best friend and I live here. It will help you find food/drinks no problem.

A few places to check out (there are thousands)
The Village Vanguard is cool for Jazz shows and live music in general. is also amazing. Every show, every night.

Check out strand bookstore its cool, famous, quirky used bookstore.

Check out the MoMA and the MET for art. The transit museum is cool to check out in Brooklyn if you have the time. Its kinda off the beaten path but is worth it if you like engineering and the most vast subway system on earth.

Avoid Times Square their theaters unless you want to feel like you're in Disney.

NYC is great, Ill never live elsewhere. Enjoy your stay.
posted by just_another_crowd at 1:09 PM on May 1, 2012

We like all kinds of food. The kids are especially adventurous foodies, but we have a pretty casual family style and don't do the high end stuff. And Son is vegetarian but easy to please. Street food is always fun for us, ethnic is good. We like local, not much for the chains. Beer/food pairings work well for us!
posted by raisingsand at 1:17 PM on May 1, 2012

If you like off-the-beaten-path and you like art, go to the Living Museum at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. It's a studio/gallery space of outsider art 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, information is here. It is a schlep to get there (subway + bus). Seeing the museum itself won't take long (maybe an hour), but the entire round trip will take 3-4 hours (including museum time). I haven't been there in a few years, but the psychiatrist who set up the program was there last time and talked to us about it. I think he's there a lot. Your enjoyment will probably depend on whether/how much you like outsider art, but I absolutely love it.
posted by Mavri at 1:18 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Prepare for an onslaught.

We enjoy museums

In Soho, you'll be near the New Contemporary Art Museum. MoMA and the Met are also the big kahunas; just so you know, MoMA is free from 4 pm to closing every Friday night, and the admission price they show at the Met is "suggested". You can get in for 5 bucks if you want (the clerk may grumble, but tough).

What Just-Another-crowd says about subways is true. Soho is also close enough to Brooklyn that you can get their fairly quickly on the subway (it'll be equidistant from your hotel to the Met as it is from your Hotel to Brooklyn, in fact), and Brooklyn has its own decent art museum.

The Cloisters may be a really nice jaunt on a sunny day - it's going to be kind of a hike though, but a do-able one. The Cloisters is a satellite entity to the Met - it's the Met's medieval collection, all housed in a separate building perched in the middle of a park way up at the top of Manhattan. The building itself is a medieval monastery that was packed up and shipped here brick by brick. It sits in the middle of Fort Tyron park - a fairly quiet, non-busy park way up in the north end of Manhattan; it'll take you about an hour or so to get all the way up on the A train; you get off at the second-to-last stop and then walk through the park, which will be GORGEOUS in spring. (Every time I go I end up fantasizing that I'm this medieval pilgrim traveling through the woods to come to this castle; the park is pretty enough you just end up doing that.)

As for "quirky" -- Governors' Island will probably be open on the weekends by then, and that's NIFTY as all hell. You can get there for free -- there's a free ferryboat right next to the Staten Island Ferry; the place used to be first an Army base and then a Coast Guard base, and now only half of it is open to the public. Of the bits open to the public, half is given over to National Park Service displays on the old historic fort and army bases, and the other half is taken over by contemporary artists, food stands, music, quirky games, etc. You can rent bikes and use them to get around the island (no cars are allowed), or just walk around; it's a fantastic spot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:19 PM on May 1, 2012

Upon review -- oh, if street food is your thing, you DEFINITELY gotta get to Governor's Island. Street cart food is going high-scale here, and a lot of the fancier-ass food trucks are all stationed on Governor's Island. You'll have NO trouble finding vegetarian offerings -- you'll even find locavore gluten-free VEGAN places.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on May 1, 2012

If you are looking for some very reasonably priced things to do at night and you like improv comedy, you could do a lot worst than the Upright Citizens Brigade.
posted by mmascolino at 1:28 PM on May 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh, blast! I'm sorry - I just checked and Governor's Island is not open until May 27th, and you'll be gone by then. Shoot!

HOWEVER! New York has a whole association set up to support its gourmet food trucks, and you may be able to find the more interesting ones on there. A few of the listed trucks have "schedules" for where they will be (one of my old co-workers used to keep the schedule for the Belgian Waffle truck bookmarked on his computer, so he could occasionally go outside and make waffle runs for us both).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:31 PM on May 1, 2012

We saw UCB at Bonnarroo one year, so thanks for that reminder. Governors' Island is exactly the kind of thing we're looking for, I think I read a novel set there somewhat recently and forgot about it until you mentioned it.

(Haha, this is kind of a competition between East Coast and West Coast!)
posted by raisingsand at 1:31 PM on May 1, 2012

Boo on the opening date for Governors' Island. We only have a few food trucks in Memphis, but they post their locations on social media so we can all find them.
posted by raisingsand at 1:38 PM on May 1, 2012

Oh! And you will be in town for one of Matt Timm's food takedowns! Matt Timms is a local Brooklyn guy who started all of these wild amateur food contests just for fun; they've ballooned into a huge nationwide thing now.

And on May 19th and 20th, he will be part of something called The Googamooga, which appears to be an enormous food festvial (and worth investigating in its own right). Part of the festival's festivities appear to be a hot sauce contest.

The rest of the Googamooga seems to be really interesting too -- 75 restaurants, wineries, and breweries are taking part, there is an entire PIZZA-TASTING pavilion, an open-air market of artisinal food products, and tons more.

(I'm bookmarking that because I didn't know about it and I may turn up myself, because DAMN.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:38 PM on May 1, 2012

I just got back yesterday and would highly recommend spending some time in Brooklyn Heights and walking the promenade. It is close to the bridge and the High Street – Brooklyn Bridge subway stop.
posted by soelo at 1:40 PM on May 1, 2012

Nearly everything in NYC that is a tourist attraction is basically accessible via subway, bus, and/or walking. Most of Manhattan is also easily accessible from where you are staying.

If you are in the city and have an iPhone, you'll love Yelp. Also Menupages. You can use the built in Maps app to get point to point subway directions, or a specialized application like iTrans.

Governors' Island will probably be open on the weekends by then

Unfortunately Governors Island re-opens to the public on May 26, 2012, too late for OP.

And on May 19th and 20th, he will be part of something called The Googamooga, which appears to be an enormous food festvial (and worth investigating in its own right). Part of the festival's festivities appear to be a hot sauce contest.

The free general admission tickets have been incredibly hard to get for the GoogaMooga festival the two times they have gone on sale (crashed Eventbrite). Especially after they announced that Hall & Oates, the Roots, etc were playing for free. Also it's their first time putting the GoogaMooga festival on; it may be a crowded logistical nightmare. Not sure I would recommend a tourist spend their valuable time on something that is unproven.

However, if you like street food festivals/open air flea markets, try:
Hester St Fair
New Amsterdam Market
Madison Square Eats

Where to Eat in NY.

See also, the Vegetarian Option, which highlights the best vegetarian dishes at omnivore-friendly restaurants in New York City.

For interesting vegetarian off the top of my head:
Indian - Chennai Garden, Tiffin Wallah, Tulsi (pricier), Saravana Bhavan/Saravanaas
Chinese - Grand Sichuan St Marks, Xi'an Famous Foods (spicy!)
Korean - Hangawi
Italian/pizza - Scarpetta, Motorino, Otto, Eataly's Le Verdure restaurant, Paulie Gee's
American - Westville, Northern Spy, The Green Table, Gramercy Tavern (the front room is cheaper/more casual)
Burger - Shake Shack (shroom burger)
Sandwiches - Tiny's, 'wichcraft, No. 7 Sub
Middle Eastern - Taim (they have a truck, too), King of Falafel and Shawarma (also has a cart), Babaloosta, Hummus Place

None of these are super high end (like Per Se) but you might experience sticker shock based upon what you're used to for pricing. Look up menus on Menupages in advance.

I highly recommend some only in NY type foods: bagels and smoked salmon, pastrami on rye, pizza, hot dogs & papaya juice, black and white cookies, cheesecake, egg creams, pickles, halal carts. (The vegetarian will probably abstain from the smoked salmon, pastrami, hot dogs, and halal carts).

NYC's greatest hits: Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center, MoMA, Times Square, Grand Central, Central Park, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and/or the American Museum of Natural History. Add on the 9/11 Memorial (you MUST get the free tickets online ahead of time) and the High Line. Don't go to South Seaport.

Strange Places and Oddities in NYC

Some of my favorite NYC activities.

I think you might like Sleep No More (immersive, arty, brainy, dance driven reinterpretation of Macbeth meets Hitchcock without dialogue, a promenade aka non-sitting performance). Buy tickets ASAP if you are interested. There's magically a few weekday slows open right now (the rest of the times are sold out for the duration of your stay). (NYTimes interactive feature).

War Horse at Lincoln Center is amazing, too, even if you hate regular theatre. TED Talk by the creator.
posted by kathryn at 1:48 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Spend an afternoon in Brooklyn. Take the R-Train to Court St in Brooklyn.

From there, walk up Montague St (which is mentioned in the song, Tangled Up In Blue, by Dylan) - walk to the Brooklyn Promenade. It is one of the most famous views of the NYC skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge. From there, walk around Brooklyn Heights a bit. It is a beautiful neighborhood. Seasame Street is modeled after this neighborhood.

There are lots of good restaurants on Montague St too. My favorite is Armando's - a little Italian place. When Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller lived in that area, they ate there frequently.

Make your way back to the Court St station. From there, walk down the Fulton Street Mall (a walking street). The Fulton Street Mall is a colorful place, full of all sorts of interesting folks. At the end of the Fulton Street Mall is Junior's. Possible the best cheese-cake in the world. A Classic NYC institution.

Enjoy you cake, and head back to the subway. This little excursion would take a few hours (more if eat on Montague), include about 2miles walking, and give you a great look at Brooklyn.

There are other parts of NYC besides Manhattan Island.

(I assume you have smart phones with maps, so I didnt give precise directions.)
posted by Flood at 1:51 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Since you're going to be here so long, why not make a point to visit all five boroughs? Here are several things I'd suggest outside Manhattan (only scratching the surface, of course):

--NYC transit museum: if you like mass transit, this is your mecca
--Brooklyn Museum: has strong collections of both classical and contemporary art, as well as amazing period rooms and two historic Dutch Brooklyn farmhouses in their entirety
--Brooklyn Public Library: pop into the main building if you go to the Brooklyn Museum; it's just a neat building
--Coney Island: you can rent bikes near Prospect Park and take the protected bike path down Ocean Parkway
--Greenwood Cemetery to see the wild parrots of Brooklyn
--Brooklyn Heights promenade
--BAM: see a play or another performance; cheaper and often much better than Broadway (though don't expect to find any big Broadway style musicals)

--New York Botanic Garden
--Edgar Allen Poe house
--Italian food on Arthur Avenue (this is something I still haven't done but really want to)

--The Panorama of New York City at the Queens Museum of Art: you might consider doing this at the beginning of your trip--it'll give you a sense of the scale of the city very different from the absolutely wacky sense you get from the ubiquitous subway map
--try many different ethnic restaurants along the 7 train line
--Museum of the Moving Image
--Noguchi Museum & Socrates Sculpture Park

Staten Island
--Snug Harbor: see the great architecture and check out the Maritime Museum and the Art Museum
--THE FERRY, preferably at sunset or at night

And a couple of my favorite Manhattan suggestions just because:
--Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side for really amazing bagels
--The Cathedral of St. John the Divine: the largest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. Make sure to go on one of the tours that takes you up the belltower
--The New-York Historical Society: hundreds and hundreds of artifacts of life in New York city over the entirety of its existence
posted by ocherdraco at 1:54 PM on May 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you want to do something widly odd and somewhat Fellini-esque, go to Tads Steak House in Times Square. They have one in San Francisco too.

It's the worlds cheapest steak and it comes with all the trimmings. You get your prison-grade meat on a tray and then the show begins. My husband freaked right the hell out, I can tell you that.

I second Moma on Friday night. Lots of young folks trying for dates, but it's a great museum.

Have a great time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:09 PM on May 1, 2012

Definitely take a S I Ferry ride on a nice clear night.
posted by jara1953 at 2:54 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely stay at The Plaza.
posted by lotusmish at 3:19 PM on May 1, 2012

Everyone else will be much more helpful with telling you about Awesome Things To Do, but with regards to Yelp as a tool for NYC-navigation: It's definitely helpful and I used it A LOT!

That said, particularly in trendier neighborhoods, the star ratings don't really stand on their own. I don't know if this is true in other cities or not, but here the curve is constantly being thrown off by bizarre one or two-star ratings -- "We didn't get seated fast enough, so we left -- ONE STAR!" "This legendary steakhouse has NO vegetarian options! TWO STARS." "The waiter seemed like he was judging me for my order! ONE STAR!" You get the idea. And the more popular a restaurant is, the more this kind of thing happens. Combined with people who come with insanely high expectations and are inevitably disappointed, the once-stellar rating will start to creep down, even if the food and service are as excellent as they ever were.

The end result is that while the ratings are a great place to start, once you've culled down your list to the places you're most interested in, you really need to go in and actually read through some of the reviews. That's when you'll get a sense of what people liked about the restaurant and whether or not certain complains keep coming up over and over again.

Hope that's at least a little helpful!

NYC in the springtime is fantastic, whatever your family decides to do I'm sure you'll have a great time!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:45 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Son has recently chimed in and requested info on spoken word performances. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
posted by raisingsand at 4:14 PM on May 1, 2012

For spoken word check out the KGB Bar or Bowery Poetry Club. Both are not far from Soho.

The Museum of the City of New York currently has a great exhibit on the development of Manhattan's street grid.
posted by plastic_animals at 5:40 PM on May 1, 2012

The 39th Annual Ninth Avenue International Food Festival is running in Hell's Kitchen on May 19th and 20th.

This free event has food from the many, many restaurants in the area (and some not quite in the area) along with street vendors and such.
posted by mountmccabe at 5:49 PM on May 1, 2012

If you are feeling pretty adventurous, you can head to Queens to the Ganesh Temple. The canteen food is awesome and veggie-friendly. It is one of those "am I actually still in the US?" places.
posted by Shebear at 6:37 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

My favorit resteraunt when I used to live in nyc was the Olive Tree Cafe. It mediterranean though the hot borscht is fricken fantastic. The tables are slate to draw on with chalk and silent movies play on the wall. It also houses a comedy club in the cellar. It is also in the heart of the village so provides ample people seeing and interesting sights before hand.

Take a walk on the high line. It is an old raised rail line that has been converted into a park and walkway.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 8:47 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tenement Museum. You can only visit it as part of a tour, but it gives you a great insight into the immigrant history of New York.

I had a blast riding a bike in new york, but that might not be your thing.
posted by kjs4 at 9:03 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

For Jazz, I am a *huge* fan of St Nick's, particularly the Saturday night African music (which includes a giant, rotating cast of amazing musicians). A hard experience to find outside NYC. However they might not let you in with a 20-year-old. Unsure.

+1 to the Tenement Museum, I did that and it's pretty cool, although a little pricey. The tours aren't that great but the building itself is amazing. +1 to Absolute Bagels too.

The Panorama is indeed great, and Flushing Meadows Park (where the Queens Museum of Art is) is cool too -- it's the former Worlds Fairgrounds, with time capsules and pavillions. You can walk there from the "Mets" 7 train station. While you're there, visit Lemon Ice King of Corona for the best Italian ice on earth.
posted by zvs at 9:00 AM on May 2, 2012

(Oops, apparently St Nick's is closed for renovation. May not be open before you arrive.)
posted by zvs at 9:02 AM on May 2, 2012

Thank you all so much! Yellow has memailed me with lots more info, and I'm going to work through kathryn's list. I like orcherdraco's idea of visiting all five boroughs, too. I like ALL these ideas and we're going to try to do them all in ten days. Except staying at the Plaza, where the rooms start at $1200 a night. No way can we afford that one, wish we could.
posted by raisingsand at 6:16 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

We had a great time, thanks to all of you. We tried to do as much as we could on this list, but it would take a month to do everything here. I did buy the iTrans app, but found Hopstop after a few days and found it much easier to use, and it's free. Thanks to all for another great vacation!
posted by raisingsand at 8:12 AM on May 26, 2012

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