Thanksgiving in Manhattan
November 24, 2013 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Help me be an non-touristy tourist in New York City this week.

My wife and I are taking the train from Boston to New York on Tuesday, bound for Manhattan.

It's been one of those cheesy lifelong dreams to go to the Macy's Parade... and I'm ok with doing it so long as I we can do it the way the locals do it.

The only things we really want to do are:
- Attending the inflating of the balloons (is there a time/place we should go?)
- The Parade itself (are there tips/tricks to see it in a different way?)
- The Top of the Rock (is it worth it?)

How can we best enjoy the three things mentioned above, and what else should we do while we're in town (through Saturday).

- We're staying in Chelsea
- We like coffee, beer, independent eateries
- We're not on a tight budget.
posted by bamassippi to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't help you on the three things... as a local I've never done them. I hear Top of the Rock is worth it though, as compared to the other observation decks in the city.

Thanksgiving is a terribly touristy time to be in New York. My recommendation would be that aside from your three activities, you should stay in Chelsea and further downtown (or better, head to an outer borough). Midtown etc is going to be a mob scene from now until January, and then probably straight through the rest of next year and into eternity.

Chelsea is a good neighborhood for coffee. Ninth Street Espresso (heads up: the Chelsea location is not on 9th St), Cafe Grumpy, Blue Bottle, and Joe are all in the area and pretty great.
posted by telegraph at 9:33 PM on November 24, 2013

The locals don't go to the Thanksgiving Parade. There is no "touristy" vs. "non-touristy" approach, aside from the non-touristy approach of watching on TV in pajamas with a cup of coffee. There are some experiences that are touristy by their very nature, and this is one of them. Just go, enjoy yourselves, and don't worry about being a tourist. Everyone else there will be one, too.

Top Of The Rock is fun, but based on your username I'm guessing you'll be cold unless the weather changes drastically this week. Bundle up warm, for sure. Expect massive crowds in Rockefeller Center no matter what day you go.

No advice about the balloon inflating thing, sorry.

I'd avoid midtown on Friday, it'll be a shopping madhouse.

I'd also plan to hunker down early in Chelsea on Wednesday. The entire New York City transit system goes completely bonkers on Thanksgiving eve. If you have plans in another part of town, go on foot or try to get a cab. Especially avoid Grand Central and Times Square.
posted by Sara C. at 9:35 PM on November 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Inflation is the night before. I've done it once, and it was way too crowded for me.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:53 PM on November 24, 2013

I've lived in NYC about 7 yrs now and I've gone to see the balloon inflated once and the parade twice, but I live very close to it so it was an easy walk to see what was going on. Since I didn't grow up here, lots of this stuff is novel to me so I try to do these things once or twice.

For the balloons, head to the American Natural History Museum as a subway stop. You want to be South of it (77th St). They block off those areas the afternoon before the parade (so on Wed). I went in the afternoon, so it was not as crowded, but police were also blocking off some of the areas.

The following day for the parade. I saw it along Central park west n the 70s. It was very accessible (as in almost no crowds), just local kids and people from the neighborhood.I suspect further south (times square, etc.) would be a madhouse, so you may want to consider jumping on the subway, going north, and standing at a place along central park west to see it.
posted by Wolfster at 9:59 PM on November 24, 2013

The balloon inflation is always a huge cluster@(#. Get there as early as possible, and expect crowds.

Locals absolutely DO go to the parade. (Well, I do.) Here's the secret. Go INTO the park. Standing or sitting on Central Park West is miserable. If you're in the park, you have room to move around, you can see almost everything (except the bands and the celebrities that only go to 34th St. anyway) and you get the most amazing photos.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:00 AM on November 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

Staying in/near Chelsea (instead of Midtown) means you aren't too far from Chelsea Market, the High Line, and the newly opened Museum of Mathematics (near Madison Square Park).

- Attending the inflating of the balloons (is there a time/place we should go?)

Take the C train up to the Natural History Museum stop on Wednesday afternoon. Get there around 3 or so. Leave as soon as it becomes crowded. It's OK as long as you know what to expect. The inflation viewing is very popular with families.

The police will create one-way pedestrian lanes on the sidewalks so you won't be able to just walk away when you want or go east/west whenever you want. Certain blocks will be blocked off and you will need to show proof of residence go to down those blocks. I used to live up there and had to prove that I lived on that block just to go home. It's pretty unbearable by the time the sun has gone down.

I would get out of there before 4pm and head down to the High Line. Walk the High Line, going south, starting around 30th Street. Here is a map.

Pop out near 14th Street and visit Chelsea Market, which is an indoor food market that was formerly a Nabisco factory. 9th St Espresso will be located in Chelsea Market. You can also take a short detour from the High Line to visit the newly opened Intelligentsia (around 20th). Tons of great coffee options near the High Line and Chelsea these days.

Then you can go have dinner somewhere in the Village. Maybe the Spotted Pig (great gastropub) won't be as crowded as usual since a lot of people will be getting out of town Wednesday night. Or try Joseph Leonard, Tertulia, etc. Lots of options. Beers on Bleecker St at the Blind Tiger afterwards perhaps.

- The Parade itself (are there tips/tricks to see it in a different way?)

You're probably too late for this, but you can have brunch at Asiate (they open around 7am) and watch the parade from above in a place that is indoors (therefore heated and has restrooms). I would call ASAP see if they have a waitlist for brunch. They are probably fully booked by now. Honestly, you should have been planning this a long time ago if you wanted tips/tricks to see it in a way that isn't from street-level.

Afterwards, you could cross Columbus Circle / Central Park South, and take a stroll through Central Park and make your way south on 5th Avenue to see the holiday windows. Nearly all museums and other attractions in town are are closed on Thanksgiving Day except for the ones outdoors.

- The Top of the Rock (is it worth it?)

Top of the Rock is one of the few tourist attractions open on T-Day. My suggestion is to buy a 4pm ticket so you can see the sun setting from ToTR (it will set around 4:30pm). I love the ToTR because you can actually see the Empire State Building from there. Also I don't think it'll be that crowded since that's Thanksgiving Day dinner time.

Buy your timed ToTR tickets in advance. If you get the non-timed tickets, you have to go to the box office and claim whatever is available, which can mean a 1-2 hour wait.

The crowds at Rock Center in general won't be too thick yet, I don't think, unless you're trying to get close to the Christmas Tree or trying to get that postcard view of the Christmas Tree centered above the ice skating rink (the view that is always shown on TV).

The Christmas Tree is up and decorated but not yet lit. From Rock Center you should also be able to go north on 5th Avenue from here and see the holiday windows. I would see the holiday windows on Thanksgiving evening and NOT on Black Friday.

Where are you having Thanksgiving Dinner? Are you planning on eating out?

You are planning very, very, very, very, very late if you want to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner out on Thursday night. The best restaurants booked up a month ago. Most will be serving a Thanksgiving prix fixe menu.

I do see that Betony has tables open and it's a short walk from the 5th Avenue windows/Rock Center. Make a reservation NOW.

In general, do NOT just wander around and eat at "whatever looks OK," as this is a high rent district. Even if budget is not a concern, you don't want expensive, mediocore food, do you?

My other suggestion would be to go to Koreatown (Gaonuri, Madangsui, Cho Dang Gol) or Chinatown (456, Shanghai Cafe Deluxe, Great NY Noodletown) and eat some ethnic food instead. Koreatown is easily walkable from Chelsea.

The regular tourist attractions should be open again on Black Friday.

If you are looking for something interesting to do on Wednesday or Saturday night, near Chelsea, think about seeing Sleep No More. There are still some tickets left for the early show on Saturday; Friday looks sold out.

Sleep No More is a a MacBeth and Hitchcock/film noir inspired immersive, dance-based theatre show, with a choose your own adventure feel. There's no dialogue, all the expression is dance-based. You must wear a mask the entire time and you are not allowed to speak, take photos, or use cell phones. All bags must be checked ($4, IIRC). The show takes place at the fictional "McKittrick Hotel" which was supposedly closed on the eve of WWII. Wear sneakers, as the hotel is 6 stories (lots of staircases involved). Open drawers, closets, books, and read letters, as you are allowed to explore the set, but if you spend too much time doing so, you'll miss the action. Attendees are encouraged to split up and explore alone. Visitors may experience "psychologically intense" situations. Don't be afraid to follow the actor/dancers and don't be afraid if a character reaches for your hand. And run after a man covered in blood, by all means. I've gone multiple times, converted about a dozen friends, since you see only a fraction of the show each time. It's not cheap but once you go inside, you'll see why. There's about 100 rooms that you can explore to your heart's content. We usually go to Txikito (excellent Basque tapas) for dinner before or after the show.

Chelsea is a great neighborhood to eat & drink in, too. You're close to The NoMad, Eataly (which has multiple restaurants inside and a beer garden on the roof -- not much of a view though), The Breslin (great for brunch), The John Dory Oyster Bar, Hill Country, Maysville, the Flatiron Room, Hanjan, Koreatown (try BBQ at Gaonnuri for the view), and the aforementioned Txikito.
posted by kathryn at 5:36 AM on November 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

The locals don't go to the Thanksgiving Parade. There is no "touristy" vs. "non-touristy" approach

I have to take exception to this because I have gone to the parade many times with locals. I have some very good tips that will help you do what you want to do, and will MeMail you.

Seconding Sleep No More.
posted by Miko at 6:07 AM on November 25, 2013

I have to take exception to this because I have gone to the parade many times with locals.

Yeah, it's an overly broad statement. When I was a kid uptown we would go to the parade all the time; "we" meaning a shrieking ball of glee me and a ravening horde of little friends, and whichever parent drew the short straw. We lived on CPW so "going to the parade" meant "going out on the Goldfarb's penthouse terrace" or "going downstairs," though. However I have never gone as an adult and do not foresee any circumstances under which I would do so.
posted by elizardbits at 6:28 AM on November 25, 2013

Like I said, as long as you are IN the park, the parade is wonderful.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:34 AM on November 25, 2013

If you're in Chelsea, visit some galleries! I'm hoping to make it to the Richard Serra exhibits and Yayoi Kusama at the David Zwirner gallery.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:07 AM on November 25, 2013

To clarify, I did not mean that nobody who lives in New York ever goes to the parade.

It's just not one of those things you can do "like a local" (aside from the $$$$$$$$$$$ reservations a year in advance brunch at Asiate type stuff, though I'd bet that the tourist-to-local mix there is similar, just wealthier). It's not like New Orleans for Mardi Gras where people who live there have a bunch of life-hacks related to it. You either go or don't go.

There's no secret normal people version. It's silliness all the way down. So if you're a tourist, and you wanna go, you should go and live it up and not worry that you're doing it the "uncool" way. There is no cool way.

TL;DR: my issue was more with the idea that OP is afraid to "be a tourist" at this most touristy NYC event, not so much that 100% of all people at the parade are from Ohio or something.
posted by Sara C. at 8:31 AM on November 25, 2013

Just a note about the weather - keep an eye on this:

If you're planning on heading to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, keep in mind that gusty winds could force organizers to ground the balloons. A decision will be made Thanksgiving morning, a spokesman told NBC New York.

It's still fun without the balloons, but...not as fun.
posted by Miko at 2:37 PM on November 25, 2013

Unless you have access to an office building or other terrace or window along the route, there is no "non-tourist" way to do this. Go, expect crowds and craziness, and enjoy yourselves.

One tip I do have is that if you want to go ice skating, avoid Rockefeller Center and Wollman Rink and head up to Lasker Rink at the top of Central Park. It should be considerably less crowded, and is in a very pretty part of the park that is off the beaten path for most tourists.
posted by soy_renfield at 5:46 AM on November 27, 2013

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