Good morning! Here is the final installment of my series on planning your first trip to NYC…today we are covering sights and my favorite eating spots on the Upper East and West Side and Central Park. Two of the biggest museums in Manhattan are in these neighborhoods, as well as my favorite skating rink in winter, but there are a number of smaller gems as well as an Alice in Wonderland-themed tea room! And make sure you check at the end of the post for a BIG money-saving tip!
Again, as a refresher, here is the map of Manhattan neighborhoods I’ve been using for reference. I’ve been moving from South to North, so if you missed my previous posts in this series, click here for Part 1 (covering Manhattan below Midtown) and here for Part 2 (Midtown East/West and Times Square), as well as here and here for my tips on choosing a hotel in NYC and general tips for planning your first visit. The nyctourist.com website has TONS of useful information, so if you have any questions I haven’t answered in this series, check there!
Photo source: www.nyctourist.com
Upper West Side
We’ll start off with one of the biggies – the American Museum of Natural History, which many of you will remember from the movie Night at the Museum. Home to the famous Dinosaur Hall and the life size Blue Whale model, it’s a huge museum and a surefire hit with kids in your group, especially if you make sure to watch the movie right before you visit!
**Hot tip: The Natural History Museum has a Pay What You Wish Policy, which means you pay what you would like (or can afford) for an entrance fee. The suggested basic admission online is currently $23 for adults and $13 for kids ages 2-12, but by waiting to pay when you arrive, you could pay as little or as much as you want. When our kids were young, we would try to find a balance between what we could afford and how long we were planning on spending at the museum…so would try to pay more if we were spending the entire afternoon, and less if we were just popping in for an hour to see the highlights. The pay what you wish ticket is a basic admission, so it doesn’t include special exhibits, the giant-screen films or the Space Show…click here for more ticketing information**
Practically next door to the Natural History Museum is the New York Historical Society, the city’s oldest museum (founded in 1804 by citizens who had lived through the American Revolution) and a seriously under-rated gem! The four floors include George Washington’s camp bed from Valley Forge, a children’s history museum and a Center for Women’s History, as well as one of the world’s largest collections of Tiffany glass works with over 100 Tiffany glass lamps. I’m a huge history fan and love this museum – they also have rotating exhibits, so check here to see what’s on while you’re in town. On our last visit, they had an exhibit about Superheroes in Gotham and we got to see the original Batmobile from the TV series! It’s located on Central Park West between W. 76th and W. 77th St.
After you’ve finished with these two museums, you’ll probably be ready for a food break! Two of my nearby favorites are Patsy’s Pizzeria (W. 74th St. near Columbus Ave; serving pasta and yummy NY-style pizza) or Alice’s Tea Cup (W. 73rd St on the opposite side of Columbus Ave), a delightfully quirky Alice in Wonderland-themed tea room with tea sandwiches, scones and over 50 kinds of tea from which to choose! If you just want something quick, there is also a Shake Shack on the corner of Columbus Ave and W. 77th St. (just behind the Natural History Museum).
A great day out on the Upper West Side!
Central Park is truly spectacular – you could easily spend an entire day just exploring this amazing space! Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, it is the perfect antidote when the crowds and concrete start getting to you 🙂 The official park website is here, but below is a short list of fun spots in the park (moving from north to south):
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir has a 1.5 mile running trail surrounding it, making it a beautiful spot for a run or a walk on a nice day!
Belvedere Castle – highest point in Central Park and gorgeous views – closed for restoration but due to reopen at some point in 2019.
The Loeb Boathouse – Rent boats for a spin on the lake or just dine overlooking the water
Bethesda Fountain/Terrace – Considered the heart of Central Park, any fans of the movie Enchanted will recognize this spot from the finale of the song “That’s How You Know”.
Tavern on the Green – originally built in 1860 to house the flock of sheep which grazed nearby, Tavern on the Green is probably the best known restaurant in the Park. The perfect spot for a celebratory lunch or dinner, it’s pricey but the food is delish and the restaurant is incredibly beautiful!
Central Park Carousel – Always fun and a highlight for kids!
Central Park Zoo – Another spot for the young ones if traveling with kids/grandkids
**Central Park has multiple playgrounds scattered throughout, as well as miles and miles of trails for rambling – it’s a great spot to let your kids run off some steam after a morning at a museum!**
Wollman Skating Rink – My favorite place to ice skate in NYC! Bigger rink than Rockefelller Center and/or Bryant Park – if you go on a winter weekday morning, it can be blissfully uncrowded. Another movie spot – John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale find each other again here in the movie Serendipity.
Great spots in Central Park for first timers! The reservoir is farther north for those wanting a great spot to run…
Upper East Side
Our final neighborhood is the Upper East Side, home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You could spend all day here, but my favorite way to see it is to head over about mid-afternoon on a Friday, explore one or two galleries, then stay for the Friday cocktail hour in the mezzanine. A little art, a couple of cocktails – it’s a perfect date night! Last time I was there, they had just opened up a mesmerizing gallery of Islamic art. There is truly something for everyone here – my husband and I usually split up to explore separately before meeting back up for cocktails (he likes armor and the Egyptian art; I like sculpture, Dutch Masters and Islamic art)
Neue Galerie – another movie reference (#sorrynotsorry), but I felt drawn to visit this museum after watching Woman in Gold, about the Klimt painting that was stolen by the Nazis and a woman’s fight to get it back. I loved seeing Klimt’s art in person, and the mansion was pretty cool too! There’s a lovely cafe with delicious cappuccinos and baked goods on premises if you need a caffeine break.
Great spots in Central Park and the Upper East Side, a little farther to the north…
Roosevelt Island Tramway – for something a little different, or for fans of the Spiderman movies, take a ride over the East River on the Roosevelt Island Tram! It’s super fun (kids tend to LOVE this) and about a 5 minute ride over to Roosevelt Island, with spectacular views of the skyline. The tram is part of the MTA system, so you use the same farecard as you would for the subway and buses. It runs from 6 am to 2 am, so night, sunset and sunrise views are all possible. Avoid during weekday rush hours for the fewest crowds – here are more tips for riding as well as some suggestions for things to do on Roosevelt Island if you want to wander a bit before getting back on for the return trip (riders must disembark and get back in line for the return trip, but there’s not usually a long wait – it runs every 7-15 minutes)!
After you get off the tram and have worked up an appetite, head a couple blocks over to Serendipity 3. Again, if you’re a movie lover (are you getting the feeling that my family likes movies???), you’ll remember this place from the movie Serendipity – Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack come here after fighting over who gets the gloves at Bloomingdales. The restaurant is famous for it’s frozen hot chocolate, but I’m a big fan of their salads, challah bread french toast, desserts and espresso drinks as well!
**Maybe I should do a blog post with my favorite movies set in NYC – what do you all think?**
Patsy’s Pizzeria , Alice’s Tea Cup , and Serafina (super thin crust wood-fired pizza just like we had in Italy) all have Upper East Side locations as well, if you didn’t visit in the other neighborhoods I’ve suggested!
It’s super easy to combine a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tramway with a stop at Serendipity 3; but definitely make a reservation to avoid a long wait!
**BIG MONEY SAVING TIP: Many of the museums in NYC have free days/nights or pay what you wish times…here is a list of the current ones (of course, it’s always helpful to call and confirm ahead of time)! Unfortunately, the Metropolitan Museum of Art no longer participates in this program for anyone who lives outside of New York, so you will have to pay the full $25 fee if you are not a NY resident. The $25 ticket is good for three full days and includes all three locations for one price, so if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the museum or visiting The Met Cloisters (Medieval Art and a lovely museum) and the modern art Met Breuer, you’ll still get a big bang for your buck!**
As always, thanks so much for reading! I’m heading back to NYC in June – drop a comment below with your favorite spots and I’ll check them out while I’m there!