(F)All in: NY
Here we are again, time for a seasonal travel post, this time for Autumn, 2016. I am re-posting this one I did for New York previously, largely because it is still my top choice for autumn travel, being my home town, but also because I have a new Autumn post in progress on North Carolina, another place I love for the Fall, and it is still developing, just posted on September 30. I will be adding some restaurant recommendations to it over the coming weeks.
A note on my four seasonal travel posts. Some people realize they are “sticky” and always appear on my main page, while my current posts appear on the right, in a column. I put up new posts every two weeks and some of you have found your way to them. Thank you! But others seem not to realize that these seasonal posts are permanent fixtures and miss my newer ones. I appreciate anyone stopping, reading and commenting, but if you want to know what I am thinking and doing lately, please look to the right and I hope I won’t disappoint or offend anyone.
OK, so for now, here is my beloved City, which comes to life and sparkles in autumn
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If there was ever a time to visit New York City, this is it.
Not only is Fall the prettiest time of the year in NY but there is a Mayoral race going on, so the city will be on its toes and putting all the bells and whistles out for the spotlight that this race will enjoy. If you can, visit NY right now. Bloomberg will get everything shipshape for this key election.
There are other reasons. Having lived there for 25 years, this is the best season, in my opinion. First of all, it is usually sunny, dry and cool, not yet cold. There is less precipitation in the Fall and the winds are not unusually brisk, though they can be just active enough to put a sparkle of energy in the air.
At some point, depending on the temperatures, the leaves will be turning. Many people do not realize how many parks and how much landscaping the city has. Everyone knows about Central Park, but there are so many others, like Battery Park, Union Square, Gramercy Park, just to name the most obvious ones. If you do a little Googling, you will get a full list of the hidden pocket parks. If you will be there for more than a few days, you may also want to head over to Brooklyn, which has gentrified considerably and rivals Manhattan in almost every significant way. It’s most famous green space is the second largest in the five boroughs: Prospect Park, as magnificent as Central Park in Manhattan. Another fabulous thing to do is take the Henry Hudson Parkway up along the river and go to Tarrytown and Hastings-on-Hudson, among many old Yankee villages and Washington Irving’s stomping grounds; all points north along the river are pure magic at this time of the year.
The most important decision you will make when coming to NYC is where to stay. My recommendation would be two hotels. The first is my favorite and a secret that almost no one knows about. This is the Hotel Wales at Madison and 92nd Street. One of the prettiest, most convenient and safest, quietest neighborhoods in Manhattan is Carnegie Hill – the 90’s from Central Park to Lexington Avenue. The Wales is right in the middle of it. Built at the turn of the last century, when I stayed there it had elegant lobbies and rooms, good restaurant and room service and not only was immaculate but enjoyed exceptional European-style service, including tea served on the roof terrace with a view of the park. Best of all, it is probably one of the most affordable hotels you will ever stay in (priced below some motels in the vicinity) and considering it is in Manhattan, in the best residential neighborhood, overlooking Central Park, the price is unbelievable.
My other recommendation, if you have a bit more in your budget would be the Waldorf Astoria. I have stayed in almost all the top, established luxury hotels in NY (the Plaza, Pierre, Carlyle). My favorite is the Plaza but I have to say, for visitors, the location and beauty as well as history of the Waldorf would be my top recommendation. All of these hotels are expensive, but you can get a deal at the Waldorf and stay in the hotel choice of kings and queens. It is gorgeous, elegant and the service cannot be topped anywhere on this planet. In the East 50’s you can walk in every direction to many of the best attractions in midtown.
If you are flying in to the NY area, use Newark International Airport instead of JFK or La Guardia. Newark is the newest of the three, it is actually closer to Manhattan than JFK, far safer, and much less hectic. You will get to the city in less time than if you choose JFK. In every way, Newark is a pleasure. In fact, I like it so much and consider it to be so much safer than most airports that even when I am heading to Boston or Philadelphia, I fly into Newark and then take the train or rent a car and drive to those two cities. (Boston’s Logan Airport is a pure nightmare – avoid it at all costs: unsafe, bird strikes, terrible facilities, short runways – it is notorious for its inferiority as far as airports go, just take my word for it).
I do not need to give you all kinds of tourist destinations as there are thousands of places you can find these things. Let me instead recommend a strategy for ‘tackling’ NYC.
When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who worked in South America. He would invite me down to visit and see the sights and so I made some friends amongst the very educated, sophisticated people I met there. When a few of them came to visit in the City, I was excited to take them around. They had been all over the world, in many European cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Zurich, etc. These were wealthy world travelers. But! When they got to Manhattan they were totally overwhelmed. The longstanding joke thereafter was that I could not get them to go above 34th Street (Macys).
NY has a palpable energy that makes some people thrive and others collapse. I have always said it is far easier to live (if you can afford it these days with one bedroom apartments starting at $800K) and work there than to visit. So how you approach the visit can be critical.
Knowing what I know now, I would not start people off downtown as I had done with my Latin American friends. If you are staying at the Wales, start with the upper east side of the Central Park district and work your way down, day by day until you hit Rockefeller Center. If you are staying at the Waldorf in mid town on the east side, start there, go to Rockefeller Plaza and work your way up Fifth Avenue your first day or days. In this area are also Radio City Music Hall on 6th Avenue and a lot of UN-frequented exotic ethnic restaurants, many of them with excellent costumed performances and shows during dinner, at no extra cost (a way to be entertained without high priced theater tickets).
The upper and middle parts of Manhattan, on the East Side are the easiest to absorb and get acclimated. They are beautiful, loaded with attractions including museums and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the best shopping and restaurants, etc. And of course they are incredibly safe, as is all Manhattan now, thanks to the last two Mayors (Bloomberg and Giuliani).
Toward the second half of the trip or at least after you are used to being in Manhattan, head to the 42nd Street area, stopping in at the New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, the Upper West Side (don’t forget to go to the Museum of Natural History), Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, down to Battery Park and the 9/11 Memorial, South Street Seaport and if you can, take the Brooklyn Bridge by car, cab or train to Brooklyn and eat at the River Cafe, especially at sunset, for the most spectacular view of Manhattan anyone could want and fabulous food.
After that hit the Village (west side, Greenwich Village. If you are adventuresome and like ethic food, go the the East Village or better yet, Queens, but the latter may be for the end of a trip, not the beginning!), Washington Square, Soho and Tribeca. All of these areas are safe, loaded with personality and fabulous food and shops. Usually though, they are not first on people’s lists. I would avoid Chinatown and Little Italy unless you like Chinese food and getting down and basic. You are likely to find better Italian food in other parts of the city, especially Brooklyn. Think Moonstruck. If you are looking for inexpensive theater tickets check to see what is playing at the Barrow Street Theater. (Unfortunately, the Sullivan Street Playhouse that was home to The Fantasticks for 42 years, closed in 2012.)
If you have time left over, go to Bloomingdales on Lexington, Chelsea Pier over on the West side at 23rd, Gramercy Park on the East side around 18th Street, and up to the Bronx Zoo, which is in my opinion, the best one on the East Coast and rivals the famed San Diego Zoo for its quality and scientifically designed attractions.
If it isn’t too cold, take the Circle Line, but be prepared for part of it to be a bit boring – I have taken it when showing guests around the city and I fall asleep as it heads up to West Point. It is a three-hour trip, so take snacks because the last time I was there, the food on the boat was expensive junk. If you do take the Circle Line, you will pass the big luxury liners, Chelsea Pier, Battery Park, a spectacular view of Wall Street, South Street Seaport and the Statue of Liberty, the UN, as well as the bridges on the East River abutting Queens. You will see a lot that will help you determine whether or not you need to go to those individual attractions separately.
Do this and you will get a real flavor for the city. If you can, give yourself a week. You can do much of what I listed in three full days (with travel days on either side). Take it from a native, even in two weeks, you won’t see it all but if you go now, I promise you, you will have a spectacular experience.