going to NYC: a native’s guide

So you want to check out New York. It’s fair. Pretty much everyone loves New York, whether they’ve been there or not, and if you don’t, you’re probably from Philly (jk nothing but love for you guys and your thing with Cheez Whiz).

New York is beautiful, overwhelming, batshit insane, and has a little something for everyone. It is the one place in North America (arguably, the world) where multiple cultures converge to become one giant culture in and of itself. It’s loud, it’s unapologetic, and it’s bizarrely tranquil. When I lived there, I operated on a low frequency of stressed at all times and found myself in a constant rotation of unique living situations, but wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I worked a couple jobs simultaneously, at one point shared a one bed 5th floor walkup with four people and two dogs, fell asleep on the subway in lower Manhattan and woke up in the Bronx, had my wallet stolen then returned to me by said thief with my cards filed in alphabetical order, and accidentally bumped into Tina Fey so hard at the grocery store, she dropped her Pop Tarts. New York kicked my ass so hard, then gave me an ice pack for it.

via Unsplash

Would I live there again? I used to say hell no, but truthfully, I would. I needed a break and love my mountains out here in coastal BC, but I’ll always have the city in my heart and I could see myself living there again. Contrary to popular belief, it is a great place to raise kids, and it’s sure as hell not any cheaper out here in Vancouver. The good news is in just a few short weeks, I’m returning to my homeland for almost two weeks of good old fashioned New York fun, complete with a speakeasy bar, a hidden hike right in Manhattan, insanely good food, and getting flashed by someone on the L train. It’s going to be wonderful. In honor of that, I’m going to give you some tips on travelling to New York, plus some of my favorite haunts, since I get asked so many bloody times. It’s easier to just refer people to a post, and like a true New Yorker, I love talking about my home.

1. Get ready to walk A LOT and pack GOOD walking/running shoes

All right, this is cliched and people say it a lot, but it’s because we fucking mean it. You will walk so much in New York, that you won’t recognize your legs at the end. Bring in the concept of minimalism here and just pack active outfits you can rotate, because you aren’t going to want to spend a single day outside of your Nikes. “But Kylie, I’m just gonna be fly and hop a cab.” That’s great and all, but when you realize cabs will sniff out tourists and take you the long route to squeeze you for money, you’ll change your tune. Also, quick secret: anyone you see wearing heels most likely has ballet flats tucked in her purse to use whenever her feet tire; this is how I survived a career in real estate. It’s also impossible to do and see a lot of things without walking multiple blocks to do it. Subway stations are extremely deep underground (like a city version of the Meridian Trench), and not all of them have escalators. In fact, a lot don’t so get your cardio in with the stairs. While we’re on the subject of transportation…

2. Get to know the Subway system (MTA) and its etiquette

Ditch the cabs and get yourself an MTA card. You can get pay-as-you-go, week passes, or even monthly ones. If you’re staying longer than 3 days, just go for the weekly pass. I promise you, you will use it, especially since it’s good for both buses and trains, and will take you basically anywhere. The MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) is both deeply loved and hated by New Yorkers. Prepare for long waits, followed by 3 trains in a row, and angry people who hate when you take up too much space. New Yorkers don’t fuck around when it comes to shoving as many people onto a packed train as possible, and they get pretty snarly when you don’t squeeze in. The plus side is the MTA can legit take you just about anywhere in all of NYC, and the map is easy to read. The downside is trains often run on different schedules or tracks due to construction, so keep an eye out if you’re lucky enough to find a flyer that actually tells you what’s up. Things worth knowing: don’t use the elevators at a subway, I don’t care how much luggage you have, just avoid them unless you have a disability. You’ll thank me later when you do it anyway and regret having not listened. And if it’s busy and most cars are packed, but one happens to be empty, do not go inside. Just trust me.

Manspreading is such an issue, that two men were arrested for it

3. Grab enough food for breakfasts and/or lunches at the Union Square Farmer’s Market on Saturdays

There are other markets, but this one is my favorite. Go on Saturday by 8am and have your pick of amazing produce, meats, cheeses, and more and save serious time and money. New York is known for its incredible restaurants, so definitely budget for them, but you can enjoy amazing food with just a little bit of prep work doable right at your hotel or airbnb room. Whenever I go back to visit, I stay with friends, and I still do this. Plus, Union Square has amazing street artists that are always set up there, and make sure you wear those sneakers, because it’s easy to walk to most of my favorite neighborhoods from there. Grab a map and get walking.

my husband checking out my old jogging spot at the Jackie O Reservoir

4. Favorite neighborhoods? TELL ME MORE.

My favorite place might not be yours, but hey, I love talking about home and that’s what you’re here for. Brooklyn is the bomb, and I’ll give a shoutout to some places there, but most of you are going to be interested in Manhattan. So of that island, pretty much all of the lower is my favorite, before reaching Wall Street, and pretty much all of Midtown is my least favorite (as in, I hate it). Then the love resumes somewhere around 86 Street on both sides and continues up through Harlem. Midtown is basically one giant tourist trap, everything is overpriced, and Hell’s Kitchen, neighbor to Times Square, is about the only place you can find decent food if you’re in the area. Even then, it’s gotten harder to enjoy as tourists have started to catch on. Most New Yorkers just tend to avoid Midtown entirely, unless there for work. I do believe Times Square is worth seeing (at night), but have your moment and get out. There is so much more to see and do that has nothing to do with that area. I love the three villages (East, West, and Greenwich), as well as St. Marks. When I want a slice of quiet peace and gorgeous architecture, I love the Upper West Side and Upper East Side. They have more greenery and residential quiet, but still great food and shops.

5. List of free or cheap stuff

  • Many museums are by donation (free), but closed on Mondays. This includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the New York Public Library (it may as well be a museum; go to the Bryant Park location)
  • MoMA is free Friday evenings
  • The Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays
  • The High Line
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which screens at midnight and encourages you to dress up (it even has actors who play along! I went to this as a teen and loved every minute)
  • Shakespeare in the Park if you wait in line for a few hours
  • Yoga to the People (I used to go to the St. Marks location for my weekly yoga)
  • Take the free Staten Island ferry to get close to the Statue of Liberty
  • Brooklyn Botanical Garden on Tuesdays
  • Literally all of Central Park, except the zoo (my two favorite spots are Sheep Meadow and Jackie O Reservoir, my old jogging spot)
  • Free Kayaking at the Boathouse
  • Alexander Hamilton’s Harlem Estate
  • Walk the Brooklyn Bridge. Doesn’t matter how crowded, it’s worth it.
  • IKEA ferry to Red Hook, because you’ll get an amazing view of the tip of the island
  • Basically any food festival you can find; my fave is Madison Square Park’s every spring and Columbus Circle’s in November
via Unsplash

6. A list full of just don’t do it

  • We covered the MTA thing
  • Don’t stop in front of a building to take a picture on a busy sidewalk. Step out into the street and risk being hit by a car, like any decent person. Sidewalks are like highways; there is a direct stream of traffic and it’s akin to hitting your brakes in the HOV while the rest of us are doing 85mph, because you needed one more picture of the median. Tourists do this, then come home and complain that New Yorkers are mean because they didn’t react well.
  • Do ask for help. New Yorkers take a lot of pride in their home and knowing lay of the land, so they will always want to help.
  • Don’t eat at Times Square; it’s not even worth it for the Insta. Go literally anywhere else other than Times Square. Chinatown has probably the cheapest eats available, but your intestines will frown upon you relying solely upon that neighborhood.
  • I know I’m really hating on this place, but don’t stay in Times Square unless you get a wicked deal or just really love being there. If you go to Queens or Brooklyn, you’ll find a lot of cheaper places to stay and equally amazing food and shops. If your heart is set on Manhattan, aim for the Upper East Side, where it’s a few extra blocks of walking to the subway, which means cheaper digs.
  • Don’t take a gypsy cab (black cars, unofficial cabs); they usually price gouge. If you take an actual cab, tell them the route you want to take if you can figure it out on a map. Watch out for peak fares when choosing Uber or Lyft.
  • Don’t rely just on pizza and bagels; NYC has so many amazing cuisines that they bring in from all over the world. You can find almost anything here and just as good as if you got it from its country of origin. But if you’re doing pizza, here’s a tip: awesome pizza exists pretty much all over; there are definitely some horrible lemons out there, but there is no ONE best pizza in NYC (unless it’s Olga’s at 138 and Broadway). And if you’re doing bagels, a couple faves: Bagelsmith in Brooklyn off Bedford, and Tompkins Square Bagels.
  • Don’t totally avoid all tourist things. Seriously, views from Top of the Rock and One World Observatory are breathtaking and worth the cost. Ellis Island is cool AF, because the history is incomparable to anything else. See the 9/11 memorial because it’s respectful and important. If you can catch a Broadway show, awesome. Some tourist things are those for a reason; just don’t let them encompass your trip.

Circling back to the subject of favorite food…

I’ll be honest. Like any true New Yorker, my disposable income came around as often as a fourth cousin twice removed for a good chunk of my time there, so I didn’t wine and dine every night. This is where I encourage you to explore, maybe do some quick Yelp reviews. If you want to stay in for an evening, check out delivery via Grub Hub or Seamless, which are basically Amazon for restaurants in your zip code. But I have some awesome places I did fall in love with, and I did eat at a lot of restaurants over time. Also, restaurants are constantly opening and closing and a lot has probably changed in the past couple of years since I’ve been there, so explore. I’ll probably try like ten new places when I go back, because that’s what I love about the city. You never stop finding new places.

My favorite joints:

  • Olga’s Pizza (best by the slice) in Harlem (Hamilton Heights if you’re a white, 22 year old asshole and don’t want to acknowledge where you actually live)
  • Alice’s Tea Cup, with 3 locations found in the Upper East and West Sides
  • Shake Shack, can’t help it
  • Porto Rico for coffee
  • Amsterdam Ale House
  • Momofuku Milk Bar and Momofuku Noodle Bar (you haven’t lived until you’ve had their compost cookie)
  • Wafels & Dinges food truck
  • Daisy May BBQ
  • Bagelsmith in Brooklyn
  • Various taco food trucks in Brooklyn (vague, I know, but they’re everywhere)
  • Molly’s Cupcakes (stay away from Magnolia – it’s overhyped and tastes like cardboard compared to others like Molly’s)
  • The Strand bookstore (not food, worth mentioning though)
  • Forbidden Planet (same)
  • Murray’s Cheese
  • Arancini Bros
Made by Arancini Bros in the lower east side. These are the most delicious balls I’ve ever put in my mouth. Sorry, husband. 

That list is intentionally small because go discover. Seriously, the best thing about New York is that it reveals itself to you in unique ways each time you go. It speaks to everyone differently, has something for everyone, and is constantly evolving. I’m emphasizing avoiding Times Square for food and entertainment, because so many people ask me what to do and all they’ve come up with centers around Times Square. I’ve had a lot of people come to me, bummed out because it’s not what they hoped and it cost them way more money than it needed to. New York doesn’t have to rob your bank account, even though you should save for some stuff like what I mentioned above. It’s not a trip to New York without real, honest to God food and taking in some of those breathtaking sights.

I could go on, but this is a pretty good springboard to jump off. New York is a city that will love you so much if you go in with an idea of what you really want to see. Don’t map it all out, but if you are seeing New York because you want to eat more food than God himself can consume, do it. Spend the money on it and buy bigger pants. If you want to see dance, theatre, music and shows, then get to Googling and find out what Lincoln Center has going on. If you go to New York with a vague “city stuff” plan, you won’t be as enriched or fulfilled. Find a balance between stepping out of your comfort zone to explore, and planning a few things so you get the most out of what speaks to your heart. I find the best experiences are when you’re around other native New Yorkers, enjoying their day off. Central Park is popular for a reason, and I love it just as much as the movies make it out to be. It truly is an amazing green space and I highly recommend you dedicate an entire day to checking out the various rad spots tucked away inside.

My guide is going to be different than any out there, because all of us have a different view of New York with our own unique experiences. Just remember: have fun in the city, try not to spend $15 on a mimosa, and take a ton of pictures! Out of traffic’s way, of course.

new york bar
via Unsplash

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