Walk, Don't Run--A Blog About Travel by Jared Machado
Moving on from the topic of resources in my last blog, let's get into what I'll be aiming to do from week to week-- exploring destinations, what I've come to love about them, and how you can make the most of your travels there, whether this be your first time in or more a traditional return to a place you've fallen in love with. Keeping that theme in mind, I couldn't choose any other place to start with than New York City.
I've spent many a weekend away in the city since my first trip I took during my Sophomore year of high school. I immediately felt a connection with the city: the loud noises, the impatience of each person trying to get to where they're going, the energy surrounding you at any given time. It all speaks to me and makes sense in a way I can't explain. Since then, I've spent countless hours exploring the many neighborhoods available to anyone willing to see what they offer, had late dinners with friends, seen movies, walked along the High Line (I'll expand on this below if you're not familiar), and so much more. Its the level of accessibility and the ability to find something new each time you go there, but also the familiarity of what you make of it, which brings me back again and again.
Although I deeply connect with the what I've shared above, I know this isn't necessarily the same experience for everyone. I recently visited the city back in October with my one of my closest friends. While there, it was clear that he appreciated everything around him; its just not the same for him though. Why you might ask? The high-rise buildings gave him an impending feeling of doom while also creating this feeling of vertigo-- or at least that's what I read from his face each time I'd look over at him in those very moments. This, paired with the trendy fashion pieces, large billboards pushing forth an agenda of consumerism and capitalism, and concrete jungle left him wanting to exit as soon as possible while trying to enjoy every moment at the same time.
If I speak from personal experience, I've never had this train of thought, mostly because I treat New York almost like a second home. I strongly align with a belief that if you can find something that is familiar to you in your surroundings, that you can find comfort and better experience what is around you. Given my travels to New York City, I've come to feel like certain places, be it Central Park, Union Square and places I frequent, to be my spots. My New York City is walking through the streets of Chelsea and Soho, jumping on the metro to go uptown or downtown to the next thing I've planned to check on my upcoming weekend, or the restaurant around the corner and the bakery I must make it to before I head out of the city on the Sunday while I'm there. These moments are what really leave me feeling fulfilled each and every time I head in and out of NYC.
Spending a Day in New York City
With my narrative in place, I want to share how I would recommend experiencing New York City if going for the first time and having roughly 24 hours to do so; based on my own travels, this will revolve around a Saturday. Let's remember that in my last blog I emphasized a focus on trying to stray away from being a tourist in some way and experiencing some of what I feel a city has to offer. So, whether this would be used toward your first time trip or you're bringing along your friend for their first, I hope you'll find something new for you.
Provided you live close by, let's say less than 5 hours or so, I would personally recommend heading into the city by way of car. Unless you're going solo, driving in makes the most sense to me provided that this allows you the freedom to take in your experiences on your timeline and not those of a flight or train company. I know, I know, the first thought going through your head is "But what about parking, its so damn expensive"! Here's where I'll share one of my secrets: since heading to New York many years ago, I've always used Groupon or Icon Parking's website before coming in. Both sites offer coupons where you either pay in advance or print out what is needed for the trip. By choosing the lot closest to where you're staying or what is most economical in your case, you simply provide the coupon after coming into the lot and you've immediately saved anywhere between 25-40 USD depending on where you are in the city. When you think about it, with these savings, you're probably spending as much, if not less and you'll end up feeling less rushed during your travels overall. See, now you have no excuse--aren't you happy we have that out of the way.
Once you have your car taken care of, head over to your hotel and drop your bags off. Yes, drop them off-- no you can't take a shower, if you did this right its probably 9-10 AM and no, your room is not ready don't be silly. If you haven't already, make sure to grab a map of the metro and bus systems around New York City. Nowadays, a metro pass will cost something around 2.50 a ride, which typically will be far more economical and connects you to almost any spot you might want to visit in the city; yes it smells and yes its crowded, but it makes sense and is efficient most of the time. Once you have your bearings, now its time to head over to the High Line; you can work experiencing the High Line in one of two ways:
1) Start up around W 34th Street and 10th Avenue nearby Times Square. If do this, I'd head to Times Square first; if its your first time in New York City, you should experience Times Square, just don't stay there (Its overwrought with foot traffic, full of those "other" tourists and you'll be elbowing your way through people for 24 hours instead of experiencing the city...okay rant over). While in Times Square, take in the many buildings around you, the TKTS booth where you can head later if you want discounted show tickets, which is where I go, and then head down to Rockefeller Center for some people watching, maybe with a tree lighting if in December or people ice skating if during the winter months. Okay, you've done it, you saw Times Square--now get out while you still can!
2) Connect on the lower side around 10th Avenue and Gansevoort in the Chelsea area.
Of the two provided, I'd recommend the first option as it allows you take in Times Square while its probably slightly less busy, but still a mob of epic proportions. In doing this and getting out of the way, you can then experience Chelsea with its quaint art studios and other offerings. I'll get into this some more in a bit...
The High Line is a great choice for a first time visit in the city as it seems to always be popular with both tourists and locals alike. When thinking of the High Line, imagine something in the way of a raised walkway that also acts like an urban garden. If you're there during the winter months, you'll see that its less busy due to cold weather; if during the summer months, you'll recognize a small marketplace that resides roughly at the halfway point with some food offerings and some local artists selling their pieces. If you take part in any of the art while there, remember to haggle; its New York City and if you don't aim for the best price when looking for anything with outside vendors (minus the food carts), you didn't have the true New York experience.
But now, onto the reason why I highlight the High Line as a must see here. The great thing about the High Line is that in being raised it allows you to see sites like the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and some other landmarks at a glance, while also taking in some of the architecture the city has to offer. As a traveler, you want to maximize your experience and minimize your time in lines, so this gives you that option.
From here, if you took option 1, you'll be coming off the High Line and exiting roughly somewhere around the Chelsea area. At this point, depending on your plans, I'd recommend taking a few things in:
- Head over to the Chelsea and Meatpacking districts and checkout some of the studios or the Chelsea flea for some unique finds
- go into Union Square, my personal favorite neighborhood, where there might be a street fair going or you'll likely always find the local farmer's market taking place on that Saturday.
Once you've done some exploring, either find a local pizza place for a quick slice, or if you want a quintessential New York experience, use the metro in Union Square to head down to Katz's Delicatessen. Katz's, albeit somewhat touristy and a long line unless you're extremely lucky, is a New York institution and serves easily some of the best deli sandwiches in the entire city; if you'd go to Philly for a cheesesteak, then you should go to Katz's in New York City for a sandwich. Being a traditional New York style deli, you'll find offerings from any kind of meat-- unless you're following specific diets, you should definitely go for either the pastrami or corned beef as these are staples in any good delis. The bonus: you'll also end up with at least 2-3 meals, or for me a snack later on, provided the sandwich is about the size of a baby's head. You can't go wrong!
Let's assume that you went to Katz's, which with your time around the city and on the metro, has you at roughly 2-3 PM. Head back up into "That Which Must Not Be Named (I'm a Harry Potter nerd; allow me my moment)" and go over to the TKTS booth to see if there is a show you'd like to take in. Again, much like Katz's, going to a show in the city can be a bit of a "tourist activity", however its BROADWAY, and you should experience this while there, unless the idea of seeing theatre makes you break out in hives or have some other overwhelming reaction. If you've stuck to the line and found your show, this will take some time to get your tickets, but its totally worth it. If you opted out, then I'd say to check out a comedy club later on that night, go to a club somewhere around the city, see a movie or do something that best fits your interest. If you're in a pinch and aren't sure what you might want to do during the night and wanted to plan ahead, I would recommend checking Time Out's list of things going on in the city, which they regularly update for the upcoming weekend.
At this point, your hotel room should be ready if you haven't gotten the call yet so head back to freshen up as needed. Once you've done so, depending on the time of your show, map out when you want go to dinner. If this is going to be a later dinner, I'd say this is a good opportunity to squeeze in some time at a museum without having any expectation that you'll be able to take in all that it may have to offer. My personal favorites are the MoMa, the Natural History Museum, and the Guggenheim, but like many other things, there are a great number you could visit, so any could work for you. If you can't make it for a quick museum trip this time around, then you can always pick it up on the next trip when you've now been to Katz's and maybe don't want to go to another show, but want something to do after walking around Central Park.
Now, onto your dinner plans. I consider to be quite the foodie myself and love trying new things or places I haven't been yet, with my personal favorites being when someone reinvents a classic or does American cuisine very well. With that said, I would be completely out of my mind to tell you "you must go here for dinner in New York City" as there are so many places to choose from; I still have a long list for myself. That said, I would highly encourage that you try these places at one time or another and have provided links:
- Virgil's for good BBQ provided you're in the middle of New York City
- Either Butter or The Lamb's Club for Food Network chef's; I had a horrible service experience at Butter the first time, but I went back in October and that was a complete 180. Highly encourage, especially if you're looking for that cool, Gotham-esque vibe.
- Monte's Trattoria for authentic Italian- Italian's usually never my first choice, but the fresh pasta here and the simple sauces provided pair quite perfectly, along with specials, which are fantastic. This is in Soho/Noho so I will preface this as my spot and that you can find many a similar restaurant nearby, but I can't speak to their quality.
After taking in a show, my typical tradition is to head to a deli afterwards to grab a piece of dessert for myself. The nice thing about this is that you can sit down and be social with anyone you're travelling with if you'd like. At the same time, you can also be lazy or anti-social if you prefer and get it to go. Sometimes, nothing closes that night like dessert in your hotel room (why am I single again?).
It's officially the next morning after a great night's...okay decent...okay maybe even questionable night's sleep. If you did make it in early the day beforehand you'll want to head over to the lot you parked at to pick up your car as your 24 hour window will be running out. From here, pick up any of your travel buddies you're with and head down to Union Square where you can find free parking on Sundays and get breakfast or brunch on Irving Place called Friend of a Farmer. Friend of a Farmer now has two locations, once in Union Square and another that's recently come up in Brooklyn, however the one in Union Square is the original and is a great find for the city. Although in Union Square, which can be quite expensive at times and cost a lot for a meal, Friend of a Farmer offers affordable fare and you can usually get a nice brunch meal for around 12-20 USD, which is very fair for the city. The reason I love this place the most however is that it has a quaint, French country feel to it and just makes things so cozy during your dining experience. If you have space issues like me, either ask for a seat outside when weather allows or request a seat downstairs.
The last thing I always do before leaving the city is heading to my favorite bakery for some tasty treats to take with me on the road. My personal favorite is Magnolia Bakery, which has become more and more popular over the years, with locations by Rockefeller Center, Grand Central, and a couple others. Some of my favorites here when they're available are their pumpkin brownies, cookie offerings, banana pudding, and cakes to name a few. The bakery, overall, has a bit of a Southern feel, so you know its some good baking and let's you take part of the city home with you. Once you've found the bakery that you're fond of, I would say your best bet is to try and find something by Columbus Circle as you'll want to get on a parkway to leave the city versus using I-95 to avoid part of the mad rush out of the city.
So, you've gotten to see the city now for the first time or had the opportunity to see or experience it through someone else's eyes. What was your experience like and do you want to go back? What will you remember and what will carry through to the rest of your travels?
As always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.