Times Square tourist meets DUMBO hipster: 13 NYC destinations for visitors and locals alike

December 03, 2014                 6m read time
Megan Wood

Your friends are visiting you in New York City (hooray!), but they are hellbent on hitting the crowded tourist spots that you avoid like the G-train on a maintenance weekend. How about this for a compromise? This list pairs big name (but still fun) attractions with nearby destinations that even the most been-there-done-that Big Apple resident will love. Convincing your friends not to wear their new “I Heart New York” shirts to brunch is your problem.

1. Tourist-friendly: Central Park

The Mall in Central Park Cagsawa

The Mall in Central Park



The rest of the world seems to think that New Yorkers take long meandering walks, play in co-ed kickball leagues, and pack baskets for impromptu picnics in Central Park at least once a week. Avoid the crowded section on Central Park South and enter the park near East 77th Street. It’s more subdued and better maintained in terms of flowers and trees. Seasonal events, like concerts, happen regularly. For entertainment any time, check out the street performers or listen to busking musicians. The nearby Alice in Wonderland statue is a good photo op.

2. New Yorker friendly: Spa Castle Premier

Spa room at Spa Castle Premier Spa Castle Premier

Spa room at Spa Castle Premier

Spa Castle Premier


After a day spent discovering Central Park’s hidden nooks and crannies, head indoors for some pampering and partying at the new Spa Castle Premiere 57 on 57th Street. Expect luxe European-style facilities with an Asian vibe, plus plenty of snacks and booze. At the eighth floor sundeck, sip a cocktail poolside while getting your flirt on. Or splurge on a very thorough (they clean you, um, everywhere) Korean-style body scrub. Go late (it’s open until midnight) to avoid kids splashing in the hot tubs.  

3. Tourist-friendly: Chelsea High Line

People walking on the High Line in New York David Berkowitz

People walking on the High Line in New York

David Berkowitz


This one-of-a-kind public park was built on an above ground freight rail line on Manhattan’s West Side. Running through the meatpacking district and down to Chelsea, the park offers great views of the Hudson River, New Jersey, and into the windows of the Standard Hotel on 13th Street. The wide swath of green is packed with outdoor art exhibits, native plants, and seemingly every tourist on the island. Free guided walking tours are organized twice a week. When you’re ready for a caffeine fix or a creamy treat, stop at Blue Bottle Coffee or L’Arte del Gelato.

4. New Yorker-friendly: Chelsea’s Art Galleries

Art exhibit in Chelsea Tony Van Den Boomen

Art exhibit in Chelsea

Tony Van Den Boomen


Walk down the steps of the High Line and into Chelsea for the city’s highest concentration of independent art galleries. By some estimates, there are more than 250 galleries clustered between 20th and 29th streets and Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. Stop by the Andrea Rosen Gallery for emerging artists. Past exhibits there include photographs by Matt Keegan and an installation by Matthew Ritchie. One block up on 25th Street, the “blue chip” Pace Gallery has been celebrating iconic art since the 1960s.

5. Tourist-friendly: Coney Island

Coney Island at sunset Bob Jagendorf

Coney Island at sunset

Bob Jagendorf


Autumn is arguably the best time to visit kooky Coney Island.annotation The iconic rides at Luna Park, including the wooden Cyclone rollercoaster, are still open, but the crowds and oppressive heat are long gone. Lines for hot dogs at Nathan’s Famous (home to the annual international hot dog eating contest)annotation are shorter and plenty of street performers are still practicing their trade (watch out for the guy with a live boa constrictor). Die-hard Russian swimmers may be the only ones braving the chilly Atlantic water, but the boardwalk is yours to explore.

6. New Yorker-friendly: Fishing boats

Fishing poles off the side of a boat on the ocean ZOZI

Fishing poles off the side of a boat on the ocean



We’re on an island surrounded by water, but New Yorkers rarely board a boat. Fishing charters at Sheepshead Bay are fun, affordable, and low stress. Staff provides fishing poles and bait, then sets sail for the bay near Coney Island. Chances of catching fluke or tilapia are pretty good and the crew will filet it for you on deck if you’d like.

7. Tourist-friendly: Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge at night Chris Ford

Brooklyn Bridge at night

Chris Ford


At just over one mile long, the Brooklyn Bridge makes for an easy stroll or bike ride over the East River. annotation Built in 1870, the bridge affords views of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan’s skyline, and parallel bridges spanning the river. Because the bridge connects the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan, it’s a great way to get a taste of two distinctly different parts of New York City.

8. New Yorker-friendly: Brooklyn Bridge Park

Movie showing at Brooklyn Bridge Matt Stabile

Movie showing at Brooklyn Bridge

Matt Stabile


Too many people cross the Brooklyn Bridge and then immediately jump on the F train back to Manhattan. That’s a rookie mistake. The bridge ends in DUMBO’s artist and start-up enclave (Esty and Brooklyn Magazine have offices here). Grab a decadent and spicy hot chocolate at Jacques Torres Chocolate on Water Street and continue your urban hike into the newly revamped Brooklyn Bridge Park. The summer brings outdoor events, such as movie screenings and a 30-by-50-foot pop-up pool and manmade beach. Autumn activities include art installations, soccer games, and Bargemusic, a live concert series held on a renovated coffee barge.

9. Tourist-friendly: Broadway show

Lion King prop at Broadway theater Chun-Hung Eric Cheng

Lion King prop at Broadway theater

Chun-Hung Eric Cheng


Forty theaters currently light up the night on Broadway. The blockbuster musicals are a true spectacle.annotation The Lion King, a favorite since it opened in 1997, is worth the price of admission for the puppetry alone. Hollywood stars are again seeking out roles in serious Broadway plays, which has helped the productions regain popularity with the under 40 set. Michael Cera, Glenn Close, and Hugh Jackman are among this fall’s list of performers. Before and after the show, let your friend bask in the neon glow of the once shady, now corporate, section of the city.

10. New Yorker-friendly: Russian Vodka Room

Bartender at Russian Vodka Room Amanjeev

Bartender at Russian Vodka Room



For pre-show shots or post-show dinner (with shots), there’s no better place than the Russian Vodka Room. Opened in 1997, it’s since become a cult favorite for infused vodkas. Chilled horseradish vodka may sound terrible, but it’s addicting. You can order it by the carafe or in an iced rack of six shots. Other flavors include cranberry, garlic pepper with dill, and pineapple. Be sure to soak up that vodka with some food. Try the chicken schnitzel with truffles or go all out with apple blintzes and sour cherry dumplings. Reservations are recommended. Oh, and the vodka should be sipped, not slammed.

11. Tourist-friendly: Empire State building

Beautiful view from Empire State Building Christian Bobadilla

Beautiful view from Empire State Building

Christian Bobadilla


Agree to go to the Empire State building with one caveat: spring for the no waiting pass that allows you to skip the heartbreakingly long lines for the elevators. It’s the difference between spending hours looking at the back of someone’s head or actually enjoying the views and history of the Art Deco skyscraper. From the 102nd-floor observatory, point out Central Park and all the New York City area bridges, including the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and Verrazano Bridge.

12. New Yorker-friendly: 230 Fifth

People drinking outdoors at 230 Fifth karendotcom127

People drinking outdoors at 230 Fifth



After you’ve made it down from the top of the Empire State Building, walk seven blocks south to 230 Fifth, the address and name of an enormous 20th-story rooftop garden. From there, you have a centered sightline back at the iconic tower. Compare and contrast the views, but be ready for more crowds. Though the garden seats 1,000 people at a time, it can fill up. The menu is cocktail friendly with upscale bar food, like sliders and vegetarian rice cakes. For a more laidback experience, go for the champagne brunch and order the delicious “liquored up” French toast.annotation Heaters keep the chill away for comfy seating well into winter.

13. Best of both worlds: Sidewalks of NY Food Truck and Cart Tour

Waffles in an oven Tasayu Tasnaphun

Waffles in an oven

Tasayu Tasnaphun


Take a bite out of the Big Apple on a walking tour of New York’s international food truck scene. Street vendors have been a staple here for more than a century, and every New Yorker has a favorite. But with an ever growing number of options, it’s impossible for even locals to keep up. Explore the tastiest choices on a Sidewalks of NY tour. From zesty bulgogi tacos to spicy chicken biriyani, your guide (and your nose) will lead you through a curbside maze of delicious scents and flavors—proving yet again that the fastest way to the heart of the New York is through its stomach. -Buy it on ZOZI-


Fun Fact: Coney Island is not actually an island, but rather a small peninsula in South Brooklyn. According to Smithsonian.com, "Developers began changing the island into a peninsula in the early 20th century by filling in Coney Island Creek—a process that unfolded over several decades."

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It's soaked in a batter of Grand Marnier and Bailey’s and served with marscapone, caramelized bananas, and maple syrup.

Megan Wood

Megan is a world traveler and writer based in New York.

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