From tiki bars to pocket parks—10 ways to experience the real New York

August 05, 2015                 6m read time
Martin Totland


The Statue of Liberty. Times Square. The Empire State Building. New York’s largest tourist attractions certainly have their allure, but their charm is often diminished by huge crowds. Skip these overpopulated spots for some insider favorites. From a scenic cycling route to a secret bar on a barge, we’ve got the local take on the best things to do in NYC.

Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan seen from Brooklyn at sunset Dan Nguyen

Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan seen from Brooklyn at sunset

Dan Nguyen

 

1. Run the bridges

“My go-to run is across the Brooklyn Bridge and back over the Williamsburg Bridge,” says Cara Notarianni, a manager at Brooklyn Running Co. in Williamsburg. “If I'm looking for a longer run, I'll also add the Manhattan Bridge.”

“The bridges are great for getting in some hill work. Additionally, running along the waterfront into Greenpoint is a nice, flat run that offers some great views of the city, especially at night,” she says.

Kelsey Recht, founder and CEO of VenueBook.com recommends following the path that runs along the East River to the South Street Seaport and up the West Side Highway. The route “provides an experience like none other in NYC,” she says. “You’ll see the Brooklyn Bridge, beautiful city views, Staten Island Ferry, and the Statue of Liberty all in a few miles.”

Melvin's Juice Box in New York City, New York Scott Lynch

Melvin's Juice Box in New York City, New York

Scott Lynch

 

2. Re-energize with organic juice

Visiting New York inevitably brings with it lots of late nights and perhaps a few too many drinks. To keep things in balance, Stephanie Tang, founder of Sacred Sounds Yoga on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, recommends strolling the Brooklyn Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan and then heading to the West Village for a green juice at Melvin's Juice Box (355 West 16th Street). Order Tang’s favorite, the Jamaican Green, a fresh concoction of kale, celery, apple, ginger, and lemon.

If you want a lot more vegetables in your life (and we mean a lot), try the Garden of Vegan. Made from kale, beets, collard greens, cabbage, red pepper, tomato, lemon, ginger, and cayenne pepper, it's a hearty salad in a cup. Or, rehydrate after running or walking those bridges with Melvin’s Kick, a mix of coconut water, lemon, lime, and orange juice, and alkaline water.

Dyckman Farmhouse, the oldest farmhouse in New York City ZOZI

Dyckman Farmhouse, the oldest farmhouse in New York City

ZOZI

 

3. Bike to a colonial farmhouse

“To the casual observer, New York City may seem like a hostile and barren environment forcyclists,” say David Trumpf and James Stevens, the creative duo behind the cycling culture publication, Chalet Magazine. “Yet once you understand its dynamics, its idiosyncrasies, and its hidden layers, you’ll find it’s chock full of options for cyclists for all types.”

If you want to see Manhattan by bike, try this route from David and James:

“Meet at La Colombe [75 Vandam Street] for an espresso. Head west to the West Side Bike path and go north. Stop at the little red lighthouse, then go under the George Washington Bridge, and all the way to the Dyckman Farmhouse [the city’s only remaining Dutch colonial farmhouse] in the Inwood neighborhood for an ‘Is this is still NYC?’ moment.” (The farmhouse is located on Broadway, between West 204th and West 207th Streets.)

“Then, return downtown via Harlem, stopping off at either Red Rooster [310 Lenox Street] for comfort food, or, if its late on a Sunday already, American Legion 398 [248 West 132nd Street] for nips and jazz.”

4. Cool off at the McCarren Park Pool

When Megan Reynolds, an editor at the women’s lifestyle and pop culture website The Frisky, needs an escape from “this giant city full of humans,” she takes a dip at the McCarren Park Pool off of Union Avenue and Bayard Street in Brooklyn.

“It only opened a couple summers ago, and it's a huge, sparkling oasis that is 100% free to enter,” says “You have to buy a lock to lock your stuff up in the lockers, and you can't take your phone out to the pool area, but who cares. Take a book, take a towel, and splash around. It's one of my favorite weekday activities.”

Kayakers with Manhattan Kayak Company on the Hudson River Dan Nguyen

Kayakers with Manhattan Kayak Company on the Hudson River

Dan Nguyen

 

5. Get Out on the Hudson River

“Almost no one knows this, but there is a floating bar on the Hudson River,” says ZOZI co-founder and president, Dan Gruneberg. “It's operated by the Manhattan Sailing Club and you have to go through them, but it's awesome and super unique.”

The open-air bar is on the top deck of an 80-foot picnic barge, the Honorable William Wall. The William Wall is moored on the Hudson River just north of Ellis Island, between May and October. River shuttles to the ship depart from the World Financial Center Terminal by Nelson Rockefeller Park (tickets must be booked in advance).

For a more active aquatic experience,  head out for a kayaking adventure as you watch the setting sun reflected off the city skyline. Our friends at Resilience Paddle Sports offer an awesome variety of stand-up paddle board and kayak tours.

Brooklym Bridge Park in New York's DUMBO neighborhood ZOZI

Brooklym Bridge Park in New York's DUMBO neighborhood

ZOZI

 

6. Explore Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood

Facing the East River and Lower Manhattan, the DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood in Brooklyn is partially nestled in between the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge.

“The views are spectacular,”  says Joanna Paterson, owner of BODIESYNERGY Fitness, which offers outdoor workouts in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “It has a smaller ‘village type’ feel at the bottom of the hill on the water’s edge. The restaurants are varied, with the most famous pizza and chocolate around,” namely Grimaldi’s Pizza on Front Street, and the Jacques Torres Chocolate and Ice Cream shops on Water Street.

Louis Armstrong in front of a painting of Louis Armstrong Jack Bradley Collection, Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis Armstrong in front of a painting of Louis Armstrong

Jack Bradley Collection, Louis Armstrong House Museum

 

7. Visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum

“Look, I don’t even want to tell you about this one because it’s my secret passcode to a happy day, but there’s no better weekend afternoon than this day trip to Corona, Queens,” says Brendan McGinley, a comic book writer and editor for the comedy website Man Cave Local.

Learn about Armstrong’s life and hear tapes of him practicing the trumpet as you wander through the house he lived in for decades with his wife Lucille. The museum houses Armstrong's personal collection of 1,600 recordings, 650 home recorded reel-to-reel tapes in hand-decorated boxes, 86 scrapbooks, 5,000 photographs, 270 sets of band parts, and five trumpets. Tours of the house start on the hour every hour, six days a week (it’s closed on Mondays).

“Be sure to visit the museum store after the tour,” says McGinley. “It will continue to teach you about the man and the musician. Finish up by sitting in his Japanese garden and thanking this American icon for carving some goodness into the world and sharing it with you.”

8. Drink rum from a communal punch bowl

Duck into Otto’s Shrunken Head Tiki Bar & Lounge for a fruity cocktail and lots of island kitsch.  Located on East 14th Street and Avenue B, this tropical hide-out has all the trappings of a first-rate tiki bar—black lights, bamboo-lined walls, iridescent drinks—plus live rockabilly and punk shows and DJs spinning old school rock and indie music in the backroom.

“You’ll always be able to hold a conversation, no matter how great the jukebox is, and there are enough characters in attendance that you’ll want to,” says McGinley.

“There’s no better island escape on a cold, wet night. Stop in for a drink, stay for a bowl of communal punch," says McGinley. "You may say ‘never again,’ but like all the best bad habits, you’ll be back. The glowing grog in Otto’s custom tiki mugs guarantees it.”

Paley Park, a pocket park in Manhattan ZOZI

Paley Park, a pocket park in Manhattan

ZOZI

 

9. Visit New York’s Pocket Parks

Need a place to catch your breath? Kim Masson, a writer and editor for Greenpointers, an online publication devoted to the Greenpoint neighborhood, recommends two parks in Midtown Manhattan.

“There is a sweet little spot with an outdoor seating area on 53rd Street between Madison Avenue and 5th Avenue,” says Masson. “Most people don't know it, but the wall scribbled with graffiti is actually a piece of the Berlin Wall shipped over after it was knocked down.”

One block up 5th Avenue on West 53rd Street is Paley Park. “All the walls are covered in ivy and the center piece is a cascading wall fountain. It's a great place to get away from all the traffic and soak in some quiet time,” she says.

10. Sip Champagne on a Boat

Sail in true baller fashion on a sunset cruise around Manhattan with Xavier Wines. A favorite of New York tour guide Lisa Markuson, Xavier Wines will take you out on the water in the Ventura, a 62.5-foot sailboat built in 1919. Onboard, you’ll sip Billecart-Salmon brut champagne and eat fresh-shucked oysters.

For the landlubbers, Xavier Wines also hosts brandy, bourbon, and wine tastings in their shop on 19 Little West 12th Street.

 
 

Ready to bite into the Big Apple?

Martin Totland

Martin Totland is a journalist and photographer from Norway. He currently lives in San Francisco and has worked in countries around the world, including Thailand, Mozambique, and South Africa. When he's not studying journalism at UC Berkeley, he's either cooking, reading, or working on his powerlifting techniques in the gym.

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