Now that my time in the Big Apple is coming to a close, I can share all my secret favorite places with you —from coffee shops to high-flying adventures to thrift stores. In this list of best things to do in New York City, there’s something for everyone and I’ve structured the list in rough chronological order so theoretically, you could do all these things in one day! (Although it would involve many subway rides up, down and across Manhattan.) Let me know if you’ve tried any of these places or plan to
Best Coffee Shop: News Bar (pictured above)
I have two main criteria for NYC coffee shops: fair trade beverages and space to sit. Located just off Union Square in Manhattan, News Bar consistently delivers on both fronts. It has comfortable seating with tons of laptop plugs and options for configurations of one to ten people. Plus, it never gets too loud, although you can often overhear interesting conversations there (like that one time I got stuck listening to a thirty minute monologue about why communism is the best political model for America). News Bar offers a variety of coffee-, tea- and juice-based beverages and the food–a mix of sandwiches, breakfast choices, pastries and healthy stuff–seriously rocks. Finally, if you ever get bored with your laptop/coffee companion, News Bar has a whole wall full of current periodicals for the reading.
Best Neighborhood to Stroll Through: Union Square (pictured below)
People-watching is one of the best things to do in New York City, and Union Square is my favorite place for that. You’ve got street performers, students, shoppers, a farmer’s market, a park…the list goes on. There’s always something happening here and it’s a fitting example of the melting pot that truly is New York City. See for yourself.
Best Cheap Eat: A Bagel from Absolute Bagels
In New York, you have two classic choices for cheap, prepared food: pizza and bagels. My go-to preference is for the latter. For breakfast or lunch, a bagel will usually set you back a couple dollars, depending on what sort of dough and cream cheese you go with. At Absolute, my favorite combo is an everything bagel with sun-dried tomato cream cheese. Somewhere between the crisp, salty outer shell and the warm, pillow-soft interior mashed with layers of herb-kissed cream cheese, you become a very happy camper indeed. If you can’t make it to the Upper West Side, honestly, you’ll find a decent bagel at almost any bodega or café.
Best “Hidden Gem” Activity: Riding the Gondola to Roosevelt Island
When my friend Sara told me about this gondola/tram, I didn’t believe it was real. I had to see it for myself. Not only did I confirm that it existed, but I learned that all it costs is a swipe on your Metrocard! Please, if you have a few hours to spare in NYC, do this: Enter the tram at 59th St and 2nd Avenue on the East Side and take in the glory of the East River from above. Coasting hundreds of feel above the water, gazing at the Manhattan skyline in awestruck wonder for several happy minutes is definitely one of the best things to do in New York City. At the end of it, you can hop off on the other side and stroll the FDR Four Freedoms Park on the island. All in all, this is an activity guaranteed to please anyone.
Best Thrift Store: Valley Thrift (on 107th and Amsterdam)
I keep accidently calling this place “Hidden Valley Thrift” because it’s tiny and tucked away up in Morningside Heights, yet it’s the best thrift shop I’ve ever been to. I only happened upon it because it’s right near my office and, needless to say, I have spent many a lunch break perusing its racks. Valley Thrift has incredible deals, and often on designer products; I picked up a J. Crew sweater for $7 last winter. Plus, it’s family-owned, as near as I can tell, and the main proprietor is always so kind. If you enjoy thrifting, this one is a must-see.
Best Jewish Deli: 2nd Avenue Deli
If a magnificent pile of perfectly-cured meat slapped inside toasty rye bread, accompanied with warm, comforting matzo ball soup doesn’t strike your fancy, then you might be vegetarian and you might want to skip this. But if you have even the slightest inkling that a deli might be your cup of tea, go to 2nd Avenue. You will be greeted with a bowl of fresh, crispy, bright-green pickles, followed shortly thereafter by a dish of cool coleslaw to munch on while you deliberate over the potato pancakes and the potato knishes. Then, after you’ve finished your sandwich/soup/etc. they’ll top you off with a nightcap of egg cream (a delicious concoction of milk, soda water and chocolate syrup—no eggs). It’s not cheap, but for all those perks and for the way it feels like home, this deli is my top pick.