A temple and pastrami? A stroll and a slice? A view and a donut? Here’s one local’s guide to outdoor exploration and indoor classics during what might be the best ever time to see the city.
By Nicole DuCharme / Photos by John Jackson
New York City is open! And there has never been a better time to play tourist…
It is a rare gift to not see throngs of international visitors, tour buses and social influencers staging photoshoots at every sight.
If you live near NYC or can get here safely, now is the time to come. While Covid-19 will keep Broadway closed until later in 2021 and music venues have no opening dates yet, there is plenty to do and see throughout the city.
Parks, waterways, gardens and zoos are open for expansive views and unbridled natural beauty. With most of life currently being experienced outdoors, it’s a wonderful time to explore NYC’s outdoor features.
While there are hundreds of outdoor dining options throughout the city, it will be a personal preference as to what kind of outdoor structure is acceptable to you and your party. That said, there are plenty of places to pick up excellent takeaway including NYC’s iconic pizza slices.
Almost all of NYC’s cornerstone museums have re-opened. All you have to do is make reservations and/or purchase tickets in advance for a timed entry. Museums are where you’ll really see the difference in crowd sizes if you’ve visited the city pre-Covid. You will sometimes find yourself in a gallery one-on-one with a masterpiece. It’s a very intimate and unique way to get up close and personal with your favorite works of art.
Covid-safe New York City Outings by Neighborhood
Over the last few months of the pandemic, we’ve actually had some incredible days tripping around our home city like tourists. Because dining and coat checks remain closed at the museums, we made it our mission to plan a day’s worth of activities, food and shopping out and about in each part of town (albeit, with a smaller bag that’ll make it into the galleries). Here’s a recap of our best days in NYC during Covid.
If you want to take lingering looks at the exceptional dioramas at American Museum of Natural History, there is no better time to do so. Also, “T rex: The Ultimate Predator” remains open until March 14, 2021 and should not be missed.
What will strike you most is the sheer grandeur of The Metropolitan Museum building without snaking lines and the din of shoulder to shoulder crowds. Look upwards. Ascend the stairs. It’s a true marvel!
When visiting either of the museums above, be sure to head over to Levain Bakery with locations on both the Upper West Side and Upper East Side. Their chocolate chip cookies are addictive and they also make a perfect Parisian baguette. For heartier fare, pick up the sandwich the late Anthony Bourdain called his favorite in NYC at Pastrami Queen with locations nearby both museums as well.
From birding to waterfalls and including a castle, there is much to enjoy in Central Park at this time of year. The Central Park Zoo is a delight and visitors should stop by to greet the newest penguin. Both ice skating rinks – Wollman and Lasker – are open until spring.
A must visit is MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art, which has an outstanding app-based audio component for your smartphone and a commitment to “flipping” their collections every 4 months. It’s an exciting time to see so much of the art held by this institution. Don’t expect any blockbuster exhibitions as curators all around the world are struggling to keep art moving from country to country, but note that NYC museums are keeping it fresh!
On a normal day, the crowds lining up outside for hard-to-come-by tickets to the Top of The Rock at Rockefeller Center are a deterrent. Book your tickets in advance and move through with ease! These days, the crowds are gone and one can actually linger 70 floors above Manhattan to take in the amazing views.
Behind the New York Public Library (temporarily closed, but stop by and visit the Library Lions out front), lies Bryant Park which is transformed into a Winter Village through early March. There is ice skating and curling. Food and drink options include a rinkside Lodge, open air cocktails at The Porch, numerous food kiosks and bakeries tucked into the village shops selling cider doughnuts and ginger cookies.
Midtown and Times Square are littered with national chain restaurants, but there are some unique takeaway opportunities if you know where to look. Los Tacos No. 1 has one location in Time Square and another near Grand Central. These are among the best tacos in the city. At Margon, a much loved Cuban cafe, skip the meal plates and go for the Cuban or roast pork sandwiches. Be sure to grab extra napkins – this is not a tidy meal! You will see many slice joints in Midtown, but hold out as you make your way to Upside Pizza. There is none better in the area.
If you come into or depart from NYC via Penn Station, you’ll be fortunate to see the brilliant, newly completed public work that is the Moynihan Train Hall. This airy, sun filled atrium has been awaited for years to attach some beauty to the busy and downtrodden train station.
Visit Renzo Piano’s stunningly designed Whitney Museum of American Art and take in the expansive views of the Hudson River, downtown and The Freedom Tower from its sunny upper decks.
Another must visit in these tourist-free times is The High Line. The park stretches from the Whitney Museum all the way north to the Hudson Yards. Enjoy the park’s features at a leisurely pace and be sure to grab a seat at the 10th Ave Square & Overlook where seating is usually impossible to snag.
The best pizza slice near The High Line is the unassuming Stella Pizza. While all of their toppings (or just cheese…you do you!) are great, do try sausage as it’s made by a family member and it is sublime.
For a “takeaway food tour” of the Lower East Side, you can hit the highlights easily in a ten block radius near Seward Park. Grab fermented treats from The Pickle Guys or a most divine doughnut from Doughnut Plant. Another worthy slice can be obtained at Scarr’s Pizza. Buzz worthy Kopitiam serves up amazing Malaysion fare. With CDC guidelines in places and essential business status as a grocer, visit Essex Market for cheeses, baked goods and charcuterie as well as gift worthy preserves, candies and delicacies.
To walk that all off, book a private Street Art Tour to learn about the extremely colorful Lower East Side.
Waterways and Brooklyn
For epic city and bridges views, take the NYC Ferry from Corlears Hook near the FDR to South Brooklyn. Get off the ferry at Brooklyn Bridge Park/Atlantic Ave and stroll to the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade for classic views of NYC.
Further afield in Brooklyn is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Their app based nature walks are lovely in any season. The garden is near to the Brooklyn Art Museum which is airy, light filled and definitely worth a visit.
If you’re heading to the garden or museum, start your day at Ursula Cafe for authentic New Mexican burritos and trippy, but delicious red chile glazed donuts.
One of New York’s best bagels-with-lox can be found at Shelsky’s of Brooklyn open seven days a week from 8am – 4pm. Enjoy your nosh in Cobble Hill Park – a sweet pocket park lined by carriage houses. You’ll feel centuries away from the modern world.
If it’s not too cold and you don’t mind the wait, put your name in for an outdoor table at Lucali Pizza. It is cash only and bring your own wine and beer, but it’s among the best pizza in the USA and now is the time to try it!
Living in NYC, raised in LA, born in Santa Fe, heart in Amsterdam, Nicole proves there’s no city too big, no menu too long, and no marathon too hilly.
© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved
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