How to be a New York tourist when you live here
The COVID-19 crisis has emptied New York City of its omnipresent tourists. So what better time for those of us who live here to see it through fresh eyes?
1. This is the biggie. Go to Times Square. See it through the eyes of someone new to the city. I dare you. The awe. The energy. It’s the most famous place on Earth, FFS. Pre-lockdown, round 330,000 people passed through its plazas every day. Drink that in for a moment. Insane, right? It kind of makes you proud. Now it's practically deserted.
2. Take the Staten Island ferry – and stay for a while. The ferry has been running throughout lockdown – just make sure you wear a mask. While on the island, get spooked at the abandoned Kreischer Mansion, said to be one of the most haunted places in New York and site of a 2005 mafia hit, whose victim was dismembered and burned in the basement furnace. On a lighter note, you could also visit the onetime home of Alice Austen, one of America’s first female photographers, built in 1690.
3. Have a Reuben at Katz. As our favorite neighborhood diners are closing overnight, to be replaced by a Starbucks or a TD Bank, experiencing this LES gem is like stepping back in time. You won't be able to sit at the When Harry Met Sally table while indoor dining is suspended, but you can take out its famous Reuben sandwich.
4. Take the plunge at Astoria Park Pool. It’s only one of the largest public pools in the country, complete with 330-foot main pool, Olympic-standard diving pool, plus wading pool for the kiddies. Nestling in the shadow of the RFK Bridge, it’s free to use (bring a lock so you can secure your belongings while you swim). No food, glass bottles, or phones/laptops are allowed, ensuring peace and quiet for all, and plain white is the dress code. Sunscreen is provided. Take the N/W to Ditmars Blvd and you have a 15-minute walk to the pool. City pools reopen on July 24. Whoop!
5. Visit the deceased at Green-Wood Cemetery. Some of the most famous residents include Jean-Michel Basquiat and Leonard Bernstein. But this Brooklyn graveyard is about more than just the dead. A National Historic Landmark, it was founded in 1838 and is packed to the heavens with cherubs, gargoyles, and grand Victorian mausoleums. If you get a chance, check out the catacombs – they only open once a year. The R train will take you there – it’s about a five-minute walk from the 25th St station. And all entrances are now open.
6. Bike to the Little Red Lighthouse. In the shadow of the GW Bridge, this is a 40-minute cycle along the river … or a leisurely two-hour walk with the wind behind you. It was immortalized in the 1942 children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, by Hildegarde Swift – which celebrates the idea that even the smallest among us can have an important role to play.
7. Play shuffs. The noble sport of shuffleboard is not just for septuagenarian Floridians. The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club is a glorious, flamingo-bedecked destination for hipsters who shuff. You don’t even have to play if you don’t want to. They have tropical drinks aplenty, oversized board games, a rotating roster of food trucks, and resident DJ. Take the R train to Union St and walk the last five minutes to the Gowanus hot spot. Again, this W42ST favorite is a victim of the COVID-19 shutdown, but make a date to visit as soon as it reopens.
8. Go for gospel brunch. Head to Sylvia’s as soon as this Harlem staple reopens. Fill your face with the finest soul food – fried chicken, cornbread, collard greens, grits – while being serenaded by glorious gospel. The walls are lined with photographs of famous past diners, presidents and celebrities. Sylvia’s has been doing this for 55 years, so let’s just say this girl knows what she’s doing. Take the 2/3 train to 125 Street and walk the minute to Malcolm X Blvd.
9. Take a tour. Seriously. You think you know all about this crazy, complex city already? OK, let’s talk about Andrew Haswell Green, the Father of Greater New York (and why he deserves more than just the dog run and bar named after him). How about Jane Jacobs? Or John Randel. The Manhattan Passport tour takes four hours, and travels from Battery Park to Lincoln Center (don’t worry, there are snacks along the way), and explains how New York got to be this way. Bonus: it’s led by Hell’s Kitchen native Ina Lee Selden. It's on a brief hiatus but check the website to find out when the tours start again.
10. Get back to nature at Wave Hill. Gardens, wild flowers, shady spots, and an elegant 19th-century mansion in the heart of Riverdale. The views across the river are spectacular – making this one of the most stunning spots in the whole of the city. Regular events include Frog and Toad Day, a celebration of pollinators, and artist talks. Scheduled to reopen as part of Phase 4. Take the 1 train to W242nd St and a free shuttle will take you the rest of the way.
11. Gain a new perspective on your fifth-floor walk-up by visiting the Tenement Museum. A series of apartments that were once home to working-class German, Jewish, Chinese, and Italian immigrants, it brings their stories vividly to life. You’ll never complain about not having a washer dryer again. OK, you probably will. Museums are included in Phase 4 of reopening, which will hopefully happen on July 20. Watch the website for updates.
12. Go to Jersey. I know, I know. But, face it: they have the best views of Manhattan from across the Hudson. Take a ferry to Hoboken, maybe grab a sidewalk cocktail, then pick up a shared bike or scooter and follow the river to Liberty State Park for views and a picnic. End your day with dinner in Jersey City. The restaurants are way cheaper than Manhattan, so you can afford to splurge on a cab home.
13. Ride the Cyclone at Coney Island. Opened in June 1927, the rickety old wooden coaster was all set to be demolished in the 1970s. But – huzzah! – it was fully refurbished and lives to roll another day. Don’t let the – ahem – extremely rare deaths on board put you off. This is my all-time favorite thing to do on Coney Island. Afterwards, grab a Nathan’s to steady your nerves. Take the Q all the way, baby. The journey takes around an hour. Luna Park is currently closed – watch the website for its reopening plans (but you can still get a Nathans!)
14. Go to Governors Island. Keep an eye on the website for the island's reopening plans. Under normal circumstances, the ferry leaves Battery Park every half hour (the early ferries on the weekend are free) and, in just seven minutes, you’re in a sanctuary of undulating hills, art, and architecture. This former military outpost was closed to the public for 200 years, and was only opened to visitors in 2006. Explore by bike (you can bring your own on the ferry, or use CitiBike once you’re there), take a nap in Hammock Grove, and have a picnic with a view.
15. Discover Dead Horse Bay – a beach covered in broken porcelain dolls, glass bottles from the 1950s, and shards of 19th-century horse bones. Also known as Bottle Beach, this is a true, freaky Brooklyn curiosity. Take the 2/5 train to Flatbush Ave, then the Q35 bus will take you the rest of the way.
16. Wild card. Take the subway to a neighborhood you’ve never been to before. Keep your phone on silent, don’t check the map, and just … walk. Explore. Linger over a coffee. Talk to people.
This feature originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of W42ST magazine. Check for opening hours before traveling. And be first to read stories like this when you join our daily newsletter at w42st.com.