Check out Our Trip to New York City and find out how we did it our way, with two teens in tow.
We finally did it – we traveled to New York City for a 5 day trip that wasn’t business related, and I am certifiably hooked on the city life! Here’s what I’ve come to realize about my self: I don’t care much for tropical getaways or theme park destinations, but I love traveling to new cities and diving into the culture.
This trip came about because we were planning to travel to Seattle for a family wedding, but after pricing flights for a family of four it became apparent that we’d get more for our money by staying on the East coast instead. Now that the kids are teenagers, NYC seemed like a great place for all of us to get inspired. My daughter has a very ‘alternative’ style so she was able to see things from a more diverse setting; my son is a chip off the old block and is fascinated by city life; and the hubs and I are suckers for food, culture, nightlife, and people watching.
We traveled in late June and got lucky with the weather. It was perfectly warm, sunny, and lacked humidity for most of the week. We didn’t follow a typical “tourist” agenda; instead we explored things more freely and asked the locals where were the good places to go. Here’s a list of the things we did, and where we went. There were surprises along the way, and so much inspiration around every turn.
Our Trip to New York City
Where we stayed: We booked a flight + hotel package through one of the travel sites, choosing The Lucerne for our stay. We chose it for it’s location, and for it’s good reviews. It’s in the Upper West Side two blocks from Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. After doing our research of the different areas/neighborhoods in Manhattan, we knew we wanted to be in a more residential zone as opposed to a highly-trafficked tourist area. This turned out to be a VERY good decision.
We arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon, dropped our bags, and headed outside to explore our neighborhood. Just three blocks west is a park along the Hudson River, with the Boat Basin Cafe overlooking the marina. We sat outside and enjoyed a snack, cocktails, and the gorgeous weather and view. One of the unexpected highlights of that outing was stumbling across this original Banksy art piece, “Hammer Boy.” We’ve been fans of the artist’s work for a few years but never imagined we’d see one in person…much less on the same block as our hotel!
The rest of the day was spent strolling along (we found the cutest used book store!), relaxing, and having dinner outside at a sidewalk cafe. Afterwards, we got fresh baked cookies from Insomnia Cookies and they were the BEST cookies I’ve ever bought. Crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside…perfection! It’s located right across the street from our hotel so it became a daily stop.
Tuesday was jam-packed and definitely our most “touristy” day. After sleeping in, we got ready and headed off to the Met…but not before stopping for some street vendor food! When in New York you have to get street food, right! We all got something different and shared. From hot dogs, to meat on a stick, to gyros, it was all delicious!
A lovely stroll through Central Park took us straight to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we spent hours perusing the halls of ancient Egyptian artifacts, Greek & Roman statues, and art by Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Picasso, Rockwell, and more. We also saw a specialty exhibit by a Japanese fashion artist, that was so interesting!
After the museum we were rushing to get ready for our night out. We had gotten Broadway tickets the day before, to see….wait for it….Cats! I know, so retro, right. We met with the concierge who just happened to be a former Broadway dancer, and she gave us the scoop on the theaters and seating available at various shows. Sure we would have loved to have seen The Lion King, Wicked, or Dear Evan Hanson, but the tickets available were pricey with bad views. So we went with the next best family-friendly show available, and that was Cats. We actually enjoyed it immensely and the kids REALLY loved it.
A trip to New York City wouldn’t be complete without a walk through Times Square. It made perfect sense to check it out after the show. To see the place lit up like that at night was iconic. We didn’t spend much time there because we were starving! On to a local pub for dinner at 11pm!
Wednesday was our day to chill out and not have a schedule, however we ended up with some of the most memorable experiences. We slept in all week (except the hubs who was up early walking the streets, testing out coffee shops & bagel shops) so didn’t get started each day until close to lunch time. On this particular day we happened upon AG Kitchen for lunch and a cocktail, which inspired my sparkling mojito recipe. The food was terrific with kind of a Cuban-Brazilian mashup.
After lunch we hopped on the subway down to discover Chelsea Piers and hang out at the Waterside Park. Surprising to me, it was the end of June and children were just getting out of school for summer break; there were several end-of-year parties taking place.
Our son was on a mission to visit Midtown Comics Store (he’s a big comic book enthusiast) so we made our way back up to 40th Street to find it. Lucky for us, Jack’s Restaurant & Bar was across the street so the hubs and I went inside for some happy hour cocktails while our son was at the comics shop…for over an hour! Jack’s was small and very quaint inside, and a charming place to catch our breath after all that walking.
As dinner time approached, we ate at what I would describe as the quintessential “hidden gem” of a restaurant, that only the locals know about. Coppola’s Italian restaurant was right across the street from our hotel but we never gave it much thought because the sign was very inconspicuous; it just says “osteria & pizzeria” but it is OH-SO-MUCH-MORE! As you go down some stairs to enter this dark, cozy, restaurant lined with old brick walls, you immediately feel like you’ve just joined a secret club. This is not just a “pizzeria,” it’s classic & authentic Italian cuisine, and the wall to wall crowd inside is a testament to that. One of our favorite finds!
One of the nice things about traveling with teenagers is that we adults can have a night out without worries of a babysitter. As darkness fell, we asked about seeing some live jazz music and were directed to Cleopatra’s Needle, a 13 block walk from the hotel. It was open mic night but as with everything else in NYC, it was next level! Their version of open mic is not your typical version of open mic. These were obvious professionals who seem to get together for jam sessions and to sing/play for each other. WOW, were they good!
We were back to structure and schedules on Thursday as we set out for the Museum of Natural History for a few hours before meeting up with an old friend for dinner and a night out. I have to say that the history museum was my least favorite part of the trip. Unlike an art museum where you see one of a kind pieces wherever you go, I feel like most history museums are pretty much the same. We’ve been to the Smithsonian before so this was kind of like that on repeat. I wish we had gone to the MoMa instead.
Dinner was at the hotel restaurant, Nice Matin, which serves up delicious French cuisine. We met up with one of my oldest girlfriends (25 years and counting) and her new beau as we had a belated celebration of my birthday.
Afterwards, the kids went back up to the room while we headed out for the night. I was dead set on finding a rooftop bar so once again we asked for a recommendation. We ended up at The Empire Hotel rooftop bar where I finally got a view of the city, from some place other than street level. The bar is set up where the center is indoors and there are two rooftop terraces flanking it. A very beautiful place to be. From there we made our way back down to Midtown and ended the night in a local joint with inexpensive drinks, then a slice of New York style pizza!
Although we had most of the day in the city, it was travel day so we did a little bit of local shopping before heading to the airport.
After this trip to New York City, I wish we were independently wealthy so we could afford to live there or at least visit often. It IS pricey but it was worth it. My top takeaways, advice, and to-do’s are:
- Don’t visit like a tourist, live like a local and experience the best of the city. Ask the residents for places to go instead of going to all the ‘most popular’ places. Duck inside off the wall shops or eateries. You’ll probably find a hidden treasure.
- I highly recommend staying in the Upper West Side, and The Lucerne Hotel. It was so nice being in an area that wasn’t wall to wall people like Time’s Square or even Midtown. In the mornings we saw nannies with strollers and people going to the gym instead of tourists or business people.
- Take advantage of the night life. Whether you’re 25 or 65, there’s got to be something you’ll love to do after dark. Wine bars, jazz lounges, comedy clubs, or neighborhood pubs – it’s vacation after all!
- Don’t schedule every minute of every day. There’s SO much to see and do but I don’t regret one bit that I didn’t go to the Empire State Building or shop at pricey department stores, or see the World Trade Center Memorial. I know those things are iconic but at the end of the day that’s not what feeds my soul. I’m much more inspired by the art I saw, the amazing food I ate, and the moments of relaxation in the park by the river, or at the jazz club.
- The things I do wish for next time are: visit the Museum of Modern Art, walk along The High Line, spend more time in Central Park, and of course eat and drink my way through the city.