Day trips to the New York City are always exciting, especially for us country bumpkins from suburban or rural small towns. (I'm actually from a city, but two years in the cow country has made me desperate for the bustle of city life).
The first three times you go there's so much to see and do that you don't care if you're wearing a TOURIST stamp across your forehead. However, seeing the city through a tourists' lens can ruin a potentially great trip because you will be too focused on the things you are "supposed" to see (i.e. the Empire State Building) and ignore the random, spontaneously discovered treasures that the city holds. Years later, you won't remember that the Statue of Liberty looked slightly greener up close than it does in the movies. You will remember finding that cozy little cafe when it started raining, even though you probably won't remember the name of the cafe.
Here's how not a be a tourist next time you go to New York City.
A typical trip New York usually includes a detailed map of the metro and how much time you're going to spend riding subways verse how much time you're gonig to spend at each of the tourist locations you've pinpointed. Central park, Rockefeller Center, Tiffanys, Fifth Ave, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge. You want to hit every location and take picture standing in front of the monument to get that successful feeling of "seeing New York." In order to do so you have to traverse more than a few miles of city space, but taxis are expensive so instead you head underground to the subways.
This is convenient, but can ruin a spontaneous and potentially event-filled day trip. The first thing about New York City is that it is better to identify one or two areas in walking or biking distance and explore the city above ground, in the open. New York has convenient tourist bikes you can rent for a few bucks located across the city. Walking is best for discovering hidden shops, small parks, and other treasures but biking is essential if your trip is going to span more than a few miles.
New York is all about brand names, and the same goes for restaurants. Tourist guidebooks are full of the places you can go for various price ranges to try the best pizza or how long in advance you should make reservations at Le Cirque. Of course the food there will be an excellent memory, and if you've been dying to visit New York for that purpose, I'm not here to change your mind. However, if you arrive with nothing but an idea of where you should eat, then you might find something better on your way.
Again, this is why it's better to travel above ground.
One of the cutest places I discovered was in "Korea Town," which is really no more than a street or two with Korean shops. Tous Les Jours is a Korean-French cafe that serves up the softest, fluffiest, warmest, most decadent pastries and breads that I have ever had the pleasure of tasting (and seeing, and smelling). Not to mention they do every classical cafe beverage plus bubble tea.
The atmosphere is relaxed but not as mellow as Starbucks. With upbeat music an array of color macaroons, it's a great place to take a break from your walking or biking, leaving you energized to continue on your journey of spontaneous discovery.
I would encourage you to check it out next time you visit, but that might ruin your experience of discovering your own new favorite.
What To See
Planning an ideal picnic in the park? If you want to get the most out of this, ditch Central Park- been there, done that. New York City is full of parks and each one offers its own perspective of the city. I stumbled across Riverside Park while I was looking for Central Park (I actually couldn't find Central Park, go figure) and it turned out to be quite romantic. A quiet strip of green speckled with benches, kiddie play grounds, and lots and lots of dogs, Riverside Park overlooks the Hudson River and New Jersey. Located on the edge of a quiet neighborhood, it really give a feel of what it might be like to live there one day.
Next time you take a trip to New York, try leaving the map and the guidebook behind and just explore. You'll get so much more out of it.