There's a reason New York is one of the most visited cities in the world. Hell, anyone who's ever been there knows there's more than one reason. But the question remains: what do the real New Yorkers do in their free time? Well, they walk faster than you jog, order delivery more than they cook, and take the subway more than they cab. So if you want to experience New York the way the locals do (and not through any of that hop-on, hop-off bus tour crap) these seven activities are a great start, even if you do them just the one time.
Let your hair down at Brooklyn Bowl
From Manhattan, cross the East RIver and snag a lane at bowling-alley-cum-concert-hall Brooklyn Bowl. With dance-worthy DJ sets, up-and-coming hipsters, and nostalgic names, there’s always sweet tunes blasting. And what better way to meet locals and sing along with the band than with a raucous roll down the alley? There's upscale bar food (fried chicken and sandwiches, holla) delivered to your lane and a broad array of cocktails at the ready, so you'll stay fully entertained well into the wee hours. Tip: If the lanes get crowded you can sneak around the corner to Brooklyn Brewery to try some local hops, or run down the street to Vinnies, a tiny New York-style Pizzeria famous for putting pizza on top of its pizza (yes, really).
Peep the Flatiron Building while nomming at the original Shake Shack
A vacation isn't really a vacation unless you totally toss your diet plans, and this one has some amazing architecture and history to boot. The original Shake Shack location is quite literally a shack, with the skinny facade of the Flatiron Building rising out of a triangular patch behind it at Broadway and 5th. The fast-casual burger empire is growing fast, having evolved from a humble hot dog cart serving frozen custard in 2001 to a centrally-located outpost among fancy athleisure shops. These days, Shake Shack is for New Yorkers what In N Out is for Californians, and the rivalry is real. Get yourself some cheese fries, frozen custard, and a burger smothered in Shack Sauce, and decide for yourself who takes the cake.
Glance into swanky apartments from the elevated High Line
Part of what gave the Meatpacking District its name, New York’s hottest park is actually an old railroad track that used to carry animal carcasses over from the slaughterhouse. These days, the High Line is a posh strip of leafy plants, coveted lounge chairs, and vistas of the gritty trendiness of the modern day Meatpacking clubs. The success of the High Line has led to incredibly fancy apartment buildings going up right along its path, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering views into the lives of the rich and famous just inches from your nose. Check out the fancy digs or catch a cocktail at The Standard, a hotel, beer garden and nightclub just off the tracks. It’s a running joke that couples staying in a room at the Standard are in perfect view of the High Line — see if you can spot any doing the deed.
Check out Lady Liberty... without the tourist prices
Ah, the Statue of Liberty — a glowing symbol of America’s promise of opportunity and freedom. While a visit may be more important now than ever, you’re sure as hell not going to pay $18 to be herded like cattle onto a freedom-themed day cruiser. Instead, hop on board the (free!) Staten Island Ferry and glide past Liberty Island blissfully free of cliche tour jokes. The ferry runs every half hour from the southern tip of Manhattan to the oft-forgotten borough across the water. To be perfectly honest, there isn't much to do over there besides wait the 25 minutes for the next orange behemoth to depart, but it's still totally worth it. And if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s Snug Harbor, a historic army base and botanical garden a 15-minute bus ride away (though most New Yorkers couldn’t tell you a thing about that).
Stand in line for a Ramen Burger at Smorgasburg
Brooklyn’s favorite hipster food fair has made household names out of Instagram darlings like the Ramen Burger, raindrop cake, and hot cones of Home Frites. The lines for some of these bad boys can undoubtably be long, but the first bite (and the Insta likes) are so worth it. While you can actually find these treats year-round, the location varies by season. Warmer months you can stretch your legs down by the waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park (Saturdays) or Prospect Park (Sundays), while in winter the savory stalls head inside to Skylight One Hanson; a pretty, airy indoor space accompanied by some of the best flea market finds in the city. Make a day of it and be sure to ogle the downtown Manhattan views from the waterfront and/or comb through vintage jewelry for the perfect souvenir. Winter or summer, it’s a perfect place to fill your belly and watch the hipster masses go by.
Hope an A-lister shows up at Comedy Cellar
New York is home to countless star-studded shows, events, and random celeb sightings. Up your chances of catching a famous face by heading to a show at the classic Comedy Cellar. Famous names like Jim Gaffigan, Louis CK, and Amy Schumer are known to show up for sets unannounced, so cross your fingers. Even if there’s no mainstream comedian on the docket you’ll still laugh yourself silly with some of the up-and-coming talent. Other humor hot spots include Gotham Comedy Club and the improv-focused Upright Citizens Brigade, which is basically a training ground for the next generation of SNL cast members. Amateur nights are inexpensive and booze flows easily, so it’s the perfect pregame to the rest of your night bar hopping on the Lower East Side. Tip: don't confuse these places with the ones sold by ticket sellers in Times Square. You might get some laughs, but they're not hooking you up with an authentic performance like the ones at the classic Lower East Side clubs.
Dress your best and try to get photographed at fashion week
Twice a year, fashion’s latest and greatest descend on lower Manhattan to strut their stuff, preen their feathers, and show off the season’s most expensive and luxurious outfits. If you’re lucky enough to get a seat at a show, keep an eye out for elites like Kylie and Millie Bobby Brown. But for those of us who can't gain access to the coveted shows, there’s always street style. Join the ranks of bloggers and aspiring models outside show venues to sport the latest trends in new and interesting ways, and prepare to stand for hours looking uninterested and chic AF. Classic looks include all black, oversized accessories, and glitter. If you’re lucky, a Vogue or Refinery29 photographer will snap a pic and make you viral for about a day or two. It’ll be a great regram.
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