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“What’s Good?”: A Local’s Guide to All the Best Places in NYC

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If any of you read my MOTO intro, you know I have a deep love affair with New York City (as do many of the other team members). The culture, people, energy, FOOD are all pretty perfect in my book. But sadly despite living there for over five years, my book on what is new and fresh in the city that never sleeps is quite frankly outdated outside of my ol’ faithfuls. Whenever I go back, I rely on my best friend Casey to take me to all the wonderful new places that have popped up since my departure. She’s basically the go-to travel insider for everyone she knows (and not just for NYC but for almost any major city in the world). How she does it, none of us will ever know but damn am I glad she does. So when the edit team got to talking about doing a travel guide series, I immediately piped in to say Casey had to be part of this because I knew she would make it special. I tend to feel utterly underwhelmed by almost every city guide I read. What I want is to know about great places actual locals go to (with a hint of must-see tourist stuff) or just anything off the beaten path…and that is what this list is. Sorry no bagels or pizza here, but a curated list of everything you will want to see, do, eat and drink in one of the best cities in the world during the summer.

First, let’s start with some insider New York City travel hacks, because understandably, the city can feel a little overwhelming at first so these tips are here to make it a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable…as it should be. I will let Casey take it from here.

what to do in new york
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  • NYC Ferries are a great way to see a new view of the NYC skyline while commuting on the river from Manhattan to other boroughs.
  • If you are in NYC for two or more days, I would suggest a weekly metro card to get the most out of your subway travels. $33 for a weekly versus $2.75 every time you enter the subway.
  • Take the subway to the bus and you will get a free transfer.
  • If it’s a nice day, walk any bridge to get from Brooklyn to NYC. The Williamsburg Bridge is my favorite way to commute from the Lower East Side to Williamsburg.
  • I would always suggest walking or taking the subway to get around the city but if you are up to it, Citi Bike is a bike sharing service available all over the city.
  • If you are headed out of JFK, preload your metro card with $5 before you get to the airport. This way you can transfer to the air train at JFK without waiting in line.
  • Citi Bike stations are all over the city offering an easy, affordable way to bike with passes from an hour to a full day. Download the app and start your biking adventure!
  • TodayTix app is great to get discounted Broadway show tickets (without standing in a crazy line in Times Square).
  • NYC Ferry App: purchase your ticket ahead of time and avoid the ticket lines.
  • Resy app for all your restaurant reservations. If a place is not available, set a notification and the app will update you when it becomes available.
  • Transit app to help you get around the city and never miss a train.
what to do in new york
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  • Devocion (Flatiron & Williamsburg): Let’s talk about a coffee shop that is not only simply beautiful and very EHD approved but 100% Colombian coffee, origin to roaster in 10 days! The draft cold brew is my favorite with a guava croissant.
  • Sweatshop (Williamsburg): This mini Australian coffee shop has a menu that serves up the best avo toast and brekkie bowls with indoor/outdoor seating as you watch all the hipster pass by.
  • Variety Coffee (Chelsea, UES, Williamsburg): I used to see everyone on the subway on their morning commute with a Variety coffee cup. When I finally checked it out for myself, I got it. The iced almond latte infused vanilla syrup was THE BEST!
  • Butler (Williamsburg & Dumbo): You can’t go wrong with anything on this menu but I highly recommend picking up a fresh pastry or the breakfast empanada. Plus, the views sipping your coffee at their Dumbo location overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge is not too shabby.
  • Merriweather (West Village): Grab a cup of coffee in the heart of the West Village as you watch the cutest dogs walking down Hudson Street.
  • Seven Grams Caffe (Tribeca): They call their in-house baked pastries “bakes”, which they made fresh daily…everything from vegan bites to freshly baked croissants, though the best is the baby Nutella babka.
  • Abraco (East Village): This was one of Jess’ favorite spots when she lived here and for good reason. It’s family owned, delicious and their olive oil cake is to die for.
what to do in new york
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  • Sonnyboy (Lower East Side): It’s a small menu but when I took Jess and Julie here, we were eyeing everything on it! The stracciatella and beef tartare did not disappoint. The burger is a must, with shoestring fries and a Tromba tequila cocktail.
  • Wayla (Lower East Side): The backyard is incredible with ample space. New Yorkers don’t even know what to do with all the room, let alone having this outdoor space on the Lower East Side. The chef, who is from Bangkok, makes the best papaya salad outside of Thailand, and the moo sarong is a must!
  • Don Angie (West Village): Probably the hardest reservation but definitely worth it! Here is a tip: Make multiple notifications on the Resy app to snag a last-minute table.
  • Kings County Imperial (Williamsburg): The Williamsburg location has a backyard dining area and they maintain three gardens that grow a variety of ingredients for their menu. The Manhattan location has $1 dumpling with $5 dollar tall boys on happy hour.
  • Smith & Mills (Tribeca): You can easily miss this tiny place but once you go through the double sailor doors, you are entered into a mini oasis hidden in Tribeca. Cocktails, a burger and a bowl of white wine mussels are the best. If they have a wait, hop next door to their sister restaurant Yves for a drink at the bar.
  • Misi (Williamsburg): Misi is another place that is hard to get a reservation for but set those Resy notifications before your trip to grab a seat at the bar overlooking the kitchen. The pasta is made in-house daily and the charred marinated peppers with creamy whipped ricotta are insane.
  • Freemans (Bowery): Talk about ambiance. You have to walk down a little alley in the Bowery, and as you approach the end, you will see the restaurant Freemans. Grab a cocktail at the bar as you wait for your table in this quaint old school house.
  • Oxomoco (Greenpoint): Greenpoint’s only Michelin-star restaurant, and they received it within the first year being open. They definitely lived up to it with the dinner menu. Everything from the tacos, to Carne Brava and the frozen paloma are a dream. Another great spot with people who have dietary restrictions.
  • Jones Wood Foundry (Upper East Side): If you want really good British food and are on the UES then absolutely check out this restaurant. Jess used to work at a restaurant with the same chef so she can 100% vouch for the deliciousness.
  • Caracas (East Village & Williamsburg): This Venezuelan arepa bar is a lunch MUST for Jess whenever she comes to town and I love it, too. The East Village location is very small and neither take reservations but they’re worth the wait. The De Pabellon is our favorite but you really can’t go wrong. Also very affordable.
what to do in new york
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  • Atla (NOHO): This restaurant felt like I was back in Mexico City with the guacamole and oversized purple tortillas. The build-your-own fish milanese tacos are delicious and you have to try the geyser gose verde michelada with homemade avocado tomatillo mix.
  • 5 Leaves (Greenpoint): No reservations here but grab a coffee from their side window and enjoy the scene in Greenpoint as you wait. Favorites: The ricotta hotcakes with foot long bananas and a side of homemade honey butter.
  • Shuka (SOHO): My friends and I wanted everything but the whipped feta + pistachio, fried halloumi with spice yogurt and green shakshuka were our faves. We had such a great experience we ended up going two weekends in a row for brunch. Also, a must is the baklava cinnamon rolls! This place is great for a mixed group of friends since you can have brunch being gluten-free, vegan, pescatarian, vegetarian, or a meat eater.
  • Ruby’s Cafe (Nolita): Enjoy incredible coffee as you sing along to every N’SYNC or Britney Spears song from the 2000s. The breakfast menu is large and offers everything but I would say the egg sandwich with a side of french fries is a solid choice. Or opt for the green egg bowl.
  • Mother’s Ruin (Nolita): It’s a GREAT bar but the brunch is killer. The crab cake benedict (Jess’ favorite) and fried chicken sandwich are staples. Don’t leave Mother’s Ruin without having a dressed up Tecate and their waffle parmesan fries. Tell Scotty or Jacob that Jess Bunge and Casey sent you.
  • Sundays in Brooklyn (Williamsburg): You must order the famous malted pancakes with hazelnut maple praline to start. The cocktail menu is always changing with some of the most innovated and over-the-top presentation for each cocktail. Everything on this menu is incredible, you can’t really go wrong.
  • Jack’s Wife Freda (West Villiage SOHO, Chelsea): It’s just so good and won’t disappoint.
what to do in new york
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  • Economy Candy (Lower East Side): Basically, a child’s dream is stepping into Economy Candy. You’ll find vintage candy…and anything you could possibly imagine from all around the world.
  • Supermoon Bakehouse (Lower East Side): This futuristic bake shop has reinvented the croissant. They feature a monthly soft serve and the lemon poppy seed cruffin is a cross between a croissant and muffin (get it).
  • Van Leeuwen Ice Cream (East Village): A New York staple ice cream shop that has the freshest ingredients serving dairy and vegan ice cream for all! Plus, they are open late every night.
  • Dana’s Bakery (Upper East Side): The funfetti mookie is my FAVE! A macaroon in the middle of a cookie. Every month, they have a new macaroon and mookie special.
  • By the Way (Upper East Side): Hands down one of the best vegan, gluten-free bakeries in NYC. The linzers cookie, raspberry bars and Amy funfetti vanilla cake are MUSTS.
  • Levain Bakery (Upper West Side): Everything is baked daily with gluten-free options. The dark peanut buttery dark chocolate cookie or the famous 6 oz chocolate chip walnut cookie shouldn’t be missed.
  • Milk Bar (Mulitple Locations): Order everything from the crack pie to the cereal soft serve and grab some funfetti truffles to go!
what to do in new york
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  • Dutch Kills (LIC): Passing by, you would never know about this hidden gem, under a freeway overpass. The cocktail menu is always changing but this bar is a staple in the neighborhood. Their sister bar is Fresh Kills in Williamsburg.
  • Fairfax (West Village): This quaint wine bar feels like you are at home in your best friend’s fashionable living room. They offer the best orange wine (also, check out their sister restaurant, Jeffrey’s Groceries for a great New England oyster selection).
  • Lover Boy (Alphabet City): Mother’s Ruin opened Lover Boy in Alphabet City, and I love this place in the summer when they open the front doors. Check out their dressed up Tecates.
  • Last Light (Bowery): This rooftop bar in the Bowery has amazing 180 views of uptown and downtown. Love the big booth and ample outdoor space. Plus, a $7 beer and $12 cocktail is kinda unheard of for a hotel rooftop bar in Manhattan. Enjoy this space while it’s under the radar.
  • The Springs (Greenpoint): This bar is great in the summer, offering a huge backyard where you can lounge drinking all the rosé or cocktails you desire. When a New Yorker finds a large outdoor space, it is everything!
  • Grimms Brewery (East Williamsburg): My sister found this bar and it has turned into a great spot to hang with a big group of friends. They are known for serving the best sours but if that’s not your jam they have different types of beers all brewed in house. A pop-up food vendor is in the back along with a DJ spinning vinyl most nights.
  • Diamond Lil (Greenpoint): I found this place through a friend for my birthday and it was the best. The cocktails were delicious and the green velvet mini booths were the cutest.
  • Dante (West Village): This bar opened in 1915 on MacDougall Street in the heart of the village. Still has the old school New York vibe with every negroni you could possibly want to try. A tip for this spot is their happy hour on Sundays!
  • Grand Banks (Tribeca): Only open in the summers and it can get packed but it’s worth the wait. Order oysters, apps and a cocktail as you overlook Manhattan on the Hudson River! Make sure you sit at the bar at the back of the boat to get the best seating.
  • Fish Market (Financial District): On Mondays and Tuesdays, order off Mama’s menu with whole $16 lobsters on happy hour (be sure to get the fried pork rice as a side). The owner Jeff likes to do free shots of Jameson with nearly everyone who comes inside.
what to do in new york
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what to do in new york
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  • Elizabeth Street Garden (Nolita): Nolita’s only large open park filled with flower beds, activities for kids, and a nice area to relax.
  • Domino Park (Williamsburg): When Domino Park opened last summer, it became a staple in the neighborhood. This park is not only beautifully designed but you can lounge on the grass picnicking with your own lunch or order tacos from Tacocina. This park has an incredible playground, beach volleyball court, dog park, and ample seating overlooking all of Manhattan.
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park (Dumbo): I would say this is the largest park with the most activities available for every type of person. It is fun to take the ferry over and walk through the park. Each pier offers various activities from roller skating, bbq pits, swings, food vendors, art installations.
  • Color Factory (North Tribeca): The Color Factory finally landed in NYC and I couldn’t be happier when the tickets were released. This museum is interactive showcasing all different types of artists and their art installations. Every room is filled with unique activities that show color in a different way. The photos and fun are endless! Plus, don’t leave without picking up a Color Factory neighborhood map to go on a scavenger hunt throughout the city. Extending your experience beyond the Museum to the streets of New York City.
  • Bowery Street Mural (Bowery): I love how this mural changes every few months featuring new street art. The best is when you stumble upon the artist creating their new project as everyone around them goes about their day. Favorite piece of art to see on the streets of NYC and a fun photo opt while you are downtown.
  • Canal Street Market (Chinatown): This market is a great place for when everyone wants to eat/try something different. Various NYC vendors offering amazing food and local shops where you can find unique gifts for yourself or a friend.
  • The Roxy Hotel Movie Theater (Tribeca): Live jazz brunch on the weekends or go experience a vintage movie at the Roxy Hotel theater on a hot NYC summer day when all you want is AC and a seat.
  • Governor’s Island: This day trip is best for a picnic or to bike ride around the island. Pick up a map to see all the free activities for kids, check out the long slides, or hang out in hammock valley to take a nap. This year, you can even go glamping in yurts on the island.
  • Rockefeller Park: On the weekends, Rockefeller park has free kid activities along the Hudson River. Enjoy fun games to play in the park. It is stroller city over there but a great place to bring your kids to blow off some energy.
  • Head all the way uptown to check out the Cloisters, an extension of the Met showcasing medieval art in a French monastery.
what to do in new york
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  • Movies in the Park (All Over): It’s one of the best free and fun things to do on a warm summer night.
  • The MoMA: Go on Friday nights from 4pm to 6pm for free admission.
  • The Met: Admission is a suggested donation. Each summer, the Met showcases a new art exhibit on the roof. Grab a drink on the rooftop to get breathtaking views of Central Park.
  • Brooklyn Museum: The first Saturday of every month has free admission from 5pm to 11pm.
  • The Staten Island Ferry (Financial District): If you want to see the Statue of Liberty but don’t need to go on the island or want to pay, then hop on the Staten Island ferry. It departs every 30 minutes, is free and even serves beer. You will get pretty close to Lady Liberty and skip the hassle.

Hope you were able to take that ALLLLL in. It’s a lot but once you are there, you will be so happy you have this guide because you will undoubtedly have the best time and feel very cool doing it. Also, if you have any further NYC questions, feel free to DM Casey on her Instagram. If we continue these guides, what cities are you interested in? Where are you going? We want to help make it awesome.

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4 years ago

Brooklyn bridge pop up pool is sadly closed (permanently) as they finish up construction in the park.

4 years ago
Reply to  Leah

Yes, and unfortunately MOMA is closed this summer, too. Plus, the Met is no longer suggested donation for out-of-state residents (although admission also gets you into the Cloisters and the Breuer for 3 consecutive days, so it’s a particularly good deal if you’re interested in all 3).

4 years ago

This is awesome! Thanks so much for posting this!!

jenn from midlifemodern
4 years ago

I’ve been in NYC for 20 years and I still find that I’ve never heard of half the places whenever someone puts together a fun list like this! You definitely have your finger on the pulse of what’s new and great in NY. Bookmarking for new restaurant ideas– thank you!

4 years ago

Love all of this! One note, though: the Met isn’t suggested donation for non-NY state residents anymore 🙁 All us Jersey people across the river are sad!

4 years ago
Reply to  Kate

I was just going to write this…the Met is suggested donation only for NY state residents. And I’m pretty sure the tickets are ~$25. The museum is easily worth it, but it’s not cheap if you live outside NY!

Susie Q.
4 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Exactly. Went there last summer and that’s what they told us. However, you can come back the following day for free (I think they stamp your ticket). You definitely need at least two days to see everything (if you’re into art).

4 years ago

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is no longer suggested donation for anyone outside of NY (or students with ID from Tri-State area).

4 years ago

I would love to know if anyone has a rec for a nice hotel (anywhere in the city) for a family of four? Most of our favorite hotels only offer a King bed. Thx!!

4 years ago
Reply to  Catherine

A few years ago our family of four stayed in a suite at The Beacon Hotel. Rates were reasonable for NYC and the room had a kitchenette and a Starbucks and market right across the street for quick meals.

4 years ago

MOMA is closed for renovations until the middle of October 2019.

4 years ago
Reply to  lillypie

went a few weeks ago! They have certain floors closed, and some of the galleries shifted about, but still open! 🙂

4 years ago
Reply to  Ev

No, I assure you I went on the last day they were open. They’ll be back again soon but you can’t get in.

4 years ago

I like this series! Would love to see Chicago! : )

4 years ago

How timely! Just started planning a trip to NYC for September. Thanks for the recommendations!

4 years ago

SO many great tips. Love the layout, too!

4 years ago

The MOMA is closed through October!

4 years ago

This would also be so fun to tap into your readers’ knowledge of their locals! I am in Paso Robles and if there ever was a great spot for a quick weekend getaway, it’s here on the Central Coast. Thanks for the insight!

4 years ago

This is amazing thanks! I love NYC and will file away for my next trip.
Tip: take the FREE Staten Island ferry to get a great view of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline. Fun with a kiddo for sure.

4 years ago

I love this! I can’t wait to try these out next time I’m in NY. How about LA next?

4 years ago

“Sorry no bagels or pizza here.” I’m confused! Is that meant to suggest that only tourists eat pizza and bagels in New York? Personally, when I travel to a city, I try to focus on food that I know they do really well, and in New York pizza and bagels definitely fit the bill. You just can’t find comparable versions in most other places.

Susie Q.
4 years ago

We went to NYC last summer. I highly recommend visiting the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. We went on the free night; it was really interesting. They had a exhibit on Jim Henson–for some reason, being about 2 feet from Big Bird made me so happy!
We used to live in Japan, so of course I wanted to visit Uniqlo and Muji. We went to Kinokuniya twice and ate lunch there both times (across from Bryant Park). Seating is limited in their cafe (we shared a table with someone one day), but the food is cheap, healthy, and good, if you like Japanese food. We also ate at Xian Famous Foods (2 different locations). Their food is also reasonable and soooo delicious.

4 years ago
Reply to  Susie Q.

Yes, Xi’an Famous Foods is amazing!

4 years ago

Petee’s Pie Company was robbed! It should have been included in the sweet treat round up. It’s the best pie crust I have ever tasted.

Barbara Jane
4 years ago

I’d like to add, if you’re taking the Staten Island Ferry, you can actually spend some time on the island! See if you can grab (cheap!) tickets to the SI Yankees – the ballpark looks out across the water to Manhattan and it’s gorgeous! You can also check out some of the restaurants and a local brewery (Flagship!) all within walking distance.
-a native Staten Islander

4 years ago

Taking our almost 5 year old to NYC for a long weekend this summer. Suggestions for kid-friendly activities?

4 years ago
Reply to  Melissa

Take advantage of the many splash pads around the city – Brooklyn Bridge Park has a great one at Pier 6 (I live near there so I am familiar with it and it’s awesome). I think A Color Factory is especially great for kids! But get your tickets early. Also, I mentioned this below but Janes Carousel should not be missed.

4 years ago
Reply to  Melissa

Mommypoppins has almost more information on kid’s activities in NYC than you can handle. I like their list on destination playgrounds. It is my go-to. I’ve got a littler one but we like the combo of Madison Square Park, the Lego Store, and the Museum of Math. All right next to each and all fun. Chelsea Waterside Park is awesome for all ages too. Have fun!

4 years ago

As a Brooklynite I would also highly recommend Janes Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park for parks and family activities. And I know you said no pizza, but after you ride the carousel get some pizza at Julianna’s – NOT Grimaldi’s. You will come back and thank me later 😉

4 years ago

By the Way Bakery is not vegan

4 years ago

I love all of the suggestions, but I do have one critique. I wish you had more options listed that was outside of Williamsburg/Brooklyn or all Downtown Manhattan. There are other options outside of these areas and I feel they were not listed or explored.

4 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Yes please!!!!! I live in Williamsburg & it’s congested with people already! Not to mention, that residents can barely get a table at the restaurants you mentioned. Now it will be much worse! : ( Other parts of Brooklyn need love too!

4 years ago
Reply to  Kati

Ha I saw Sunday in Brooklyn on the list and almost screamed…NOOOOOO. I was almost relieved all my other fav places in the city were not on this list.

4 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Agreed! This post is great but it should have been called a guide to Manhattan and Williamsburg haha. Crazy that even Prospect Park isn’t mentioned.

4 years ago

Portland next, please!

4 years ago

I have lived here for 15 years and haven’t even heard of most of these ? this city never gets old…

4 years ago

Everyone leaves hungry from jacks wife frida!!! So only go there if you want like a bite full of food.

it's carmen
4 years ago

Sign me up for every sweet & treat on the list. I want to try the funfetti mookie. Whoaaa. :]

Jairo Chung
4 years ago

The Color Factory and Seven Grams Caffe are not in Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal).