Roam Guide / NYC
Based in Minneapolis, Marcia Miller is happiest spending time traveling with her husband and four children (ranging in age from 15 to 21). As a foodie and adventure-seeker, she loves travel so much that she has taken to planning trips for all of her friends. Her approach is all encompassing as she values the full experience - a great meal at a local hot-spot, the personal touches of a lovely hotel and a hidden shop with the perfect takeaway from a local artisan. Professionally Marcia leads a marketing agency based in Minneapolis that focuses on healthcare clients who want to bring humanity into their communications and content. She is a marketing leader that has worked at ad agencies, start-ups and Fortune 10 companies in the course her career. In her first Roam Guide she gets down to brass tacks on New York City.
New York City
I love NYC. So much so that my only regret is never actually living there in my 20's. I've managed to spend so much time there as an adult - for both business and pleasure - that I've convinced myself that I'm a New Yorker. Unfortunately, my true NYC friends would say otherwise. Nonetheless, I believe NYC is a city that can be constantly "discovered" - there is always something new to experience and a new corner to be found. For those people who say they don't like the city, I'm convinced they just haven't found "their" New York. I believe there is something here for everyone. I hope that you take the time to find what makes this amazing city special for you.
'“New York City is like an onion. There is always a new layer to discover and I love it for that reason.”
When should we go?
Spring and fall are beautiful times to take in all New York has to offer, not too hot and the weather makes it easy to get around. On the downside, these seasons can be spendy for both airfare and hotels. If you have a chance to be there for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it is something worth experiencing! You’ll pay a fortune for a hotel room that weekend, but it will be worth it to see the parade ‘live’. In this case it is necessary to book far in advance. I went one year with one of our kids and it checked a “bucket list” item for me. I would highly recommend it.
Winter in NYC is magical. If you can be there for the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, it is something you don’t want to miss. If you can’t be there for the actual lighting, at least make the time to walk by and see the magnificent tree. The window displays at both Saks on 5th Avenue and Bergdorf’s are a work of art and worth the wait in line to see them. The only downside to winter in NYC is the weather, the park isn’t as enjoyable to spend time in and the High Line isn’t alive and bustling. Plus the cabbies don’t have a clue how to drive in snow.
The heat of the summer is probably the one time of year that doesn’t highlight New York the way that the other seasons do. When it is hot in NYC, it is stinky. And with all of the concrete, there isn’t much relief from the heat. On the good side, hotel rates are better in the summer and the crowds aren’t as bad if you’re sight-seeing.
How do we get there?
Getting in and out of NYC can be an experience in and of itself. LaGuardia (LGA) airport is the closest to Manhattan and fairly easy to navigate. Although I have to admit that I agree with Joe Biden when he commented that this airport looked like a third world country. It is a mess, to put it lightly. Eternally under construction. You can also fly in/out of JFK airport (JFK) or Newark (EWR), depending on the rates and what part of the city you are visiting. If possible, I’d recommend arranging a driver vs. relying on the taxi lines. If you do plan to stand in the taxi line, DO NOT let the random drivers looking for customers lure you into their cars. Stay with your arranged driver, a Lyft or Uber or a cab inside the cab line.
One odd tip for the airport (especially LGA): be sure to keep your luggage claim ticket handy if you have checked a bag. It is the only domestic airport that consistently checks each and every bag to make sure you aren’t taking something that is not yours.
Where should we stay?
Trust me when I say that the New York City hotel scene suffers from overuse. A mid-range hotel in any other city that might be considered "nice" - is not "nice" in NYC. A hotel that is new or newly renovated is always a good choice in the city. My final tip is to STAY AWAY from any hotel that is in Times Square.
One of my favorite hotels in NYC is 1Hotel Central Park. I love them for their mission, location and beauty. It brings nature into the hotel in every aspect, and encourages responsibility to the environment in every experience. On top of that, the service is great, the rooms are super comfortable and the location is steps from Central Park. If you are planning to spend time around 5th Avenue, the theatre district and Central Park, this is a great choice If possible, ask for a room with a window seat and you won't be disappointed. The hotel group opened a second hotel in the city across the bridge, 1Hotel Brooklyn. I love it equally, if you are interested in spending time in Brooklyn (which you should). I’ve stayed in this hotel for business, for pleasure, when traveling with my husband and with a subset of our family. If you’re looking for space for a larger family, they do offer two adjoining rooms at discounted rates. Another good option for families is the The Parker - they have Jr. Suites and adjoining rooms that work well.
Another option I love is the Crosby Hotel. I discovered the parent company of this hotel (Firmdale Hotel Group) when I was traveling to London. The Crosby is located in the heart of SoHo and is a perfect romantic escape. Every detail of this hotel is an exercise in good branding and design perfection. They also opened a second hotel in the city, just a little over a year ago, called The Whitby Hotel. It is on my list of places to stay one of the next times we make it to the city.
"The British heritage comes through in the experience at The Crosby- from the ‘afternoon tea’ in the restaurant to the "on your honor" bar in the lounge, where you mix your own cocktail and simply write your name on a sheet of paper”
Rtip: Another property to consider, with its central location and relative affordability, is the historic High Line Hotel where contributor Abby Leber stays every time she’s in town.
What should we do?
This depends on if this is your first visit to NYC or your tenth. There are plenty of good tourist sites to be seen, but once "seen" you likely won't need to go again. Then again, there are places I could see every time I visit the city. I tend to break any big city travel into “sections” and attack one section at a time - for efficiencies and preservation of my feet. In New York, I’d break the city into these sections and make choices based on your personal interests:
Only go here if this is your first visit to New York. Otherwise, I would avoid it entirely unless you have to walk through it to the theatre. Get the traditional photo on the giant red steps, see the giant Ferris Wheel, hit the M&M Store... and then get the heck out. Quickly. Matter of fact, my daughter and I agreed that if we never saw Times Square again, that may be too soon.
Rockefeller Plaza / 5th Avenue / Central Park
These three areas can be experienced together in a morning or afternoon - or extended to a full day if you want to see some museums or spend time in Central Park. If I were building your schedule, I’d start in the early AM with the TODAY Show at Rockefeller Plaza. Check the TODAY web site to find out the best time to arrive and if there are any special events happening on the day you want to go. Get there early if you want to be on-camera and save your spot in line. If you’re not keen on making the TV show, grab a coffee and pastry at Bouchon Bakery and sit in their window to watch the show (and the people). It’s a great vantage point if you don’t want to stand in line and be on the actual show. After the filming, make your way to the NBC Backstage Tour (you need to buy tickets in advance). It’s a great tour to get a backstage look at your favorite TV Shows. Next, head to the Top of the Rock (again, purchase tickets in advance) for the ride up to see the city from above. I actually recommend Top of the Rock observation tower over the Empire State Building. I just feel that it’s a better experience overall, plus you get to see Central Park (whereas from the Empire State building, The Rock blocks the park view). Additionally, from the Top of the Rock you get a great view of the Empire State building itself!
When you are in this area, you'll also want to take in the entirety of Rockefeller Plaza. If it is winter, the ice rink will be open and if it is warm, that area turns into a lovely plaza for having a quick lunch or cocktail in the sunshine. After having lunch, be sure to stop in the shops around Rockefeller Plaza - including Saks Fifth Avenue across the street. Make your way up 5th Avenue towards Central Park - stopping in shops that you’re interested in and enjoying the crowd. Be sure to pop into Bergdorf Goodman’s (women’s on one corner and men’s across the street), the original Tiffany’s and the Apple Store. As you get closer to the park, you will see the historic Plaza Hotel. Stop into their lobby and if you have time, follow signs down to their Food Hall where you can get ice cream, an espresso or a late lunch.
Now that you’re at Central Park, you can decide how you want to see it - by foot, by bike or horse-drawn carriage. You could literally spend the day in the park if you wanted, so plan your time accordingly. If you are a museum lover, you could round out your day in this area by adding in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) or the Guggenheim Museum.
Take the morning to visit the 911 Memorial but start with breakfast in Tribeca at Locanda Verde located in Robert D’Niro’s iconic hotel, The Greenwich Hotel. Sit outside if it’s nice and appreciate the quiet neighborhood feel of the area. You can walk from the restaurant directly down to the 911 Memorial. It is a somber experience so make sure that, if you take kids, they are appropriate ages for the visit. I’d highly recommend going up to the top of One World Trade Center, as the elevator ride provides a time lapse of the building’s construction, and alone, is worth the ticket. You can, and should, buy tickets in advance.
Chelsea / High Line
Weather permitting, I highly recommend taking a walk on the High Line. This is an 1.45 mile elevated park that was created on a former NYC railroad line. Depending on where you’re coming from and what time of day it is, I’d start at one end and work my way to the other. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District up to 34th Street.
If you did this after spending the morning at the 911 site, I’d grab a cab to the Meatpacking District and have lunch there (a lot of great choices) and then hop on the High Line heading north. Along the way, you'll happen upon Chelsea Market - a really cool enclosed shopping and food market that is worth a stop. Have ice cream or an espresso here before heading the rest of the way up toward 34th Street.
Rtip: check out contributor favorite, Very Fresh Noodles inside Chelsea Market and get yourself something spicy.
SoHo / Nolita / Village
These three areas can easily be done together. You can make the time here short or long - depending on your affinity toward shopping, browsing and walking. I’d start this day with breakfast at Balthazar (see below) followed by a stop in the MOMA Museum Store directly across the street. Then I’d head east into NoLita where there are a number a small boutiques along Mott and Elizabeth Streets.
“I could easily spend an entire day roaming the streets, admiring the shops and sipping champagne.”
Then head back west and into SoHo to explore the shops South of Houston (that’s where SoHo comes from) between Broadway and West Broadway. This area is a grid and you should weave up and down all streets both north to south and east to west. See specific recommendations below.
After stopping somewhere for lunch (Mercer Kitchen, if possible), make your way to the Village - weaving through NYU’s campus and Washington Square Park. The main drag for shopping in the East Village is Bleeker Street but there are a lot of quirky shops and places to stop along the way there. GROM is a fun place to stop for gelato if you are looking for a break - or there are a lot of outdoor restaurants where you can have a glass of wine and watch the people roll by.
Flatiron Building / Madison Square Park Area
If I had a half day to do something low key, I’d head to this area. I’d have breakfast at New York’s first farm to table, Friend of a Farmer (below) and spend time vintage shopping - making sure to stop at the Dover Street Market. I’d then make my way to Madison Square Park and either have lunch at the original Shake Shack (it started out as a hot dog cart in this park) or cross the street and enjoy something at the Eataly, an Italian marketplace with great food and places to sit and enjoy a quick lunch. Don’t miss the Nutella shop!
I couldn’t talk about NYC without taking about the amazing shows and theatre options that are available. I tend to buy tickets for shows in advance so that I don’t have to waste time figuring out what to see when I’m there. If you are on a budget and really okay seeing most anything, there is a half price ticket booth located in three separate areas around the city (Times Square, South Street Seaport and Lincoln Center). You have to arrive and stand in line for tickets. I’ve known some people who have done a combination of per-purchasing tickets for shows they absolutely don’t want to miss, and then also standing in line for off-Broadway shows or others that have less expensive availability. Note that they will not have the hottest tickets in town available at these locations.
There are some amazing museums in New York City, if your interest is there and time allows. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and Guggenheim are some of my favorites. There also are some really interesting specialty museums like the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum and the New York Transit Museum.
There are a lot of boat tours of NYC that give you an overview of the city via the water. For someone’s first time to the city, this is a nice way to start and worth the two+ hours. Some of the tours take you close to the Statue of Liberty (great picture opportunities) while others let you get off on Ellis Island.
Rtip: If you are looking at visiting multiple attractions, consider purchasing the New York City Pass, which allow you to bundle and save on admissions.
Where should we eat?
New York does not disappoint on the restaurant front but it, again, depends on who you are traveling with to make the perfect selection.
My go-to dinner spot when I want to have a relaxing dinner is Upland, a lovely setting with delicious food. Another favorite located between SoHo and the Village, is a small Italian restaurant called Lupa. My husband and I always end our day here after roaming the shops of NoLita, SoHo and the Village. Be sure to make a reservation and ask for the front room, because if it’s nice outside, the front of the restaurant opens up.
I avoided Quality Italian for years because of its name. Sounded like a cheesy, tourist Italian place. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It is located near Central Park along with its’ sister restaurant, Quality Meats. Both serve huge, delicious steaks and incredible side dishes. If I could only eat one thing for a week, I think it would have to be their brûlée creamed corn. Unbelievable!
Balthazar is my staple breakfast place when I start a day shopping in SoHo. It’s great for people watching and sets the vibe for SoHo. They also serve lunch and dinner, their burgers are great, and since it’s a French bistro you can’t go wrong with oysters and steak frittes. They only take reservations via phone, but you must have one, especially on a weekend.
“Their lattes come in ‘bowls’ and their croissants make me feel like I’m in Paris.”
If you can snag a table in the upper (albeit tiny) section of the Mercer Kitchen, you can watch the people enter the hotel and feel like you are actually staying at the Mercer Hotel. If you get seated downstairs, the food is equally good but you miss the "scene". I tend to stop here for a light lunch break and cocktail as we roam the streets of SoHo.
ABC Kitchen and ABC Cocina are two separate restaurants in the same location with very a different vibe and menu. Both are delicious and entirely worth the wait. They are housed in ABC Carpet & Home store, which is worth seeing even if you don’t make time to eat at one of these amazing restaurants.
We love the Clinton Street Baking Company a small, casual diner known for breakfasts - specifically their incredible pancakes. Or try Friend of a Farmer, a farm-to-table restaurant that is always packed with locals- they offer a terrific breakfast or brunch. Neither take reservations but are worth the wait. Norma’s, located inside of the Parker Hotel in Midtown, is an fantastic place for breakfast (albeit expensive). They have Nutella waffles that were a huge hit with our kids, as well as lemon blueberry pancakes that are to die for. They close at 3:00 and reservations are absolutely necessary.
If you are in the mood for a burger The Polo Bar, designed by Ralph Lauren is hard to get into but the burger is one of the best I’ve had. Really. Hidden to the right of the reception desk at the Parker Hotel, is a quirky little place called The Burger Joint. It is a dive bar inside of a lovely space. Odd... but fun if you want a good burger and fries. They only take cash.
If you are going to the theatre, La Masseria serves authentic Italian and is the only restaurant I'd recommend in the Theatre District. Be sure to make a reservation that leaves you enough time to make it to your show.
I can’t forget to mention Charlie Bird, everything about this place is worth it - the food, the wine and the service. And last but not least, the Gramercy Tavern - A NYC institution and a fun place to go for delicious comfort food with a twist.
What should we drink?
Bar 65 at the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Plaza is the best place for a cocktail in town! They have a fantastic outdoor deck with beautiful views of the city. Keep in mind that reservations are required and you have to be over 21 to even get in. I also really like having a cocktail at the Crosby Bar (located in the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo). If weather permits, they have a small outdoor area that is shaded and lovely.
The Center Bar in the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle is also a great place for an afternoon cocktail and some people watching! It overlooks the atrium at the big windows look out over Columbus Circle. Order a bottle of champagne and a cheese plate.
What is the one can't miss item on your itinerary?
I never (truly, never) go to New York without spending time in SoHo enjoying a coffee or cocktail at the Mercer.
Tell us something we don't know?
People always talk about New Yorker’s being rude or unfriendly. I find them to be the exact opposite. Countless times I have ended up having an authentic conversation with a native New Yorker at a bar, restaurant or subway stop. They tend to “tell it like it is” which is something I actually appreciate. They are proud of their city and interested in visitors. They don’t have time for surface chit-chat but are genuinely engaged if you talk about something more than simply the weather.
Where can we shop?
We always find time to shop in NYC. Sometimes, it is the only reason we go!
In SoHo, Nolita and the East Village, we love just roaming the cobblestone streets. Know that it is deceiving as you look down a small street - the shops aren’t “showy” and their signs are non-de-script. Pop-up shops are common, and unless you walk down the street, you might miss something interesting. Don’t miss the Prada store in SoHo for their beautiful displays. I also really love the Bloomingdales location in SoHo. The Rag & Bone and James Perse stores are staples for our visit. A trip to NYC is never complete for me without a stop in Bergdorf Goodman’s. I head to the purse/bag department first, but always end up on their 5th floor, where the designers are a bit more mainstream and affordable. The other floors are beautiful but it’s not everyday that I’m looking for couture!
If you like vintage shopping, NYC has an amazing collection of shops around the Madison Square Park area. If you’re in that area, you should not miss the Dover Street Market (which is not vintage) nor the ABC Carpet and Home. Dover Street has a great collection of high end designers with locations around the world - the original one is in London. ABC Carpet and Home is absolutely worth the trip. It not only houses two of my favorite restaurants (noted above) but on the main floor of their furniture building you’ll find an eclectic collection of unique jewelry, clothing and home goods.
Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side houses the original Bloomingdales and a lot of shopping that is lovely and high-end. You could hit this area if you decide to go to the Guggenheim Museum or make a special trip up to this area just to see it.
What should we pack for the trip?
It goes without saying that you need good walking shoes in New York, but make sure they are stylish! My favorite on-trend tennis-type shoes are made by EARTH and have traveled with me around the world. They look good with jeans, slacks or a casual skirt. I’d leave your flip flops at home when you hit the streets of NYC, otherwise your feet will get filthy and you will regret it. I always take a rain jacket in case of a rainy day, which could happen in nearly any season. My favorite one, I actually bought in New York at Aether in Soho. I’ve found that umbrellas don’t work well in crowds and you just risk getting poked in the eye and battling for space if you carry one. I’d also recommend a good cross-body purse or bag that isn’t too heavy. You can keep it close to you and balance the stress on your back. There are a lot of good travel purses, but keep it stylish so you don’t look like a tourist. I love my Givenchy Pandora Box Bag that’s cross body. Finally, I always take a good book on vacation to read on the plane or in a cafe. If you are looking for an entertaining read, this insider's guide to the hotel industry is hilarious and scary, all at the same time. Warning though... it may make you approach your next hotel experience a bit differently.
“As a last thought, in NYC, always bring your patience! You’ll need it!”