There’s a First Time For Everything
“YOU’VE never been to New York City!?”
For as long as I can remember, that was the reaction I got when I told folks I had never visited the Big Apple. Maybe it’s because I’m a little rough around the edges or come from a big Italian family, but for some reason — people thought I had either been there or was from there.
Which is wild because — secretly — I’ve always been OBSESSED with New York City. Between you and me, I watch walking tours of NYC in my free time.
If you’ve never seen one of those videos, it’s basically what it sounds like. Somebody straps a video camera to their chest (or head?) and walks around Manhattan so you can see the city from their point of view. I’m weird…I get it.
Attracted to the City
And I can’t even explain my obsession with the city. But it feels like I’ve had this invisible force guiding me towards it for years.
I would look up maps of New York City on my lunch break, I binged the TV show Suits, and one of my favorite social media personalities is a real estate agent who travels around NYC and gives his followers tours of apartment buildings. Is this a great use of my time? Probably not.
So, when I finally got the opportunity to visit NYC for my birthday last year, I jumped at the chance!
Finally, I would scratch the itch that has been bugging me my whole life. I would visit the city that never sleeps.
But I was worried. And so was my wife. And for good reason. “What if you hate it?” she asked.
Yikes. I hadn’t thought of that.
For YEARS, I built up this city in my head, and I was finally going to visit. What if it sucked? What if I got there and it was a HUGE disappointment?
I was a bit nervous, but I wasn’t going to let a little anxiety hold me back.
So, we bought the plane tickets, snatched up a hotel in our price range, and off to New York we went.
Just kiddinggggg. I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that.
The trip was amazing!
New York City Has a Special “Energy”
Everyone talks about how the city has a unique energy you can’t explain. “You just have to be there to experience it,” they say. And, to be honest, they’re right. It really is difficult to describe.
But let me try…
You see, I live in Los Angeles. And while Los Angeles is also a great city, it’s completely different.
In LA, you can visit Hollywood to see celebrities, head to Santa Monica for beach time, or hang out in Silverlake for hipster vibes and yummy bagels. There are a ton of things to do… but they’re all so spread out.
Sure, each pocket of the city is great, but to get from one pocket to the next, you have to drive 45 minutes. And that’s how a lot of cities are. You’ve got cool stuff here and there, but it’s all separated by a bunch of not-so-cool stuff.
Which is why New York is different. All the cool “stuff” is connected.
Every city block has a lifetime’s worth of history to appreciate, activities to do, things to see, and people to meet. And then you reach the next city block, and there’s a whole new set of cool things to do. And it goes on like that — All. Day. Long.
Plus, you’ve got some of the most iconic sightseeing in the world: the Manhattan Skyline, Central Park, and let’s not forget Lady Liberty herself… the Statue of Liberty.
It’s unbelievable. When you’re there, it feels like New York is the center of the world.
And it should have that energy.
Manhattan is a 23-square-mile island serving about 4 million people on any given day. And to entertain those people, you’ve got 13,000 bars and restaurants, 41 professional Broadway theaters, 26 comedy clubs, world-class opera, ballet, and the symphony — not to mention Times Square, the Empire State Building, the United Nations Headquarters. The list goes on.
You name it, and they’ve probably got something you’re into.
I’ve traveled all over the world, and this is truly one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited (including Italy). If you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it.
Now, if you plan on visiting yourself, I have some recommendations.
So, when’s the best time to visit NYC?
My wife and I visited at the end of October, and the weather was perfect.
There’s something special about walking through Central Park when the leaves are changing.
Plus, it’s a great time of year if you want to avoid the sticky heat of New York summers and aren’t interested in brutal cold winters either. I imagine Spring is similar in terms of weather and beautiful foliage.
Now, in terms of what to do when you’re in New York City, you’ve got a ton of options.
Here’s the exact New York Itinerary my wife and I followed when we were there. If you decide to visit the city, feel free to retrace our steps exactly.
Fair warning though… we love theater.
New York City Itinerary
Saturday – Arrived
4 pM: Check into Citizen M Hotel in Times Square
Fun hotel in a prime location in Times Square. It was affordable when we went, and they offered a discount if you stayed seven days or more. Has a rooftop bar with fantastic views.
6 pM: Dinner at Briciola
This place was perfect. It’s nothing too fancy but a nice little 20-seat spot that has excellent service, delicious food, and fantastic wine. Plus, it was within walking distance from the hotel.
Pro Tip: All of the restaurant options in Times Square are tourist traps, so if you want a sit-down meal that isn’t a chain restaurant, head over to Hell’s Kitchen.
8 pM: John Golden Theater
Watched a play called “Topdog/Underdog.” Starred Corey Hawkings and Yahya Abdul-Mateen. These two actors are absolute powerhouses. Watching them tear up the stage for 2+ hours was a treat.
10 AM: Brunch at Benoit New York
French bistro created by Alain Ducasse, a chef who has won 20+ Michelin stars. The food was…extremely good.
11:30 AM: The Plaza
World-renowned luxury hotel. Absolutely gorgeous. It was featured in Home Alone 2 as the hotel Kevin stays in while in the city for Christmas. We just walked around inside and pretended we belonged there for a while.
Noon: Central Park
We visited the ice skating rink in Central Park South. Drank hot chocolate and watched people who can’t ice skate fall down a lot. Good times.
We walked through Central Park and up Fifth Avenue to the Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art.
4:30 PM: Dinner at Sushi Nonaka on the Upper West Side
Some of the best Omakasa I’ve ever had.
6:30 pM: The Belnord Apartments for a quick photo-op
This is the actual apartment building used for the hit Hulu TV show “Only Murders in the Building.”
8 pM: Marquis Theatre
Saw Beetlejuice – The Musical. It was better than the movie — an absolute party from start to finish.
9 aM: Quick on-the-go breakfast bite from Blank Street Coffee
This place is perfect. There are a couple of them around New York, and they do not disappoint. No frills, just good coffee and pastries.
10 aM: Hudson Yards
Located on the west side of Manhattan, near the Hudson. A mix of contemporary architecture, luxury residences, shopping outlets, and entertainment venues. Includes a giant climbable art structure called The Vessel, and serves as the beginning of the High Line.
11 aM: Walked the High Line
An elevated park built on a former railway track. The High Line lets you get above the city and momentarily escape the hustle and bustle.
Very cool. Great views of the Hudson. It takes you all the way to Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. Also, they’ve got elevators if you can’t take the stairs (or don’t want to).
Noon: Little Island
A floating park on the Hudson River. Includes snacks, beer gardens, real gardens, cool spots for shows, and the most killer views of the river. If you’re up for a quirky, fun break from the city, Little Island’s where it’s at.
1 pM: SOHO House in Chelsea
We caught up with an old friend over food and drinks. This is a member-only spot (my friend is a member), but there’s a great place nearby called Catch NYC with a great atmosphere and an equally delicious menu.
7 pM: Dinner at Ninano
Korean restaurant in West Village. Has since closed. RIP Ninano.
9 pM: Drinks at The Garret
This is a speakeasy above a Five Guys burger in West Village. Great drinks. Cool vibe. Their bathroom has 100 door knobs.
10 aM: Central Park…again
We loved it so much that we had to go back a second time. It’s nice to sit on a Central Park bench, drink coffee, and enjoy nature.
2 pM: Metropolitan Museum of Art (AKA The Met)
Massive galleries filled with art from all over the world. Includes ancient Egyptian artifacts and modern masterpieces. It’s a treasure trove for art lovers, history buffs, and anyone curious about humanity’s capacity for creativity.
4 pM: Food at Tacos Mahal
Fusion of Indian and Mexican cuisine. They make tacos out of Indian ingredients! I got the Naan Tacos with Chana Masala. Yum.
7 pM: Walter Kerr Theater
Saw Hadestown (Musical). A modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth about Orpheus and Eurydice and their journey into hell: great cast, wild story.
10 aM: Breakfast at Veniero’s Pasticceria & Caffe
Super cool Italian bakery in the East Village that’s been around since 1894. We went for the classics, cannoli and tiramisu. It’s a great place that transports you back in time.
3 pM: St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Giant, awe-inspiring church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Stepping inside is like entering a different world: the hushed whispers, the soft light filtering through massive stained glass windows — mesmerizing. Gives you a great sense of the city’s deep-rooted history.
3:30 pM: Radio City Music Hall
Just a few blocks away from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we stopped off for a quick photo op at the place where they host the Grammys, Tonys, and MTV Music Awards!
6 pM: Dinner at Rosa Mexicano
Mexican restaurant across from the opera. It’s an easy place to grab a bite before the show.
8 pM: Opera at Lincoln Center
Beautiful chandeliers, plush seats, and an ambiance that’s all about class and charm. Even if you’re not an opera buff, give it a shot – the chairs all have subtitles, so you know what’s going on.
Most of The Day: Walked across the Brooklyn Bridge
Spent the day in Brooklyn visiting family. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, tried not to fall in the East River, and grabbed some delicious pizza in Cobble Hill.
7 pM: August Wilson Theatre
Saw Funny Girl (Musical). Usually stars Leah Michelle, but she takes Thursdays off, so her understudy, Julie Benko, performed the lead role that night. I was initially bummed not to see Leah, but Julie was outstanding.
10 AM: Grand Central Terminal
Beautiful. Iconic. Highly recommend taking a short trip to visit Grand Central Terminal. Plus, it’s a foodie paradise! They’ve got everything from fresh sandwiches and casual eateries to gourmet dishes and upscale restaurants.
Noon: Bryant Park and New York Public Library
They were having a festival and an ice skating rink when we visited.
Also, the New York Public Library is right next to the park. Heads up though, you can only go into the library if you’re part of a tour, so book one in advance. Weird, right?
7 pM: Neil Simon Theatre
Saw The Music Man (Musical), starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. Entertaining show. They auctioned off a bunch of their wardrobe afterward for charity. People were bidding $1000 for one of Hugh Jackman’s gloves.
10 aM: Visited the Upper East Side
Nothing special. We just wanted to walk around and enjoy the fancy, tree-lined streets, chic shops, and gorgeous brownstone buildings. It makes you feel like you’re in a movie.
We decided to look up real estate while we were in the neighborhood, just for funsies. The place we liked most was 40 million dollars, so…probably gonna wait a while to pull the trigger.
2 pM: Lunch at Le Bernardin
Sleek, cool space. Perfectly cooked fish. The vibe is the perfect combo of upscale and chill, so you can enjoy a top-notch meal without feeling stuffy.
7 pM: Eugene O’Neill Theatre
Watched the Book of Mormon Musical. I’m glad I saw it, but this was — hands down — the craziest play I’ve ever seen. Written by the creators of Southpark, if that gives you any indication.
10 aM: Breakfast at Dolly Varden
Cool little restaurant designed like a train car from the roaring 20s. Good food and cocktails.
Noon: One World Observatory in Lower Manhattan
One hundred stories above the city streets, this is the highest point in the city. Highly recommended if you want panoramic views of the entire city. It’s breathtaking.
One of the other great observation decks in the city is the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Radio City Music Hall is right across the street, so you can get a good photo-op before or after you head to the observation deck.
1 pM: The 9/11 Memorial & Museum
The visit is a little “heavy” given that it’s a memorial for all the people who died on 9/11. But it’s a great memorial. They did a fantastic job. It’s beautiful and inspiring, and the guides do a great job of giving you context for each of the memorial exhibits.
It sits atop the old World Trade Center, where the Twin Towers fell.
2 pM: Lunch at PJ Clarks On The Hudson
On the water. Beautiful view of the Hudson River. Great vista point for the Statue of Liberty.
3 pM: The Battery Park
A chill park down at the southern tip of Manhattan. Amazing views of the water and the best view of the Statue of Liberty (from Manhattan).
3:30 pM: The Financial District (New York Stock Exchange, Charging Bull, Wall Street)
There are some great, iconic sites to see in this district. Charging Bull, Wall St., and The New York Stock Exchange are all in this area.
I didn’t get the chance to go, but I’ve been told there’s a cool bar called The Dead Rabbit nearby.
7 pM: Gershwin Theater
Saw Wicked (Musical). Wildly popular Broadway musical that reimagines the backstory of “The Wizard of Oz.” Such a great show. They are powerful singers.
Day Trip to NYC
If you’re interested in a day trip to New York City, any of the days mentioned above will make a great one-day NYC itinerary.
As you can see, we split up our activities based on which part of the city we wanted to hang out in for the day. But feel free to mix and match activities to whatever suits your fancy.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a New York City walking tour video calling my name. Later!
Residing in sunny Southern California alongside his beloved wife and loyal canine companion, Robert finds joy in exploring the world and writing about it on Travel Breakdown. His most cherished travel experiences in Italy, Ireland, and the vibrant streets of New York City have left an indelible mark on his heart. As an avid traveler, Robert now sets his sights on drinking sake during his next adventure in Japan.