1) Central Park
The giant greens oasis in the middle of the city, it may be expected or cliché, but it is one of the essential stops for any New York experience. Encased in a mix of arbor and skyline, the Park on a sunny day is one of the simplest (and free!) pleasures to be enjoyed in the city. Every time I go to the Park, I end up getting lost, never following a specific path, rather heading in the general direction of my next destination. Hidden in the Park are several statues, benches, plazas, and rocky areas, not to mention its plethora of bodies of water (the Lake, the Pond, the Pool, the Reservoir, etc). You can usually catch a mix of prayer groups, singing groups, saxophone players, street dancers, and jogging/exercise groups on your walk through the Park, and maybe even catch a celebrity on the their morning run. By the way, skip the hot dog cart and instead head to the Upper West Side for a some of the great dining fare on nearby Columbus or Amsterdam Ave (favorites include Good Enough to Eat and Franzia soaked Silk Road Palace). (especially in between 70th and 90th streets), or if you prefer Park-side dining, hit up the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle and take your nutrient rich goodies to the closest bench available.
2) Union Square
One of my favorite spots in the city (and easily accessed via my train), the daily Green and craft markets are worth checking out during the day. For shopping there is DSW, Filene's, Forever 21, Diesel, and an American Eagle surrounding the Square. Check out the produce and seafood selection at Whole Foods, you're not going to find this stuff in Indiana, that's for sure. If you are hungry check out Coffee Shop or Republic, or if you are looking a special meal check out Blue Water Grill, Mesa Grill, or nearby Craft (just make sure to bring your blinders and your Amex). And of course, any quintessential visit to this area includes a visit to nearby chocolatier Max Brenner and the Strand Bookstore. Max Brenners offers a full service menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, making it a great stop for a meal, a coffee/hot chocolate, or dessert. It can get crowded at night, so check it out during the day for a more relaxed visit. A little less touristy than Times Square eateries, I always take my visitors, even it is not quite legit New York. Besides, who doesn't love chocolate? Before or after your cocoa inspired high, stop into the Strand, another New York institution, and scan the aisles. Again, avoid weekends and evenings for a more relaxed visit. Along with their huge selection of fiction and non-fiction, check out their huge selection of art books (your coffee table is awaiting its next arrival) and the rare books on the 3rd floor. Totes, magnets, and post cards make a great gift for the literary-minded in your family.
3) Hell's Kitchen
Located just west of the sprawling Times Square area, hit up this up and coming area for your next Pre- or Post-Theatre meal. Located on 8th, 9th, and 10th avenues, you can find legitimately New York restaurants, whose food and prices put all those Times Square Tourists Traps to shame. Favorites include Room Service for excellent and cheap Thai in a chic setting, Blockheads for cheap margaritas in the sun, and any of the other great Prix-Fixe packages offered for brunch and lunch. It's where all the cool kids are hanging out nowadays.
It's where I live and clearly you came to visit me! Come visit me at work for a great brunch, special dinner, or cool cocktails at what I think is one of best restaurants in Astoria and beats Manhattan prices hands down. For the museum-minded, we have Astoria-Kaufman Studios, not-too-far Silversup Studios, and the Museum of the Moving Image. Check out the mix of Greek, Italian, Brazilian, Latino, Asian, and a whole mix of other immigrant groups, along with young actors from around the country, and young families that make up this community. If you want Spanokopita, Baklava, or Gyros, this is the place to be. Other favorite spots include Pomme Café, always open Sanford's, chill Vesta, karaoke at Broadway Station, and the loads of other eateries and bars popping up in the area (the two beer gardens are supposed to be amazing during the summer). Less complicated than the city, it's worth checking out if you have the time.
Take a big breath, be ready to walk, and channel your inner fashionista as you check out this downtown area that has quickly become one of the hippest and most expensive areas of the city. Almost any clothing store you could ask for keeps a shop here, including Japanese-owned favorite Uniqlo (beats American Apparel hands down) and new favorite CB2, hipster child of Crate & Barrel. For wild fashions, check out the Patricia Fields (Sex and the City costumer) store. Can't get enough shopping, head southwest to nearby Chinatown, home of hanging ducks and streetside Louisbuton.
6) The West Village
Located south of 14th street and west of Broadway, this area is home to many gems, including the NYU/Washington Square Park area, Christopher Street and the historic Stonewall Inn, uber-popular Magnolia Bakery, and many others I have yet to discover. After getting lost in the criss-crossing streets (I have a special map of just this area), checking out the many restaurants (including New York magazine faves The Spotted Pig, Jane, and One If By Land), cruising past the many sex shops, and gnoshing on those famous cupcakes, take a breather and sit in Washington Square Park, a perfect spot for a photo-op. Personal favorites in the area include Benny's Burritos and sentimental favorite The Cowgirl Café (mac'n'cheese with collard greens, get it now!). If you are feeling super hip and up for a bit of a walk, journey to "the ends of the earth" at the Meatpacking District. Once a smelly mess of blood and butchery, this trendy area is now home to super-chic restaurants and boutiques (Diane von Furstenberg has her flagship here). Channel your inner Samantha (this is the area in which she supposedly lived) and strut your stuff on the cobblestone.
7) The East Village
The grungier alternative to its western namesake, the East Village is home to lots of great eats (including The Smith, Gnocco Cucina, and Curly's), roaming NYU students, Yoga to the People, and many Off- and Off-Off Broadway theaters (including the Public and my recent venue Theater for the New City). Slightly sequestered and off-the-map, you can get a real taste of New York here, as this is primarily a tourist-free area. Once the home to heroin addicts, this has become a somewhat bourgeois and hipster area. To be safe, stay west of 1st Ave if you don't know your way around, but take the chance and explore some of the best eats and vintage shopping in the city. If you are need of a break from the city's craziness, ride the L to 1st Ave and enjoy a cocktail and free pizza at the Crocodile Lounge.
It's the place of dreams and the reason I moved here. Stop in at the TKTS booth on 47th street for cheap tickets or bring your student ID for even better deals (doing a little research can pay off big time). Avoid the mega shows like Lion King, Mama Mia, Phantom, and Wicked (don't worry, they will run forever), and instead check out the season's new plays and musicals. Following recent Broadway trends, you can find lots of Hollywood luminaries making appearances on The Great White Way, this season alone including Julia Stiles, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hugh Jackman, Lucy Liu, Jude Law, Will & Grace's Sean Hayes, and the indomitable Angela Lansbury. Do your homework (playbill.com, Backstage, Variety, The New York Times), find a good show, and sit back and enjoy. Pricey it can be, but believe me these are no high school productions.
We do it here in the city better than anywhere else. From the classy to the trashy, you can find all levels of this weekend ritual. Wear your Sunday best and enjoy something fancy or find hair-of-the-dog solace in endless bloody marys or mimosas. You can find great deals across the city, some meals including a free beverage or even better the "crunk brunch" deals to be found at Essex, Sip, or in Alphabet City. The first time my mom was here we found a place in Hell's Kitchen that offered unlimited drinks for an hour for only $5. We got our money's worth. Start your weekend right and brunch with the best of them.
10) Museums Galore!
The city is home to some of the best museums in the world (and I'm not talking about Madame Toussad's), including the MOMA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museo del Barrio, Museum of Natural History (Night at the Museum), the Whitney, the Guugenheim, and even the Museum of Sex. Again, do your research; you can find great deals and see when's the best time to visit the museum. Though it's a well-kept secret, you can get into both the Met and the Natural History Museum for only a quarter (giving you more cash for food & booze). If you have the time, explore one of these halls of knowledge on your next visit, I'm sure there will be something to interest you.
Bonus: Drink with Bradley
One of my favorite metropolitan occupations, there are so many wonderful late-night spots in the city, favorite areas being the Villages, Hell's Kitchen, and Astoria. On Thursdays, journey with me to the Eastside for croons and cocktails at Uncle Charlie's, a fun bar without the pretentous attitude. Just be sure to plan for a cabfare home, the drunk subway ride (not to mention waiting for the subway) is never fun (and sometimes not safe).
Well here it is, a slice of my New York life. From the stinky fish markets of Chinatown to racing taxis of Midtown, this is my New York, my city. There are places to go and things to do for almost any personality - the city is full of both hidden treasures and tourist traps. Explore and enjoy!