I grew up just outside New York City in New Jersey, on the US East Coast, and have worked/interned there, and spent many a weekend there in my life. Now, I’m living just across the Hudson in Hoboken. People ask me for NYC recommendations all the time! Here are some of my best recommendations for non-touristy activities! However, the tourist stuff is still fun, so don’t let me discourage you from doing that, too. NYC is definitely one of the best graduation trip destination ideas. Lots of places to stay in new York City are near tourist attractions, so you could do that, and then venture out to the local places that are more off the beaten path. Here’s your local’s guide to New York City.
A Local’s Guide To NYC
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Non Touristy Things To Do In NYC
New York City – The Village
My favorite neighborhood in NYC is The Village (West, Greenwich, East, it’s all awesome). My grandpa is 87 years old and has been living in the West Village for over 40 years! It’s also a great place to stay in New York! Continuing your local’s guide to New York City, here are some of my picks from down there:
- Coffee lovers should visit Porto Rico, if not just for the smell alone! It’s hands down most awesome coffee and tea shop in the city.
- Head to MacDougal Street and grab dinner at any of the amazing restaurants in New York there before going to a show at the Comedy Cellar (I recommend getting tickets in advance, especially for weekend shows). It’s not unusual for huge stars to show up there and test out their sets on the audience as a surprise! I’ve seen Leslie Jones there, and my parents have come across Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld. Skip the comedy clubs up in Times Square (they’re overpriced). You’ll get better talent in The Village.
- Bar hopping in the East Village over by NYU is fun! I am a fan of a place called Kingston Hall that serves super strong tropical drinks in coconuts (order the Drunken Coconut). Okay, so these next two are technically in the Lower East Side, but they’re very close to the Village! You can also go to a place called Pizza Beach that looks like it belongs in California, but is sitting in the middle of the East Village. Across the street is Hair of the Dog, but you only go there if you’re looking to have a particularly messy time.
I also really like Chelsea and the Meatpacking District! It’s a bit trendier over there but great for during the day, or for dinner in some of the great restaurants in New York, and nightlife. The subway lines will get you there in a heartbeat.
- Go shopping – or window shopping – in Meatpacking! You can pretty much head right into the middle of the Meatpacking District and get lost. There are some great stores over there.
- The Whitney Museum is an underrated art museum and they’re constantly changing up exhibits. Plus, if you head up to the roof you can get phenomenal views of the entire city.
- Le Bain at the Standard is a fun bar with beautiful views of the city. Head there on an off night, like Wednesday or Sunday, as the bar can get really packed.
- Chelsea Market is worth it despite the crowds! There are tons of interesting food options, shopping, and great people watching.
- Chelsea Piers is fun for active types. They have batting cages and trapeze classes and lots of activities, all on the Hudson River with again, great views.
- Drinks at the Frying Pan during the day are a must! The bar is built on an abandoned ship sitting in the water. It’s a fun atmosphere and great when it’s nice out. Try the Old Bay fries!
Other NYC Favorites
Other suggestions from all over the city from your local’s guide to New York City:
- I haven’t actually been to Color Factory myself, but I’ve heard it’s so much fun, and of course would be a great Instagram!
- South Street Seaport is such a cute area: big sailing ships on display with museums, shopping, restaurants, photo booths, bars, and coffee shops sprinkled throughout. Lots to do here!
- If you haven’t done the NBC Studio Tour, you should! It’s very interesting. Plus, you get to see the set of Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Fallon, which I totally geeked out on (both times I did the tour…)
Thanks to the extensive network of subway lines, travelers can get everywhere in no time! New York City is literally one of the easiest places on earth to get around.
Best Places To Stay In NYC
There are plenty of places to stay, from Midtown Manhattan to the Upper East Side, near or far from tourist attractions, whatever your traveler heart desires. There are five star hotels and places to rent nothing more than a bed. No matter your budget, New York city has the right place to stay for you.
The Wallace Hotel
Be spoiled at the amazing The Wallace Hotel! Enjoy this 5 star property on the Upper East Side. The location is excellent, only a short walk away from some of New York’s most famous tourist attractions such as the Central Park. The hotel promises celebrity treatment for all its guests. Spacious rooms, some with city views, excellent staff, and super clean facilities will allow you to have the best stay in New York!
Crowne Plaza Times Square, an IHG Hotel
Stay in the heart of Midtown Manhattan at the Crowne Plaza Times Square. This 4 star property’s location is unrivaled for those itching to see all the sights. It’s close to, obviously, Times Square, but also Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and Radio City Music Hall. Each room comes with a city view – what’s not to like? Spacious, comfy rooms will allow you to get well rested for the activities ahead.
The Draper, Ascend Hotel Collection
The Draper is a 3 star hotel with an excellent and convenient location, only a a 5 minute walk away from the Empire State Building. It’s very clean, and rooms offer a coffee maker and a fridge, perfect for those looking to start the day early. While you’ll find that the rooms are a bit smaller than they are in the 4 or 5 star properties, the price more than makes up for it. An excellent place to stay in New York for someone who wants to see all the major tourist attractions.
Prefer to rent an apartment? Frederick’s Place is a great choice! Located a short walk away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (a must-see for first timers!), the apartment is cozy and convenient.
Nap York Central Park Sleep Station
Nap York Central Park Sleep Station is the most budget-friendly option, and it’s ideal for those planning to be out and about all day and just need a place to crash. The rooms are literally just pods – not a good option for those who are claustrophobic, but efficient, air-conditioned and perfectly sufficient!
Where Do Locals Eat In New York City
Trying the local food is one of the most fun parts of travel! Touristy places are often overpriced, and sometimes less delicious or less authentic than the local restaurants. These are the best local restaurants in New York City.
Book a food tour
If you want to totally eat your way through the city, one of my favorite things to do with visitors is a food tour. I’ve personally gone on two and bought these as gifts for people and they are really great. It’s not expensive, you get a lot of food, and you learn all sorts of cool history about the city! You could do a Greenwich Village walking and food tasting tour, or a Chinatown and Little Italy food fest, a Lower East Side culture and food tastings tour by the East River, a Chelsea Market and High Line food tour, or a Brooklyn food tour. The options are literally endless.
Artichoke Pizza serves up slices at any hour. Sometimes comfort food tastes even better at 3am. One of my favorite restaurants in New York!
Big Gay Ice Cream
Go to Big Gay Ice Cream (exactly what it sounds like) over by the Christopher Street subway station. Their ice cream is bombbbb! Dip it in chocolate shell – you won’t regret it. One of the must-dos in the Big Apple!
Go to Milk Bar (Christina Tosi’s bakery) and get a slice of Crack Pie. It’s pure sugar and so bad for you, but oh my god, this comfort food is so worth the calories.
Chocolate chip cookies from Levain Bakery. That’s all you need to know.
Go to Amity Hall for bottomless brunch. They’ll get you drunk and you are more than likely going to run into a bunch of screaming sports fans. It’s a good time.
Catch Rooftop is a bit pricey, but has some of the most phenomenal sushi in the city. Plus, there’s a great atmosphere. You enter via an ivy-covered elevator and go up to a beautiful restaurant with picture windows.
Dos Caminos is a perfect place for Mexican food! Bacon jalapeno guacamole and margaritas, plus a club downstairs – it’s fantastic.
FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, HAVE A BAGEL WHILE YOU ARE THERE, A REAL NYC BAGEL (my faves: Pick A Bagel, Ess-A-Bagel, Long Island Bagel Cafe, Murray’s Bagels). You will never be able to have another bagel again after trying them in NYC.
If you want to go full on Gossip Girl and have a super classy brunch, go to Sarabeth’s near Central Park South. It’s the cutest little place and you’ll feel super elegant dining there! Don’t be shocked if you see $13 oatmeal on the menu, though
And finally, try Shake Shack for the NYC ‘equivalent’ of In-N-Out Burger in LA. The black and white shake is really something!
I hope you have enjoyed this local’s guide to New York City!
Melissa works on the events and marketing team for Travel Weekly. When she’s not behind her computer, she can be found ripping it up on the dance floor, reading crime novels, searching for travel deals, or chowing down on NYC’s finest edible offerings (like this cookie). She resides in Hoboken with her two kitties, Joey and Chandler. You can find Melissa on Instagram!