Many travel guides, online or in-print wax poetic about the splendor, history and glitz of New York City. Tourists are directed to Times Square, SoHo, Museum of Natural History, the Statue of Liberty and other attractions and neighborhoods.
There are alternatives to some of the oft recommended must-see locations that still allow you to feel like you're in New York but also do it like a local. For this post, I'll be keeping it simple and most of my suggestions are in Brooklyn and Queens, with one in my birthplace The Bronx (Whaddup, Boogie Down?) Feel free to contact me for other suggestions!
Central Park? Nah. Prospect Park? Yes!
Central Park is a grand 780-acre plot of nature. I've spent my fair share of time rollerblading around the park, traversing via crosstown buses and walking the perimeters. But I love Prospect Park and suggest you pay a visit. Brooklyn is the "It" borough for the time being while Queens catches up. Sure Prospect Park is about 200 acres smaller from it's Olmstead & Vaux older sibling but it also hosts its fair share of concerts, picnics, weekend warriors and history. Prospect Park also has a skating rink, a boathouse and a zoo of it's own.
2nd Brooklyn alternative - Green-Wood Cemetery
If cemeteries don't creep you out, Green-Wood Cemetery is a picturesque oasis not far from Prospect Park. Many famous New Yorkers are buried there. You can stroll the grounds on your own - it will take hours to cover the entire place - or take in any of the film screenings, panel discussions, workshops, plays, live music or historical trolley tours. Green-Wood Cemetery is a National Landmark; you can take photographs for private use but it is still an active cemetery so please be respectful.
Instead of South Street Seaport Head North to City Island
Now that Pier 17 is gone, South Street Seaport doesn't have the same old world, maritime feel it once had to me. City Island is a small island village in The Bronx. It is known for the seafood restaurants lining it's main street, City Island Avenue. There is a view of New York City (Manhattan) in the distance but it feels like you're on LI (yes it's in the Long Island Sound) or in New England fishing village from the 1800's. The island is only a mile and a half long and half a mile wide so you're always near the water... and never far from the seagulls! Beware if seagulls aren't your thing -- I have flashbacks to eating at Johnny's and being dive-bombed by those giant birds!
Nope: Empire State Building. Yerp: Top of the Rock
The Empire State Building is an iconic skyscraper and a draw for many. But I say make an appointment at Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center and you'll be able to see the Empire State Building as part of the panoramic view of the NY skyline. The timed tickets also mean your experience on the observation deck can be a lot less hectic than at the Empire State Building and there's' no fencing to get in the way.
2nd Observation Deck alternative - One World Observatory
I haven't visited the observation deck yet so I can't give first-hand opinion but as a photographer, One World Observatory is on my list. To see NY from the southwestern end of Manhattan and 1776 feet up is alluring. The elevator ride to the top is also part of the attraction.
Brooklyn Bridge? You've seen photos. Walk the Williamsburg Bridge
Skip the Brooklyn Bridge and walk across the Williamsburg Bridge. On the Manhattan side of the bridge is the Lower East Side neighborhood. The Brooklyn side of the bridge drops you front and center in it's namesake neighborhood. It's a very NYC passage - locals use the bridge to commute via the walkways and bike path, there's lots of graffiti and street art on the span of the bridge and you'll get up close and personal with the J. M and Z trains. You'll also get a different view of the NY skyline than that from the Q, N, D or B train crossing the Manhattan Bridge.
Chinatown? Nah. Say Yes to Flushing, Queens
Flushing is home to the "other" Chinatown in Queens with a larger Chinese immigrant population than Manhattan's Chinatown. There's also a large Korean population in Flushing. The large concentration of immigrants means authentic food, tea shops and specialty stores that supply the locals with pieces of home. Although Anthony Bourdain made a visit in 2008 (2009 airdate), there's still time to hop on the 7 train to Flushing-Main Street and explore this Chinatown before it's overrun by tourists.
Street Art: Skip Brooklyn and go to Welling Court
Welling Court Mural Project in Astoria is full of commissioned street art - vibrant murals - some with political or social statements, others with pop culture references. I've done a few photo shoots out there and rarely are we interrupted because there's very little foot traffic. Most travelers head straight to Bushwick for the street art created by the Bushwick Collective instead. Actually... the Bushwick Collective is pretty impressive, so just take in Bushwick AND Astoria, Queens. Have more time? A trip to Hunts Point in The Bronx is worth the ride on the 6 train!
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