When you need a little city time, there’s no place like New York. We stayed in mid-town Manhattan for two nights and three days, and we had a great time.
If you don’t live close enough to take a train or bus, you’ll either fly or drive. If you drive, I recommend parking your car in the hotel garage and leaving it there until you’re ready to leave. Trust me, you don’t want to drive from place to place within the city and have to look for parking (and pay for parking) every time you want to go somewhere.
Normally we fly into JFK, but on this trip we flew into LaGuardia. I don’t know about the rest of it, but the United terminal was ugly, dirty, icky, and had almost no services. If you’re hungry and you need to work, you have to get food in a bag from Au Bon Pain and balance it on your lap along with your laptop. That’s the only food available, and there are no tables. In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not a big fan of LaGuardia. (See my review of other airports here.) From the airport, it’s about a 40-minute drive to midtown if you’re lucky (versus 1 hour + from JFK). We took Lyft. I’ll say more about that experience under “Getting Around.”
We chose the Omni Berkshire Place, and I highly recommend it. Located on East 52nd Street, it’s convenient to everything. You can walk to countless restaurants, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, etc., and everything else is just a quick cab ride away. We took advantage of mid-week rates, and we were very pleased with all aspects. Our room was attractive and spacious, with a good-sized marble bathroom and a great view of 52nd street. Service at this hotel was excellent, from the front desk to the concierge to the very friendly doorman. They had happy hour for the guests every night, offering red or white wine, which made for a nice aperitif. The hotel has a restaurant, gym, and a full-service spa, which, unfortunately, I did not have a chance to visit. There’s an outdoor terrace that looks right onto St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Aside from the pleasant hotel and staff, the location cannot be beat.
Walk, walk, walk! We couldn’t wait to be untied from our automobiles, and we took full advantage of New York’s walkability. As I mentioned earlier, this is not really the place to have your own car. It would be a huge pain. If you do decide to drive into the city, park the car in the hotel garage and leave it. The streets are extremely congested, and looking for parking every time you move your car would wear you out quickly. We walked everywhere in midtown, but there were a few times when we ventured farther out and needed help.
If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Lyft. It works like a charm in other cities, but in New York it’s not so good, and likewise for Uber. We took Lyft from LaGuardia, and the driver followed his GPS. As often happens in cities, GPS will keep re-routing you for traffic, and if you don’t know where you’re going, you can literally get stuck driving in circles. My husband lived in New York for many years, and this was driving him crazy. He kept saying, “Why don’t you take this bridge … why don’t you turn here.” The driver wasn’t confident to wander away from the GPS route, and it took us twice as long to get to the hotel as it should have. While making chitchat, we found out that he has only been in this country for one month, so he hasn’t had time to learn all the ins and outs of the city. Later we ordered a Lyft from our hotel and watched our driver fly past us without even looking. Then we watched on the screen as he circled round and round about five blocks away from us. He called, irritated that we weren’t where he was, and wanted us to walk the 5 blocks to meet him. We hailed a taxi instead. We gave Lyft one more chance, with the same results. Our friendly hotel doorman told us that many Lyft and Uber drivers in Manhattan don’t really know the city. Many don’t live there, and even those that do aren’t used to driving there, but they think it’s an easy way to make money. I’m all for entrepreneurial spirit, but if you have to be somewhere, your driver has to know how to get there and how to use the app. Since the streets are thick with taxi drivers who know the ropes, just hail a cab. Yes, we got cranky NY cabbies, but at least we got where we needed to go fast.
Warning: Be wary of New Yorkers going through revolving doors!
They move with surprising speed, so just wait until they get out.
After checking into our room, we took advantage of the hotel happy hour and took our wine up to one of the balconies. We could see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so we decided to go there first. It’s between 50th and 51st on 5th Avenue. A neo-gothic cathedral jammed in between high-rises certainly gets your attention. St. Patrick’s was originally built between 1858 and 1878, and went through a major restoration between 2012 and 2015. It’s beautiful, so go see it! There was a mass underway when we entered, so we just stayed quietly in the back and took a few photos.
From St. Patrick’s, we walked across the street toward Rockefeller Center. Make sure you take your time and look around. There is a lot of interesting art on the buildings in this part of Manhattan.
Rockefeller Center is a must on your list of things to do in New York City. You have to take a photo by the statue of Prometheus, Atlas, the flags, and the Mankind statutes. If you are there in late fall or winter, you can ice skate or watch others skating. Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes, is here, as well as NBC studios. You can go up to the Top of the Rock at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to get a great view of the city from the 70th floor, but you’ll have to stand in a long line and it will cost you about $32 per person to go up and look at the view. If you wait until after 5:00 p.m., you can go up to Bar 65 and take all the photos you want at no cost, unless you want to buy drinks or have dinner at the Rainbow Room. Note: If you go in fall or winter, it can be very cold and windy that high up, so take your coat with you.
For dinner we walked to Fig & Olive, which is across the street from the Omni. (There are also a couple of other locations in NY, and one on Melrose in West Hollywood if you’re in Los Angeles.) Fig & Olive is a Mediterranean restaurant, with very good food and a lively crowd. Service was friendly. We shared a couple of appetizers, including mushroom croquettes and a burrata beet salad. I ordered the tagine, which was absolutely delicious and enough to fill me up. Jorge ordered the Branzino, which was delicious but very tiny, so he had to order another appetizer so he wouldn’t faint. Prices were reasonable for that part of town — with entrees ranging from $22 to $45.
After dinner we hit the street and started walking again. We ended up on West 55th and walked into a bar called Tanner Smiths, but we just weren’t feeling it, so we left and went next door to The Rickey. Nice crowd, interesting cocktails … some perhaps too interesting. I had a Colonel Joe, with bourbon and a grilled lime. It was good. Jorge had a Rickey Ricardo, and we both learned to never, ever order anything with green chartreuse. It pretty much tasted like poison, but that’s just us. Take note that there is only one toilet for the whole bar, so standing in that line can take up a good amount of time. Nevertheless, we liked it and would go back. (We just won’t order a Rickey Ricardo, and I have serious doubts that he would have enjoyed his namesake drink.) We left the bar, and found the Ed Sullivan Theatre, the Late Show studio, right around the corner. I still think of this as David Letterman’s place. From there we were in Times Square before we knew it. Since our stay in the city was kind of impromptu, we didn’t buy tickets for any shows on this trip, but it’s definitely a very good idea to do so in advance.
It had been a long day and we started making our way back to the Omni on foot. It was close to 1:00 a.m., and we stopped in the 21 Club on the way back, because it looked like a cool place with a lot of history (it was a speakeasy back in the day), but they were about to close, so we called it a night. We had a surprisingly comfortable and quiet sleep in our hotel.
In the morning, we asked the doorman for a breakfast recommendation, and he suggested Burger Heaven, a diner that was a short walk from the hotel. I loved my spinach and feta omelette. They have cappuccinos and lattes on the menu, but the waitress was clearly thrown when we asked for one, and what she brought us wasn’t either one of those things. Not a problem — it gave us a chance to go to Gregory’s Coffee.
You may know by now that we are picky about coffee, and with so much good coffee in the world, there’s just no reason to have a bad cup. We were lucky enough to get one of the few tables at Gregory’s, and the coffee was excellent. (Note: there was no bathroom at this location.) Satiated, we resumed walking. We walked, and we walked, and we walked. We walked all over mid-town. We went up and down 5th Avenue, taking pictures of our almost-namesake store and checking out the hub-bub in front of Trump Tower. We met with Jorge’s nephew who works in the area. Hours passed, and it was time for lunch. We reserved this meal for a good Neapolitan pizza, and our research told us that Pizza Da Solo on Madison Ave. was one of the best pizzas we could find. The problem is, we almost couldn’t find it. We had it on GPS and kept circling the area. We had a picture of the red awning, but we couldn’t see it anywhere. We were starting to think we were crazy. Finally we asked a doorman, and he told us that it was INSIDE the building. Sure enough, the red awning you see in the picture was in a food-court of sorts called the Sony Atrium. The location was disappointing. We were hoping to sit down in a cute restaurant with a glass of red wine, salad, and pizza, but we had to order our pizza at the counter (no wine, no salad) and take it out to a table in the food court. (Thankfully, there are clean restrooms here.) Nevertheless, it was truly delicious pizza, and we were very happy. The pizzas are personal-size, and it turns out that they are Kosher too. I ordered a marinara pizza because I didn’t want a lot stuff in the way — I judge a pizza by the crust and the sauce. The crust was thin with built-up edges. It was chewy and had just the right amount of char. The sauce could not have been more perfect. It tasted like Italy on a sunny day! Jorge ordered a more modern pizza with smoked salmon and arugula. He said that he loved it, but I noticed that he kept taking bites of mine. When you really want pizza, you have to get a traditional one with red sauce, or you won’t be satisfied!
After lunch, it was time for Central Park. It was a beautiful fall day and the sun was shining. It is hard to believe that there’s so much green right in the middle of the city. We wandered around aimlessly, finding some interesting performance art, listening to bands, people-watching, and soaking up nature. At the end of our long walk, we relaxed with a glass of wine from the outdoor patio of Le Pain Quotidien, and we ended up receiving a couple of visitors. A bird sat on our table and sang to us for awhile, and then a monk in a saffron robe came by and gave us wooden mala-bead bracelets. We thanked him, and after he kept hanging around we realized that he wanted money.
We finally made our way out of the park and decided that it was latte time. We were close to East 73, so we went to Via Quodronno, a cute Italian restaurant with delicious-looking sandwiches and pastries as well as a dinner menu. Since it was almost dinner time and we had reservations elsewhere, we gathered all of our strength and only ordered coffee. We started walking back to the hotel, but by this time we had been walking for nearly 8 hours, and we were facing another 25 minutes. After a few yards, we hailed a cab. That’s one of the great things about New York: You can get a ride at almost any time, anywhere.
This night’s dinner was at Fresco on 5th Avenue. We chose it because it was Italian, had excellent reviews, mouth-watering photos on their website, and it was a short walk from the Omni. The restaurant seemed to be full of regulars from the neighborhood, as the staff knew many people by name. It was an older, well-heeled crowd. The couple at the table next to us said that they’ve been dining there for over 20 years. It’s a fancy, white-tablecloth kind of place, with service that is formal but not stuffy. They offer two types of bread: one is on the house, and one costs money. Our neighbors told us that the free bread was too salty, so we went with the other option, and it was a perfectly seasoned with garlic and herbs and came with dipping sauces. We shared a salad that had just the perfect amount of dressing, and I ordered pasta with crispy eggplant, while Jorge got a shrimp, pasta, and pesto special. We shared everything, washed it down with a good wine, and we were feeling very happy.
Of course after all that food, we had to walk a few blocks to help with our digestion. Our plan for later in the evening was to go back to Rockefeller Center and go up to Bar 65 to take pictures of the New York skyline at night and have a drink. Here’s something you should know that we didn’t: If you want to sit down, you have to put your name on the list with the hostess outside the bar. Getting a table requires that you order two drinks per person and at least one appetizer. They guard those tables like hawks, and if you unknowingly sit down at one, they’ll boot you out immediately. (Out of the table, not out of the bar.) If you don’t want to order drinks, you don’t have to. You can go right to the viewing area and take all the pictures you want, and no one will bother you.
The bar was crowded and lively, and our martinis were $25 each. I heard the bartender tell a customer that even though the drinks were expensive, they would be the best she ever had. They were decent, but certainly nothing to brag about. There were a few standing tables around, so we were able to set our drinks down, but as time went on I desperately needed to sit down. Except for meals, we were on our feet all day and night. We watched a couple get up from a table and we immediately slipped into their place hoping that no one would notice, but alas, we got the boot. Out by the viewing area (remember it’s cold, so bring your coat if it’s fall or winter), there were some roped-off tables. There was no service out there, so we sat down with an attitude that defied anyone to try to make us move! At 11:30 they took the ropes away so anyone could sit there. We really enjoyed the view and got lots of good photos. We had a terrific and very full day, so we called it a night.
After another breakfast at Burger Heaven and Gregory’s Coffee, we took a taxi to lower Manhattan to see the Ground Zero memorial and Freedom Tower. Neither one of us had seen it before, and we didn’t know what to expect. How could cement and water really tell the story of 9/11? We walked toward it, and as soon as I could see it I was completely overcome by emotion. I was feeling it from head to toe, crying, remembering, grieving for those who were lost, those who lost their loved ones, and for what our country lost that day. The memorial was perfect, and it did indeed tell the story. No photo or video can capture the essence — you really must see it in person to feel it. My sister lost a friend on 9/11, so we went to one of the kiosks that can help you locate an individual’s name on the monument. It’s very well organized, and we found his name and were able to send my sister a photo. For most people, visiting this monument is a solemn occasion. It’s like visiting a cemetery, and requires some respect and decorum. I say this because as I was looking for the name of my sister’s friend, there was a woman leaning on the monument, repeatedly yelling the F-word into her phone. Apparently whoever she was supposed to meet couldn’t find her, and she was oblivious to the fact that this was sacred space. She was upsetting a lot of people, but had no clue. After visiting the memorials, we planned to go into the museum, but the line to get in was at least 2-hours long, so we decided not to.
Technically it was lunch time, but I wasn’t hungry. Jorge is always hungry, and he was very excited about something he found on his phone. He was dragging me toward some restaurant, which was maybe a 10-minute walk from Ground Zero. The last thing I wanted to do at that moment was to sit down and eat, until we rounded the corner and found ourselves at an outdoor table overlooking the sparkling, sunlit New York Harbor with a great view of the Statue of Liberty. What?!! I didn’t even realize that we were in that area. Jorge was immensely proud of himself, and deservedly so. This was a great spot. (The photo below does not do it justice.) The restaurant was the Miramar, and it had a Mediterranean seafood menu. This was a perfect spot to sit, relax, and reflect. They treated us very well, and we had a pleasant meal: eating mussels and sipping wine while looking at the glistening water and the most iconic statue of the United States. It really made me think about all the people who were greeted by that statue — some of my own family members included — as they left their homelands to make a new start here.
Reluctantly, we pulled ourselves away from the table and explored Battery Park. There was a lot going on, and a lot of people were out and about. Our adventure in Manhattan was coming to an end, but we had a wonderful time eating and walking our way through this great city! Let me know of your favorite spots so we can try them on our next visit.
What to Wear
You’ll want to look nice but be very comfortable. Comfortable shoes are a must if you’re going to walk as much as we did. My uniform was black pants, a top (with extras to layer against the cold), a trench coat, and scarf. For dinner, I changed into heels and a nicer top.
Staying Fit on the Road
We walked everywhere and did not need to use the hotel gym or do anything else. Even though we ate every meal out, we didn’t gain weight because we burned off so many calories by walking.