NYC Weekend with a NY Explorer Pass

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Last weekend, my boyfriend and I took Monday off to spend three days exploring New York City. Of course, Evan and I each had a New York Explorer Pass (for 3 attractions) in hand, and we were psyched to use them. The week prior to our trip we’d made a rough draft list of places we’d like to visit, but we decided to keep our plans flexible, which is one of the greatest conveniences of the Explorer Pass—there’s no need to plan out every last detail in advance. Our list looked something like this:

Top of the Rock
Central Park
bagels & pizza
High Line park
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Natural History
Strand Book Store
The Met
Lower East Side

Amazingly, we were able to do almost all of these things PLUS some extra activities we hadn’t planned for. As we were staying with my boyfriend’s parents on the Upper West Side, we had easy access to many New York attractions.

We arrived around 11:00 PM on Friday night, surprisingly not hitting any traffic on the drive from Boston. In total, the trip took 3.5 hours. I definitely recommend for Bostonians and their fellow New Englanders to make the drive if they haven’t done much exploring in New York. It was much easier to drive in than I expected, and we found parking on the street right away. After spending our first night hanging out with my boyfriend’s five cats—yes, five—we went to bed so as to have energy for a full day of Manhattan adventures.

Indeed, the next day was full of adventure. We started out with bagels and lox (well, just bagels for me, the vegetarian) from Zabars, a quintessential Upper West Side delicatessen. Shopping in this busy epicurean deli was an activity in itself, complete with several free tastings, including various olives and smoked mussels. My bagel, slathered with scallion cream cheese and topped with sliced tomatoes, was every bit as delicious as I’d hoped it would be.

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Public art and a view from the High Line.

When our bellies were full, we set off to start our day at the High Line, an innovative public park built on an historic freight line. The entire park is elevated above Manhattan’s West Side, which offers a truly unique way to see the city. We started on the northern end of the park at 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue. I was surprised to find so many people on the park pathway, but it was a relatively warm Saturday, and the park was beautiful. Public art is abundant throughout and there are several viewing areas to stop and take in the city skyline and the grid of streets crowded with yellow cabs.

The park ends in the Meatpacking District and that’s where we hopped back down to the street. We were just a few minutes walk from Chelsea Market, so we made our way there next. Although still full from breakfast, walking among the many artisan vendors serving up everything from locally brewed craft beer to international spices and teas made me wish I could take home one of everything for later! If you’ve never been to Chelsea Market, it’s worth a trip: Nearly 6 million visitors traverse through its halls annually.

The holiday season is underway at the Rockefeller Center Ice Skating Rink.

The holiday season is underway at the Rockefeller Center Ice Skating Rink.

We spent the afternoon wandering around the city, which included a trip to Strand Book Store (a highlight for me!), known for its 18 miles of new and used books.  We finally ended up at Rockefeller Center around 5 PM. The winter ice skating rink was in full swing, and the enormous Christmas Tree had just arrived the day before. We went inside the infamous 30 Rock building and found the ticketing office for the Top of the Rock. We didn’t have to wait in the same line as those who were purchasing tickets; instead we went in a separate line and were helped right away by a customer service representative. She swiped our passes and gave us tickets for the next available time slot. Minutes later we were flying up 70 stories to the observation decks.

When we got to the top, the November sun had long sense set, and the city was illuminated with glittering lights. The view from the top was spectacular from every angle, and just as advertised, a 360-degree panorama lay before us. We started out on the lowest deck, which is partially indoors and enclosed on all sides by glass walls. While the view was stunning here, it only got better as we made our way up to the second and third levels. A professional

Ah, my iPhone can't do this one justice.

Ah, my iPhone can’t do this one justice.

photographer was taking photographs of tourists with a backdrop of the Empire State Building. As a New Yorker, Evan was able to confirm that the view was just as good, if not better, than the view from the Empire State Building— partially because you get to see the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock.

On Sunday, we started the day with a trip through Central Park. We walked up to Belvedere’s Castle, one of Central Park’s most famous landmarks and took in the beautiful park views from the two castle decks. Outside the castle, park rangers had spotted a turtle relaxing on a rock in the pond below, which is aptly named Turtle Pond. The turtles are usually much more abundant, but it was starting to rain and the smarter turtles had already found shelter.

The rain was short lived and we made our way through the Ramble, Central Park’s woodland area, and out to the East side of the park by 5th Avenue. This luxurious promenade was a sight to behold, but the real reason to be here was right in front of us: FAO Schwarz. As you may know, FAO Schwarz is the oldest toy store in the United States. We were greeted outside by one of the infamous real life toy soldiers that guard the doors. Inside, a children’s wonderland awaited us. Toys filled every area imaginable, while employees flew toy planes and kids danced on the BIG Piano. I was impressed by the stuffed animals of every size and species that lined the aisles and escalators.

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View of Turtle Pond on a cloudy Sunday.

When we had our fill of childlike wonder, we were ready for some culture. It was time to pull out the Explorer Pass a second time for the Museum of Modern Art. The MoMA is home to many famous modern and contemporary works, such as Andy Warhol’s Gold Marilyn Monroe, Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, and Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Fruit. It was incredible to see such masterpieces up close, and even the works we were unfamiliar with were intriguing and inspiring. We started at the top floor and made our way down through the galleries, spending about two hours roaming the halls filled with innovative yet distinguished masterpieces. It was easy to see why this museum of one of the most renowned New York attractions.

By the end of our tour of the MoMA, we’d worked up quite an appetite. It was time for pizza and beer. In search of some genuine New York-style pizza, we head to West Village and made our way to Bleecker Street Pizza, a small restaurant that receives a lot of hype for its size. Because I’d never had New York pizza before, I stuck with a couple slices of cheese so I could get the most quintessential experience. As could only be expected, the crust was crispy, flakey, and fresh. As a Bostonian, I have to admit that those New Yorkers do know how to make a pizza.

After dinner, we trekked across Manhattan to the Lower East Side to catch some of New York City’s infamous nightlife scene. It was a Sunday evening, so many New Yorkers had made their way home for the night. I guess even New York City sleeps sometimes. However, there were still several people out and about and we ducked into a few bars before settling at a dive bar with strange clown décor, a pool table, some furniture that looked like it came out of someone’s garage storage unit, and a bathroom thoroughly adorned with graffiti. The drinks were cheap.

Sadly, it was our last night in New York, and we still had one more attraction to visit, so we made our way home a bit early, checking out Chinatown on the way back to the 1 train and to the Upper West Side.

Monday morning, we were up and out of the apartment by 10 AM (early for us) because we had one more “must see” on our list: The American Museum of Natural History. Once again, we employed the Explorer Passes to get in, using the third and final attraction. The AMNH is such a huge and comprehensive museum that you can see it many, many times and never get bored or run out of new things to discover. My favorite parts on this trip were the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life, which features an enormous 94-foot-long blue whale model that suspends from the ceiling, and the Fossil Halls. It was amazing to see the drastic difference in size for various species of dinosaurs, from the 4-foot-long Psittacosaurus to the 4-foot-long jaw of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Another beautiful walk through Central Park on the way to AMNH.

Another beautiful walk through Central Park on the way to AMNH.

Our very last stop in New York City was a surprise to me—the very best kind of surprise. Before hitting the road back to Boston we got brunch at Popover Café. I’d never eaten a popover, and I was in for a huge treat, as these weren’t just popovers but the best popovers in New York and likely in the United States. (Admittedly, this is an impossible claim for me to make, as I just told you this was my first ever popover—but this thing was good). I had a veggie sandwich served on a popover, Evan ordered eggs over his, and Evan’s mother went classic—a plain popover with strawberry butter.

With that, we were ready to leave New York City…at least for a while. Of course, I’ll be back to the city again soon, drawn by the infinite number of New York attractions, neighborhoods, shows, and restaurants to explore.

For other ideas on how to spend a weekend in New York City, check out the Smart Destinations NYC Travel Itinerary page!

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