Exploring NYC Like A Local

Contributor Brooke Fitts takes us on a two-day whirlwind tour of the beloved American city, sharing her must-visit spots in both Manhattan and Brooklyn.
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Photography: Brooke Fitts

Photography: Brooke Fitts

This post is in partnership with Uber

NYC is a magical place, full of energy and diversity. It’s inspiring, bustling always, brimming with all kinds of interesting people, places to eat, and things to see and do.

But it’s also a hard place to live, as almost anyone who has done so — myself included — will tell you. Dragging your dirty clothes down the block to the laundromat when it’s snowing is not fun. Lugging groceries home from the store in 90-degree weather, and then hauling them up to your fourth story walkup, is not fun. One of the best ways to experience NYC is to have lived there and left…and to get to go back for visits, still knowing the city like a local.

The perfect NYC weekend includes a mix of some more classic stops that everyone should see and some lesser-known places that tourists would never normally haunt, but that are iconic just the same. On a recent return trip of my own, I enjoyed a great mix of both.

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Here’s a first tip for anyone visiting: seek out a place to stay in a unique neighborhood, where you can get a real feel for true NYC living. Personally, I always choose Greenpoint, Brooklyn, so that’s where I headed as soon as I grabbed my ride at the airport. (I arrived late and prefer Uber when traveling from the airport for both the rate and the safety of knowing who is picking me up and when). 

I love recommending The Box House Hotel — it’s a little off the beaten path and a bit of a trek to the closest subway stop, but you can walk to the NYC Ferry to head down deeper into Brooklyn or over to Midtown Manhattan. The views don’t get any better for a $2.75 ticket! If convenience and speed are your goals, it’s also easy to find an UBER to get wherever you want to go at any time.

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Since I was fresh off the plane from a redeye flight from the West Coast, my next stop after settling in needed to be someplace I could grab a decent coffee. One of my go-to spots is Variety Coffee, and I also love hitting up Milk and Roses if I’m wanting something more substantial to eat. 

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Once coffee was taken care of, it was time to head into Manhattan for the day. A great lunch is always on my mind, and my favorite option is Russ and Daughters Cafe on the Lower East Side. Their bagels, bialies and babka are the best, not to mention their smoked trout and cured salmon sandwiches with a spicy dill and aquavit Bloody Mary on the side.

Fully fueled, I was ready to take on a museum. My favorite is the Whitney Museum of American Art, not only for the exhibits themselves, but also for the city views from the balconies that are publicly accessible on every floor. Plus, the Highline Park is right next to it, and if there’s one thing you must do in NYC, it’s walking the Highline. On this last trip, however, I forwent the Whitney so I could catch the new Stephen Shore Photo exhibit at the MoMA in Midtown. 

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Afterwards, I headed to nearby Grand Central Station for what is one of its best kept secrets from the hoards of tourists outside. There’s a little-known fancy bar hidden in plain sight called the Campbell Apt. When I got there, the fireplace was roaring, and it was the perfect spot for resting my feet and sipping a hot toddy.

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Before venturing back to Brooklyn, I took an Uber down to Chinatown to stop in at another fave spot, Nom Wah Tea Parlor, for dumplings and tea, of course. Exhausted, I UBERed  back to Brooklyn to rest up for Day Two. Though NYC has fantastic public transportation, it can still be unreliable, especially around the holidays. When on a whirlwind tour, I prefer to use uberX to ensure I can squeeze in all the mandatory spots.

Having had my hectic city day, I was excited to hang in Brooklyn for a whole 24 hours without going into Manhattan. I grabbed a coffee at Champion Coffee and a bagel down the street at Frankel’s, and I slowly walked from Greenpoint towards Williamsburg for some shopping and people-watching in McCarren Park. Then, I grabbed the ferry to Dumbo, where the views of both the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge are stunning. Everyone loves the pizza at the neighborhood’s famous Grimaldi’s restaurant, which is a fun experience, but I was on my own, and they don’t offer slices. So, I rounded the corner to another fave and got a burger and shake at Shake Shack.

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I eventually took an UBER back to Greenpoint and met some friends that evening for pizza at Paulie Gee’s — perfect, since I’d skipped the pizza earlier. People go crazy for Roberta’s Pizza when in Brooklyn, but I’m telling you that this spot is just as good (if not better), without the crazy wait for a table. 

Once we were full from dinner, my friend’s boyfriend wanted to take me to see Sunshine Laundromat — a legit laundromat up front, until you head straight into the hidden back and find yourself in the best dog-friendly dive bar ever, with pinball and tons of arcade games and board games at your disposal.

Two days are hardly enough to see much of what NYC has to offer. But if you hit any of the aforementioned spots, you’ll get a great taste for the city and a guaranteed fun (and delicious) time. Take it from a former local.

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