Ever since moving here, I’m frequently asked the top things that shouldn’t be missed when someone visits the city. And to be honest, that list is infinite because anything that makes your heart beat wild with anticipation can be found on this island at the highest level. Musicals, soup dumplings, pizza, bookstores, exhibits, concerts — you name it, it’s here and it’s dope.
You could say yes to something every night of the week (or numerous things a night, if you are a super extroverted and not me) and still never do or see everything you want in this city. Which at times can be intimidating and makes me feel guilty for setting up a routine that often keeps me in Brooklyn most weekends. But what I’ve learned in the last four years of living in New York is that there is no one right way to fall in love with this city. In fact, my way involved hundreds of miles of pavement, my Nikes, and a couple of ice tea pit stops.
Nearly everyday after work, clad in my pink heart backpack that screams “ADULT,” I walk a mile or two downtown before hopping on the subway towards Brooklyn. It’s a completely unnecessary move since the subway is right outside my workplace but the routine is now an integral part of my day. It started at the beginning of summer during my first year in New York when I had a bad day in the office and just needed to clear my head. In a matter of weeks it turned into a regular habit, varying only in my chosen route.
Some days I head straight to the water to let the breeze evaporate the lingering crunch that happens when contemplating YouTube trends for too long. Some days it seems only right to turn left on Bleeker Street in order to amble through the West Village cobble stone streets and watch the social media influencers try and take pictures while dodging traffic.
But it’s the walk down Hudson Street that I find myself taking the most. It feels like reuniting with an old friend as I’ve walked it thousands of times, in thousands of moods, during every type of weather. But on somedays, often summer Fridays, I stretch out my walk as long as possible, taking the Westside Highway all the way down to Battery Park. Sometimes I’ll stop to grab a red velvet Sprinkles cupcake for old times sake. Other times I’ll treat myself to an ice tea for company as I weave in and out of crowds filled with screaming families and tennis players waiting for their chance at the court and runners being cheered on by their dogs.
You see, I truly believe that a good walk can cure just about anything. That looking up and noticing the little details can take you out of your world and put you into another. That is really the best part of New York, that by walking through neighborhoods, the city’s life force spills out around you and consumes you. It’s my favorite part at least.
This is how so many of my favorite memories in New York begin: By taking an extra long walk. One year, when I had my birthday off, I decided to walk from Battery Park to 111th Street along the water. My legs were jelly by the end but it was an experience that helped imprint a map of New York into my brain. By walking the city without much of a plan, I stumbled up parks I had never visited, coffee shops with murky, delicious ice tea, and into the arms of that one french sandwich I can’t stop talking about.
In New York, life is constantly happening on the sidewalk around you. Fathers and their tiny daughters singing “Piano Man” on the way to dance classes, kids running out of karate class with their nannies in tow, wedding parties walking to their receptions, couples breaking up, and woman comforting their girlfriends through the phone. With 8.6 million people condensed onto this microscopic island, the privacy of life magically spills onto the streets around you and if you let it, and remember to look up, it can take you out of your head and immerse you into something far bigger.
Plus you can witness the city’s wonderfully weird moments as well, like these homemade decorations people put up in Brooklyn Heights.
Every weekend I take a two hour walk from my apartment to the Brooklyn promenade which overlooks the city from the Brooklyn side. The walk has become a sort of therapy for me where the sun and the brownstones straighten out all the nagging thoughts from the week before. It’s on these walks I’ve discovered new favorite bars, become inspired with story ideas, and victoriously cheered after discovering books on my TBR laid out on stoops. These walks have seen me through the blues of boys not texting back and bad anxiety spells. But mostly these walks have allowed me the chance to really fall in love with my city and through the thousands of miles of pavement covered, helped me fall even more in sync with myself as well.
Before I knew it I had developed my own map of New York City where directions include: “Turn right at that cash only place with the pork and chive dumplings” or “continue down past your dream reconverted firehouse you want to live in someday” or “turn left at the corner where you had that awkward date but that delicious birthday cake-inspired cookie.” And pretty soon, you’ll have your own map with directions so different than mine we’ll have to grab tea and compare notes.
So what can’t you miss when you visit New York City? For me, the answer is pretty simple: Head to a neighborhood and just start walking. Take your book, open your Yelp app when you need it, and just explore. You’ll be amazed at all the things that speak to you and trust me, once you start on this life of discovery, it will become a lifelong love affair and one you’ll take with you no matter the zip code.