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NEW YORK CITY GUIDE, Offbeat destinations for adventurous visitors, museums, bars, cafes, neighborhoods, parks, squares and fun stuff
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Offbeat destinations for adventurous visitors
(Words: ©ablarc from Wired New York; Photos:© urban75)


Forest Hills

Worth a short and easy train ride to Queens is Olmsted's great Garden Suburb.

This will remind you of the exactly contemporaneous one by Unwin in Hampstead, though I think the architecture (Grosvenor Atterbury) is better in the Queens example.

Look for the rich mix of building types jumbled together in imitation of an English town; look for the sendup of modern zoning that this beautiful, varied and walkable environment represents.

Like Ebenezer Howard's prototypes, Forest Hills was conceived as a railway suburb; all points are walking distance to the station. Though now the subway also goes to Forest Hills, take the LIRR train out of Penn Station instead.

This frequent service is fast and comfortable, but the main reason to take it is the thrill of arriving at Forest Hills' Station Square. The miniature Art and Crafts skyscraper that greets you at this atmospheric plaza was until recently the station hotel, but now it's elderly housing.

Make a broad loop southward from the station, take note of all the diverse but harmonious housing types - apartment buildings, single-family attached, detached, duplexes, quadruplexes, rowhouses, cottages, garage units.

Swing by the school and loop back via Ascan Avenue, under the tracks and left on Austin Street, the main shopping drag.

This has lost much of its Tudor detail but manages to charm with an overlay of small-scale grit.

It remains resolutely walkable and the sidewalk teems. Is Brixton like this?

Walk all the way up to the splendidly-stocked Barnes and Noble Bookstore (even has an escalator!) and snuggle up with a latte and a good book before you take perhaps the subway home (just yonder, on awful Queens Boulevard).


Williamsburg photos


Other districts that might interest you include in Brooklyn: Williamsburg (yuppies, artists, young folks, industrial grit, Orthodox Jews, and Peter Luger, the world-famous steakhouse); Park Slope (fancy rowhouses, nice bistros, check out Café Steinhof, subway F train at Seventh Ave., a neighborhood place where the goulash is cheap and you can write home about the desserts), Carroll Gardens (rowhouses with front yards).

Williamsburg photos Williamsburg photo gallery

Upper West Side

The best for last. This is where I recommend you encamp for the duration of your visit. You'll love the neighborhood. It's New York to the core and New York at its best, and it's not touristy.

Hotel rates are way up as supply dwindles (condo conversions) and demand grows (9/11 doldrums are over).

Hotel Beacon is my personal choice for best hotel deal in New York. Not the cheapest but low-priced for New York, and I'm not sure you'd be happy in a hotel that cost less. Besides, this place has so many strong points, of which the strongest is location. Better than Midtown, because it's in a real New York neighborhood that will remind you of Paris.

Two blocks from 72nd Street subway station (one express stop to Times Square), great Fairway Supermarket across street, and plenty of other good food stores as well, including Zabar's; kitchenette in every room, nice lobby, pleasant and accommodating staff. Reasonably priced for what you get.

TripAdvisor readers popularity index rates this hotel 19th best out of 324 New York hotels in all price ranges. For a real treat, ask for Room 2512; corner rooms like this provide views towards Central Park, the fabulous Second Empire Ansonia Apartments and Verdi Square, Broadway above 72nd Street, once a traffic island, now a pleasant peninsula; look for the composer's statue.

You'll spend hours snapping pictures if you have a good zoom lens. Or settle for any room on a high floor, though the views out the windows are pretty good on lower floors too, if they face Broadway.

Ask for the best price you can get, which may not be booking direct with the hotel. Get a reservation, then call the hotel and dicker for a room location, but don't be pushy. These are nice folks and you should stay on their good side.


Broadway is bustling and vibrant, and this stretch will inevitably remind you of Paris.

One block over, West End Avenue is quiet because it's residential, and it too will remind you of Paris; it's like a boulevard with the buildings scaled up to about fifteen stories.

Even further over is elegant Riverside Drive and Park right on the Hudson. Check out outdoor noshing at 79th Street Boat Basin Café in the park, at the Hudson River (a little hard to find; ask.).

Great apartment buildings are also to be found on Broadway; go in the courtyards of those that have them. Look especially for the Apthorp (west side of Broadway between 78th and 79th Streets) and the Belnord (east side of Broadway at 86th Street).

An unexpected delight to stumble across (if you can find it): Pomander Walk, which runs between 94th and 95th Streets, midblock between Broadway and West End Ave.

For hardcore deco: Master Apartments, Riverside Drive at 103rd Street. Round the corner, handsome Beaux-Arts rowhouses from the late 1890's on 103rd Street. An adult George Gershwin lived in the building at #316 (1925-31), simultaneously Humphrey Bogart grew up (did he?) at #245.

On Central Park West, twin towers reign, mostly deco. These are best seen from within the Park at Strawberry Fields (the Lennon Monument) and to the north of it, from The Ramble, Central Park's best feature.

East of Broadway, you'll find restaurants galore, especially on Amsterdam Avenue. - click on "Upper West Side" then for more info, click on the names of the restaurants.

Walking through Central Park

Even further east: Central Park and the Museum of Natural History. Side streets hereabouts feature brownstones galore, especially in the Seventies between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue. A lovely place for a walk.

Lincoln Center is actually within walking distance on Broadway (66th Street). A little further down: be sure you take in the new Columbus Circle, its fountain, the Time Warner Center and its shops, jazz venues, glitzy restaurants and slick basement supermarket/snack bar (Whole Foods)

A West Side cultural institution of sorts (not what you think):

Morningside Heights is an academic community and the West Side's uppermost reaches before Harlem.

Take the subway a few stops uptown to 116th Street (transfer to local at 96th) for Columbia's terrific campus; (see the rotunda and the chapel, find where they invented The Bomb, explore), St. John the Divine (not fully recovered from fire; check out the sculpture in its Peace Garden!), Riverside Church. Plenty of bookstores hereabouts.

But architecturally the very best thing in Morningside Heights is the intensely romantic Grant's Tomb, a moving experience, a poignant reminder of conjugal devotion, and perhaps New York's noblest Beaux-Arts space, both inside (Napoleonic) and out (Mausoleic).

Note the urn near the fence and the Gaudiesque benches. There's even a ruined belvedere with a magnificent view. Solitude and privacy will follow you here.

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