The Upper West Side can be mistaken for a sleepy residential neighborhood and is known for its mom-and-pop stores, and stately townhomes, along with a family-friendly location near Central Park. However, in reality, it is an area that is brimming with cultural landmarks and must-see dining spots.
It’s impossible to capture the essence of everything that the Upper West Side has to offer in a couple of hours, so it’s advised to leave yourself with plenty of time to journey here and allow the magic of the area to truly sink in. If you’re heading to the Upper West Side, here are some of the things that you should see and do here.
1. Riverside Park
Central Park may be the more polished and famous older brother, but Riverside Park offers its own refreshing kind of public space. An entire day can be spent here cycling by the Hudson, and you can pay your respect to the ‘Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument, or view the talent at the skate park or even break out the roller skates for the rink located on West 108th Street.
There is the oasis that stretches for 86 blocks beyond the Upper West Side and welcomes prodigious runners on the numerous trails. You can amble past the promenade on West 91st Street that was made famous by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the movie “You’ve Got Mail”.
2. The Juilliard School
Lincoln Center has plenty of brilliant performances and events, but it would be criminal to forget about the emerging and immensely talented performances at Juilliard, one of the world’s premier performing arts school.
It is located only a block away and ranges from gratis to only $20 a day, and tickets feature acts like an orchestral concert led by Nicholas McGegan, the star conductor, and an opera tour de force, or an upcoming production of ‘God of Carnage.’
3. Nice Matin
One of the best things about Manhattan is outdoor dining and drinking once the snow has melted, and the temperature is more comfortable. There is no better place to eat and watch people than Nice Martin, a charming French bistro located on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue. You can take a seat under the wide awnings and let the restaurant prove its merit by serving you with sauvignon blanc along with a petite pissaladiere tart.
You can taste a fine bowl of fava bean tortellini along with steak frites or go for the bargain $38 prix fixe, to ensure a choice of any delicious dessert off the menu.
4. The Empire Hotel Rooftop
The Empire Hotel Rooftop is blessed with a prime location, has a sophisticated vibe, and plays a prominent role in the sitcom Friends. The hotel is also a stone’s throw away from Lincoln Center and provides an endless array of options for a night out after a show.
You can visit the pool deck if you want a refreshing swim during the day, and patrons can go up to the posh rooftop bar during any time of the year. There you can sip your cocktail under dimly-lit romantic red lights of the iconic ‘Empire Hotel’ sign and admire all the majestic views.
5. New York Historical Society
From the monumental renovation that had started in 2011, the New York Historical Society has transformed from a stagnant, stuck-in-the-past museum to become a glittering destination on Central Park West. The recent exhibitions it has showcased include Ludwig Bemelman’s Parisian heroine Madeline, and Anne Leibowitz photography.
The current showcases include the likes of celebrity-drawing artist Al Hirschfield, and photographs of the 1965 march from Selma serve as reminders to visitors that this institution honors past history and also recognizes current social imports.
6. Alice’s Tea Cup and Levain Bakery
If you’ve got a sweet tooth or want to impress a chocolate-loving friend, then you should hop, skip, and jump to this Alice in Wonderland-themed tea parlor near the Levain Bakery. At Chapter 1 of Alice’s Tea Cup, you can view the Alice murals while selecting from among a dozen teas and daily scones selection, the divine banana Nutella cake, or the generous ‘Mad Hatter’ tea service.
You should save room for a brief walk to Levain to eat one of their legendary ‘marathon-sized’ dark chocolate cookies or heavenly raisin sticky buns.
7. Jacob’s Pickles
Your New York City adventure won’t be complete without a visit to a hot brunch spot, and Jacob’s Pickles delivers the brunch dream with superior Southern comfort cooking. It offers locally sourced ingredients and a quirky, lovable obsession with high-quality biscuits and pickles.
This place deserves multiple visits. If you can only visit once, you should sample the four types of specialty pickles, a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwich, along with the shrimp and bacon grits.
8. Cathedral of Saint John the Divine
Even though it is outside the traditional boundaries of the Upper West Side, this beacon of New York City religious architecture deserves a visit. It is located a couple of blocks away from Central Park, and this cathedral amazes both new and veteran visitors at every corner.
Whether you come here for secular or religious purposes, you can respectfully explore the exquisitely designed Gothic Revival nave, the outside gardens, and the organ concerts.