Manhattan Day Out: A walking itinerary

Tourist season is upon us. If you live in NYC, that means you’ll soon have friends and relatives coming in for the weekend and sleeping on your couch. Some of them have spent time in New York and just want to see you, but I guarantee you’ll have at least one visitor per year who hasn’t visited before – and if you don’t live in New York and are reading this, that visitor might be you.

You can always go back through back entries of this blog when looking for ideas (check out my “things to do” tag!). But in this post and a few others, I’ll outline some sample itineraries for a weekend day with friends who want to explore the city. Because most of my visitors are twenty-somethings on a budget, most of my suggestions are free – though there are a lot of stores are on this itinerary, so remember to bring enough money for some small souvenirs! If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday evening, swing by the free hours at the Morgan Library & Museum. Grab some finger food at their café or have some sandwiches at the Pret around the corner before heading to bed early to rest up for a busy Saturday!

Note: This particular itinerary involves a LOT of walking, so it’s best attempted on a nice day. Wear comfortable shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, pack lightly, and bring a water bottle.

Get an early start on Saturday with coffee and a bagel, then hop on the subway and head to the museum of your choice! Most open at 10 a.m. I’d suggest starting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (be sure to check out the roof garden! And I love the period rooms!) or the American Museum of Natural History (the dinosaurs, the giant meteorite, and the blue whale are all must-sees). Both are pay-what-you-wish, so don’t feel pressured into paying full-price. They’re also both conveniently located on Central Park.

After a few hours at the museum, you’ll likely be hungry! Museum cafeterias are often over-priced but convenient. If you’re looking for something more reasonable and quick, you should be able to find a deli or a pizza place nearby without too much trouble, especially if you walk a few blocks away. The Shake Shack near the Natural History Museum is delicious, but very crowded during peak hours.

Another option is to walk into Central Park and get a hot dog from a hot dog stand – a little risky sometimes, but they can be delicious! Whatever you do, wander into the park after lunch. There are maps scattered throughout, but if you walk more or less south from either museum you’ll have a nice ramble and you’ll eventually end up at the bottom of the park.

Aim for the southeast corner, where you can visit the famous toy store FAO Schwarz and indulge your inner child – and walk by the Plaza Hotel and indulge your inner Eloise. From there, wander south on Madison Ave and enjoy the window-shopping. When you reach 51st street, head west and south on 5th Ave so you can take a look at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Walk a block and half south on 5th Ave and head west into Rockefeller Center, where you can peek at where the Today Show is filmed, or visit the NBC Experience and Top of the Rock (neither of which I’ve done). For a free (unless you buy anything!) experience, check out the NBC Store, Nintendo World, the LEGO Store, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art store.  Other nearby destinations: Radio City Musical Hall, Magnolia Bakery, and American Girl Place.

From Rockefeller Center, wander south five blocks to 42ndStreet, where you can check out the New York Public Library and Bryant Park, two of my favorite places (and two great bathrooms). If your feet aren’t too tired, wander a few blocks east to see the gorgeous constellation ceiling at Grand Central Terminal, or bravely trek a few blocks west to visit Times Square. If you’re in the mood, see how long the TKTS line is and get some theater tickets.

If you or your guests aren’t  theater-crazed, you’re probably getting hungry again. Hop a train down to SoHo to grab dinner at my favorite restaurant, Il Corallo. From there, hit up one of my favorite cupcake places in the neighborhood or take a walk or subway ride back up Broadway to Union Square and check out a few bookstores before taking your tired-but-happy self home to gear up for another day’s outing.

Anyone have suggestions for other stops along this route?

Here’s a map with most of the places mentioned above marked. The straight lines are routes I’ve suggested walking, while the squiggly one is the subway ride to Il Corallo. Enjoy!


The Little Prince at the Morgan Library

Last Friday I made my second-ever visit to the Morgan Library & Museum. The Morgan, which began as the private library of Pierpont Morgan, father of J.P Morgan, is now a complex of buildings that houses rare books and materials, and even includes a performance space. Admission is a bit pricey, but it’s free on Friday nights between 7 and 9 p.m., and when I was there they had a pair of musicians playing in the courtyard, near the café.

The Morgan’s permanent collection is impressive, but I also just love the building. The library portion reminds me of a small scale version of the Beauty and the Beast library, and it even has a (locked) doorway hidden by a bookcase, which a security guard pointed out on my first visit. This time I gleefully noticed an image of a dragon on the fireplace, above where the flames would be. And you could spend an hour just reading the spines on the shelves, not to say anything of the fine pieces of literature and history showcased in the library.
All this is to say that the Morgan is worth a visit at any time, but I especially urge to go now, before April 27, while the exhibit “The Little Prince: A New York Story” is on view. If you haven’t read The Little Prince, go buy a copy and read it, and then go to the exhibit.
The Little Prince, written by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and published in the US in 1943 simultaneously in English and French, is one of my favorite books. I have a lot of favorites, but this is one that I’ve read many times. It’s one of the books that grows with you, even though (and maybe because) part of its message is a reminder not to become a grown up. Grown ups, as the book tells us, are very strange, and are preoccupied so much with things that don’t matter that the things that do matter pass them by. Grown ups get caught up in worrying about money, or status, forgetting that, as the fox tells the little prince, “One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
In her book about faith and art, Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle refers to one of my favorite parts of The Little Princewhen discussing how children, when creating art, are free from self-consciousness. She says, “They don’t worry that they may not be as good as Di Chirico or Bracque; they know intuitively that it is folly to make comparisons, and they go ahead and say what they want to say. What looks like a hat to a grownup may, to the child artist, be an elephant inside a boa constrictor.” Like Saint-Exupéry, I’m fairly confident that if I show someone his picture of a boa that has eaten an elephant and he or she knows exactly what it is, we will be able to talk about the things that are really important.
The Morgan exhibit highlights that while Saint-Exupéry wrote about the child’s ability to see to the heart of things and to understand more than grown ups, he was not content to toss  his words and pictures on a piece of paper and trust to his readers to understand his message. His first draft of The Little Prince was over twice as long as the 14,000 word final book, and the exhibit takes us through some of the passages and images which existed only in early versions. We follow the narrative, seeing as Saint-Exupéry writes and edits and streamlines and focuses his message until he’s honed it into the story loved around the world.  Did you know The Little Prince has been translated into more languages than any other work of fiction? I didn’t, until Friday.
There are interesting bits about Saint-Exupéry and the book throughout the exhibit, from the writing in the book while Saint-Exupéry lived in New York City, to his subsequent disappearance after an aircraft mission in the south of France the year after the book was published. The biographical details are fascinating, especially when seen in context with the story’s message of loss and longing, but it was the manuscript that really drew me. How hard he must have worked to choose those 14,000 perfect words!
If you can, visit the Morgan in the next three months and see the exhibit. Be sure to notice the beautiful blue walls of the exhibition room, with their simple recreations of images from the book—including the one that Saint-Exupéry calls the “loveliest and saddest landscape in the world.” After you go, I promise you that you’ll want to read the book again.
Have you been to the Morgan? Or will The Little Prince convince you to go?