What better way to conclude my stay in New York than make a list of all my favorite New York things? Before I came, I was desperate for recommendations on where to go. But all I could really find on the subject were lists of places that were way out of my budget. I didn’t necessarily want to avoid the must-see tourist attractions, but I hoped to find some “local” things to do that were a little quieter and, hopefully, less expensive.
It wasn’t easy, but in time I did find some relatively cheap, good places to eat, shop and hang out. The majority of these are centered around the East Village near my apartment. If you’re considering staying in the city for a longer period of time, it’s a great neighborhood for college-age people. There are lots of inexpensive restaurants, especially on St. Marks Place, and it’s a short walk to lots of great shopping in Soho, the West Village, and the Flatiron area.
For a meal
–Mamoun’s Falafel, 22 St. Marks Pl in East Village
Yummy falafel sandwiches and delicious baklava…and you can get both for under $6.
–Xe May Sandwich Shop, 96 St. Marks Pl in East Village
This tiny restaurant–and I do mean tiny, there are maybe five seats total inside–has amazing Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches for a reasonable price.
–Veselka, 144 2nd Ave in East Village
Veselka takes the cake for best comfort food delivery. One night when I was sick, I ordered chicken noodle soup and pierogies on Seamless and then happily at them in bed watching Netflix–delicious and perfect when you just want to feel cozy.
–2 Bros Pizza, locations all over
As far as classic, cheap New York pizza goes, this is the winner in my book. They have a deal where you can get two GIGANTIC slices of pizza and a can of soda for $2.75. Can’t beat that.
–Taqueria Diana, 129 2nd Ave in East Vilage
Disclaimer: these are NOT LA tacos. They don’t even come close to that delicious, drippy mess on a tortilla you get at sketchy-looking food trucks on every corner here. But for New York, they’re pretty good.
–Cafe Habana, 17 Prince St in Nolita
There’s a sit-down place and then a to-go counter next door. Go to the to-go counter, get yourself an ear of cheese-and-chili-covered grilled corn for $3 and eat it on a bench on tree-lined Prince Street, happily gnawing and watching passerby. Or maybe that’s just a me thing.
–Shake Shack, my favorite location is in Madison Square Park
Andre, a devout In-n-Out worshipper, said these burgers might be better than In-n-Out’s double-double. If they’re good enough to convert him, they’re pretty damn good.
Happy as a clam with the “Carrie cupcake” at Magnolia Bakery
–Sundaes and Cones, 95 E 10th St in East Village
This place is a block away from my apartment, and I’ve been here way, way too many times. They have neat, inventive flavors like avocado and ginger, but they’ve perfected the old standbys too. My guilty pleasure is a scoop of the cookie dough in a sugar cone.
–Insomnia Cookies, locations all over
Comparable to Diddy Riese for you Angelinos. Gooey, warm cookies are $1.50 each and they’ll make two of them into an ice cream sandwich if you want. The kicker: they’re open until 3 AM and will DELIVER COOKIES TO YOUR DOORSTEP way into the wee hours of the morning. That you can’t get from Diddy Riese.
–City Bakery, 3 W 18th St in Flatiron
Confession 1: the hot chocolate and pretzel croissant I highly recommend purchasing here are not cheap. Confession 2: never has any pastry or drink been so worth it. See this post for more on both: Breakfast with a Mentor
–Magnolia Bakery, Locations all over
I actually discovered this sweet shop on a previous vacation to New York and loved it so much that my mom bought me the Magnolia Bakery cookbook for my birthday (which is excellent, by the way.) And then even though I could make my own cupcakes, I STILL wouldn’t shut up about the amazing ones at Magnolia…so for my next birthday, my best friend (God bless her wonderful loving heart) presented me with a box of six that she had bought while she was in New York the month before, carried on the plane back to Wisconsin, and kept in her freezer until my birthday. I always get vanilla-vanilla. I hear the other kinds are good, but why mess with perfection?
–Big Gay Ice Cream Shop, 61 Grove St in West Village
I was a little skeptical when I learned this place only served soft serve, but it’s the best soft serve I’ve ever had. The toppings they offer are amazing and they have several out-of-this-world specialty cones with the type of names you’d expect from a shop called “Big Gay Ice Cream Shop.” Just order “the salty pimp” and don’t think too hard about it.
For Coffee (all recommendations based on iced drinks because it is HELLA hot)
Heaven at La Colombe
–La Colombe Torrefaction, locations all over
The best–and snottiest–latte in the city. This place doesn’t even have a menu. You just have to know. And heaven forbid you ask them for something NOT on their little secret menu, like a vanilla latte. Not like I did that, but if I did, the barista would have visibly sneered and told me, “We aren’t Starbucks. We don’t do flavors.” And you know what, they really don’t have to. Their espresso is incredible.
–Saturdays Surf, 31 Crosby St in Soho
This place is a hidden gem my friend Sonya, an NYU student, told me about. It’s a little slice of Venice, CA in the middle of New York City. Coffee bar in the front, surf shop in the back, quiet garden to sit, drink and chat in the way back–perfect for a chill, brah kind of Saturday morning. And for you single ladies…I am not one hi Andre….the surfer baristas are friendly and very cute.
–Ground Support, 39 W Broadway in Soho
A good runner-up to La Colombe in Soho with a lot more space to hang out and chill. In my opinion, their mochas are better than their lattes.
–Culture Espresso, 72 W 38th St in Midtown West
Decent strong latte, very decent iced chai. If you work in the garment district or midtown area, this is a great place to stop at and juice up before the day begins. Great cookies, too.
Pretty bag from Kate Spade Saturday
The content rotates too quickly in smaller independent shops to really pin down a few that are the best for budget shopping, in my opinion. And the truth is, I couldn’t afford most of the stuff at the smaller independent shops anyway. So instead of giving a list of my favorite boutiques, I’m just going to give general shopping tips and some nice shopping areas.
-The best times to seriously shop (anywhere) are in January and end of June/beginning of July during the seasonal sale periods where stores try to clear out their stock and make room for new merchandise. I’ve found excellent deals at expensive stores in New York by timing my shopping right.
–There are always lines for the dressing room. I really hate this. There’s something to be said for wearing some basic leggings and a tank that you can try stuff on over in the corner…
-If you’re looking to do serious shopping, consider shopping secondhand. There are tons of great consignment stores in this city where society girls and models-off-duty donate the designer clothes they only wore once. My favorites are Beacon’s Closet and INA.
-If a store puts your merchandise in a really cute bag, ask for another. If you’re sweet enough about it, most salespeople will comply. They’re great to have around, especially the little ones (which I carry my lunch in.)
–Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side is great for window shopping, but for actual purchasing there are better places. Start in Soho, where the big chain stores are concentrated on Broadway and lots of cute boutiques can be found on the other smaller streets. Then, head to the West Village for some little independent stores (and Magnolia cupcakes!) And if you’re still not satisfied, farther downtown on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron district is another stretch of mid-range chains like Zara, J. Crew, and H&M.
Most of the places I could shop at, unfortunately, are easily available online or in LA… but their outposts in New York are especially large and glorious and probably worth a visit. My favorites are Zara, Madewell, Mango and Uniqlo. Here are some more unique places I found that are consistently worth a visit:
–Kate Spade Saturday, 152 Spring Street in Soho
Super fun, happy place to stop by. Their sale section always has good stuff. I hear there’s also one in LA…this could be dangerous.
–Beacon’s Closet, 10 W 13th St in Union Square
The location in Greenpoint is ENORMOUS and worth a pilgrimage if you have you have some extra time on your hands. If not, this new Manhattan store is still great. Good names, great prices. I went several times.
–Bookmarc, 400 Bleecker St in West Village
Cool shop with an expensive book collection and surprisingly inexpensive Marc Jacobs doodads (think small pieces of jewelry and desk supplies.)
–The Strand, 828 Broadway in Greenwich Village
The best used bookstore I’ve ever been to. I love browsing the $1 carts outside, and the fashion/design/art sections are unparalleled.
–Fishs Eddy, 889 Broadway in Flatiron
Cute, well-priced kitchen ware and home goods. Their New York line of plates and mugs is a great, less touristy option for souvenirs and gifts.
–Pearl River Mart, 477 Broadway in Soho
This multi-story emporium is full of inexpensive home goods from China. Really fun to poke around. Standouts are the chopstick sets and pens that smell like bubble gum (you know you want one.)
The Charles James “gown room” at the Met.
There are plenty of cheap things to do in New York, especially in the summer. The tradeoff for saving money, however, is inconvenience. For every fun “local” event you plan to do in the summer, expect to wait in some kind of line for at least an hour.
-See a comedy show at the Upright Citizens Brigade
These shows are jam-packed with the funniest people in New York. Andre and I saw “College Humor Live,” which featured standup acts from several members of the popular YouTube series as well as one of the guys on SNL. Our tickets were $5. Reserve your general admission ticket online in advance, and prepare to get there at least an hour before the show to stake out your seat.
-Go to the Met Museum
Museum admission is “by donation.” While the “suggested donation” is $12 for students, you don’t have to pay that if you can’t afford it. Don’t let those meanies at the ticket counter pressure you into it. Pay whatever you can–$5 is totally fine. The Charles James exhibit happening currently is incredible, but hurry: it ends August 10th.
-Go to the FIT Museum
The Fashion Institute of Technology has the best fashion archives in the country. The exhibits they produce are so interesting and informative, and they’re free! Their current feature, “Exposed: A History of Lingerie” is way cool.
-Go to a free (or cheap) concert
There are tons of free concerts in New York each summer. The names are always great: while I’ve been here, Andrew Bird, Neon Trees, Beck, and Counting Crows have all given free shows in the SummerStage at Central Park.
Additionally, there are lots of famous venues in New York where you can pay under $20 to see an awesome up-and-coming band. One close to me in the East Village is the Bowery Ballroom, which has an excellent lineup heading into fall.
-Go to the top of the Empire State Building at night
Yes, it’s ludicrously expensive (around $30) to do so. Yes, it’s touristy, and the experience feels about as authentic as that jungle boat thing at Disneyland. But going late at night when there’s almost no one there and you can see the lights of the entire city stretched out far below you…it’s beautiful, and for such a prepackaged thing it feels surprisingly meaningful. Andre and I were the only ones on the deck when they closed down at 2 a.m., and that time staring at New York in silence together was probably my favorite moment of his entire visit. And you can’t say you’ve “done New York” until you’ve done it.
I hope this will help you plan your next visit to New York, whenever that may be! The cool thing about New York is that since it’s so big, everyone’s experience of the city is totally individual…so what’s your New York? Which places would you add to this can’t-miss list?
See more of my New York essentials in my Steller story, New York: Visiting on a College Budget.