Manhattan Native Shows You The Real Hell's Kitchen
Visiting the Big Apple with friends, family, or for work? Well, there are of course a ton of things to see and do, but I’m going to let you in on some of my favorites. Being a native New Yorker I get asked a lot about what it’s like to have grown up there. Answer is that it’s the only thing I knew growing up, so it wasn’t abnormal to me to be surrounded by people all the time, hear noises at all times of night, and see a diverse group of people riding the subway together.
If you’re in town for a few days here are a few things worth checking out:
It’s where I grew up and is located right in midtown on the west side. It’s very close to the water so you can go for a stroll along the waterfront and up to Riverside Park. There are places to sit and hang out, places to eat and sights to see on land and on the Hudson River. You can visit the Intrepid aircraft carrier museum, go for a bike ride, or just hang out and relax away from the noise. If you walk uptown a bit during the summer months, you’ll hit the Pier i Café which is a nice spot to relax, sit outside, and enjoy some quiet time (quiet for New York). The line sometimes gets long if you go during peak mealtime, but you can order in advance on your phone.
If you come to 9th Avenue, you’ll find tons of different local restaurants. It’s hard to list anything because they often change. Competition is fierce and relentless, so the food and service have to be good, or you’ll be replaced by another upstart shop. I would note that there are a lot of good Thai places in that area that got it the nickname Bangkok Broadway, definitely the best Thai in Manhattan (you could find better stuff if you head out to Queens, but that’s another article). My favorite Thai spots are Wondee Siam and Kare Thai. A great non-Thai spot is Empanada Mama which serves a wide variety of Latin foods, but also very familiar. It’s fun to test out new flavors, and they have killer drinks as well. The best dive bar in NYC is also located in Hell’s Kitchen and it’s called Rudy’s Bar & Grill. Cheap drinks and duct taped booths make you forget you’re in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
I’m sure every guide you’ve ever read says to go there so this isn’t something new. If you have kids, then my favorite spots are the Billy Johnson Playground on 67th off 5th avenue. They have a unique slide made of carved stone that is a must see (and ride!). It’s located just north of the Central Park Zoo, which is a nice little distraction, but not worth the admission in my opinion. You can see plenty of horses trotting around just by walking around that area. The Tarr-Coyne Wild West Playground on the Upper West Side 93rd and Central Park West is also another great spot because it’s large and has a little water feature that is fun on those hot NYC summer days. Lastly the Heckscher Playground in the middle of the park along 61st street is also huge, has some cool places for kids to climb, hide, and play as well as some water features.
Little Island Park
My last must-see spots take us a little further downtown on the West Side. Luckily, it’s easy to walk, hop on a subway, bike along the Hudson, or grab a taxi. You’ll go past popular spots such as Times Square, but I’d avoid them after about 10 minutes, as it’s just way too touristy.
Head over to the Little Island Park that opened in 2021. It’s an amazing piece of architecture and will also get you fantastic views of the river. It’s also very close to the High Line Park which really revitalized that part of the West Side when it opened in 2009. You’ll get great views of the streets from slightly above; it’s also a fantastic area to get some great food down in Chelsea. You may even see a celeb or two. I spotted Katie Holmes just walking around with Suri Cruise one day.
Once you’re down there you’re just steps away from lively vibe of Chelsea. Imagine the classic NYC look in the West Village, the sights and smells of Little Italy, the rich culture of Chinatown, the bustling nightlife of Greenwich Village, and the amazing fashion and shopping in SoHo.
You’ll have to do multiple visits to Manhattan to really begin to take it all in. There are Broadway shows to see. Rockefeller Center draws tourists in all seasons. By the time you think you have seen it all, it’ll change all over again in a New York minute!