9 Non-Tourist Activities in New York City

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9 Non-Tourist Activities in New York City

New Yorkers

must suffer an array of tiny tortures that include surging rent prices, slimey apartment brokers and embarrassing Brooklyn anthems by Virginia Beach transplants, but few experiences darken the soul like taking out-of-towners to Lady Liberty, Times Square and other guidebook fodder. News flash! Riding the Ferris wheel in Toys “R” Us is not an authentic New York experience.

To take a real bite out of the Big Apple, you can start by never calling it the Big Apple and learning a few ground rules: Remove yourself from sidewalk traffic if you need to stop, do not manspread on the subway, learn to swipe a MetroCard in two or less tries and do not point in public with your entire arm. Once you master these rules, you are ready to explore the city like a real New Yorker.

Eat at the Beard House

More than half a century ago, The New York Times christened James Beard the “Dean of American cookery.” The Portland-to-NYC chef helped establish American gastronomy through pioneering cookbooks like the 1940 Hors d’Oeuvre & Canapés, the first televised food show (premiered on NBC in 1946) and the James Beard Cooking School. After he passed away in 1985, several prominent chefs quickly mobilized to establish the James Beard Foundation and turn his Greenwich Village home into a culinary center. Then, in 1990, the foundation launched the annual Beard Awards, which Time described as the “Oscars of the food world.” All this background to say you can eat in James Beard’s house. Several times per week, the foundation hosts top chefs from around the world to cook in the Beard House, and the public can purchase tickets for approximately $170, which includes alcohol and a multi-course meal.

Take a Hike

The Cloisters Photo: NYC Company/Christopher Postlewaite

Yes, you can hike in the city. Popular options include the Salt Marsh Nature Trail in Brooklyn and the 1352-acre Greenbelt Preserve on Staten Island, but we recommend heading to the top of Manhattan island to Inwood Hill and Fort Tryon Parks (near the 207th Street stop on the A train). Inwood, at the very top, was once home to the Lenape, and legend says Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan from the Native American tribe in 1626 on these grounds. Fort Tryon, just below Inwood Hill, is the site of the Battle of Fort Washington during the Revolutionary War. The Brits won that fight, and the park is named after Sir William Tryon, the last British Governor of New York. Both parks include numerous trails, hills, caves, valleys, ridges, landmarks and views of the Hudson River, while Tryon boasts The Cloisters, a Met-affiliated gallery showcasing Medieval art inside a rebuilt French monastery.

Forget Hamilton

Only a tourist would obsess over Hamilton. Locals might catch an edgier Broadway show now and again, but most prefer more experiential and interactive theater. We assume most of our readers are a bit twisted (are we wrong?), so we recommend the insanely dark, Macbeth-themed Sleep No More at the 1930s McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea. The five-story former warehouse is actually a pseudo hotel set up as interactive theater where patrons (all required to wear Venetian carnival-style masks) walk around freely exploring different poorly lit rooms and halls and watching eerie scenes performed by actors mere feet away. Think Stanley Kubrick making a Shakespearean-style Marilyn Manson video.

Hitch a Ride to Rockaway Beach

Tourists can skip this recommendation in the chillier months, but a summer A-train ride to Rockaway Beach is an excellent way to fight the heat wave (expect it), enjoy classic Cali-style tacos and experience a local spot so iconic it garnered its own Ramones song. Here’s the deal: Stick to the beach between 86th (more of a scene) and 106th (more peaceful) Streets, enjoy the cool and calm waves and then grub on a fish taco at Tacoway Beach in the Rockaway Beach Surf Club. Would-be wave riders can even take surf lessons.

Island Hop

City Island Photo: NYC Company/JulienneSchaer

Certain boroughs count as islands, but NYC actually claims about two-dozen little islands in its territory and many others nearby. The Hamptons are the popular spot on Long Island, but 32-mile Fire Island off the south shore is underdeveloped, car-free and home to whitetail deer and a vibrant LGBTQ community at Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. City Island, which was first settled in 1685, is part of the Pelham Islands in the easternmost part of the Bronx. A half-mile across and a mile and a half long, City Island cops a New England vibe with lobster and crab shacks, a fishing boat-filled marina and several historic buildings. If you are looking for some place easier to reach, take the F subway train to Manhattan’s own Roosevelt Island for gorgeous city skyline and Queensboro Bridge views from the middle of the East River.

Shop Elsewhere

Fifth Avenue is for filthy rich tourists. If that’s you, enjoy, but everyone else needs to search out deals like a local who just paid $3,200 rent for a walk-up studio apartment. For the best fashion deals, the brick and mortar spot is Century 21 downtown, and despite the name, it has nothing to do with real estate. Rather, this shoptropolis is seven levels of designer brands at seriously discounted prices. Still, the very best deals will require extra effort since top designers often prefer pop-up sales in unmarked spaces. Racked NY and Time Out New York list sales that tend to be overcrowded, so in-the-know locals search out the best events on sites like LazarShopping, TopButton and Sample Sally.

Drink Wine (and Look at Art)

City guides justifiably send tourists to places like the Met and the Museum of Modern Art, but locals know to check for gallery openings as they can provide an excellent night of wine sipping and glorious visuals. Start with the elegant-yet-edgy Allouche Gallery in Chelsea. Formerly located in SoHo, this gallery moved to larger digs this year, and opening night or not, its walls feature top artists like Ron English, Lori Earley and Nick Georgiou. A few blocks north, both Jonathan LeVine Gallery locations (sneak in your own wine and beer) draw a younger crowd and edgy artists like Nychos, Andy Kehoe and Shag. If you want to go even more underground, head to the Lower East Side (LES) and check out dozens of galleries that often time their openings for the same night. Check the website Nonsense NYC for masterfully curated lists of upcoming indie art exhibits and oddball events.

Go Ethnic

Ovelia in Little Athens, Astoria Photo: NYC Company/Marley White

NYC is packed with cultural enclaves that include multiple Little Italys, Little Indias and Chinatowns. Manhattan spots like Little Italy now seem more like Disney’s Main Street U.S.A. than the original Mulberry Street, so locals typically head to the outer boroughs for neighborhoods that are more authentic, colorful and sometimes a little smelly, which is actually a good sign. So, where should a tourist go? Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, the so-called Real Little Italy, is an excellent spot for old-school restaurants, freshly made cannolis, gourmet markets and cheese shops offering fresh burrata and mozzarella. Another option is Astoria, Queens at the end of the N and Q lines. Though the neighborhood does not have a cute little name, the media at times called it Little Athens due to its large Greek community and abundance of restaurants and markets. In 1991, The New York Times described it as a “Greek Isle in the New York City Sea.” Head east to Steinway Street, though, and Little Athens gives way to Little Egypt with block after block of kebab restaurants and hookah lounges.

Eat Ice Cream

The long-ass Cronut line is for Instagram addicts and abused interns. Local New Yorkers prefer the bitterness-curbing sugar rush of artisan ice cream. The city is experiencing an ice cream renaissance with boundary-defying shops like Ice & Vine with a poppy seed Opium Den flavor, 10Below with rose-shaped curls, OddFellows with weirdness like grapefruit jalapeno, Van Leeuwen with the finest imported ingredients and the pop culture-driven Mikey Likes It Ice Cream with such flavors as the Brady Bunch (banana pudding, vanilla wafers and Vienna Fingers) and Foxy Brown (mocha with chocolate cookies and sea-salt caramel swirl). MilkMade in Brooklyn has a monthly membership delivering pints like salted honey ice cream with honeycomb, while the best shop, Ample Hills (six locations), serves scoops like Hell’s Kitchen Sink that mixes dark chocolate Guinness ice cream with cookie dough, toffee pieces and spiced brownies. How big is the ice cream buzz right now? Last year, Cronut creator Dominique Ansel debuted a soft-serve ice cream window at his shop. Burrata ice cream with balsamic caramel and strawberry confit anyone? (Full disclosure: Yeah, ice cream is pretty touristy, but aren’t you glad we mentioned it?)

Top image: NYC Company/JulienneSchaer

David Jenison is a Los Angeles native and the Content Editor of PROHBTD. He has covered entertainment, restaurants and travel for more than 20 years.