A Spontaneous Staycation in New York City

City view from our window at the Hampton Inn Times Square Central

Whether your visit to NYC is planned or a spontaneous staycation (like ours), there’s no such thing as boredom in the Big Apple.

New York is an easy city to visit without much planning. After packing an overnight bag, you only need to prearrange is a hotel room. Why? The destination is so rich and vibrant that with a smartphone in hand and a wallet in your pocket, the possibilities of finding things to see and do are virtually limitless.

During a busy period while getting our house ready for sale before downsizing, we had no time to plan our upcoming weekend. So, we opted for a spontaneous staycation!

Lobby of the Hampton Inn - Times Square Central
Welcoming lobby of the Hampton Inn/Times Square

The only thing preset was our two-night stay at the centrally located Hampton by Hilton Manhattan/Times Square Central—and then we winged it!

We had confidence we would be in good hands because our millennial son, Andrew, a NYC denizen, would be our de facto city guide (and expert NYC subway system navigator).

It’s still hard for us to believe we did all we did in less than two days!


DAY ONE 


On our way to Coffeemania 

We arrived in the city at noon, lucky to secure an early check-in at the hotel. Soon after hitting the street, we noticed the perfumes of various ethnic food carts wafting in the air. While on our way to Bryant Park, just two blocks from our hotel, we decided to start out with a mid-day snack.

Spontaneity often breeds impulsiveness. So before we did that, we made an unplanned stop at the box office of the Nederlander Theatre, right next door to the Hampton Inn (story of this unexpected stop to be continued later).

We had heard about Coffeemania, which recently opened across from the park. Known for its coffee, of course, this contemporary American eatery (with French, Russian and Asian influences) also serves artisanal cocktails. We got our adrenalin fix with an excellent pour-over Ethiopian coffee that didn’t even require cream or sugar—and couldn’t resist one of the sweet temptations.

Smetannyk Cake at Coffeemania
Smetannyk Cake at Coffeemania – Layered Sour Cream Cake

Next stop: Bryant Park 

Bryant Park is just across Sixth Avenue on the same street (41st St.) as the Hampton by Hilton.

The green space at the park was greener than green because our arrival happened to coincide with the first day of the season, when it opens to the public as a lawn and picnic area (it’s also used as an ice skating rink in the winter).

Southwest entrance to Bryant Park at 41 St and Sixth Avenue
Southwest entrance to Bryant Park at 41 St and Sixth Avenue

The park is a delightful place to wander, meet a friend, or simply relax, surrounded by graceful trees, colorful flowerbeds, kiosks for coffee and snacks, an alfresco bar, a sit-down restaurant, and eight monuments, including one of poet William Cullen Bryant, after whom the park is named.

Statue of William Cullen Bryant in Bryant Park
Statue of William Cullen Bryant in Bryant Park
Le Carrousel at Bryant Park
Le Carrousel at Bryant Park’
Green space at Bryant Park
Green space at Bryant Park

Bryant Park is probably most notable as a virtual “bookend “to the New York Public Library, which is just next door. Once a potter’s field, the park is now a jewel showcasing the success of public-private park collaboration.

One interesting curiosity: After a recent $300,000 renovation, Bryant Park is noted for having the most luxurious public restroom (I guess anywhere).

Visiting the Mothership: The New York Public Library 

The flagship building of the New York Public Library, adjacent to the park, is a stunning Beaux-Arts building that first opened in 1911. Its architecture and collections inside are so diverse and massive that we could spend months inside and not get bored. Its proportions are that of a small city.

Patience and Fortitude are the two world-renowned marble lions outside the New York Public Library (the author next to one of them)
Patience and Fortitude are the two world-renowned marble lions outside the New York Public Library (the author next to one of them)

Our timing was fortuitous again. We were lucky to catch a small but beautifully curated exhibit called Love in Venice, a collection of the library’s etchings, watercolors, letters and more—that portrays Venice as a cultural nexus of love, romance and passion.

Entrance to the Love in Venice exhibit at the New York Public Library
Entrance to the Love in Venice exhibit at the New York Public Library

Always one protest or another

On our way to Central Park, we found ourselves “in line” with anti-Trump protestors who seem to occupy the space across from Trump Tower permanently.

Presidential Protest on Fifth Avenue across from Trump Tower
Presidential Protest on Fifth Avenue across from Trump Tower

Dinner at Jungsik, a touch of Korea

Slowed down by the protestors, we made a beeline to Tribeca (downtown) via taxi when we found out we could get a table at Jungsik. This two-star Michelin restaurant offers a contemporary twist on Korean cuisine. The fusion menu relies upon traditional ingredients and preparations but takes them elsewhere. Beautifully presented and tasty! Worth the trip!

Amuse bouche at Jungsip
Amuse bouche at Jungsip

DAY TWO


Always a parade 

Before we descended the subway station on our way downtown, a parade with hundreds of colorful marchers dressed in yellow and blue were heading down 42St. We learned (after the fact) that this was the 25th annual Falun Dafa Parade, which drew 10,000 practitioners of this Chinese spiritual practice to the city.

Falun Dafa Parade on 42nd Street
Falun Dafa Parade snarls traffic on 42nd Street

Orchard Street on the Lower East Side

Via the M train, we headed to the Lower East Side (LES) to introduce Andrew to our familial roots. Like other waves of immigrants, our grandparents first came here after arriving from Europe. When I was a child, my parents took me shopping here on Sundays. The old-time vendors pioneered discounts before the big box stores.

View of an old building on Orchard Street through the front window of Russ & Daughters
View of an old building on Orchard Street through the front window of Russ & Daughters

Russ & Daughters

This venerable appetizing store has experienced a renaissance, adding two new locations: one at the Jewish Museum of Fifth Avenue and another at the Russ & Daughters Café on Orchard Street.

Old photograph of the appetizing store
Old photograph of the Russ & Daughters appetizing store

To avoid the lunchtime queues that stretch into the street, we arrived for brunch and indulged in a sinfully delicious platter of smoked fishes and pickled vegetables served on an oversized wooden platter, washed down by old-fashioned egg creams.

The "Hattie Platter" at Russ & Daughters
The “Hattie Platter” at Russ & Daughters

Eldridge Street Museum

We didn’t have time for the one-hour tour, so we opted for a self-guided one. Jerry’s now-deceased mom told us stories about her single mom who observed holidays at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, now a museum and National Historic Landmark.

Magnificent stained glass window above the altar at the Eldridge Street Museum
Magnificent stained glass window above the altar at the Eldridge Street Museum
Sanctuary at the Eldridge Street Synagogue
Sanctuary at the Eldridge Street Synagogue

We imagined what the neighborhood was like then. Now the synagogue is located plum in the center of Chinatown. Built in 1887, this is an off-the-beaten path architectural gem, historically significant as the first house of worship built in America by eastern European Jews.

The Tenement Museum 

The Tenement Museum tells the story of the waves of successive immigrants who made the Lower East Side their home and created one of the greatest melting pots in the world. We toured a preserved tenement building and learned about the lives of its once-inhabitants.

Exterior of the Tenement Museum at the corner of Orchard and Delancey Streets
Exterior of the Tenement Museum at the corner of Orchard and Delancey Streets
One of the Tenement Museum's preserved buildings
One of the Tenement Museum’s preserved buildings

Pylos, a touch of Greece 

When Andrew’s colleague at work (who hails from Cypress) entertains Mediterranean visitors, he brings them to Pylos Restaurant in the East Village. Andrew brought us here before and we returned to savor a fresh fish dinner under an atmospheric ceiling of clay pots.

Hundreds of terra cotta pots dangle from the ceiling at Pylos Restaurant in the East Village
Hundreds of terra cotta pots dangle from the ceiling at Pylos Restaurant in the East Village
Haloumi sote me stafylia kai tsipouro - thick slices of sautéed haloumi cheese finished with greek grappa and served with grapes
Haloumi sote me stafylia kai tsipouro (Thick slices of sautéed haloumi cheese finished with greek grappa and served with grapes)

The Grand Finale: War Paint 

Remember that ticket booth I told you about? When we popped into the theater box office, we were able to snag fourth-row tickets to see Broadway legends Patti Lupone and Christine Ebersole in War Paint, the musical. The play tells the story of the rivalry between cosmetic giants Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden.

Marquee above Nederlander Theatre
Marquee above Nederlander Theatre on 41st Street
The tickets we snagged
The tickets we snagged

I’d been searching online for tickets for a couple of months only to find that the prices were exorbitant, the seats were bad, or both. When these great tickets were available and far more affordable than online, we were thrilled! After running up to our room to freshen up before the show, the line to enter the theater was just steps away from our hotel door.

We loved the music, the set, the costumes, a perfect ending for a perfect Seekender weekend!

A shout-out for spontaneity

The next morning, we drove home exhausted but exhilarated. We loved the richness of a city that has been continuously shaped by waves of immigrants. We’re convinced that for travelers, there’s a close relationship between spontaneity and serendipity.


IF YOU GO

What we love about the Hampton by Hilton Times Square Central:

    • Great mid-town location accessible to Bryant Park, Broadway, and public transportation
    • Well-managed property with friendly staff that knew our names after a two-day stay
    • City view rooms offer views of the Empire State Building
    • An observation deck on the roof at the 32nd floor from which you can see forever

 


Disclosure: As a member of the Ultimate Seekender team (the only empty nester Seekender), our weekend getaway in NYC was sponsored by Hampton by Hilton but all opinions expressed in this post are our own.

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20 Comments

  1. Perfect itinerary for a real tourist. You actually look quite touristy (is that a word?), Irene! And, the Library looks so similar to the Art Institute in Chicago.

  2. Wow! You really packed it in, but what a fabulous weekend. Yes, I think that public washroom is the nicest I’ve ever seen! And the amuse bouches at Jungsip made me do a double-take. Were they really on little rectangular platforms? Yes! You are so fortunate to live so close to NYC, which has so much to see.

  3. So amazing how you managed to do so many things in such a short time. I am seeing War Paint this weekend and am looking forward to it. And now that I have some of your other recommendations, you can bet I’ll be checking some of those out, too!

  4. What a great tour that you took us on! The photographs are great. I especially love the photograph of the breathtakingly beautiful star window at the Eldridge Street Museum and the one of the Sanctuary at the Eldridge Street Synagogue. Thank you for the wonderful tour. Isn’t NYC great!

  5. A spontaneous NYC getaway — always a good idea. You managed to fit in a few of my favorite things to do in the city and gave me a few new ideas. The Hampton sounds like a nice choice, especially for views and location.

  6. Parades, protests, museums, and a couple stellar restaurant reviews: what more could you ask for from a staycation in New York. It sounds like you had an excellent guide (hurray for kids and public transit) and some good Hampton Inn accommodations.

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