I was in love with New York. I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and never love anyone quite that way again.
I fell in love with New York City at the age of 21. My roommate and I attended a New Year's party at Webster Hall and we had one of those random, New York nights weaving in and out of different crowds and neighborhoods. It was an unusually warm New Year so New York in the early morning felt special. As a girl growing up in New Jersey, New York was a 40 minute train ride away. At 22, I interned at the Met Life building on top of Grand Central commuting by bus. Each time the bus curves towards and away from the New York City skyline, I also smile. Post college, I accepted a job in New Jersey and would take a day or two to explore the city every few months. I eventually ended up working in New York City, but the grind of the daily commute, the constant push of tourists when all you wanted to do was get to your office got to me and I fell out of love with New York. I admired New York from afar, enjoying the skyline and the quietness that came with it. Add another year or two and I'm now back into falling in love with New York, but now with new eyes. What follows are tips on how to enjoy New York city without generating too much waste. I call this being a conscious traveler. My ask is to fall in love with New York, but don't leave it broken-hearted with waste and trash.
Eat All The Food, Drink All The Coffee
I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.
In New York, there is no shortage of food. Whether you are looking for something ethnic, something quick or something totally on trend, you'll find it in New York. What this also means is that dining in New York can be a very wasteful event, but it doesn't have to be.
If you want local veggies, fruit and meats, heads to the Union Square Farmer's Market which happens all year long on Saturdays. During the summer, you can find many more farmer's markets spread throughout the city. This is an easy way to get some unpackaged, local produce. If you are lucky, grab an in-season New York apple or a New Jersey fresh tomato to savor.
There are now many farm-to-table restaurants in New York. A quick search will get you a list, but here are two places where you can grab a bite without generating tons of disposable plastic: Dig Inn, Sweetgreen and Bareburger. Both offer lots of veggie friendly options. Opt to stay-in and save a disposable fork from being used.
New York runs on coffee and there's definitely no shortage of caffeine flowing through the streets. While tempting, skip the corner cart coffee touting the "World's Best Coffee" and instead find a laptop friendly cafe with to-stay options throughout the city. Of course, you can bring your reusables and get your coffee to-go, but sometimes the best part of New York is the people watching.
No lie that water is marketed with such zeal in New York that you'd think you are drinking some crazy elixir, but alas, New York tap water is actually one of the best in the country. So good that you will actually find it bottled and sold at the nearby convenience store. Alas, skip the insanity and opt to get your water bottles refilled at the many fine establishments in New York. From the cafes to the local bars, ask nicely to quench your thirst. Many establishments offer specific water faucets and you can also fill up at your hotel faucet. A hidden gem of a water faucet is inside the Restoration Hardware store in the Flatiron District. (Good bathroom too!). Unlike European countries, water is served by default if you are sitting down for your meal so take advantage of that and skip the $4 bottles of water.
Oh, lastly for those that are looking for that chocolate chip cookie. It's at Levain Bakery. It will be doled out fresh from the ovens into a paper bag or bring your own container. The cookies are pretty hefty so prepare to split it with someone and walk off the calories at Central Park.
For those looking for the best hot chocolate, it's at City Bakery and yes they offer to-stay mugs with freshly made marshmallows. If you head there during February you can catch a different hot chocolate flavor each day of the month. Enjoy!
Shop Til You Drop
Of course, you can't go to New York without shopping. If you come from a place with a good dollar conversion ratio, then you will absolutely luck out with some many shopping opportunities not only in Manhattan, but around the neighboring boroughs. For this post though, I wanted to instead focus on the many thrift stores that are in the New York City (Manhattan) area. As you know, buying secondhand is a great move for the environment. Not only will it allow you to reuse and reduce new resources from needing to be made, it's also a great way to find good deals on major brands at half the price AND support local charities and organizations. As with all things in New York, trends come and go pretty quickly so the revolving door of fashion is pretty quick, but if you find those classics, you'll be on your way to a stylish closet.
Here's my pick for great thrift stores in NYC.
Housing Works is a non-profit fighting AIDS and homelessness. Donations and purchases fund their mission to fight these two crises. I like this organization for their mission, but also because they have some really good, quality stuff. They have several locations in the city and most of their stores have a wide range of items from clothing, furniture to household items. I love the Soho location because it's also next to their bookstore where you can find great books, but also attend events and lectures there. Depending on which neighborhood you are at may also dictate some of the things you will find. I found that some higher end pieces could be found in the Soho and Upper East side location. The Gramercy location appears to have more furniture. Find their many locations here.
Goodwill is know throughout the country as an organization that helps educate and employ individuals. Goodwill has a few locations in the city. The 14th street location is fairly large. If you are looking for mainstream basics from mall brands like Banana Republic, Gap or Forever 21, then you can find it here at half the cost. Find their locations here.
I also like Stella Dallas for their quality and fairly priced pieces. They have a good range of 1940's and 1950's pieces, but as I am not into that style, they do still have basics like vintage silk shirts for $20 or when I was there recently 100% wool shetland sweaters for $50. For more casual looks, slightly rocker, head to L Train Vintage on the East Village and outside the boroughs. Good selection of casual items like flannels, jean jackets, sweaters and items that you can make your own, unique NY look. Probably a place to go into if you are looking for an outfit for a show.
For other wares, head to Chinatown. No I don't mean for the knick knacks. Chinatown has a large section of restaurant supplies. Instead of getting the marketed version at Crate & Barrel, you can find good quality finds at these restaurant wholesalers. You may get lucky and find it plastic free too since it's mostly in bulk.
Of course, you know to skip the bag and bring your own tote for your hauls.
Take In the View
I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible.
So for me the best view of New York City is from the Jersey side. For a $3 dollar train ride, you can head to Hoboken, Jersey City or Weehawken and catch a glimpse of the New York skyline. To find the best locations, check this post.
Of course, New York has so much more to offer and sometimes a few days here isn't enough. Take in in stride, I'm sure you will be back.