Cheap, tasty, heathy food and consistent quality in good locations. We always order the meze which consists of about 12 small dishes and is great value for $13. Wine is cheap too. Only drawback is the limited seating so sometimes you have to wait at busy times. Branches in Castro, Fillmore and Noe Valley.
When people mock the old towers' design, I disagree and remember one beautiful aspect in particular: the observation deck used to be open in the evenings but very few people seemed to know that. So, if you took a train downtown to WTC and walked through the (by then almost deserted) subway past the closed shops, you could take a lift ride up the South Tower and be one of the handful of visitors.
In the heatwave of August 1999, this was the only place in the whole of Manhattan with breeze and bearable temperatures. Standing on top of the world looking at the millions of moving little lights below, taking photographs which are now history and feeling my dress flap in the wind while the city sweltered, I was in paradise. When the building died, a big part of me died with it. This is for those of you who have not experienced it.
Amazing bagels, fresh and hot. Not those doughy bricks that they sell in the carts. www.ess-a-bagel.com/ there are two queues, one for bagels only and one for bagels with stuff. Make sure you get in the right line and be know sure you know what you want before you get to the counter!
359 1st Avenue New York, NY 10010 Phone: 212-260-225
Two pizza joints worth seeking out. In my opinion Lombardis is for tourists - you queue for hours for what can often be a very underwhelming pie. Look at www.sliceny.com/ for more in depth debate on this important topic.
Di Fara Pizza 1424 Avenue J, Midwood, Brooklyn 718-258-1367 or Una Pizza Napoletana 349 E. 12th St. (East Village) between First and Second Aves. 212-477-995
For the best food at knock-down prices (and for colourful, mainly gay, San Fran locals) head for Chow's in Castro where they are queuing down the street every night of the week; but never mind, the waiting staff will direct you to an adjacent bookshop from which they will call you when your table is free. The food is great, the portions are gargantuan, the service is brilliant and the bill is miniscule.
215 Church St; tel: 415-552-2469;
Directions: Take the bus from the centre of San Fran and get off at Castro - turn left and it's a couple of hundred yards down on the left. Or, Take the K,L,M or J Church Underground Muni Metro and get off at Church (Street) Station. Chow is on the south side of Market Street.
Big Onion does thematic walking tours in the city. I've done their immigrant New York, Lower East Side and Central Park walks in the last couple of years, and they are not to be missed if you want to learn about the history and culture of the city. The tours are led by specialists in New York City history and travelers can check the schedule online. you should really try to squeeze one in when you are there.
schedule and tour descriptions at bigonion.com
A quintessential Lower East Side bar. Cool but not in a too-cool-for-school sense. Trashy but in a retro suburban American living room way. A top mixture of locals, visitors, workers and hipsters all quenching their thirst on $1.50 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon at the tiny bar. Very fond memories of working downtown during a harsh New York winter and venturing out in a balaclava to brave the elements in search of a drink. This bar was always the first port of call. Great jukebox, great characters.
123 Rivington Street (between Essex and Norfolk St)
One of the lesser-known Smithsonian museums, containing American crafts and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present. Much smaller and less crowded that the main Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, the Renwick is on Pennsylvania Avenue, not far from the White House. It also has one of the classiest gift shops going.
americanart.si.edu/renwick/index.cfm Nearest Metro stations Farragut North (Red Line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange Lines)
American pancakes aren't the same as English ones: they're much fluffier, and often have blueberries in them. Always served with maple syrup, and often as a side order with a fried breakfast, they're the best way to start the day.
Your local diner
Toys in Babeland is a sex shop in which you'd be happy to be seen by a neighbour from home. Single men, single women and couples will all feel fine here - straight or gay. It's a fun, interesting store.
Soho, Lower East Side; www.toysinbabeland.com
The Toys R Us in Times Square is actually worth a visit. Besides having more toys than Santa, it also has a giant ferris wheel ($4 per ride - ouch!). Don't miss the Candy Land section by the anamatronic dinosaur. There you can choose your own color M&Ms.
Broadway & 7th Ave.
If you're with kids, don't miss the playgrounds in Central Park - 21 in all. They're mostly all newly built (or restored), safe and imaginative. Start with the two north of the zoo, then have lunch at the model boat lake - officially called the Conservatory Water.
5th Ave. & E67th, E71st sts.
liqieria is the place for juices, smoothies, soups, sandwiches and more! With juices such as Immune Rocket Booster (Carrot, celery, beet, ginger and certified organic herbal blends) and smoothies with bananas, organic peanut butter, vanilla soy milk, and shredded coconut (The Bulldozer) this place has earned a reputation as the best juice bar in New York. I had one of their juices for breakfast, then went for a six hour walk before feeling slightly hungry again...amazing stuff, I tell you!
170 Second Avenue (11th Street) phone: 1-212-358-0300 Tube: F train to Lower East Side/Second Avenue
Bump is a gay/mixed bar and restaurant in Center City. Go for happy hour (5-7pm) when all cocktails are $3, or go later for dinner. I recommend the crab cakes with remoulade, rice and wilted spinach.
1234 Locust Street Philadelphia 19107;
Philadelphia is where the US Constitution was written and signed, making it a major tourist attraction not just for school parties. The area around Independence Hall, where it was actually signed, is devoted to telling the history of the site and the constitution. Most attention is focused on visiting the Liberty Bell and being guided around the historical buildings, but I enjoyed the museum devoted to the constitution much more.
'Museum' makes it sound dusty and antiquated, but what this is, is a multi-media festival, charting the history of the United States through the constitution, its upholders and detractors, and the battle to amend it. The experience starts with a live-action show, telling visitors about the circumstances that led up to the signing of the Constitution. You then go up to the gallery, where interactive displays allow visitors to be sworn in as President or become a Supreme Court Justice, and there are sound and visual displays alongside more traditional glass cases of artefacts. The story is told through the battles of the times - about slavery and states' rights, votes for women, prohibition, desegregation and civil rights, the Equal Rights amendment, right up to the present-day debate about gay marriage.
After travelling through the displays, visitors get a chance to add their names to the constitution, in the giant visitors' book, standing among the statues of the original signers. I can't think of a UK museum that so powerfully demonstrates the impact of politics and political decisions. This is a must-see on any visit to Philadelphia, for adults and children alike.
A revolving rooftop cocktail lounge/restaurant with absolutely stunning views over Manhattan. The full revolution takes about an hour and is particularly magical at night whilst enjoying a cocktail in style - not cheap, but well worth it - and the sensation of sitting inside a panoramic postcard of Manhattan. Particularly enjoyable if you are nosy is peering into the rooms of a high rise residence as you pass by...
At the top of the Marriott Marquis Hotel, Times Square, Midtown Manhattan. Access via the lift in the main lobby
If there more than 3 of you and luggage, 1 taxi is not enough. 2 costs $100 dollars each way. Limos? $111 dollars including tip and they were there even when we were 4 hours late! Outstanding
Internet trawl; book in advance, cost deducted the day you travel
If you can get a hire car (or a New York based friend) to drive you north of NYC then you MUST visit this hippy throw-back village. If you talk to locals in the shops they will tell you stories about Dylan, the Band (and their stay at The Big Pink) and THE 1960's festival. A must for all 50-plussers who watched it all on TV in the UK. A major nostaglia trip is guaranteed!
About 50 miles north of NYC
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