When I landed in New York City last month, I exited the plane with a carry-on suitcase in one hand, a half-read novel in the other, and exactly 48 hours all to myself.
With three kids and a husband, I honestly can’t recall the last time I traveled alone –– or when I had the luxury of devouring a few hundred pages on the plane rather than juggling my usual in-flight roles of snack dispenser, sibling mediator and CEO (chief entertainment officer).
But it turns out that New York City –– a destination unlike anywhere else in the entire world and a city so vast and limitless that you could visit dozens of times and still not experience everything –– is the perfect escape for solo exploration.
Here are a few highlights from a whirlwind two days spent in a city that offered a refreshing reminder that sometimes the best travel itinerary is one that’s written by your own desires and curiosities.
Wandering through Williamsburg
Australia brought me to New York City. Well to Brooklyn, one of its five boroughs, to be exact. Last month I was invited to attend the launch event of Tourism Australia’s new global creative campaign inviting international travelers to plan an Australian trip, which took place in Williamsburg –– a funky Brooklyn neighborhood hugging the East River that’s sprinkled with eclectic shops, trendy restaurants, bustling bars, vibrant street art and repositioned 1800s-era buildings.
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The sitting still part of travel always makes me want to move. With the entire afternoon free to explore, I headed to nearby McCarren Park –– a sprawling 35-acre shady green oasis covering four city blocks. Filing in with people walking dogs and pushing babies in prams, I strolled a few miles along tree-lined paths looping around wide open fields, sports courts and a running track. I stopped in to McCarren ParkHouse to warm myself up from the brisk Brooklyn air with a Mike’s Hot Honey almond milk latte (made with Brooklyn-based chili-infused honey). Sipping the slightly spicy beverage, I continued on to Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn’s longest street lined with fashion boutiques, vintage shops, craft breweries and buzzing cafes. Two hours and six miles later, my feet were tired and I was famished, so I headed back to the hotel.
I’m a sucker for incredible hotels, and the Wythe Hotel –– a historic factory-turned-boutique hotel tucked in the heart of Williamsburg –– is one worth writing about. Inside my light-filled, industrial-chic, loft-style room, expansive floor-to-ceiling windows frame unobstructed views of New York City’s iconic skyline just across the river. Swoon-worthy architectural details like original brick walls, lofty pine ceilings and an enormous glass-wrapped rainfall shower combine with special touches like plush robes, a wooden writing desk and a full curated minibar to create the perfect Brooklyn base.
Downstairs at Le Crocodile, a cozy French-inspired brasserie, I tucked into a delicious late lunch of raw scallops with ginger and parsley from the fruits de mer menu and melt-in-your-mouth halibut bathing in beurre blanc. Upstairs at the hotel’s Bar Blondeau, I appropriately sipped a Manhattan as I witnessed a crimson sunset wash over the Manhattan skyline.
Morning at the MoMA
After a brief stint in Brooklyn, I headed to Manhattan where I’d spend the remainder of my brief trip. First stop? The Museum of Modern Art. I reserved a timed entry ticket online on the way to the MoMA and got there just as it opened. You could easily spend an entire day taking in all of the thought-provoking exhibitions, but if you’ve only got a couple of hours like I did, be sure to head to Floor 6 and wander through Wolfgang Tillmans: To look without fear (through Jan. 1, 2023) showcasing every imaginable genre of photography, spanning still lifes to social movements, captured through the artist’s lens for more than three decades. On Floor 3, don’t miss Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces (through Feb. 18, 2023) –– Just Above Midtown, known as JAM, was an art gallery open from the mid-‘70s to ‘80s where Black art flourished and the careers of many now-famous African American artists and artists of color were first launched. Barbara Kruger’s showstopping black and white immersive installation, located on Floor 2, lures visitors in with large-scale, perception-altering bold statements surrounding the themes of truth, belief and power.
I’ve only been to New York City three times, but during every visit, I’ve made it a point to eat at Gramercy Tavern. The restaurant, helmed by executive chef Michael Anthony, is a recipient of nine James Beard Awards, and if you get the chance to dine here, you will instantly know why. There weren’t any last-minute dinner reservations, but I was able to snag a table during the restaurant’s Greenmarket Lunch which offers a three course $72 prix fix menu. I started with the corn agnolotti with poached lobster and brown butter before selecting the savory swordfish served with broccolini and bok choy as my main, and finishing the lavish lunch with the best caramelized cheesecake I’ve ever tasted.
The High Line
The best place to walk off a three-course lunch? Head to the High Line –– the architecturally-enchanting public park built along the historic freight rail line hovering above Manhattan’s West Side. At this elevated public park, you can soak in nature, art and architecture as you wander along pathways fringed by native plantings and linger to admire magical cityscapes from viewing windows like the 10th Avenue Square and Overlook and the Flyover between 25th and 27th Streets. Free docent-led public tours are offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
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Stay Midtown at the Martinique
If you only have one night in Manhattan, choose where you stay wisely. The Martinique New York on Broadway, with its rich century-old history and recent restoration, offers a convenient Midtown South location nestled in the heart of Koreatown and positioned just steps from the Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue and Madison Square Garden. From the Martinque, located at 32nd and Broadway, everywhere I wanted to go was within walking distance (a mile, give or take), and if I needed to get somewhere faster, the hotel is perfectly situated to the subway.
Book a Broadway show
No matter how limited you are on time, put a Broadway show at the top of your New York City bucket list. On this trip, I saw the brand-new-to-Broadway bright and moving musical Kimberly Akimbo starring Tony Award winner Victoria Clark which tells the story of an upbeat Jersey teen who happens to look like a 72-year-old lady due to a genetic aging disorder. I laughed a lot, cried a little and loved every song-filled minute.
When you wander through Central Park, it’s easy to forget you’re smack dab in the middle of the country’s biggest city. I’d visited this green oasis of rolling hills and picturesque ponds once before with my kids, spinning around the iconic Central Park Carousel atop hand-carved and -painted horses, throwing a blanket down for a mid-summer picnic and exploring the Central Park Zoo. But this time, all I wanted to do was go for a solo run through this tranquil sanctuary. Before departing for the airport, I took a 12-minute, $2.75 subway ride to Central Park and set out on a five-mile run in the brisk sunshine. As the early morning light cast a dewy glow across the park, I ran past towering trees splashed in autumn shades of orange, gold and crimson, horses pulling fancy carriages, and city-dwellers fastidiously absorbed in their morning workout routines of walking, jogging and cycling.
And I couldn’t help but feel an enormous gratitude to be just one small dot inside sprawling Central Park surrounded by the most densely populated city in the country. It was in that moment that I realized how much I enjoy the rare chance to travel by myself –– and that in a place like New York City, it never really feels as if you are alone.
If You Go
Multiple airlines including Delta, JetBlue and American Airlines offer direct flights between Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
In Manhattan, book a room at the Martinique New York on Broadway –– a staple in the Midtown district since 1898. The Martinique will celebrate its 125th Anniversary in 2023, kicking off the celebration by offering $125 room rates throughout January and February. If Brooklyn is your base, book a room at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg.
Eat and Drink:
Indulge in a memorable meal at Gramercy Tavern. Craving Chinese? Café China, nested in Midtown occupying three levels of a 1930s brick building, serves mouth-watering Sichuan and Cantonese dishes. My favorites included the dan dan noodles, pork dumplings in chili oil and spicy ma po tofu. Sip an old fashioned or pickletini made with housemade pickle brine in the dimly-lit Lobby Bar at Ace Hotel New York. For an over-the-top sweet treat, head to Serendipity 3, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that serves up world-famous, big-as-your-face Frrrozen Hot Chocolates.
Riding the subway is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to get around the city and will cost you $2.75 instead of a $40 or $50 Lyft or Uber ride. What’s even easier? You don’t even need a Metro Card anymore –– just tap your contactless credit or debit card or smart device at the OMNY reader and proceed through the turnstile.