Though I only had but one night in the Plaza Hotel channeling my inner Eloise, SVV and I extended our long weekend in New York City last month so we had additional days to enjoy one of my most treasured cities.
But as a former Manhattan resident, even a long weekend is a tough amount of time to cram all of my favorite activities into, though we sure gave it our all.
Plus, staying at the Plaza Hotel in Midtown meant that we were a stone’s throw to many tourist attractions SVV and I had never done—and still others that I’d only tackled on my very first visit to the Big Apple some 20 years ago. And while this itinerary doesn’t necessarily encompass every tourist stop in town, I hope it’s a mix of must-dos and new-to-yous that you can refer to on your next city getaway to New York City.
We took Amtrak over from Boston, hopped a yellow cab from Penn Station, then dropped our luggage off in Midtown at the Plaza Hotel. While we waited, we wandered through the subterranean Plaza Food Hall and snacked on treats from its many vendors, then took a stroll through Central Park.
One of the Plaza’s greatest assets is its location: Its 58th Street entrance literally opens out onto Central Park. Walking around Central Park with the first hints of a full blown spring peeking from the branches and ground is a great way to orient yourself and also to get a bit of a respite from the frenetic energy of a city eight-million-people strong that never rests.
When we finally got the call that our room was ready late afternoon, we were lingering nearby in the park and made a beeline for the check-in desk not wanting to miss a moment in our palatial suite.
After some downtime in our room, we headed all the way to the bottom level to Todd English Food Hall, which is basically my wildest dreams all under one roof: nine different food stations— Ocean Grill & Oyster Bar, Noodle & Dumpling Bar, Pasta Bar, Sushi Bar, The Grill, Taqueria, Pizza, Cheese & Charcuterie, Wine Bar and Patisserie—so at the end of the day, I didn’t have to choose.
Despite the station model, you still have a dedicated server, which makes the experience even better as you don’t have to go from counter to counter ordering separately. We had a little bit of everything, from pierogis to a California roll, a fig and prosciutto flatbread to tuna tartare wonton tacos and cocktails.
After dinner, we retreated to the Rose Club above the lobby and had a round of Manhattans (apropos) and listened to some live jazz before we turned in for the night.
Dreading checking out of this palatial utopia, we spent the morning enjoying our suite at the Plaza before checkout time at noon, at which point we deposited our luggage with the bellhop and went to the hotel’s Palm Court for afternoon tea.
High tea is an affair at every Fairmont property—by the way, did you know the Plaza is owned by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts? Yeah, I didn’t either until this trip!—and an event I don’t take lightly.
We ordered the whole shebang: the New Yorker Tea for SVV, and the Champagne Tea for me. What I really wanted to order was the Children’s Eloise Tea, but figured I might get a few strange looks if I did!
I wanted to sit around and people-watch all afternoon—the Plaza is excellent for doing such—but I knew if I didn’t get up and moving, I’d fall into the inevitable food coma.
Our stomachs full, we walked off our indulgences and made our way to Rockefeller Center where we had purchased tickets the previous day to go straight to the Top of the Rock (tip: go online to buy yours in advance or pick them up from the ticket office as slots are limited and often sell out).
Once up there, I tried to recall if I’d ever actually been to the Top of the Rock before. If so, I don’t remember it and was wowed by the view, which I personally think is much better than what the Empire State Building offers.
You get a much broader 360-degree vantage point, plus a bird’s-eye view of Central Park. Also, there are three different levels from which to view your surrounds. It’s pretty epic.
After our trip to the top, we made our way back to the Plaza to say good-bye and collect our bags, then headed down to the Financial District where we took our time exploring Wall Street and the new World Trade Center, which I’ve yet to go in.
I had one major priority on this trip, and that was to see the striking white Oculus, a 9/11 memorial and functional train station designed by Santiago Calatrava, a world-famous Spanish architect known for his structural forms that resemble organic, bleached organisms.
The project, $4 billion and a decade-and-a-half in the making, finally reopens the entire World Trade Center region of the city to foot traffic.
We also visited the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, though we didn’t venture inside, choosing instead to people watch and remember; I challenge you to find a more poignant spot than this very site, which invokes such varied emotions from its visitors. For those who have more time to spare, I’d definitely recommend incorporating the museum into your NYC plans.
By late afternoon, we were getting thirsty and a quick Yelp search told me we were but blocks away from Clinton Hall Beer Garden. I’d never heard of this place, but apparently I was the only one as it was absolutely brimming with finance workers and other young folks fresh off of Wall Street.
They also sell Walter White’s Crystal Methadonuts, which are injectable balls of goodness served with Nutella, raspberry and salted caramel filling.
The friends we stayed with the remainder of our weekend live in Bushwick, so after we dropped our bags off at their house, we walked just across the street for dinner at Roberta’s. It’s a bit of a commute if you’re staying at the Plaza—or anywhere else in Manhattan, for that matter—but this is one of those hipster destination restaurants that’s totally worth the trip over the bridge, and you must order off-menu and have the Bee Sting pie. You can thank me later.
When we awoke on Saturday morning, our host Nicole, SVV and I took the L into the Village, getting off at Union Square then walking over to Dough, which sells donuts the size of our heads in flavors like Dulce de Leche, Mocha-Almond Crunch and Hibiscus. We devoured them within another excellent people-watching hub, Union Square, which is right nearby and was my very first neighborhood to live in back in 2005.
To offset the morning’s sugar, we lunched at Sweetgreen, which was music to my stomach with all its healthy quinoa bowls, then set out through the Village. The Village has long been my favorite part of Manhattan: so many charming streets and alleys tucked away amid bodegas and the crush of people. And dogs, lots and lots of dogs. If strollers are segregated to the Upper West Side, the Village is where New York’s canine population dwells.
Fitting then that we found ourselves down near Tompkins Square Park, where we paused to watch the pups play, thinking how much Ella would love all the sights (and smells) of New York City.
Then, we continued south down to the gritty corridor of the Lower East Side, where we were looking for SVV some quality T-shirts to expand his collection.
We came up empty—seriously, where are all the graphic Tee shops in NYC, pray tell?—but we did find a bar and some craft beer to boot at Top Hops, so I consider that a win.
Dinner that night was at an iconic Village spot, Café Loup, that most out-of-towners would never stumble upon organically. We noshed on authentic French cuisine in this charming bistro with old friends before catching the subway back to Brooklyn again to sleep.
Since we were staying out in Brooklyn and had an early afternoon flight, we spent our final morning trying out a buzzy new restaurant that was so new and so hipster, it didn’t even have a sign out front. Carthage Must Be Destroyed is its name (any Classics lovers out there?), and though the signage was a bit off-putting—“no photos,” they instructed; “no touching any of the table centerpieces,” they said—ultimately the food was great and I’d return here in a heartbeat.
Bushwick is just 20 minutes from LaGuardia, where we fly in and out of via Southwest from Nashville, so we hopped a Lyft to the airport after brunch, excited that we already have our next long weekend in New York return mapped out for August and stoked to tackle the rest of our Manhattan to-do list then.