Greetings, Internet Stranger, and welcome to the best things to do on the Upper West Side in New York City! Sometimes the UWS has a reputation for being a little…dull. It’s a residential neighborhood, and so some folks think that means it’s just old people pushing their grocery carts around and yelling about Kids These Days.
Well sure, you can find some of that, but the UWS is so much more! After all, it has the Museum of Natural History, it’s right next to Central Park, and it’s within spitting distance of some of the best restaurants in NYC. (But please don’t spit at the restaurants.
Join me for a day of the best things to do on the Upper West Side, and I guarantee you’ll learn to love it as much as I do.
Note: We’re going to have dinner in Harlem, which is just north of the UWS, so no cranky emails about how Harlem isn’t the right neighborhood. It’s a convenient spot for dinner when you’ve spent the day exploring the best things to do on the Upper West Side, and it’s one of my favorite places, so I’m bringing you along!
Best Things to Do on the Upper West Side
How To Get There
Now, I wish I knew where you lived, Internet Stranger, because I could send you a box of New York’s best gems and minerals. But sadly, I do not, and so I can’t tell you exactly how to get from your home to New York City so you can find the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
However, if you need to take a plane or car to get to New York City, I recommend Expedia for the best way to find the cheapest flight or car rental, depending on how you want to get around. Just click here to start looking for the best possible deals on your flight or car rental, so you can head out to find the best things to do on the Upper West Side ASAP.
Best Things to Do on the Upper West Side
Where to Stay?
If you’re a tourist in New York City, you’ll probably be staying in a hotel while you explore the best things to do on the Upper West Side. I mean, maybe you have a kind relative who will let you crash in their spare room, but that kind of space is rare in Manhattan.
I recommend staying in the Artezen Hotel in Lower Manhattan. It’s very easy to get to the best things to do on the Upper West Side from here. Just take the C train up to the Museum of Natural History, and you’ll be at the start of this itinerary in less than half an hour. Plus, the rooms are affordable and cozy, and there’s free snacks, coffee, and fancy bath products in your room.
Best Things to Do on the Upper West Side
What to Pack
- Comfortable and adorable sandals for strolling around the best things to do on the Upper West Side
- Stylish boots because the weather in NYC can be a little unpredictable, and you always want to be prepared if it rains while you’re looking for the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
- A cell charger so you can take photos of all the best things to do on the Upper West Side
- A light rain jacket with a hood if it’s fall or spring
- An umbrella that is tough enough to stand up to aggressive NYC winds. (Fun fact, in NYC the wind yells, “I’m walkin’ here!”)
- If you’re looking for a guidebook to NYC, this is my favorite choice. It will introduce you to even more of the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
- My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly why travel is better than a man.
- My favorite book set on the UWS is Rosemary’s Baby. The creepy apartment building in the book is based on a real building, The Dakota. You can easily go see it on this best things to do on the Upper West Side itinerary, but maybe don’t visit if you’re thinking about having a baby.
- I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age, and you don’t want to get stranded during your trip without help. You never know when extreme weather will strike or some other emergency. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by a devil baby while you’re exploring the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
Best Things to Do on the Upper West Side
Morning: Museum of Natural History
No list of the best things to do on the Upper West Side is complete without this glorious museum. The Museum of Natural History is dedicated to exploring human cultures, the natural world, and the known universe. That is literally everything that has ever happened or ever will happen. It’s an Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.
If the Metropolitan Museum of Art is where you go to find high art and culture, the Museum of Natural History is the place you go if you want to see big fish, stuffed animals, freaky rocks, and dino skulls. Also if you take the free docent tour, you might get a cool surprise at the end.
If you plan on seeing other popular attractions in NYC like the Empire State Building and the Met, I suggest getting the Citypass because it can save you almost 100 dollars on these attractions. If not, just buy your tickets directly from the museum’s website. And now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let me share with you…
Approximately top 5: Museum of natural history
1) Origami Tree (Christmas Only)
At 5 Borough Christmastime, which is what I and all right-thinking peoples call the season Christmas in NYC, the Museum of Natural History is home to a glorious holiday tree decorated with what seems like an infinite number of elaborate origami figures. There’s always a theme chosen; and the last year that I went, the theme was the ocean. So if you’ve ever wanted to see origami jellyfish, squid, sharks, and a yellow submarine, now is your chance.
Also if you have kids, it’s fun to take them to the nearby origami booth and watch them attempt to fold their own origami. Either they will succeed and end up with a splendid origami creation, or they won’t and you won’t have to waste your time buying them pointless origami kits that they’ll give up on after a couple of folds. It’s win/win!
If it’s not 5 Borough Christmas season, head to the first floor of the Museum of Natural History and get a selfie taken with a statue of Teddy Roosevelt, the only president born in Manhattan. Bully!
2) Blue Whale
If you’re looking to save a little money, don’t miss the free docent tours of the American Museum of Natural History. You don’t need to reserve ahead! You can just show up at the meeting point. If a Live Docent isn’t available, you can always use the app to take a free self-guided tour.
My docent was extremely knowledgeable and funny. She started by taking us to the blue whale, which is the most famous exhibition at the Museum of Natural History, and definitely one of the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
Apparently the blue whale is the largest animal ever, not because of its length, but because of its weight. Its heart weighs as much as a small car! A child could crawl through its blood vessels! I wonder if germs and viruses talk about us to their children the same way we talk to ours about the blue whale. I’d like to think I’m a majestic and intimidating figure to somebody.
Speaking of viruses, the blue whale is happy and healthy now because she got vaccinated. You can see the little Bandaid on her fin.
This display is both the saddest and the cutest in the Museum of Natural History. There used to be millions of bison roaming the United States. Many Native Americans depended on them for food and clothing.
But the United States government wanted to expand out West and build the transcontinental railroad. So they began a targeted campaign of slaughtering bison indiscriminately. Soon the number of bison was reduced from millions to a mere hundreds.
Fortunately the American Bison Society was started at the turn of the century to help save the bison. One of its founders was none other than our President/statue Theodore Roosevelt. The early society actually used the Bronx Zoo to help mate and restore the numbers of the bison. Then the bison were relocated out West.
So many of the bison you might meet in this country today are actually New Yorkers. (Our docent said you could tell because they were the rudest bison.)
Also, note the little bird on the bison’s back. This is a cowbird, the laziest birds in the world. They don’t fly; they just ride around forever on the bison’s back. I don’t understand that at all. If I were a bird, I would literally never stop flying.
4) Gems and Minerals
The Hall of Gems and Minerals, which was recently revamped, is one of the best things to do on the Upper West Side and quite possibly in the world. It has every gem or mineral you can think of, and some you cannot possibly think of. Above you can see the largest piece of stibnite on display in the world. Stibnite is more commonly known as antimony, and it’s used in inventions from safety matches to TV screens.
Our docent (I should just call her Ms. Frizzle) also told us that ancient Egyptians also used stibnite as medicine or cosmetics. This is a bad idea because stibnite is highly toxic. Ms. Frizzle warned us that if someone offers us a refreshing stibnite shake, we should turn it down. Too bad because I just drank a stibnite shake some stranger offered me. Woe is me, for I have been poisoned. Farewell cruel world!
I’m back and I’ll be writing the rest of this blog as a ghost. (BOOOOO!)
If you didn’t come to the Museum of Natural History for the gems or the blue whale, then it gots to be the dinosaurs, and the coolest dino we saw on display was the titanosaur. This behemoth was discovered in 2014 on the Mayo family ranch in Patagonia. Ms. Frizzle told us that the titanosaur had an extremely small brain relative to its size, so it probably wasn’t the most clever of creatures.
But brains aren’t the only thing that counts. I’m sure universities would be impressed by the titanosaur’s crazy long neck that stretches out the gallery door. That’s got to count for something on a resume.
24 Hour Treasure: Shark Teeth
Ms. Frizzle explained to us that sharks have a kind of conveyor belt of teeth in their mouths. If they lose one, another just pops us. A shark can have around 15,000 teeth in its life. To prove a point, she actually gave each person on the tour a fossilized shark tooth.
Now I carry it with me always in my change purse. If someone hassles me on the street, I can just pull out my shark tooth and sing the Jaws theme at them. This will make them run away, if only to get away from the Crazy Shark Tooth lady.
24 Hour Tip: Lunch at Peacefood
Please do not get lunch at the Museum of Natural History. None of the restaurants at the AMNH can be called one of the best things to do on the Upper West Side. Instead, leave the museum and walk a few blocks to Peacefood (the Uptown restaurant, not the Downtown restaurant), and get a tasty vegan lunch. Seriously, I am zero percent vegan, and I love this restaurant.
Peacefood is famous for their fries, so definitely get them as a side. I selected the Ultimate Burger to go with it, which I think is made with seitan. At least it tasted like seitan to me, but I’m not a professor of seitanology. Is seitan as yummy as beef? Well, not to me, but the toppings on the burger, like the spicy sauce, the rich avocado, and the crunchy sprouts made this an enjoyable sandwich nevertheless.
And on top of that, it felt healthy, which I really never feel after eating a burger and fries. But we’re going to spoil all that health with a dessert.
You could definitely get a vegan treat at the Peacefood Cafe, and I’m sure they’re tasty. But we’re heading off to Central Park, so perhaps you’ll want a slightly more decadent snack like my beloved chocolate peanut butter cookie from Levain Bakery, which is definitely one of the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
Of course you can get other baked goods here, but why would you want to? Isn’t a 6-ounce chocolate peanut butter cookie that melts in your mouth and also all over your hands good enough for you? Show a little gratitude.
As a bonus, Levain Bakery donates all their baked goods that aren’t sold at the end of the day to help feed the hungry. So now you can feel like you’re doing some good while you’re scarfing down a pound’s worth of cookies! This is quite a feat!
Best Things to Do on the Upper West Side
Afternoon: Central Park
Ah! Here we come to every New Yorker’s favorite place to spend a beautiful day: Central Park! It’s just a couple of feet from the Museum of Natural History, it’s completely free, and it’s an unbelievably odd place to wander. There are so many cool hidden gems and secret treasures here that it’s easy to forget you’re in the biggest city in the United States once you begin to explore Central Park. You can’t say you’ve seen the best things to do on the Upper West Side without coming here.
Since I can’t be with you in person, I’ll just have to take you on a virtual tour of some of my favorite spots in Central Park…
Approximately Top 5: Central Park
1) Strawberry Fields
Earlier, I mentioned the famous Dakota apartment, right off Central Park, which inspired the creepy Bramford building in the book Rosemary’s Baby. But the Dakota is also famous for being the former home of John Lennon, who was murdered by a deranged fan right outside the building.
This IMAGINE mosaic was created as part of Strawberry Fields, a part of Central Park dedicated as a memorial to John Lennon. (It’s located very near the Dakota.) Often you can find people here playing Beatles tunes or otherwise paying their respects to one of the 20th century’s greatest musicians.
2) Get on the Water!
There’s so much water to see in Central Park, but the two biggest bodies are the Lake and the Reservoir. If it’s the Lake you’re interested, and you’re traveling with at least one other person, you might be interested in having that iconic Central Park experience and renting a rowboat from Loeb Boathouse.
If you’re on your own, you can get a great view of the lake from the cast iron “Ladies Pavilion”. (You do not need to be a lady to enter this pavilion.)
But my favorite body of water in Central Park is the Reservoir. (Yes, it looks this dramatic pretty much all the time.) This is a favorite jogging spot for New Yorkers; when I went to junior high in the area, we used to have our gym classes here. Better than some smelly gymnasium! I strongly feel a stroll around the Rez is one of the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
3) Belvedere Castle
So royalty was abolished in the United States ages ago, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have castles! I always assumed that Belvedere Castle, which you can see pictured above, was the ancestral home of Mr. Belvedere from TV’s Mr. Belvedere.
But apparently, Belvedere was just designed by the architects of Central Park, Olmstead and Law, to be a place where you could get a beautiful view of their gorgeous creation. (Belvedere means “beautiful view” in Italian.) You do have to walk up a few steps to get the best view from Belvedere Castle, but it’s definitely worth it!
4) Shakespeare Garden
Central Park is one of the most Shakespearean locations you’re going to find outside of the United Kingdom. After all, every summer, Shakespeare in the Park performs the works of the Bard for free at the beautiful open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. (Of course, nothing in this world is truly free; you need to either wait on a very long line for a grillion hours, or you need to win an online lottery to get the tickets.)
But you know what never has a line? The Shakespeare Garden near the Delacorte Theater. It’s also free and always open. All of the plants in this garden are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. So you can either lug around a massive copy of the complete works of Billy Shakes and try to locate all the plants yourself, or you can just tiptoe about and enjoy the beautiful blooms. Up to you how hard you want to make your life!
5) North Woods
The North Woods are definitely one of the wildest and most off-the-beaten-track spots in Central Park. In fact, the North Woods are the largest woodlands in all of Central Park, spanning more than 40 acres. It was meant to provide a natural environment where New Yorkers, especially those who could not afford vacation getaways, could frolic in a green space.
Nowadays, the North Woods are very popular for birders. I personally have never birded, but I love to come here to have a peaceful tramp or enjoy the foliage in autumn. Just keep in mind that birders prefer peace and quiet so their avian targets don’t get scared away. So keep your talking to a whisper here; birders are vicious when they are riled!
6) Central Park Conservatory Garden
The Central Park Conservatory Garden is one of Manhattan’s true hidden gems. The main botanical garden for New York City is in the Bronx, and in fact each borough has at least one botanical garden. But this is the best spot for flower peeping in Manhattan. After all, when you’re the most densely-populated area in the United States, it’s hard to find room for plant life!
The best thing about this garden is that it’s totally free! You just have to head to the entrance on 5th Avenue and pop on in to enjoy one of the most lovely and peaceful spots in NYC!
Best Things to Do on the Upper West Side
Evening: Red Rooster
I insist on dining at Red Rooster Harlem every time I spend a day looking for the best things to do on the Upper West Side. It’s located in Harlem, which is just north of the UWS, but I think Harlem is a better food neighborhood than the UWS, so I’d rather dine here.
Red Rooster makes excellent cocktails. Usually when I go out for a three-course dinner, I pair a cocktail with my appetizer and a glass of wine with my main course. But at Red Rooster, I got two cocktails instead.
24 Hour Treat: Muddy Waters
This first cocktail was called a Muddy Waters. It was made with vanilla bourbon, a Caribbean almond syrup called falernum, and sherry. It tasted like someone turned one of those Italian rainbow cookies into a cocktail. I’m a big believer into turning desserts into cocktails. Each is great on its own, so together they are especially amazing.
24 hour treat: fried chicken
My appetizer is a Harlem classic, chicken and waffles. This dish was supposedly invented when customers were out so late that it was the next morning. The restaurant wasn’t sure if they should get dinner or breakfast, so they got both! This take on chicken and waffles combines Nashville hot chicken with a sweet potato waffle. You can tell it’s inspired by Nashville hot chicken because they use the pickle on it.
I love how many different crunches this chicken has. There’s the light crunch of the waffle, the snappy crunch of the pickle, and the crackling crunch of the chicken skin. In fact, I think this dish should be called Captain Crunch. Feel free to steal that, Red Rooster!
But if you’re looking for something lighter, try the sweet potato soup. It tastes of pure sweet potato, but with a ton of fun crunchies on top to add interest.
24 hour treat: cornbread
The cornbread is one of the house specialties. It doesn’t come with the meal, but it’s worth a little extra. Usually the bread is served with apple butter, but sometimes during fall it’s served with pumpkin butter instead. Pumpkin and corn together are the most autumnal combination imaginable. I could practically see the colored leaves falling before my eyes as I bit into this.
24 Hour Treat: Shrimp and Grits
For my main course, I chose the shrimp and grits. These were given a bit of Louisiana flavor because there was a rich, spicy gumbo underneath the shrimp. Don’t worry if you are scared of spicy food; this is only mildly spicy. What’s exciting is the use of okra to thicken the shrimp and gs, plus the plumpness of the shrimp.
24 Hour Treat: Harlem Mule
So my second cocktail of the night was this frosty Harlem mule. It’s just like a Moscow mule, except you use bourbon instead of vodka. That makes sense to me. I don’t know that bourbon has ever really caught on in Moscow. And I can’t see there being a lot of Stolichnaya floating around during the Harlem Renaissance.
24 hour treat: donuts
The donut is Red Rooster’s signature dessert. You never know what kind of donut will be on the menu. On my most recent trip to Red Rooster, I enjoyed rich salted caramel donuts with a tangy raspberry lime sauce. This is the kind of dessert that makes you feel like a child at heart. And it’s pretty impressive a dessert could make me feel like a kid again, considering I am still a ghost. (BOOOOO!)
That’s the Best Things to Do on the Upper West Side!
What do you think are the best things to do on the Upper West Side? Do you think the Hall of Gems and Minerals is the best part of the Museum of Natural History, or are you wrong? And are devil babies real? Please email me at [email protected] and let me know.
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 Hours with the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
And there’s a million other things to do in New York City. Want to spend Christmas in New York? With the Brooklyn Bridge? What about 24 hours in Manhattan? How about the Bronx? Or the best museums in Manhattan? I’ve got you covered here!