Several years ago I posted a walk around Chinatown, ending by expressing delight in how a walk of a few blocks in New York City can lead to an environment just as new as you might get by taking a lengthy plane ride. However, in all my time in the city, I had somehow never managed to make it to the Lunar New Year celebration until recently when I went to Chinatown to celebrate the the beginning of the Year of the Dog. My daughter and I arrived about an hour ahead of the parade start on a cold and drizzly day, and were able to be right up against the barricade. By the time the parade started, though, the crowd was packed for at least a block, so I do recommend getting there early if you choose to go.
Traditions for the Lunar New Year include the color red (symbolizing joy as well as virtue, prosperity, and truth), giving money or presents in small envelopes, and making noise to scare off evil spirits. Dragon or lion dances also represent a way to scare off bad things and welcome in a safe and prosperous new year. All of these are represented at Chinatown’s parade. Being at the front of the crowd, my pockets were stuffed by the end with small envelopes filled with tea or candy, fortune cookies, and even a red folding reusable shopping bag with the year of the dog on it. People watching the parade had bought small popping firecrackers that were set off by throwing them against the ground, and huge tubes that shot confetti for 10 or 20 feet.
The parade started out with the NYC police and fire departments, including (incongruously, to me at least) firefighters in kilts with bagpipes playing “76 Trombones.” The rest of the parade was much more what I had expected, however.
The Dragon/Lion dances were my favorite parts of the parade. My daughter pointed out that at times the dance seemed to be very similar to twerking!
The Year of the Dog was prominently celebrated, including a few actual dogs. People born in the Year of the Dog are said to share characteristics with dogs, such as loyalty and exuberance.
I loved this dog made up entirely of balloons.
This group held a series of cut outs of various breeds of dogs.
Another dog, this time a person in costume.
I was interested to find out that this Year of the Dog (a Brown Earth Dog year) is predicted to be a good year, but an exhausting one. The antidote to a stressful year is apparently to wear at least some red every day. I tend to do that already, so here’s to a good Year of the Dog!
As a New Yorker, it was thrilling to watch One World Trade rise for about a decade before its official opening in 2015. I have written before about this revitalized area of the city, now including the Oculus, Westfield and Brookfield shopping areas, and One World Trade, in addition to the reflecting pools on the footprints of the original towers of One World Trade and Two World Trade and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
On a recent cold and clear January day, I visited the One World Trade Observatory and found that it really does provide an enjoyable perspective on the city for those who live here or know it well, in addition to the traditional role of being an attraction for tourists. The entrance to the Observatory is well signed, and can be found either by entering the building from street level on the West Street side or by coming through the Oculus and traveling underground through the Westfield Mall, coming from the east. Tickets can be purchased in advance (which I recommend to save time) or at the ticket office. Tickets are scanned, and then you go through airport-level security. Not only is this not surprising, but it is what we should want security to be, entering such an iconic building. If they find something they don’t allow in the Observatory (my companion had a bottle opener/corkscrew) it is kept until you return, at which time you produce the claim ticket and get it back. As you enter the queue for the elevators, they have done a wonderful job of immersing you in the process of building One World Trade with video interviews from those who helped design and build it. You walk through an example of the Manhattan schist that forms the foundation of this and other skyscrapers in the city. Finally, it is time to enter an elevator.
In the elevator, the walls are full length video screens, which start out showing Manhattan island around the time of the first Dutch settlement, and proceed forward in time as you ascend the building. The elevators are fast – 102 floors in 47 seconds! – and my ears popped both going up and coming back down later. When you exit the elevator, you are in a room with a long horizontal video screen. When everyone is in the room, it plays a short film about everyday life in New York. The real drama, though, occurs at the end when the screen rolls up to reveal the actual view from the top of the building – it was truly thrilling and a great way to present the panoramic view.
So how high up are you? One World Trade is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, standing 1776 feet tall (that height was no coincidence!) but counting the spire, so your height is a little over 1300 feet from the ground. When you are in the Observatory, you are let out on the 102nd floor, which primarily serves as a place to offer iPad guides for rent. Walking down one flight to the 101st floor, there is a restaurant, bar, cafe, and of course the obligatory photo session (you don’t have to participate, and don’t have to buy any photos even if you do).
The 100th floor is the main viewing area. There is also a gift shop – of course – and a presentation geared mainly toward helping visitors to the city figure it out, called City Pulse.
There is also an area that makes it seem as if you are standing on glass looking all the way down to the ground, but it’s simulated.
The real joy of being on the observation level for those who already know and love New York City is to experience an entirely new perspective on the city. If you have ever flown into LaGuardia passing by Manhattan, you get an idea of what the views look like, but unlike peering from a plane, you can spend as much time as you like figuring out all the details of the view in each direction.
Because of the location of One World Trade all the way at the southern tip of Manhattan, some of the most spectacular views are looking north. That is what they show you when the screen is initially lifted on the 102nd floor to reveal the view.
Looking due north, you can see many iconic buildings – the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, 432 Park – but also can witness the topography of Manhattan Island. Due to how far below the surface the Manhattan schist gets from a little north of the financial district until midtown, you can see the shorter buildings covering SoHo, Greenwich Village, and Chelsea before taller buildings blossom again. It was fun to see Broadway angling across all the street grids, and to find the Washington Square arch and Times Square. To the east you can see Long Island City in Queens.
North and to the west you see the Hudson River, the piers along the river, and then the massive construction at Hudson Yards in Midtown West. The impact of this development on the city once it is completed can’t be overstated. Across the river to the west, you can see New Jersey.
Looking east, you can see over other tall buildings in lower Manhattan to view the Brooklyn Bridge, and then north of that, the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, and much of Brooklyn.
The Southern exposure leads to a lovely view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York harbor, with more of New Jersey stretching out behind them to the west.
I spent about an hour enjoying the views on the 100th floor. I would recommend going around once slowly, orienting yourself to the different views, and the circling back again even more slowly to look for details. I think many times we who call New York City home only experience certain attractions if we have visitors from out of town to show around. This experience, however, I found to be much more than a tourist attraction, deepening my understanding and enjoyment of the multifaceted architecture and topography of this magnificent city.
New York City is so much more than the skyscrapers of Manhattan (although I do love them). I recently found it is possible to get to a place in the upper reaches of the Bronx via subway, and feel as if I had taken a trip out of the city to upstate New York for the day. Wave Hill is a public garden overlooking the Hudson River (and across the river to the Palisades of New Jersey) in Riverdale. I visited there this autumn, taking the #1 train to the end of the line (West 242 Street) and being transported to Wave Hill by a free shuttle van that picks up near the subway at 10 minutes past the hour. You can also get there via Metro North, taking the Hudson Line to Riverdale and being picked up by a free shuttle bus.
Wave Hill was built in 1843 as the country home of a NYC attorney. Teddy Roosevelt’s family rented the estate during the summers of 1870 and 1871, and the city boy’s exposure to such beautiful natural scenes no doubt inspired his later love for the outdoors, leading to the creating of the National Park system. Mark Twain later leased the estate from 1900-1903, and conductor Arturo Toscanini lived there from 1942-1945. In 1960, the family who owned the estate gave it to the city of New York, and Wave Hill was incorporated as an non-profit organization. It is now open year-round, except for holidays, with shorter hours during the colder months and longer ones during the summer ones.
Walking to the welcome center, it is hard to believe you are still within the five boroughs of New York City.
The Visitor’s Center has local items (like honey of different colors depending on which flowers the bees were supping from) for sale, and a very upscale restroom (I was impressed by the golden sinks and fancy wallpaper!).
You can go into the various greenhouses as well as exploring the vast landscaped gardens.
There are many different places to sit and enjoy the quiet and the scenery.
There were lily ponds, and several cats roaming the grounds.
The feeling, the sounds, and even the scent of the air, varied from area to area within the large estate.
The most spectacular viewpoints, of course, are those overlooking the mighty Hudson.
They have a lovely cafe on the grounds, featuring local farm-to-table fare (on the right above is avocado toast with lovely radish slices on top).
After several hours at Wave Hill, I was reminded of the concept of “forest bathing” – the idea of walking among trees and nature as a health practice like going to a spa. (Learn more here.) I certainly felt cleansed, mentally and physically, after strolling through all the gorgeous dense trees and gardens.
I’m sure they change these maps out seasonally, but here is the autumn one to give you an idea of the layout of Wave Hill and some of the details. You can also find plenty of information to plan your trip at their website.
People who don’t live in New York City might wonder how – or even if – NYC children trick or treat. They definitely do; many larger buildings keep a list of people willing to accept trick or treaters, and residents of the building can pick up a list on October 31 so that they and their children don’t knock on the doors of too many empty apartments. In my experience, you can end up with a prodigious amount of candy (and the occasional healthy treat) in a large apartment building – even better if you pair with another family in another building and maximize possibilities in both places. (Insider tip: take the elevator to the top floor and use the stairs to walk down, if you are able – the elevators become very busy on Halloween night.) However, there are places in the city where you can trick or treat in a very traditional, door-to-door manner – primarily the townhouse blocks on the Upper East and Upper West Sides of Manhattan, or Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, Astoria in Queens, etc. In addition, some of these houses go so all-out on decorating that they make the few weeks leading up to Halloween a “treat” to walk past. This October I made a point of stopping to take photos of houses I happened to pass while walking around the Upper East Side. I will start with a few sedately decorated examples, and progress to the truly terrifying. Perhaps one aspect of the legendary toughness of a native New Yorker is having to pass the gauntlet of horror at some of these homes to score a Reese’s Pumpkin!
This building is keeping it classy. A seasonal display of pumpkins brightens the foyer.
Friendly jack-o-lanterns accentuate this private garden.
These two townhouses have picked up the fright factor a bit without going too far – a few fluttering ghosts and a welcoming row of skulls let you know this is probably a good place to trick or treat.
If this one was closer to the door, its scare factor would go up, but as is, it decorates the house nicely without being too terrifying. I like how the ghoul is holding a pumpkin.
This is a selection of decorations that I find to be fairly typical of what you see this time of year, some scary touches and nice additions to any city stroll.
Two views of this townhouse – I love the white pumpkins, ghosts, and seasonal plants leading to a giant inflatable (but not too scary) Pumpkin King.
Even though this is a skeleton, the presence of his skeleton doggies brightens up the scene, in my opinion. I really enjoyed this one.
Similarly, these skeletons have a jaunty, Pirates of the Caribbean vibe . . .
I noticed a theme this year of many townhouses covered with spider webs, often along with the spiders and sometimes also other frightening figures.
Now we are progressing to a higher scare factor: this Dracula actually emerges and returns to his coffin on regular intervals. Note that trick-or-treaters would need to walk right past this to ring the doorbell!
This townhouse really followed through on its zombie theme.
The suit of armor is a unique touch, and pretty creepy.
Not much to say – these are just disturbing.
This house wins the prize for most terrifying decoration that I happened to pass by this year. I would find it difficult to approach these figures in broad daylight, and can only imagine what it would be like to pass them on Halloween night to ring the doorbell!
On Halloween night, many of these homes will open their doors to reveal mini-haunted houses, and often the residents also dress up. My most vivid Halloween memory as a child is of approaching a house, and being absolutely terrified of the zombie who answered the door. When I ran away rather than take candy, he ran after me offering a bowl of treats – but to my terrified mind, he was simply chasing me! Ah, the joy of being scared, as long as ultimately it is in a safe setting. New York City is such a wonderful place to live, and the dedicated and fortunate owners of these townhouses enrich it with their decorations. There are many advantages to living in a townhouse – outdoor space, not sharing walls or floors/ceilings with neighbors, abundant space – but the ability to express yourself to the community through your decoration is certainly a plus for many.
One of my favorite places to go in London is Borough Market, with so many different foods to explore that I never get tired of returning. New York City has many great markets as well, Chelsea Market and Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side being two I particularly love. A new market recently opened in downtown Brooklyn, and having been there, I highly recommend that anyone check it out.
The DeKalb Market Hall is close to many subway lines (A-C-E at Hoyt, 2-3 at Hoyt, 2-3-4-5 at Nevins, or B-Q-R at DeKalb). I took the Q from the Upper East Side and was there in about 45 minutes. With the Q, you take the outside route over the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn, with some great views of lower Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn thrown in. The City Point building is just off the Manhattan Bridge (entrance on Flatbush Avenue) and has a Target, Trader Joe’s (that so far does not seem to have the lines of the ones on 14th Street or the Upper West Side), Century 21, Flying Tiger (check this out if you’ve never been to one; you will discover 100 items you didn’t know existed and now must have), and Alamo Drafthouse (an absolutely perfect cinema with waiter service to your chair, including an extensive drink menu). The DeKalb Market Hall is in the basement of the complex.
Once you get to the market, take a walk around once or twice to get your bearings – there are so many choices that it can be a little overwhelming.
Guss’ Pickles still makes real fermented pickles, in many flavors, the way they did at their original spot on the Lower East Side. You can ask for a sample of anything. If you love pickles (and I definitely do), don’t pass this up.
So many choices – from juice bars, to mini doughnuts, to ice cream, to Katz’s deli, to healthy selections, to classic hamburgers and more.
I highly recommend the burger at Andrew’s Classic Roadside – really delicious and not overpriced.
In addition to all the things to do in the City Point complex, the Market is about a 15 minute stroll to the gorgeous Brooklyn Heights waterfront (see my previous blog about this area here). If you live in the area, the DeKalb Food Market is a great everyday addition to your choices for eating out. If you are a visitor to NYC, check it out and explore the surrounding area as well – you could easily spend a day doing it. And if you are a NYC resident, but not of Brooklyn (like I am), I believe it’s worth the trip. I enjoyed my time at the Market and will return soon.
Once home to an insane asylum, prisons, and a smallpox hospital, Roosevelt Island was originally called Hog Island and later Welfare Island before being renamed for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1971 (a decision that certainly helped make it seem a more palatable choice to those considering living there!). Only 2 miles long and 800 feet or less wide, this island, lying between Manhattan’s Midtown and Upper East Side and Queens, is owned by the city of New York but now has numerous rental buildings, one coop, and one condo (all landlease buildings, leasing the space from the city on a 99 year lease negotiated in 1969). Accessible via subway (the F line) but more famously by the Roosevelt Island tram, it is simultaneously very close to Manhattan and also a little isolated and remote. As I enjoy exploring a neighborhood by taking an unplanned walk (a dérive), I headed to Roosevelt Island this spring to see what living here might be like.
The Roosevelt Island Tramway was intended to be a temporary way to entice residents to the neighborhood during its residential development. Opened in 1976, it makes over 100 trips per day, between the hours of 6 AM and 2 AM (every 15 minutes most of the day, but continuously during rush hours). Although not operated by the MTA, it uses the MetroCard and offers free transfers to the MTA system.
When on the tram, you can’t help to imagine what it would like if the tram were to stop mid-journey (or something worse, thanks to the 2002 Spider Man film!). There has never been a Green Goblin attack, or anything similar, but the tram has been stuck before. The worst instance of this was in 2006 when two trams were stopped midair for seven hours due to an electrical outage. Rescue baskets were sent to the trams, but each could hold only 15 people, so the evacuation of the trams took a very long time. Following an extensive 2010 overhaul, there have been no similar incidents on the trams.
The large (unphotogenic) construction site just south of the tram is the new Cornell University Tech Campus, due to open in 2017.
Walking along the river, cherry trees blossom and frame a view west to Sutton Place in midtown Manhattan.
It is impossible to miss the creepy ruins of the old Smallpox Hospital on the way to the Four Freedoms Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Opened in 1854, and closed a century later, the Gothic Revival building fell into disrepair. Now added to the National Register of Historic Places, a stabilization project is underway and it will one day be open to the public (hopefully only in daylight hours).
Opened in 2012, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park celebrates the former president as well as his famous 1941 speech about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Designed by the renowned architect Louis Kahn, it is a beautiful and spare park with spectacular views of Manhattan, including a direct view of the United Nations.
Heading back north and past the tram station, Roosevelt’s Island Main Street unfolds.
Built in 1798, Blackwell House is the sixth oldest surviving home in New York City.
1888 Chapel of the Good Shepherd, on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is a free red bus around the island, and it was easy to return via the F subway, one stop to Lexington and 63rd.
As of the 2010 U.S. Census, Roosevelt Island had a population of 11,661. Roosevelt Island has relatively affordable rents and prices compared to midtown Manhattan, and the buildings are largely full-service buildings with amenities such as swimming pools and gyms. Many apartments feature the kind of spectacular view of Manhattan found in red-hot Long Island City, Queens. I found the small town atmosphere of Roosevelt Island to be very unique. Along Main Street was everything a person would need – an apartment, groceries, a library, public school, and so on. Just a few hundred feet from midtown Manhattan, it felt like being in a small town anywhere in the United States. Less distant in terms of a commute from central Manhattan than many parts of the five boroughs, it still feels a world away – the skyscrapers of Manhattan a bit like a mirage just across the East River.
It might surprise you to learn that the first neighborhood to be protected under the 1965 Landmarks Preservation Law in New York City was not in Manhattan – it was Brooklyn Heights. I have had the pleasure of being in the area several times in the past few months, and regardless of the time of day, I find it to be an extraordinarily beautiful and gracious neighborhood. Since I love to take an unplanned walk in the city (a dérive, see my initial post about it here), one of my daughters and I took off on a beautiful warm early spring day to enjoy a walk in Brooklyn Heights.
Surrounded by Dumbo (see my love letter to this neighborhood here) , Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Downtown Brooklyn, getting to Brooklyn Heights is quite easy via public transportation. You can take the 2-3-4-5-N-R-W to Court Street-Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn, the A-C-F-N-R-W to Jay Street-MetroTech, or the 2-3 to Clark Street. Before setting off on our walk, we had wood fired pizza at Dellarocco’s, which I highly recommend (214 Hick’s Street, off Montague Street). On the way there we walked past block after block of beautiful townhouses.
I always find myself drawn to the water, and was unable to stay away from the gorgeous Brooklyn Heights Promenade. One of the more recent additions to Brooklyn Heights, the promenade was completed in the 1950’s.
Rows of of lovely townhouses and apartment buildings face the promenade and gaze toward lower Manhattan.
The promenade ends at the Brooklyn Bridge (for instructions of how to walk across the bridge from Brooklyn, see this post). John A. Roebling, the 19th Century engineer and designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, lived in Brooklyn Heights.
The views from the Brooklyn Heights can be incredible. Here is a view toward the Statue of Liberty at sunset.
Benches line the promenade for relaxing while strollers, both pedestrians and those containing children, move along the pathway.
The view of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights is extraordinary.
The Brooklyn Heights Promenade eventually merges into Brooklyn Bridge Park. Jane’s Carousel, dating from 1922, invites all to stop and take a ride on a hand painted wooden horse, to the sound of authentic calliope music.
Brooklyn Heights has attracted writers and artists since its inception, and walking around the neighborhood it is easy to see why. Benjamin Britten to W.H. Auden, Walt Whitman to W.E.B. DuBois, Arthur Miller to Lena Dunham – all have found inspiration in the quiet beauty of Brooklyn Heights. Truman Capote, another resident, wrote Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir, in which he famously states, “I live in Brooklyn. By choice.” More and more people have made this choice over the past two decades. which has made this one of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York City. The average price for a two bedroom apartment is $1,712,000 (compared to $1,149,000 for Brooklyn on the whole), and for a three bedroom it is just under $4,000,000. Townhouses can go for considerably more than that, but most people who live here consider the neighborhood well worth the cost. Brooklyn Heights has come a long way from Capote’s 1950’s description of street gangs and alley cats, but the allure of the area endures.
When Peter Stuyvesant chartered the area he called Boswijck (“little town in the woods”) in 1661, it included the areas of Brooklyn now called Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick. Like its neighbor Williamsburg a decade ago, Bushwick is transforming itself from an industrial working-class neighborhood to a haven for artists. Vogue magazine declared Bushwick #7 in its 2014 list of 15 coolest neighborhoods (one of only three in the US, and the only NYC area to make the list). Since I love unplanned walks in the city (see my initial post about the concept here) I recently spent a chilly March day exploring what Bushwick has to offer. I mean, already parodied by Saturday Night Live and in the title of an episode of “Girls,” what more could a neighborhood want?
At least until they shut down the L for repairs, it is easy to get to Bushwick (and the J, Z, and M lines will do when the L does go down). I emerged from the Morgan Avenue stop and began to walk with a purpose to Roberta’s.
Roberta’s pizza is legend, and I intended to find out if all the hype was warranted. The wait for a table during peak times can exceed 2-3 hours, so I wanted to show up for brunch and get in before the crowds arrived. Roberta’s also makes fresh bread in the pizza oven every day before opening, and the bread with homemade salted butter was a fantastic appetizer. The pizza did not disappoint, and a green juice cocktail rounded out the brunch nicely.
Leaving Roberta’s full and happy, I was tempted to throw my shoes up to join the others.
Walking down any street in Bushwick was a visual treat. Street art is a big thing in Bushwick, especially since 2012 in the area now called The Bushwick Collective and curated by Joe Ficalora.
In an afternoon of wandering, I found spaces full of artists making and exhibiting their work, as well as a film and photo studio.
Maria Hernandez Park had playgrounds, basketball courts, and lawns, surrounded by rows of townhouses.
Housing in Bushwick is varied – lovely prewar townhomes, more modern single family homes with parking in front, converted industrial spaces, and new development condos. People priced out of Williamsburg have found Bushwick, and the rising prices here in turn are sending people to nearby Ridgewood, Queens. Costs are still lower in Bushwick than in Brooklyn as a whole (but who knows for how much longer?). For instance, median rental prices go from $1750/month for a studio to $3000/month for a three bedroom, while median sales prices go from $329K for a studio to $799K for a two bedroom, and there are still a few townhouses to be found for $1.5M.
As the evening approached, I had drinks and dinner at Sincerely Burger on Wilson Avenue.
The day ended with opera – Rossini’s Otello performed at LightSpace Studios in Bushwick by LoftOpera, a Brooklyn-based company bringing a fresh take on opera (and affordable prices) to younger and decidedly unstuffy audiences. Heading back to Manhattan from the Jefferson Street L station around 11:20, I heard music and laughter coming from many bars and restaurants, as well as from a few apartments. After an enjoyable day in Bushwick, I could see the allure of living here – still relatively affordable with an abundance of things to see and do.
When I started this blog almost three years ago, the second post I wrote (after the initial one describing my basic writing concept) was about Yorkville. This sub-neighborhood of the Upper East Side (you could describe it as the upper-upper-east-east side) is undervalued, in my opinion, as it is lovely, quiet, and convenient. The biggest complaint about Yorkville has been the long walk to the Lexington Avenue subway, but with the recent opening of the Q (Second Avenue subway, see my blog post about it here) that criticism is diminishing. In fact, between the opening of the Q and all the fantastic new development apartment buildings coming up in the area (Citizen 360 and The Kent, to name just two I have visited in the past month), I believe the days of Yorkville as a value play may be coming to an ending over the next few years.
Today it snowed. Schools and many business closed, and I went out in the afternoon for a walk around my beloved Yorkville. It has never looked lovelier!
The street blocks tend toward older tenement buildings, while the avenue blocks hold the larger apartments, particularly in the area between Third and York.
The absolute crown jewel of the Yorkville neighborhood is Carl Schurz Park, with two dog runs, a large children’s playground, the East River Promenade, and plenty of meandering paths.
Gracie Mansion, one of the oldest homes in NYC and the official residence of the mayor, is at East End Avenue and 88th Street, within the park.
I have often thought that the Henderson Houses, a series of landmarked townhomes opposite Carl Schurz Park, create some of the prettiest blocks in the city.
There’s something about this Gothic row of homes gazing out to the park that makes them seem like they are an illustration from a fairy tale.
It’s very quiet in the area of Yorkville near the park. The only other part of Manhattan that feels this peaceful and removed to me is the Beekman area, also along the East River, but in the 50’s.
On this afternoon, the park (like Central Park a few blocks away) was filled with sledders. Yorkville is a neighborhood filled with, and friendly to, children, and dogs, but also with older people and young singles looking for a rental bargain. I suspect that within a few years, Yorkville will be seen not as a place to search simply for value, but a neighborhood sought after and desired for its own unique characteristics.
The rivalry between the great US city on the East Coast (New York) and the one on the West Coast (Los Angeles) is, in my opinion, partially true but largely fabricated. You can find great restaurants, nightlife, and art in either. New York has snow; Los Angeles has smog. Los Angeles clearly wins for beaches and weather; New York is the victor in the live theater domain and has Central Park. While in general the cost of renting or purchasing a home in Los Angeles is less than in NYC, there is a variety of housing choices at price ranges from moderate to extravagant in both cities (you will nearly always get more space in Los Angeles, though, since NYC is severely physically restricted in how it can expand, especially Manhattan island). However, there is one giant difference that completely shapes the experience of living or visiting each city: NYC is the quintessential walking city (and the experience of walking in it was my motivation to begin this blog), while LA has the ultimate car culture. On my numerous visits to LA, I have often commented that the one thing that would prevent me from ever living there is that I hate having to drive everywhere. On a recent trip, however, I decided to take a few walks and see if a quality walking experience could be found in the city of angels.
I was staying downtown at 7th and Grand, and decided to walk to Wi Spa, on Wilshire and S. Rampart. According to Google maps, this is a walk of just under 2 miles, and I routinely walk 5 miles or more per day in NYC. This route was a fairly direct one since Wilshire was just a block parallel to 7th, but almost immediately I noticed the difference between walking in NYC vs. LA. This route had me walking next to and in close proximity to heavy traffic most of the time.
In addition, unlike virtually anywhere I walk in NYC, I was alone on the sidewalk for most of the time despite being surrounded by people in cars. I recalled Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Pedestrian,” set in the future where a lone walker in the evening was so unusual that the protagonist of the story ended up being carted off by the police for a psychiatric evaluation. Although born in Illinois, Bradbury was an Angeleno for most of his life, and I wonder if a similar solitary experience walking in the city inspired him to think of this story.
Eventually I went by MacArthur Park (yes, the inspiration for what has been called “the worst song ever written,” although I have a fondness for it since I recall enjoying the number in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” on Broadway). Although it had some lovely areas, the only people I saw also enjoying it were living in a sort of tent city there.
Shortly after MacArthur Park, I was at Wi Spa. If you are in Los Angeles and would enjoy an authentic Korean spa experience, this one can’t be beat (I have never been so clean as after a scrub there).
The view of downtown Los Angeles walking back was pleasant, but it did occur to me that just as Los Angeles has widely varied neighborhoods, the experience of walking would also vary from place to place. For my next dérive, I went to Santa Monica. I drove there, but the Metro Expo line can also take you there as of this past spring.
It occurred to me while in Santa Monica that perhaps no one was walking on Wilshire because there wasn’t much to see! There were plenty of people walking in Santa Monica.
The Third Street promenade is just east of the Santa Monica pier, and has shopping, dining, and street entertainers (my favorite to date were the skateboarding bulldogs I stayed to watch one time – very talented).
Walking back from a stroll along the Promenade and back, I turned along Ocean Avenue.
Again, plenty of walkers, plenty of places to eat and shop. The ocean just across the street, and the sun warm. Not bad!
Heading over one block west, I found the Hotel California . . . somehow smaller than I had imagined for a place filled with people who can “check out, but can never leave.”
The ocean front walk, even on a week day, was busy with walkers, bicyclists, and skateboarders.
Walking back, I took the sandy stretch at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, heading back toward the pier. A very different experience than the walks I routinely enjoy in NYC, but there was something magical about the sounds and textures of this walk (I would never dream of talking off my shoes to walk in the city, not even in my beloved Central Park). Los Angeles is vast, and sprawling, so while it is not practical to walk to get from place to place as it can be in New York City, there are wonderful places to walk – you just have to drive to get there.