Ice skating Central Park (Photo: Manuel Hurtado/Moment/Getty images)
Every city has its season, and for New York it’s late fall/early winter. From the time the Macy’s parade winds its way down Central Park West on Thanksgiving morning until Christmas with the tree lights up in Rockefeller Center, the city is simply beautiful. In my opinion, New Yorkers are at our best when it’s cold and crispy outside. You can catch us exploring amazing food stores like Eataly, or browsing through the food corridor that is Chelsea Market. At Thanksgiving, New York is the most American of cities.
On Wednesday, at dawn, I’ll be at the Union Square market, picking up my turkey; raised at Violet Hill Farms in upstate New York, it is a bird so tender I imagine it goes to the spa regularly before it gets the chop.
Union Square Christmas Market (Photo: Francisco Anzola/Flickr)
If I need breakfast, I might stop by The Coffee Shop for a quick bite. If I’m still shopping at noon (Union Square has a good Christmas market), I might pop into the Union Square Cafe, sit at the bar, have a glass of something delicious, and eat a bowl of black bean soup and a yellowfin tuna burger.
Macy’s Day Parade Floats
Spiderman gets inflated before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Photo: gigi_nyc/Flickr)
On Wednesday, between 3 pm and 10 pm, head up to the Museum of Natural History on West 79th Street, where the balloons are inflated for the Thanksgiving parade. This is a real New York scene, with kids of every age excited by catching a glimpse of Snoopy, SpongeBob or Spider-Man. IT’S GOING TO BE CROWDED, so be patient and bring kid supplies. (The world’s best black and white cookies are at Barney Greengrass on 86th and Amsterdam.)
Barney Greengrass has tasty black and white cookies. (Photo: Joseph/Flickr)
Thanksgiving Day (with kids)
There are two kinds of New York Thanksgivings — with kids, or without. If it’s the first, and the parade is the main event, early is the operative word — the parade begins around 9.30 am, but to get a good spot you’ll have to get there at least a couple of hours earlier.
It’s also ideal to pick a hotel close to the route that runs from Central Park West, past the Time Warner Center, and down Sixth Avenue from Central Park West to 38th Street.
A surprising number of hotels with great locations still have availability. If you want to be in the very thick of it, the Marriot Marquis on Times Square (kids love the revolving roof restaurant) is $337 for a room that will sleep a couple of adults and a couple of kids. There are also some great Upper West Side options like the Hotel Belleclaire, two blocks from the Natural History Museum. Luxury calls at the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Center — for three people, it’s about $1100 a night.
Af the parade/the next day (with kids)
The day after Thanksgiving is a great time to go shopping in Soho (Joey Lax-Salina/Flickr)
Most museums are shut on Thanksgiving Day, except the National Museum of the American Indian (pretty fitting!). Once the parade is over, I’d get out of midtown for dinner. Hop the subway (safe, fast, a marvel) and head for Harlem, now New York’s coolest quarter. Have dinner at the Red Rooster, Chez Lucienne, The Cecil or that great standby Sylvia’s. Equally, you could head down to Wall Street and dine at Fraunces Tavern; the city’s oldest eating establishment dates to colonial times.
If the “kids” are teenagers, on Friday, take a deep breath and take them shopping in Soho, and then over to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where the hippest of hipsters in their little hipster hats hang out. For food, try Brooklyn Mac or Diner.
Thanksgiving day (without kids)
Eat Thanksgiving dinner at Balthazar (Photo: Zagat Buzz/Flickr)
If you’re spending Thanksgiving without kids, it’s a different matter. Splurge on a hotel downtown like the Crosby Street Hotel, or opt for the more moderate Sheraton Four Points. Order room service for breakfast and watch the parade from the comfort of your bed. Afterward, stroll to Greenwich Village and pop into Three Lives Bookshop, one of the last great independent bookstores, and pick up a copy of Catcher in the Rye (a great book that perfectly captures late fall in New York City). Thanksgiving dinner could be confit of turkey at the Spotted Pig, a great gastro pub in the West Village, or a traditional three-course dinner at Balthazar, the legendary brasserie on Spring Street. (Don’t miss the chocolate bourbon pecan pie.)
After the parade/the next day (without kids)
You can’t beat this view. (Photo: Philipp Klinger/Moment/Getty Images)
The next day, go for cocktails at the Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Station. It’s also worth your time to visit Peter Luger for the best steak in … can I say, America? If you don’t mind a trip, head to Queens for fantastic Indian or Thai food, or to downtown Manhattan’s Red Egg for the best dumplings in town.
For entertainment, take a walk on the High Line before seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, one of the Broadway season’s best. Take in the wonderful Big Deal on Madonna Street, a real Italian classic, at the Film Forum, or some jazz at the Village Vanguard, one of the few surviving clubs where Miles Davis played and Barbra Streisand sang.
So now you’re stuffed with good food, dizzy from the sights, and broke from the shopping. Take a taxi to the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge just before dusk, and then walk back to Manhattan. As you’re walking, think about Walt Whitman, the city’s great poet, who wrote,
“Give me such shows — give me the streets of Manhattan!”
WATCH: New Floats Revealed for Thanksgiving Day Parade