10 Hidden Gems of the Upper West Side
The area west of Central Park has a specific, New Yorky flavor, immortalized by shows like Seinfeld (both the character and the actor have called the neighborhood home). Known for its world-class cultural institutions like Lincoln Center and the American Museum of Natural History, the nabe also has plenty of spots off the main drag that are beloved by locals. Here, ten hidden gems worth seeking out.
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1. West Side Comedy Club
The West Side Comedy Club is quite literally a “hidden” gem—you can find the stand-up venue beneath the Mexican restaurant Playa Betty’s. The club is run by a husband and wife team who met while working together at Caroline’s Comedy Club in the early ’90s. Along with an eclectic lineup of shows spotlighting local comics, you can also partake in food from upstairs. Guac and chips, a margarita and a comedy show? Not a bad way to spend an evening.
201 W. 75th St.; westsidecomedyclub.com
2. Giant Screen Films at the American Museum of Natural History
AMNH is hardly a secret—just ask some 5 million visitors each year—but what you may not know is if you proceed to the back of the first floor, you’ll find the LeFrak Theatre, a gorgeous Beaux-Arts space and host of Giant Screen Films. Access is included with a general admission ticket (pay-what-you-wish if you buy in person). Currently screening in both 2D and 3D through January 2020 is Oceans: Our Blue Planet, a documentary narrated by Kate Winslet that follows a research vessel on a journey through the most undiscovered parts of the ocean.
Central Park West at 79th St.; amnh.org
3. Strawberry Fields in Central Park
Hidden along the west side of Central Park, Strawberry Fields is 2.5 acres of tranquil garden dedicated as a living memorial to legendary musician, activist and one-time UWS resident John Lennon. Named after the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the space was officially dedicated in 1985 in his memory. The stone marker with the “Imagine” inscription has become a gathering point for Beatles fans from all over the world; if you’re lucky, you can catch a few fans performing acoustic sets for passersby. Follow the path further into Strawberry Fields, and you’ll find a plaque with the acknowledgment of 121 countries that endorse the space as a special garden of peace.
West Side between 71st and 74th Sts.; centralparknyc.org
4. Sensuous Bean
Founded as a no-frills coffee shop in 1978, this well-known neighborhood establishment hasn’t changed much at all (and that’s a great thing). Stop in to grab a cup to go, or stock up on one of the 60 varieties of coffee beans and teas available for purchase. You definitely won’t forget the unique name, with all credit due to the original inspiration: John Milton’s famous poem “Paradise Lost.”
66 W. 70th St.; sensuousbean.com
5. Grand Bazaar NYC
Every Sunday, the back of an UWS school turns into a giant outdoor marketplace. Originally founded in 1982 as a simple flea market to benefit the local public school, it has since evolved into the largest weekly market in the city with profits impacting more than 2,000 kids. The market now plays host to 200 local vendors, including local artisans, and vintage vendors, emerging artists, a stellar food lineup and more. And unlike many other outdoor markets, it’s open year-round. Tip: Get there early to snag the best deals and most unique finds (plus, you can grab brunch there, too).
100 W. 77th St at Columbus Ave.; grandbazaarnyc.org
6. Zabar’s Delicatessen
There are many places to grab a bite to eat on the Upper West Side—but none like the family-owned deli Zabar’s. For nearly 80 years, the gourmet deli has occupied the corner of 80th and Broadway, and it’s been a neighborhood landmark ever since. Between its homemade baked goods, fresh fish and cheeses, and coffee by the pound, a stroll down the aisles amounts to a total sensory overload (in a good, cinnamon babka–scented way).
2245 Broadway; www.zabars.com
7. Symphony Space
Upper West Siders are super lucky when it comes to the arts; after all, the neighborhood is home to cultural establishments like Lincoln Center and the Beacon Theatre, among many others. But if you travel further up Broadway, you’ll find Symphony Space, a thriving performing arts center that hosts incredible musical and dance performances, literary talks from your favorite authors, and is home to the popular storytelling radio show, “Selected Shorts.” If you want to grab a drink before a performance (or enjoy a drink while watching a live performance), check out Bar Thalia, Symphony Space’s hot spot for local libations, music and more.
2537 Broadway at 95th St.; www.symphonyspace.org/
8. Caffè Storico at the New-York Historical Society
Duck through the side entrance of the New-York Historical Society on the corner of 77th and Central Park West, and you’ll find a charming spot for a leisurely lunch or dinner. Led by executive chef James Miller, the restaurant serves fresh Italian fare with a seasonal spin, like spaghetti with carrot pesto or crispy zucchini with lime aioli. After lunch, step (literally, like two steps) into the New-York Historical Society for a tour, or cross the street to walk off lunch in Central Park.
77th St. and Central Park West, storicorestaurant.com
9. Boat Basin Cafe
While adjacency to the park is one of the UWS’s obvious selling points, it also boasts an equivalent 2.5 miles along the Hudson River—and the best place to enjoy that perk is at the Boat Basin Cafe. Most familiar to tried and true New Yorkers, the cafe finds its home under the 79th Street rotunda and expands out to a patio overlooking the marina (and New Jersey). Open during the more temperate months of the year (usually April to October), the spot is ideal for a casual bite and happy hour with a view. We suggest grabbing lunch here and walking south alongside Riverside Park to Pier i Cafe, another low-key jaunt at 70th and Riverside Park, for a waterfront cafe crawl.
W. 79th St. at Riverside Park; boatbasincafe.com
10. Turnstyle Underground Market at Columbus Circle
Technically, the Upper West Side begins at 59th street (we know, we’re cutting it close), but the Turnstyle Underground Market is too good to overlook. Step beneath the 59th Street station (shortcut: take the elevator at 58th and Columbus directly down, you’ll see the entrance directly in front of you), and you’ll find a subterranean marketplace. The market includes unique pop-up shops and fun eateries (like Russian dumplings at Daa! Dumplings and Pasta by Hudson’s custom pasta bar). You can also grab a fresh bouquet, get your hair trimmed, pick up a box of macarons, and top it all off at Merchants Bar, a dive that helps you kill time while you wait for the 1 train. Tip: If you get a special “Turnstyle” MetroCard—sold exclusively at the underground market—you can get 10 percent off all purchases at the Underground.
59th Street-Columbus Circle Station; turn-style.com