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New York City is full of the weird and the wonderful. As a native New Yorker, I’ve given up on seeing every corner of this city as it’s impossible. However, you don’t need to look that hard for off the beaten path spots in New York city if your eyes are open and your Metrocard is topped up. Together with Moeima Makeba, we’re here to show you 30+ secret spots in New York City that you’ll be hopefully fascinated with.
This article was partially written by Moeima Makeba. It was supplemented by Wanderlustingk editor Karen who grew up in Queens. Note: Not all of these spots are publicly
Venture off the typical tourist routes and check out a few choice ways to get to know New York City intimately in a way some tourists (and even some locals!) never do.
Off the beaten path Manhattan
You can wind down a bit with a trip to the ‘Adirondacks’ of Central Park – you may think Central Park is not that big of a deal but honestly, have long as I’ve lived here I continually either learn something new about it or find a new corner of it to love.
Landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted
City Hall Station
Wayyyyy downtown you can check out City Hall station, an abandoned subway station that’s been preserved since 1904 – featuring a grand chandelier. For better or worse the subway is one of New York’s infamous amenities and one of the only 24/7 running public transportation systems in the country. So soak up a bit of history on something millions of people probably take for granted!
Louis Auzoux Medical Model at Obscurities, Antiques and Oddities
For a bit more of medical history – continue to get odd at Obscurities, Antiques
Temple Emanu-El is one of the largest synagogues in the world with a gorgeous interior. Editor Karen was lucky enough to attend a wedding here, but don’t despair if your invitation got lost in the mail. In the basement of this synagogue on Thursdays, you’ll find a small museum in the basement showcasing beautiful Jewish religious ornaments and art.
The Cloisters is a beautiful part of the Met that was built by Rockefeller in 1930. This museum built in the style of a medieval cloister is full of stunning artwork, manuscripts, and tapestries from the medieval period. Be sure to explore its picturesque courtyards. It’s surrounded by the picturesque Fort Tryon Park, which feels straight out of New England in parts.
This micro-neighborhood close to Broadway and West 95th street is straight out of the movies. Maybe not the movies, but it was inspired by a play set in London involving picturesque old-fashioned houses in London. This block was meant as a temporary folly until it was torn down, however, it has survived the years, despite the odds. Today, this small street hidden behind a door holds beautiful apartments that go for the millions.
This private street can be admired through the gate. Half of this street was used for carriages and horses for wealthy New Yorkers although the other half was intended as housing meant to match. Today, the public can walk down this scenic old street, which is technically private property.
This cobblestone street filled with townhouses with wood frames sits on a beautiful cobblestone street with coach lights. This private street leads to the historic Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest house on Manhattan.
Roosevelt Island isn’t a borough. It’s kind of a weird place that is technically Manhattan, but actually separate. You can take the tram, which offers a great view of the Manhattan skyline and the East River. Otherwise, you can take the F train here. (Don’t fall asleep on the F!) This island can be pretty weird, but wonderful.
Renwick Smallpox Hospital Ruins
The southern part of the island (once called Blackwell’s Island) used to house infected smallpox patients at Renwick Hospital named for its designer James Renwick Jr (also the designer of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown). He created the hospital in his character Gothic Revival style so if you’re a sucker for architecture go for that. By the 1950s it had been abandoned, but in 1975 was declared a city landmark.
The Real Italy in Belmont/Arthur Avenue
You may find yourself taking the hike up to the Bronx for a trip to the New York Botanical Garden (which so lovely) or even a game at Yankee Stadium. Since you’re in the Bronx, stick around in The Bronx for some of its finest flavor. The Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx houses its own Little Italy and to me, it offers much for charm than the one down in Manhattan.
Right off the Fordham Rd stop on the D, though the neighborhood probably has half the Italian residents it once did, many establishments on the notable Arthur Avenue retained original Italian ownership. Enjoy very reasonably priced Italian-American food by visiting from places Tra Di Noi or Emilia’s, sandwiches from Mike’s Deli, pastries from Artuso’s or De Lillo Pastry Shop or buy some meats from Calabria Pork Store. If you’re around in early September think about visiting Belmont for the Italian festival, Ferragosto. Click for my complete guide!
As soon as you cross the Throgs Neck Bridge, you’ll see signs for City Island. Rather than feeling like part of the Bronx, this island connected to the rest of the Bronx by a bridge feels like you’ve been transported to New England. Full of gorgeous houses and countless seafood restaurants, City Island is the perfect place to enjoy views over the Long Island Sound while eating a lobster or fresh fish. Wanderlustingk writer Steve and editor Karen have come here on a number of occasions.
Wave Gardens is a 28-acre garden that feels miles away from Manhattan. This former country home was built in the 1800s and even served as a summer home to Teddy Roosevelt as a youth. From here, it’s possible to imagine to overlook the Hudson and the Palisades from picturesque viewpoints.
Queens is one of the most diverse places in the United States. I tell anyone who is looking for great Chinese food to take the seven train directly to Flushing to enjoy the best Chinese food that you’ll find. Whether you’re looking for dim sum, dumplings [Yu Garden Dumpling House], hole-in-the-wall eateries (including Fu Run [Northern Chinese food will blow your mind!]), bubble tea, Chinese pastries, or just karaoke, Flushing has something for everyone. Follow the steps of Anthony Bourdain to find the best Chinese food that New York has to offer. Specifically, don’t be afraid of the basement food courts if it means finding Xi’an Famous Foods. You’re welcome. 😉
Eat like a New Yorker
I’m going to zero in on the Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, Woodside/Sunnyside neighborhoods known more by locals, these incredible food destinations are unique, exciting and for the most part insanely affordable. Make your way over and dive into the lifeblood of various cultures – their food practices and beloved dishes – ask questions, be adventurous and most of all enjoy.
Places to try: Himalayan Yak (tastes like beef!), King of Falafel & Shawarma truck, Cherry Valley for amazing sandwiches in Middle Village, Tito Rad’s for Filipino cuisine, Dosa Delights for Indian dosas. Grab some knish (a classic New York food staple) at Knish Knosh. For something different, head to Taste Good, a Malaysian restaurant in Queens. For something truly special, head to the monthly Indonesian Food Bazaar for a taste of Indonesian many islands.
This gorgeous New York neighborhood is a secret of Queens residents. Hidden behind the Forest Hills Long Island Rail Road station, you’ll find this lush and leafy neighborhood that will transport you back to England. I recommend taking a walk down Ascan Avenue to enjoy the beautiful English-style Tudor houses in one of the earliest “Garden City” planned communities in the United States. Afterward, stop at my favorite pizzeria in Queens: Dee’s prior to getting handmade ice cream at the old time Eddie’s Sweet Shop.
Kew Garden Hills
This off the beaten path neighborhood in New York is one of the hubs of the Jewish community in New York. Along Main Street, you’ll find everything kosher, including Mexican food. It’s one of my favorite spots to stop off for classic Jewish desserts from bialys to babka. Be warned: everything is closed daytime on Saturdays.
Socrates Sculpture Park
This sculpture park that is free to the public showcases the latest in sculptures in a former landfill turned art gallery/park. You can watch artists work some days (if you’re lucky enough!) and gaze across the East River to Manhattan from this river-side park.
Fort Totten is where Wanderlustingk editor Karen and her mother would go rollerblading on the weekends. This picturesque park surrounds an active military base set on a civil war era fortress. It has nice views of Long Island Sound and it’s the perfect place to come for a long walk.
Tabernacle of Prayer Church
If you’re up for a truly off the beaten path adventure in New York City, consider stopping for a church service. Bear with me, but this church along Jamaica Avenue sits inside a beautifully restored former movie theatre in Rego Park that dates back to 1929. It’s easy to miss, but if you’re open to listening to a choir and/or a service, you’ll get a chance for a
This sprawling props warehouse in Long Island City can only be visited with a tour or by appointment. If you’re a movie lover (and you’ve already been to the Museum of Moving Image), this three-story warehouse is full of movie magic and the weird/wonderful stuff that make New York so special.
The Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead
This picturesque home in Queen is the oldest home is more than 350 years old. It was built in the Dutch colonial style and now sits close to the entrance to Rikers Island. If you’re a history lover, consider contacting the owner (a descendant of the original owners) for a tour of this property, including its garden.
Abandoned 1964 world’s fair
Not everyone knows that the 1964 World’s Fair took place in New York City. (The Queens Museum of Art has more about its history). More strangely, the buildings where its exhibitions once were, attended by millions, were left to rot. They’re hard to miss and a strange historical artifact.
The Panorama of the City of New York
The Panorama of the City of New York is one of my favorite places to bring people visiting for the first time. (It is housed close to the famous Unisphere.) This miniature version of New York City is full of perfectly sized buildings of New York and I like to think of it as a love letter to New York City. I’ve recently revisited it again with my dad and it was just as magical as when I saw it as a kid.
The John Bowne House and Flushing Quaker Meeting House
This house is one of my father’s favorite off the beaten path spots in New York City. This humble house in Flushing dates back to 1661 where it served as the meeting place for Quaker meetings. These meetings and the subsequent arrest of John Bowne resulted in the establishment of religious freedom in New Amsterdam. The house was part of the Underground Railroad. It’s now a museum, but you can always just walk past if you’re in Flushing already. It’s a bit jarring seeing this old house surrounded by the modern city. Read more about Flushing here.
Secret spots in Brooklyn
Christmas Extravaganza in Marine Park and Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
This holiday favorite is a seasonal one but worth the trip if you’re a big fan of Christmas Freestanding houses and elaborate Christmas decorations. Welcome to the suburbs of Brooklyn. But don’t let the words suburbs deter you. With most of the residents being 2nd, 3rd or 4th generation Brooklynites you wouldn’t want to venture onto anyone’s lawn for too long (if at all!) but seeing how Brooklyn does Christmas is worth renting a few hours on a Citibike or car2go.
Grace Court is a former parking lot for horses of the wealthy who would visit the nearby Grace Church. These former stables built in the 1850s are easy to miss if you’re in Downtown Brooklyn, but it’s worth the glimpse to understand why New Yorkers are so obsessed with hunting secret New York City. Admire the interiors online!
Most Holy Trinity Cemetery
This unique cemetery is known as the most metal cemetery in the world. Almost every grave within this cemetery is made out of metal, which has aged in an interesting manner over the years. It’s far from a typical cemetery that definitely falls on the side of weird and worth seeing.
Brighton Beach is one of the hubs of the Russian and Ukranian communities. Coming here feels a world apart from the rest of New York where signs are in both Russian/Ukranian and English. It’s the perfect place to try out banya with old Russian people or just eat your heart out in sweets.
House of Yes
A friend of mine works here. This off the beaten path nightclub shows off the wonderful, quirky, and fantastical. From drag shows to circus shows, you have no idea what is in store for you. Throw some extra glitter on and be sure to bring your phone with you to the bathroom. Check the event itinerary on their website or Facebook for the upcoming shows.
This laundromat has a secret. At night, it turns into a craft beer bar with a great pinball collection. Ignore the name and impress all your friends when you show them this cool New York bar.
I love Coney Island. This seaside resort and amusement park is great to visit during summer to enjoy the boardwalk (made famous in Requiem for a Dream) or just ride the wooden rollercoasters. While here, try Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs at the source. The cyclone has stood in Coney Island since 1927 although you’ll find many other rides here today. I recommend making a day out of coming out here by combining it with having dinner in Brighton Beach.
Seaview Hospital / New York Farm Colony
Growing up in New York, we’d always tell ghost stories of an escaped mental patient with a hook who would come out the woods to kidnap children… It’s a bit strange to realize as an adult that these stories were actually based on real stories (besides the hook). If you haven’t seen the Cropsey movie, I recommend watching it if you love horror and true crime stories.
Beyond Cropsey, we need to talk about the New York Farm Colony and former Seaview Hospital, a former tuberculosis asylum that was left to rot. This colony dates back to the 1800s and served as a farm for food given to residents of mental hospitals around New York. Seaview Hospital was one of the largest tuberculosis hospitals in the United States built around the turn of the century. A nursing home partially occupies the property, but many of these buildings have been left to rot. It’s a fascinating place for lovers of urban decay and abandoned places although many of the buildings are now off-limits.
St. George /Historic Richmond
A lot of New Yorkers love to joke about Staten Island, but it has its charms. Take the scenic Staten Island ferry to St. George, a historic neighborhood with some beautiful mansions that once belonged to sea captains along Richmond Terrace. More notably, visit historic Richmond town to view many historic New York buildings that have been beautifully restored. You can even take candlelight tours of this village while enjoying touring some of the historic farmhouses on Staten Island. (During Christmas, they go all out!)
Any off the beaten path spots in New York that you’d recommend that I add?
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