Top 10 Non-Tourist Spots to Take Visitors on the Upper West Side

By Ben Fractenberg on May 16, 2013 7:11am 

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 Here are some non-tourisity spots to take your guests in the Upper West Side.
Top 10 Non-Tourist Destinations on the Upper West Side
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UPPER WEST SIDE — With the spring and summer months coming, the Upper West Side seems to be a magnet for visitors clamoring for a taste of NYC.

If you're responsible for being the tour guide for your guests — but don't fancy spending the entire weekend standing on line or being mobbed by tourist groups — here are the best places to visit for a nice change of pace.

1. Sugar & Plumm Candy Store: While its arrival less than a year ago sparked a brief controversy on the Upper West Side from residents worried about a garish exterior and promoting unhealthy dietary habits for their kids, the sweets-focused eatery has quickly won over its opponents and become a staple in the neighborhood. It offers goodies for adults as well as kids like homemade ice cream, savory non-desert items like house-smoked salmon and cocktails to relieve some child-watching stress.

The tasteful interior feels more like an airy Parisian café than Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and is a great place to take the kids when you need a break from museum-going or after hitting the playgrounds.

2. Pier l: The 715-foot Pier I off West 70th Street provides a chance to escape the streets and enjoy the views up and down the Hudson River. It is a welcome change of pace to the standard trip to the area's most well-known green spaces, like Strawberry Fields in Central Park and the verdant stretch of Riverside Park.

You can also fill your bellies with a trip to the Pier i Café after your jaunt over the Hudson for some outdoor eating and lounging. The café, which is right at the entrance to the pier, is open seven days a week when the weather is warm, and offers comfort food like burgers and chicken tenders, as well as higher-end meals like Maine lobster rolls.

3. GreenFlea Market: Long before the Brooklyn Flea, there was the Upper West Side's GreenFlea, one of the first open-air markets in the city, which has been going strong for more than 25 years. You'll be able to scour through vintage clothing and antique furniture, as well as new handcrafted items.

You can also chow down at the flea's extensive food section, featuring Greek pastries, quiches and homemade soups.

The market is open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in a lot on the western side of Columbus Avenue between 75th and 76th streets. 

4. Smoke Jazz and Supper Club: Tourists wanting to hear live Jazz flock to famed clubs like Blue Note and Birdland, but the Upper West Side's Smoke Jazz & Supper Club hosts some of the best musicians in the world in a warm, intimate atmosphere. And the food is no afterthought. Veteran chef Patricia Williams prepares down-home meals like Jack Daniels BBQ chicken, blackened catfish and buttermilk fried chicken.

The club is hosting a Miles Davis festival May 24 through June 30, featuring musicians like Jimmy Cobb, the drummer on the seminal album "Kind of Blue."

The room seats just over 50, so weekend reservations are highly recommended. The club is located on Broadway between 105th and 106th streets. Friday and Saturday sets are at 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Sunday sets are at 7 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Cover charge is $35 per person, but some weekday and late-night shows are free. There is also a food and drink minimum.

5. Barney Greengrass: One of the last quintessential Jewish New York delis, and an Upper West Side institution in its own right, Barney Greengrass has been serving favorites like sturgeon and Nova Scotia salmon for more than 100 years.

The storefront is impossible to miss with its giant '50s-era sign, leading into an Art Deco and Formica interior. If you're lucky to grab a seat you can sit down and enjoy some bagels and lox while listening to the old timers kvetch about the changing neighborhood.

The eatery is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 86th and 87th streets. It is open for breakfast and lunch, and is a great Sunday brunch spot if you don't mind waiting for a table.

6. Columbia Campus: For most college students, going to school in New York City means sacrificing the world-unto-itself feel of a more traditional college setting. Columbia University offers the best of both worlds with an enclosed, 32-acre, 19th century Ivy League campus just north of the Upper West Side in Morningside Heights.

Architectural highlights include the neo-classical Butler Library with its imposing Ionic columns and the National Historic Landmarked Low Memorial Library.

The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. On weekends, visitors in groups of 10 people or fewer are free to take a self-guided tour. A campus ID is required to enter all buildings except the Low Memorial Library.

The campus' main entrance is at 116th Street and Broadway.

7. Robert: Perched atop the Museum of Arts and Design is the restaurant Robert, which offers sweeping views of Columbus Circle and Central Park through the space's floor-to-ceiling windows.

The restaurant is a great place to take a visitor to brunch before strolling through the park or checking out the museum. If you're thinking more about grabbing drinks while watching the endless stream of traffic snake up and down Broadway and Central Park West, Robert has an inventive cocktail list with most drinks priced between $13 to $15.

Brunch runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Cocktails and small plates are served from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and dinner starts at 5:30 p.m.

The restaurant is located at 2 Columbus Circle.

8. New-York Historical Society: This museum and library is a great alternative if you can't stomach wading into the teeming masses at the American Museum of Natural History. The museum offers a great array of American paintings, sculptures and artifacts.

It's also a great place to take kids — with a children's museum full of interactive exhibits and games.

The Historical Society is located just south of the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West between 76th and 77th streets.

9. River Run Playground: River Run gives parents and children a chance to grab some shade away from the busy streets. Located in Riverside Park near the Boat Basin Cafe, the playground has 12 swings, three see-saws, multiple jungle gyms and monkey bars. There is also an on-site bathroom.

During the summer months you can enjoy a large sprinkler at the center of park and a small "river" running through the middle of the space.

After visiting the park, you can grab some snacks and drinks at the popular Boat Basin.

The best way to find the park is follow the path into the park off West 83rd Street and Riverside Drive.

10. Rock n' Roll Walking Tour: Tourists flock to Strawberry Fields and The Dakota in memory of John Lennon, but the Upper West Side has plenty of other famous spots from rock 'n' roll history. Music writer and business exec Bob Sarlin hosts a walking tour including stops like where Bette Midler used to perform in a gay bathhouse and where Bill Haley and the Comets recorded their first hit.

For custom tours or information about the two-hour tour, email rockwalks@gmail.com or call (212) 877-7980.

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