New York City’s Best-Kept Secrets: 8 Locals Share their Favourite Spots

secret niece

On the surface, New York is a big, brash, impersonal concrete jungle full of dirt, noise – and lots of people who walk really fast. But behind this harsh exterior, look closely, because there’s a quirkier side full of special places that reveal so much about its history, character and people. I’m always curious to dig a bit deeper when I explore, but it’s not always easy to know where to look, so I asked a few locals to share New York’s best-kept secret spots:

The city’s smallest, friendliest coffee shop
‘I adore all of the little community gardens and plaques noting bits of history tucked into discreet spots around the city. Then there’s Abraço Espresso and Bakery, a teeny tiny coffee spot in my neighbourhood [the East Village], I mean teeny, but they’ve got some of the best coffee and pastries around – aside from at Nourish Kitchen + Table of course! – as well as an awesome, super-friendly vibe.’
Marissa Lippert, Nourish Kitchen + Table

Abracao coffee new york city

A hidden historic home
‘For me, it’s the beautiful Planting Fields Arboretum in Long Island which is really easy to get to from Manhattan or Brooklyn for a day trip. My mother in law told us about it and the different events held there, like the orchid and camellia festival. I am also completely obsessed with the little playhouse and gardens on site (below) and one of the rooms in the main mansion.’
Annie Bukhman, Gift Shop Brooklyn

play house planting fields arboretum

A West Village garden hidden in plain sight
‘The Gardens of The Church of St Luke on Hudson Street and Barrow Street. The public is welcome into these private, meticulously and beautifully maintained gardens, that provide for an idyllic spot in the city to relax, contemplate, read, or just people watch. It can also be a wonderful spot for date – perhaps a brief interlude between drinks and dinner. Also, if you live here you have to get out of the city every few weeks for a day or two to stay sane.’
Jason Paul Harman Byrne, Red Cat Publicity

Garden of St Luke in the Fields

A secret back-door dining room
There’s a little hidden room behind the kitchen on the second floor of a really cute tapas restaurant called Alta on West 10th Street. It’s so quaint and charming and away from the loud noise from the main space and people don’t always know it’s there. Plus, you can order ‘The Whole Shabang’ and get one of every dish on the menu!
Grace Kang, Pink Olive

A clandestine rooftop gallery
‘The Metropolitan Museum of Art rooftop, where you can have a drink and enjoy an amazing view over Central Park. Also, tea at Bergdorf Goodman in its Kelly Wearstler-designed restaurant makes for a fun and stylish afternoon activity!’
Jackie Clair, York Avenue blog

Met Museum NYC rooftop

The little-known discount boutique
‘Most out-of-towners come looking for “the best shopping area”, but shopping in Manhattan is everywhere. Every ‘hood, just about every street has shops worth looking into. Best clothing, all designer, is still at Century 21, but few people know that there is now a second Century 21 at Lincoln Center. Then there are the number of free or cheap concerts held all year throughout the city offering every type of music.’
Jay Lesiger, owner Chelsea Pines Inn

A secret sculpture park
‘There is a very modern (and hidden) promenade and wading pool adjacent to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. It’s beautifully serene and nothing beats the cosmic coolness of those planetary sculptures.’
Dede Lahman, co-owner Clinton Street Baking Co. and Restaurant

hayden planetarium sculptures

A quiet spot for tea
‘I don’t think these are secrets, necessarily – but two places that I love which may not be on your average visitors’ radars are the Asia Society on 70th and Park, and the Harney & Sons tea rooms on Broome Street. They’re very different, but both have this soothing and calming effect. The Asia Society has some fantastic exhibits, an excellent gift shop and café (it also occupies a beautiful space). Harney & Sons, on the other hand, is literally Soho’s best kept secret – fantastic tea, macaroons and treats, never crowded, and the ambience is lovely.’
Eva, Rock Shic blog

harney and sons nyc

A hidden row of restaurants
‘Cornelia Street’s restaurant row in the West Village is the city’s best-kept secret for sure. It’s such a beautiful street, lined with trees and some of the city’s nicest restaurants including the fabulous Cornelia Street Café. I think few tourists know this street exists.’
Tracy Kaler, Tracy’s New York Life blog

Cornelia Street Cafe outside view

One Comment

Lyall

I will definitely be going to The Planting Fields Foundation on Long Island on my next trip. I imagine it is particularly charming in spring and summer through fall.

Reply

Leave a comment