Two weeks ago, Mason and I hit the Big Apple with a few friends. I had wanted to visit the city for forever and it did not disappoint! The food was incredible, the sights were fantastic, and we just had such a good weekend! I am by no means an expert on New York City now, but here is my amateur’s guide to New York City (on a slight budget):
So, this was the most expensive part of our trip, but it was 100% worth it! We found a Groupon for the Two Day City Pass for $169. This really bought us peace of mind above all else because instead of worrying and wondering “Is $57 per person really worth riding an elevator to the top of the empire state building?... Probably not…”, we had already paid for it through the city pass. So even though we spent a bit of money on this, we saw more sights and did more things than we would have if we’d had to pay for each attraction individually.
Things to Do
The first thing we did was check into our hotel, eat breakfast, and pick up our City Passes. Just a heads up: there are several places to pick up the pass; the pickup by the Empire State Building opens at 8am, and the one by the 9/11 memorial opens at 10am. They make you print out the Groupon; I guess it’s a company specific policy.
These buses were kind of cool to get around on. I feel like we got a good overview of NYC, and it took us to the touristy places that we wanted to visit. It also came with the pass, so we did not need to pay extra for any subway or taxi fares in the city.
Our rule of thumb is generally: if you see an old church, walk in. They are always so pretty with the stained glass, and it’s nice to have a little break (unless you are in Rome, there you should pick and choose because there are too many churches to see in so little time; ask Nicholas about it the next time you see him). This is also the place where Alexander Hamilton is buried, so I guess that’s our little brush with greatness from the trip.
Ayden only had two requests for our time in New York. One was Wall Street, and the other was the Bull. We made sure that he got to do his two things! The floor was closed because we were there on a Saturday, so Ayden is determined to go back to con his way onto the floor itself during hours of operation.
Rockefeller Center was really cool! The City Pass included a walking tour of some of the art around the main couple buildings. We hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep, so we were falling asleep standing up while this really nice tour guide pretended not to notice… I felt so bad for him🙈 because he clearly knew his stuff, but we were SO out of it!
After our standing naps on the tour, we decided that we needed food and caffeine, so we stopped in the cafeteria downstairs to grab Potbelly’s. When we landed, we had decided that we did not want to eat at any chains, but at that point we were so tired and hungry that Potbelly’s just sounded so good (and, as always, it did not disappoint!).
Once we fueled up, we went to the Top of the Rock. It was such a cool view of the city! I was also really glad that we did it because the top of the Empire State building has a cool view, but the Top of the Rock gives you a view of the Empire State Building as well as everything that you see from the Empire State Building. We snapped a few photos and then Mason found himself a comfy bench inside and napped. He was convinced that it was the perfect napping temperature; I think he would have thought a bench in the 15 degree weather would have been just as perfect 😂.
Most people go to Times Square intentionally, but we accidentally stumbled upon it on our way to dinner!😂. I was super happy about it too, because we got that first shot of me and Mason (up at the top) and it is probably my favorite picture of the two of us! There are as many janky cartoon characters as everyone tells you, and they all want to con you into a picture...
We decided to see a show on Saturday night, so we were looking at prices. Pro tip: The Phantom of the Opera is the least expensive show playing right now. Mason and I ended up not going because I have already seen Phantom a couple times, and Mason is not super into musicals (it really is one of the biggest points of contention in our marriage 😂.
We started our Sunday with the Statue of Liberty. The ferry is also included in the City Pass!! Can you tell that we loved our City Pass? Also, just so that this is clearly stated somewhere on the internet: The ferry to the Statue of Liberty starts in Battery Park, takes you straight to the Statue of Liberty, then goes from the Statue to Ellis Island, then from Ellis Island back to Battery Park. Funny story: while we were taking this picture, we accidentally dropped Mason, but don't worry! We caught him! There's a great debate going on right now about whose fault it was.
The reason I made Ellis Island its own section is because there is a Hard Hat Tour that you can take through the infirmary. That part sounded really cool, but we got there too late to do it. I think the tours run from 10am-1pm and they are about an hour long. The adult pricing is $60.50, senior(62+) pricing is $56.00, and you must be 13 years or older to take this tour. It’s not included in the price of the City Pass, but we were planning on doing it if we had gotten there on time.
A while ago, Amber Fillerup posted about the Seaglass Carousel and it looked so beautiful! I was pretty determined to go. I had a lot of fun, but I don’t think anyone else enjoyed it as much as I did, but it was only $5 per person, and I think it would be a blast to do with kids! It’s in Battery Park, so it’s an easy walk from the Statue of Liberty ferry to whatever else you are going to do that day.
If you do nothing else during your time in New York, you cannot miss Ground Zero. It was such a sobering experience. I was 5 when the Twin Towers fell, so I don’t remember a lot about the whole experience. Walking around the memorial and the museum was so interesting because I didn’t have much of a schema for the events of that day, and walking through, reading the stories of the people who died, and seeing all of the wreckage that they have on display made 9/11 more concrete for me. The staff of the memorial places white roses on the names of the deceased on their birthdays each year; we thought that was a really nice touch. Also, you guessed it, the museum is included in the City Pass.
this is ayden's hot chocolate. it was beautiful!
Hole in the wall was BOMB! It was so yummy, and just what we needed at the time. It was kind of hard to find (there’s not very much signage because it’s a little hipster ironic restaurant), so here’s a link to a picture of the front. Another note: this place really functions as a coffee shop, so portion sizes are delicious, but small. Mason was starving about an hour after we’d left so we stopped for an early lunch.
We love Potbelly’s! It is one of our favorite chain sandwich places, and on this trip, we discovered that we LOVE their cookies! Mason and I we impartial to the sugar cookies, but Ayden loved the brownie cookie.
This was some dang good Chinese food. It’s located about 2 blocks from Broadway and very reasonably priced. We got the pork pan fried dumplings and the sir-fried ramen with chicken. I cannot say enough good things about both dishes! Everyone was totally satisfied with portion sizes, and all of our food was really good. We will probably be going back to this place the next time we are in NYC!
On Sunday, we got a late start, so we just ate an early lunch. Holy wow, this place was AMAZING we got the Bianca and the Barese. They were both fantastic pizzas, but I think the consensus was that the Bianca was better. Between 5 of us, we got 2 of the larger pizzas and it was plenty of food. Inatteso is also right next to Battery Park, so we ate there right before we went to the Statue of Liberty.
We ate Shake Shack for our last meal in New York, and I have to say I wasn’t super impressed. The shake was good, but my burger was soaked in grease to the point where I couldn’t hold it without the paper holder. The tomatoes were soggy, and the patty itself was just so-so… Everyone else was pretty happy with it, so I don’t know if I just didn’t get a good burger, or if that’s the standard.
hotel accommodation tips
Fly on a red eye
We flew from SLC on Friday night and arrived in JFK around 6am. We’ve done these red eyes twice now, and we really like it because we save a little bit of money by not staying in a hotel for the nights that we are flying. We are always exhausted the next day, but it's worth it to save some money.
Budget hotel websites
We usually book our hotels through a budget hotel website. Our favorite is Priceline.com because we can choose what type of place we want to stay (4 star hotel in this specific region). Once you find an area where you want to stay, double check with the hotels directly to see if there is a better deal straight through them. Here’s a list of websites that we’ve used or looked into using when we can't find a better deal with the hotels:
Hotwire | Hotels.com | Expedia | Priceline
Book directly with a hotel
Booking directly through the hotel has its perks, especially if you have any sort of status with the hotel. We love our Amex platinum card because it gives us instant status at hotels which helps with things like room upgrades and early check-in/late checkout times, as well as lounge access at the airports (which makes flying more bearable and sometimes fun). Here is a link to the card. The yearly fee pays for itself if you travel even a little bit. Our Amex is by far our favorite travel card.
These sites are great for finding accommodations if you want to have the home-away-from-home feeling. We decided not to do an airbnb this time because we were only there for one night, but if we’d been in the city for a week, we probably would have gone this route because then we could have cooked in the airbnb and saved money on food. Here are some cool airbnbs that i found: