I’ve never really had a desire to go to New York City. Tom was born in NY, so I figured this day would come eventually but I’ve never been excited about it. I’ve been overwhelmed in advance for at least 10 years thinking about bringing my family here…the traffic, the crowds, the sounds, lights, smells…no thanks. But, when in Rome… or rather, when on the East Coast, it’s just what you do, it’s an all-American must-do experience. I’m happy to report that I was somewhat wrong and that I actually really enjoyed the day. It was a lot, but mostly it was a lot of good memories added to our collection.
We met friends a couple of weeks prior and they quickly became those types of friends that you feel like they’ve been in your life all along and you know that they’ll be there to stay. We made plans to meet up and explore the city together, I’m so glad we did because happy memories are best shared.
The general opinion is that one does not drive into New York. We were asked several times how we were getting there or where we would park. We were staying in Long Island and felt overwhelmed trying to figure out the trains, so we opted not to take advice and drive (our giant truck was meant for places like Texas rather than New York.) But what do you know, everything always works out.
We set alarms for 4:30 AM and hit the road. We got into the city right at the morning rush and got our first views of the big buildings including the Empire State Building. As we made our way through downtown we blasted the music with Frank Sinatra’s, “New York, New York,” Jay-Z’s “Empire State,” Taylor Swift’s, “Welcome to New York,” and Billy Joel’s “NY State of Mind.” We recalled scenes from Elf and got in the proper mood to start the day.
We parked on the Jersey side of the Statue of Liberty at Liberty Park in a big lot for a whopping $7 for the whole day (who said don’t park in NY!?) We arrived at the exact same moment as our friends and headed over to catch the ferry to Ellis Island.
We loved our view of Manhattan from the Hudson River.
On Ellis Island, we walked in the footsteps of the people who gave so much to come here and make America what it is. We had a fabulous educational experience learning about the journeys, health, and legal screenings the immigrants went through; and then the journeys they made once they arrived. The kids learned a ton and became Jr. Rangers.
We got back on the boat and made our way to the Statue of Liberty. It was remarkable to see, especially from the river. I tried to imagine what it would have looked and felt like as an immigrant, a welcoming beacon to a new life. For the sake of time, we walked around took, a few photos, and went on our way. There are neat tour opportunities to climb up to the crown but we didn’t plan for reservations and were short on time anyway.
The ferry dropped us off at Battery Park. There we were greeted by street vendors selling Statue of Liberty foam crowns, artists doing caricatures , hot dog carts, and snacks from all cultures. We stood in the park for a bit looking like confused tourists while we stared at our phones and figured out the subway system.
The kids were amazed as we stepped into an elevator that brought us underground to a whole other world of transportation under the city. We stepped on the train that smelled a bit funky and it zoomed us across the city where we popped up from the underworld to more sights and sounds. It was a very exciting adventure for kids who live in nature and tiny towns and haven’t spent much time in big cities.
When in New York, one must eat at a proper Jewish deli. We waited in the line wrapped around the block for Katz, a famous deli that has served the city since 1888. The kids struggle with hunger and patience, so they had a pizza snack while we waited (also an important NY experience.) We had humungous Ruebens stacked high with sauerkraut and mustard and matzo ball soup on the side. We sat elbow to elbow with strangers surrounded by photos of actors, musicians, and presidents who’ve enjoyed lunch there over the years.
From there we took another underground zoom ride to Grand Central Station. The building was quite impressive. We took some photos and stood in awe of the architecture. We fulfilled Juliette’s NY request to go to Jaque Torres chocolate shop, a place she was excited about from “Nailed It” one of her favorite baking shows.
Times Square was really the only part of the day that felt like too much for me. There were so many people, whiffs of urine, horns beeping, advertisements flashing, lights, potentially dangerous humans… I was really overstimulated and eager to move on. But, we went, check, check.
I’ve spent a lot of time in places like Venice Beach California, San Francisco, and Boulder Colorado where I generally feel that street performers, artists, roadside musicians, and vendors add to the city experience. I like to keep cash and donate happily for my entertainment and the ambiance they add to the city experience. Times Square folks are on another level though, I felt like mostly what they added was a sketchy vibe. There were characters dressed like Disney or Simpsons there to take photos for tips. The guys at the show called people out and straight up asked for $20 and looked at you like they might slit your through if you don’t give it. It didn’t feel safe at all.
We grabbed a coffee and walked to Central Park. It was such a welcome respite after Times Square. Latte in hand we strolled the paths and enjoyed the trees, chirps of birds, squirrels scurrying up trees and children welcome to run around instead of tightly holding our hands as we navigated the city. We laughed and laughed as our friend Leland found so much joy in scaring away the pigeons. It was my favorite time of day, the golden hour and we loved watching the sun through the trees. We took some time to take some sweet photos. We passed by “Strawberry Fields” and we sang the song as we continued our walk.
Nick knew about these fancy cookies at Levains. The bakery was a hidden gem in a basement in a residential area. They were possibly the best cookies we’ve ever had and we enjoyed them on the steps outside as we started to realize we were tired, our feet were hurting and we were about over it.
Another subway, more walking, and then darkness came and we all decided that it was time to be done. We finished up right near the 9/11 memorial. It was closed but a sweet security man showed us kindness and wanted the kids to experience it. He let them pass the ropes and with a good deed gave them a memory to treasure. It was emotional to stand there and remember where we were that day and wrap our minds around the Twin Towers that just weren’t there. We reminisced and shared our stories with the kids.
The catch with the $7 parking in New Jersey is that we had to be back by 10 or the lot would be locked. At the subway station, we realized that we weren’t going to make it. So we ordered Ubers, sped there, and literally ran to our vehicles and drove out at 9:59.
We drove back to the Airstream in Long Island over the bridges and with the views of the city’s lights. After a 17-hour day, 10+ miles of walking, 6 kids, and almost no complaints we had an amazing day full of new memories.
Where we Stayed:
Smith Point County Park is a gem of a campground for being in a city. We opted to stay in Long Island instead of being close to the actual city. We have family there we enjoyed visiting and the slightly slower and calmer pace is far more our vibe. Plus, Tom has been raving about Little Vincent Pizza for the 20 years we’ve been together, so that was a must for the trip. The Park is right on the beach so its easy to spend days with toes in the sand without ever leaving home. There were restrooms and showers and water and electric sites. The best part was the Mister Softee’s ice cream trucks that came through the campground. New York wins the best ice cream trucks ever award with proper soft serve cones.